How to Choose What Fishing Line to Use

This is our guide on how to choose what fishing line to use. In this article we will cover everything you need to know including different types of line, how they are different and what they are best suited for.

A common question I get asked all the time by people is what fishing line to use. Ask around and you will find some people swear by monofilament lines, while others are convinced you should always use braid.

But the answer isn’t that simple.

I’ve had my fair share of experience with lots of different lines in different situations. And the truth is that different lines are best suited for different types of fishing.

So I decided to write this article to give you all the information you need to choose what fishing line you should use.

The most important things you need to know are:
Fishing line characteristics
What type of fishing line to use
Choosing the right specs for your fishing line
Pairing with your rod and reel

Keep reading to find out what fishing line you should use.

Fishing line characteristics

Before you decide what fishing line to use, its important to know how to compare them. This can be done by understanding different characteristics of fishing line and how they affect your fishing.

Strength versus diameter

Every fishing line comes in a range of different strengths or “test” and is measured using a weight in pounds or kilograms. The test rating of a line is supposed to be the weight the line can hold before it snaps. For example, a 6 lb test line can hold up to 6 lb of weight.

We will go over how to pick which test line to use later in the article. But the important point here the relationship between the strength of a fishing line and its diameter.

The strength of a fishing line is largely determined by its material and diameter. Some materials are stronger than others so they can be much thinner and still hold the same amount of weight.

Generally, a smaller diameter fishing line is going to perform better. But there are some advantages to both.

Smaller DiameterLarger Diameter
– More aerodynamic for improved casting distance
– Less affected by underwater currents for better control of lure movement
– Generally easier to handle and tie knots with
– Usually more abrasion resistant and will help prevent line breaks

Benefits of smaller diameter lines

Thinner lines are much more aerodynamic compared to thicker lines. This allows small diameter fishing lines to be less affected by air resistance to give you a much better casting range. A thin line can be particularly advantageous for land based anglers who may want to access deeper parts of the water and lets them cover a greater area.

Thin lines will also be less affected by water currents. This is going to give you better control of your lure, especially if you plan on working them low in the water column. A thinner line will work great if you want to target specific underwater structures such as a shelf or specific areas of cover.

Benefits of larger diameter lines

Thicker lines are often easier to handle and tie knots with compared to thinner ones. On top of that, a thicker line will usually be more abrasion resistant. This means they will be less likely to break from rubbing up against rough surfaces such as rocks and logs in the water.

Stretch

As lines can be made from different materials, they will stretch different amounts when tension is applied. The amount of force required to make the line stretch is also something to note. Some lines actually stretch more than others but require much more tension to achieve the stretch.

Both low and high stretch lines have their place in fishing depending on the application.

Low StretchHigh Stretch
– Greater sensitivity to feel light touches of your bait
– Faster and harder hookset for hard mouthed species or single hook rigs
– More power to pull fish out of heavy cover and prevent tie ups
– Softer hookset for soft mouthed species to prevent hook from ripping out
– Acts as a shock absorber during surges, jumps or head shakes to help keep fish pinned
– Can help compensate for errors handling fishing

Benefits of low stretch lines

The most significant benefit of a low stretch line is that they are highly sensitive. Any movement or touch of your bait is more effectively transmitted to you above the water without being dampened by stretching.

There are many situations where high sensitivity is important. Fishing in deep water where there is a lot of distance between you and the fish is one such scenario. Also if your are fishing in the colder weather, fish usually have a much less aggressive feeding response. Being able to feel really light bites can be the difference between a hook up and a missed opportunity.

Low stretch fishing lines are also going to give harder and faster hooksets. All the movement of your rod when setting the hook will be efficiently be transferred to the hook and not be diminished. This is going to benefit anglers who like to target hard mouthed fish species like muskies. Also if you are using single hooks on your rig, they usually require a little extra force to set the hook and can benefit from a low stretch line.

