Selecting Fishing Line
By Ronald F. Dodson, Ph.D.
Choosing a fishing line can be a very interesting challenge for even the most seasoned bass fisherman. In fact if you wait a few weeks it seems like there is either a new product from a company that isn't basically known for manufacturing line or a new line offered by one of the larger companies. Likewise there aren't some of the products on the market that were billed as the greatest thing since sliced bread just a few years ago. In some cases like the braided products the market place now has only a few options. This is in part because many of the products available during the "super-line craze" consisted of a company buying fiber and producing a braided product. Some of the major line companies took a different approach with their products in that through extensive testing they actually built on some of the better features of the braided lines with offerings available today. Others decided that their market share with their product wasn't where they needed to be in the short term and dropped the braided or their super-line product.
To give you an idea of the complexity of the offerings from just two of the major line companies you need look no further than their catalogs. In fact you may want to look there because most tackle outlets aren't going to carry but a few of the products they offer. The folks at Stren have at least eight lines. The folks at Berkley have some twelve products but that is only part of the story. The conglomerate of brand names marketed by Pure Fishing not only includes Berkley but also other major players such as Spider Wire which includes some three braided, three fusion, and three monofilament products.
Maybe I should add a disclaimer at this point in that I don't have an affiliation with either of these companies but did want to get their company position on some questions, which were general and could be answered by spokesmen for either company and others were highly specific since they related to products from only one of the companies. The person who provided me with input from Berkley was Mr. Brian Thomas, the Corporate Communication Director. The contact at Stren was Mr. David Justice, whose title is Product Manager.
To start with I couldn't for the life of me figure out from the Berkley catalog which was the line you would consider the "all around performer." In fact I have more than a passing knowledge about lines and could only figure out which were the specialty lines in their offerings. When I say the best all around line I am referring to one which has good "castability," tensile strength, knot strength, abrasion resistance, controlled stretch (shock resistance), and smallest possible diameter without the exclusion of the aforementioned properties.
If you look at the Stren product, the original Stren line of thirty plus years ago was billed as providing the best compromise for the attainable features of each of these desired traits. Not surprisingly that original Stren is still the best seller for their company. It ended up that Berkley considers the Sensation product as their best all around product. The reasoning is that for example the Sensation is superior to their XT in knot strength, has smaller diameter, and has good tensile strength among its attributes.
If you look at a line and see the word "strength," what does it mean to you? If it means tensile strength then it speaks to the pounds of tolerance per a unit of measurement in a straight pull. Unfortunately that has nothing to do with how well the strength is able to hold up in a torque condition such as when you tie a knot. Nor does it tell you anything about how well the line will withstand the wear and tear of rubbing against rough objects. The ability of a line to withstand abrasion can be improved in one of several ways. The first is to make the line thicker (per a given pound test) so that it simply doesn't loose as much strength by having the surface damaged. The second way is to enhance the surface with a chemical coating, which makes the surface tougher and sometimes slicker which means the line may tend to slip in the knot. In any case when you change the chemistry of a monofilament line to get better characteristics in one feature you usually are going to compromise another feature-thus the specialty lines.