Another advantage of low stretch lines is they give you quick power to pull fish out of heavy cover. This is particularly important when fishing near logs or other structure. A high stretch line is going to give the fish some extra length to retreat to shelter which can lead to you getting tied up. In these scenarios, a low stretch line will be more suitable.

Benefits of high stretch lines

There is such a thing as using too much force to set the hook. When too much pressure is applied, the hook can rip out from the fish’s mouth. In these scenarios, a high stretch line will help absorb some of the force to prevent a lost hook up. This is particularly advantageous when targeting softer mouthed species like salmon so you don’t overplay the hookset.

The extra shock absorbance of high stretch lines can also help you better handle high tension scenarios. Situations such as when a fish surges, jumps or starts shaking its head put a lot of pressure on the line which can cause the fish to break free. By absorbing this shock, high stretch lines help keep the hooks pinned.

This is particularly beneficial when fishing treble hook lures. These hooks have a shorter shank so don’t tend to pierce the fishes mouth very deeply. Using a high stretch line will help keep the hook pinned to the fish when reeling it in.

Also, more novice anglers can benefit from using a line with greater elasticity. The extra stretch can help compensate for some errors, especially when handling larger fish.

Memory

Memory refers to the ability of the line to retain its position. If you grab a length of fishing line and hang it in the air, one of two things will happen. Either the line will hang straight down, or will remain somewhat curled.

This is because of the lines memory. A line with no memory will hang straight, while a high memory line will “remember” its old position and retain it to a degree.

High memory versus low memory

Having a line with high memory is usually not a good thing. These lines have to be carefully spooled onto your reel, making sure not to go against the lines original memory. If you do, the line usually won’t sit properly on the spool and will tend to want to jump off.

When a high memory line comes of the spool, its coiled shape causes it to hit against the guides during a cast more frequently. The end result is more friction which leads to a shorter casting distance. High memory lines are also more prone to tangles.

A fishing line with no memory will come off the spool straight. This allows it to smoothly pass through the line guides, reducing friction and increasing your casting distance. Low memory lines are also usually easier to handle and tie knots with.

Buoyancy

The buoyancy of the line is related to its density and will determine whether the line will sink or float in water. If the line is denser than the water, it will sink. If it is less dense, it will float.

Whether you want a floating or sinking line though will depend on the type of lure or bait you’re working.

When to use a floating versus sinking lines

If you’re wanting to work your lures deep, a denser line that is going to sink is the way to go. Something like a deep diving crankbait is going to benefit from a denser line that won’t pull your lure to the surface and help you get your maximum depth.

A floating line is going to be best suited for any top water lure like a popper. If you use a sinking line in this scenario, after popping a few times the nose of your lure is going to get dragged down by the line and not work properly. A floating line will keep the lure at the surface where you want it to be.

Floating lines can also be used to give you some extra depth control. An example is if you wanted to work a crankbait a little shallower than its designed for. You can use a floating line to add some buoyancy to the nose and bring it closer to the surface.

Durability

The durability of your line is important to avoid line breaks and takes into account a few factors.

One of the more important is abrasion resistance. As your line is going to be rubbing up against rocks, logs and all sorts of things in the water, you want it to have a high resistance to abrasion. A higher resistance will reduce wear and tear of your line making it last longer and less likely to fail when you hook that monster fish.

You also have to consider other factors like resistance to UV light. Some lines slowly degrade in the presence of sunlight making them weaker and weaker. These lines require more frequent replacement and will eventually fail.

Visibility

The visibility of fishing line varies between types and even within the different types. Some lines are clear and will appear almost invisible in the water. Other lines come in a variety of colours ranging from low visibility designed to blend in with the water and high visibility to make the line stand out.

There are two main considerations when it comes to the visibility of fishing line – the fish and you.

A line made from transparent material is going to be best suited for the fish. It makes the bait and lure presentations look more natural to encourage a strike. It will also be less likely to spook fish particularly in clear water.

Coloured lines, especially high visibility ones, are handy for you as the angler. It helps you keep track of your lines location which is a huge benefit when fishing in crowded areas or with friends. A coloured line also helps you determine how much slack there is, which is important for certain lure techniques.

Types of Fishing Lines

The first step in deciding what fishing line to use is matching the line characteristics to the application.

There are three main types of fishing line available to anglers. These are monofilament, braided and fluorocarbon. Each of these have their own distinct qualities compared to others, making them more suited to different applications.

Here’s a quick summary of each type of line and their characteristics.

Monofilament

– Large Diameter
– High Stretch
– High Memory
– Neutrally Bouyant
– High Abrasion Resistance
– Degrades in Sunlight
– Moderate Visibility

Braid

– Small Diameter
– No Stretch
– No Memory
– Floating
– Low Abrasion Resistance
– Does Not Degrade
– High Visibility

Fluorocarbon

– Large Diameter
– Moderate Stretch
– High Memory
– Sinking
– High Abrasion Resistance
– Does Not Degrade
– Low Visibility

Monofilament fishing line

Also called mono, monofilament consists of a single strand of material. It can be made from various polymers but nylon is by far the most common. There are different types of nylon and other polymers can also be added to adjust the line attributes.

Mono is the the most common type of fishing line and the one you probably learnt how to fish with. Two of the reasons its so popular are because it is the cheapest option available and is perfect for beginner or casual anglers.

Characteristics of monofilament

One of the standout features of monofilament is how abrasion resistant it is. It far outperforms braid fishing line in this respect and is a little better than fluorocarbon. Check out the video below comparing mono to braid just to see the difference.

Another standout attribute of mono is its high stretch. Nylon is naturally quite stretchy but it also absorbs water which further increases its elasticity. It offers the greatest amount of stretch of the three options.

Monofilament is also quite buoyant compared to some other lines. Its often considered a floating line but is closer to neutrally buoyant. When placed in water, nylon lines will very slowly sink.

Some of the downsides of monofilament is that it has a relatively large diameter and high memory. These are quite disadvantageous which it comes to casting. The thicker diameter increases air resistance while the high memory increases friction during the cast.

Nylon is also susceptible to UV degradation. This means that sunlight eventually weakens the line making it more susceptible to breaking. As a result, it needs to be replaced more frequently.

When to use monofilament as a mainline

Beginners

If you are a beginner or fish casually, monofilament fishing line is the line you should use. It’s the cheapest option available so you won’t break the bank with a great value set up. The thicker diameter makes it easy to handle and the high stretch can help compensate for any errors you make while reeling the fish in.

Monofilament line is what I recommend for beginner anglers. It will work great with a standard rod and reel combo to catch some of the most popular fish species like bass and panfish.

Treble hook lures

If you are using lures with treble hooks, monofilament can be a great choice. As these hooks don’t penetrate very deeply, the high stretch of mono helps prevent the hooks from pulling out. This can happen with low stretch lines particularly during surges, jumps or head shakes which increase the tension on the line.

Soft mouthed species

If you are targeting fish species that have soft mouths like salmon, you may need to be cautious of over setting the hook. Using too strong a hookset can cause the hook to rip out of the soft mouth of these species. In such scenarios, it can be a big benefit to use mono line which will absorb some of the force by stretching for a softer hook set.

When to use monofilament as a leader

Top water lures

Its important not to have a sinking line when using top waters that will drag the nose of the lure down. This will negatively affect the motion of your presentation and cause it to be less enticing to fish.

As mono is neutrally buoyant, they work great as leader material for top waters. A monofilament leader will help keep the lure at the surface where you want it.

Fish with sharp teeth or mouths

The sharp mouths and teeth of fish can quickly destroy line leading to lost fish and lures. The advantages of monofilament in these situations are twofold. First, as mono is the most abrasion resistant line, its going to be able to hold off well against this damage and prevent line breaks.

Secondly, it’s not uncommon after each catch for your line to get some small cuts and scratches which means it will need to be replaced. Mono is great for this as its super cheap and won’t break the bank.