Berkley has a very complex aquatic research center and thus they were a good source to get input on the effect of line visibility on feeding patterns of bass since they make one of the most invisible (the fluorocarbon product - Vanish) and the brightest of the fluorescent line in their green high visibility product. The end result is what you may expect that in good visibility, bright daylight, and clear water the clearer or more neutral a line the less it appears to be an issue in the environment of the bass. In fact the real question was in whether the fluorocarbon line was proven to be more superior in "detectability" by bass than clear or low visibility green. Mr. Thomas gave me the results of an interesting test. Lines of various types and colors were suspended in the large tank with the bass. The facilities were set up in such a way that when a fish swam into a line the researchers could detect the contact. The experiment included variability where the facility went through a clock which included light conditions similar to a natural 24-hour cycle-including night, dusk, dawn, and mid day. Apparently the fish did not make appreciable distinction between the types of line during night and to rather limited levels of distinction in low light conditions but were appreciably more likely during bright conditions to swim into the fluorocarbon (thus not "seeing it"), than the other types and colors of line. Thus the data suggests that the stuff is highly invisible to bass in water. Fluorocarbon is a cousin of Teflon and before you charge off and buy a couple miles of this line there are a couple of factors you need to consider. Remember the features that I listed as desirable in fishing lines a few paragraphs back? Well both the folks at Berkley as well as the Stren Company verified that fluorocarbon does not have as good of knot strength as monofilament. Mr. Thomas indicated the importance of making sure that fluorocarbon is very wet when pulling the knot tight less the fluorocarbon will damage itself. The Stren verdict is that fluorocarbon is stiffer and denser than comparable weight monofilament. It was also noted that it did not seat as well as monofilament on the reel and doesn't recover from memory as well as monofilament. By the way it is also more expensive than the same yards of a comparable pound test monofilament line. Another gem for thought is that most of us don't often fish in extremely clear water. Again the test conditions were in the very bright conditions, clear water, and the lines were stationary. So in stained water or with a crankbait (where the lure is moving) visibility of the line by the fish should not be of the same level of concern. A few years ago I wrote an article in this "cutting edge" bass fishing magazine in which I suggested not throwing away your monofilament line because of the emergence of a bunch of new "super lines." That is my same position now on the fluorocarbon lines. They have a place if you think they do. After all successful fishing starts with confidence.
Since fluorocarbon is primarily about being invisible in water it should be noted that both Berkley and Stren sell a bunch of highly visible fluorescent products. In the case of Stren over eighty per cent of the original Stren formula is sold as blue fluorescent. Obviously a lot of folks like to see their line. There are several arguments as to where high-visibility line has an advantage. The line you see is the line you control. Thus when you are flipping or even casting in tight places you can control the cast by using the visibility of the line to assist in better presentation of the lure. Also when you are fishing soft plastics such as worms, lizards, finesse baits or even jig and pigs, you can often see the strike as the bass picks up the bait long before you can feel the hit. Often this is the difference in hooking the fish or having him release the bait just as you finally feel the hit.
Line diameter is also an important feature in choosing the proper line for your fishing. This was one of the real outstanding features of the braided and super lines. A thinner line allows you to put more on a reel per pound test, have a better feel of the plug on retrieve, as well as better feel of strikes and much less wind resistance from the line when you cast the plug. Another advantage of a thin diameter is that you also have less resistance in the water thus a crankbait will tend to dive deeper on retrieve than with a thicker line.
Another factor in most of our lines from which we have to choose is that they will break at an appreciably higher pound test than that for which they are rated. This is a game that, as best I can tell, started when some lines from abroad came in and were appreciably stronger than the pound-test rating on the spool. The domestic line companies weren't going to be had so they have done the same thing. If you fish in saltwater, or in some unique condition when you care about accurate ratings, you will need to get an International Game Fish Association rated line which has to break within certain tolerance of the rating or fish caught can't qualify for records.
I guess I was a bit surprised at the market in that there exists a strong demand in bass fishing for super lines. While the folks at Stren are not now marketing a braided or super line they aren't saying that they won't be getting back in the hunt with such a product. In fact they made it plain that they will be coming out with a couple of new products in the near future. The Pure Fishing folks (Berkley Spider Wire) have a couple of super lines. The Spider Wire is a braided product while their FireLine is a so called thermal filament fishing line. According to Mr. Thomas, FireLine has greater knot strength when compared to a comparable pound test of Spider Wire. He also answered a common rumor that was put out during the early stage of the super line era in that these lines don't damage the guides that come on quality rods.
So if you want a specialty line there are plenty to choose from, but make sure you aren't gaining one feature and sacrificing another that is equally important in assuring your fishing success. For example when you read "Superior Strength", does it mean knot, abrasion, or tensile? If you can figure out a way to take advantage of tensile strength by straight pull (end to end) without having to tie a knot or avoid hitting cover or other rough underwater features then you can only worry about one feature.
One good factor about premium lines from major companies is that you can get a proven product such as original Stren or XT from Berkley or wait a few months and the application of new technology will result in the creation of new products from which you can choose.