With braid mainline

As we will talk about next, braid is not very abrasion resistant and is highly visible. These properties are not ideal for line tied to your lure or bait. It increases the chances of line breaks and makes your lure presentations look less natural.

Therefore mono makes for greater leader material when paired with braid. It gives you the reduced visibility, better abrasion resistance you need. It also adds a little bit of shock absorbance to your rig.

Braided fishing line

Braid consists of numerous fibres braided together to form a line. These fibres are usually made of a synthetic polymer called polyethylene. Polyethylene is often sold under the commercial names Spectra and Dyneema and which one a line uses is often advertised on the packaging.

Generally speaking, braided line is a more expensive option with cost varying according to its quality. One indicator of quality is the specific weave of the braid. A common term you will hear is 4-carrier and 8-carrier lines. This number refers to how many individual fibres are wound together to make the braid.

An 8-carrier braid is usually much smoother, reducing friction and improving the lines castability. They are also more expensive compared to 4-carrier lines.

Despite having a higher price, braid is more and more becoming the line of choice in the fishing world due to its unique properties.

Characteristics of braid

The highlight property of braid is that is has almost zero stretch. This is a unique property of braid compared to both monofilament and fluorocarbon which both stretch.

Braid also has the smallest diameter of the fishing line options. Just to give you an idea, here are the diameters of popular brands of monofilament, braid and flurocarbon for their 8 lb line. As you can see, the braid comes in at roughly half the diameter of mono and fluoro equivalents.

TypeBrand8 lb Diameter (inches)
MonofilamentStren Original Service0.011
BraidPowerPro Spectra0.005
FluorocarbonSeaguar Red Label0.009

Other benefits of braid is that it has essentially no memory so you don’t have to deal with as many line twists and tangles. It’s also not going to degrade in sunlight, reducing the frequency of respooling.

The major limitation of braid is that is has the poorest abrasion resistance compared to other lines. If you saw the previous video, you would have seen that it really doesn’t take much abrasion for the line to fail. This is due to how thin the fibres of the line are which can easily be cut or broken.

Braid is also considered high visibility. Light cannot pass through the line and is usually dyed with either high or low visibility colours.

When to use braid as a mainline

Sensitivity

If you want sensitivity, using braid is a no brainer. Better sensitivity is almost always better as it gives you more information of what’s going on under the water. With braid you can feel really light bumps of your lure by fish which lets you respond to encourage a strike.

Also in times like winter when its cold and fish are less active, they often won’t take the bait as aggressively. Braid lets you feel these light bites while if you were using mono or fluro you may not even notice.

Increased casting distance

Braid has such a small diameter and no memory so is able to give you superior casting distance. The thinness of the line makes it more aerodynamic, reducing air resistance and letting you cast your bait out further. No memory also means the line comes off the spool straight, which reduces how much the line bumps against the guides.

If you are a land based angler who wants to be able to cover more area from the same spot, braid is going to be a big help. Check out the video below to see the difference in casting distance you get with braid compared to a mono equivalent.

Single hooks and hardmouthed species

If you are bait fishing or using lures with single hooks, they often require a little more force to set. The same can be said for species like Spanish mackerel or muskies which have hard or toothy jaws.

By using a no stretch line like braid, the power from your rod will more effectively be transferred down the line to the hook for a good set. If you use a high stretch line line monofilament in this situation, the some of the force will be absorbed by the stretching motion making for a softer hookset.

Areas of heavy cover

When there are lots of logs and underwater structures the last thing you want is to give the fish extra line to retreat and tie you up. The zero stretch of braid gives you the responsiveness and strength you need to quickly horse fish out and away from cover.

Just be careful if there are a lot of abrasive surfaces in the water as braid can tear easily against these objects. In these situations I recommend using a monofilament or fluorocarbon leader for added abrasion resistance near your bait or lure.

When to use braid as a leader

Braid generally isn’t used specifically as a leader. While it makes for an outstanding mainline, it lacks abrasion resistance and is highly visible – two huge disadvantages for a leader.

Some people do however tie lures directly to their braid mainline without the use of a leader. This means you max out on the benefits of braid, such as sensitivity and responsiveness. You just need to be careful if fishing in areas of heavy cover and of fish with sharp teeth or mouths. It doesn’t take much abrasion to cause line breaks with braid.

Fluorocarbon

Also called fluoro for short, fluorocarbon fishing line is one of the newer types available on the market. It’s similar to monofilament in that it is a single strand of polymer material. The difference is that fluorocarbon lines use a special type of polymer called PVDF (polyvinylidene fluoride).

Because of it’s different material, fluorocarbon has some unique properties not found in other lines. It’s also improved massively over the past years which has lead to a steady increase in its popularity. With that being said, fluro is usually the most expensive type of fishing line available.

Characteristics of fluorocarbon

A key characteristic of fluoro is that it is very dense and negatively buoyant. A fluorocarbon line will sink much faster than mono or braid. Check out the video below to see the difference.

Another standout feature of fluorocarbon is its low visibility. It has a similar refractive index to water, which means it is essentially transparent and invisible to fish. While other lines like mono can also be clear, their refractive index is different to water making them appear slightly opaque.

The other characteristics of flurocarbon are quite similar to that of a monofilament.

Fluoro is quite abrasion resistant and will far outperform a briad in this respect. Compared to a mono, it is slightly less resistant but very similar. If you are interested in the difference between mono and fluoro I recommend checking out the video below.

Like mono, fluorocarbon also stretches. It commonly advertised that fluoro has less stretch than mono but that is technically incorrect. Fluorocarbon will actually stretch more than monofilament, however it requires more force to do so. This give it a perceived “moderate stretch”, which gives a little more control.

The disadvantages of fluoro is that it has a larger diameter which is comparable to mono. High memory is also a problem with fluorocarbon and tends to be worse than monofilament, especially for the higher test lines. Because of this, fluoro is more difficult to tie strong holding knots with.

When to use fluorocarbon mainline

Fishing deep

As fluoro is the densest fishing line available, using it as a mainline pairs well when you want to fish deep. Techniques such as trolling or deep diving crankbaits can benefit from a fluorocarbon mainline which will keep the lure lower in the water column.

Fewer points of failure

Fluorocarbon makes for great leader material as you’ll read in the next section. But what’s that got to do with the miainline?

Well if you use a different line as your mainline like braid, you will need to have a knot between your mainline and your leader. Every knot along your rig is a potential point of failure when setting the hook or battling a fish.

By using a fluorocarbon mainline, you eliminate the need for a mainline to leader knot. Therefore you only need a single knot between your mainline and lure. This greatly reduces the chance of failure. It’s also of benefit if your rod has smaller guides. Mainline to leader knots can sometimes bump against or get stuck on small guides, reducing casting distance.

When to use fluorocarbon leader

Deep diving lures

Pairing deep diving lures with a fluorocarbon mainline can work great. With a deep diving crankbait for example, a negatively buoyant flouro leader will help keep the nose of the crankbait down where you want it.

Fluoro leaders can also be used to modify the depth of certain lures. If a lure is designed to operate at a certain depth, attaching a fluoro leader will add some extra weight to the nose and help it dive a little deeper.

More natural lure presentations

When we use lures, we don’t have the benefit of our bait smelling or tasting like the food fish usually eat. We have to rely on the appearance and action of the lure to provoke a strike. Attaching a highly visible fishing line to a lure may get a fish to think twice and lead to some missed opportunities.

Because fluorocarbon is transparent underwater, its essentially invisible to the fish. This helps keep your lure presentations looking natural and will encourage more strikes. This is particularly important in really clear waters where the line is more likely to stand out.

With braid mainline

A fluoro leader with a braid mainline is my favourite way to fish. The no stretch of braid and moderate more controlled stretch of fluoro make for a super sensitive set up. Its also very responsive, giving you strong fast hook sets and the ability to quickly pull fish out from underwater structure.

The addition of fluoro as the leader gives you the extra abrasion resistance where you need it and is almost invisible to fish for natural looking presentations. As you’re only using short lengths of fluoro for the leader, it won’t break the bank too much compared to spooling your whole reel with it.

How to choose your line specifications

The final step in choosing what fishing line to use is selecting the appropriate specifications. This means choosing a strength, length and colour that is appropriate for your target species and compatible with your rod and reel.

What line test you should use

The test rating of a line is supposed to be the weight the line can hold before it snaps. For example, a 6 lb test line can hold up to 6 lb of weight. However, usually a good quality line will be able to hold a higher weight than advertised.

There are three factors which need to be considered when selecting a line test. They are your target fish species, rod specifications and reel specifications.

Target fish

A good guideline is to match the test of your line to the weight of the fish you are targeting. But remember, when you are fishing you are not fighting the direct weight of the fish since they are neutrally buoyant.

Instead, your line is fighting the strength of the fish swimming away from you. So it’s possible for you to catch a heavier fish than your test.

Rod specifications

Your rod should also come with some specification of what range of tests it is compatible with. This will usually be printed as a range on your rod near the handle.

For example, “Line: 8 – 12 lb” means that the rod is designed for use with tests between this range. Ideally you want to stay within these limits.

Going below this range means you rods power will be too strong for the line. This can lead to more frequent line breaks, particularly when setting the hook.

On the other hand, it you use too strong of a line, your rod may not be able to handle the line at its maximum tension. Because your line is stronger than your rod, guess which one is going to break first? This can happen if you hook too large of a fish or even if you accidently mistake a snag for a bite and try to set the hook.

Replacing a broken fishing line is usually going to be cheaper than replacing a whole rod.

Reel specifications

The size of your reel is going to determine what test line it is compatible with. Reels are designed for use with these specific tests so you don’t want to stray too far from the recommendation.

You can usually find what test line your reel is designed for on the spool. It will normally give you a weight paired with a length, such as 12 lb/160 yds. This would indicate your reel is designed for use with 12 lb line.

One size larger or smaller is usually okay. So a 10 lb and 14 lb line would also work fine with this reel.

What length line should you use

The length line you choose will be determined by the specification of your reel. The line capacity will be paired with he recommended line test on your reel.

For example, mono capacity 12 lb/160 yds means that the reel has capacity for 160 yds of 12 lb monofilament line. Mono capacity is also applicable to fluorocarbon lines. A separate spec will usually be given for braided fishing line.

When you purchase your line, make sure it is close to the reels recommended length. You don’t want to under or over spool your reel. It’s not going to help your casting and can interfere with the mechanics of the reels operation.

What colour fishing line should you use

The colour fishing line you use comes down to personal preference a lot of the time.

A low visibility option will be less visible to fish, however if you are using a mono or fluoro leader this is less of an issue.

I personally prefer high vis options especially for spinning gear. It lets me easily keep track of my lines location as well as how much slack there is.

Pairing with your rod and reel

By now you should have the type and specs of what fishing line to use for your application. However, there are other considerations relating to your rod and reel choice that can affect the overall performance of your set up.

Rod pairing considerations

We have spoken about line weight specs of rods but there are other specs which can affect your line choice. One of these is the action (or taper) of your rod.

The action of a rod refers to where it bends and ranges from “slow” to “fast”. A slow action rod is a more flexible rod that will bend from approximately the middle of the blank. On the other hand, a fast action rod is more stiff, and will bend more in the upper third of the blank.

The action of your rod is important as it has a similar affect on your fishing as the stretch of your line. A slow action will be less sensitive but help act as a shock absorber during high tension moments. A fast action rod will be more responsive, sensitive and give harder hooksets.

You need to balance the characteristics of your rod with your line type.

For example, pairing a slow action rod with a high stretch monofilament fishing line will essentially be doubling up on your shock absorbance. This is going to give super soft hooksets and give the fish plenty of give to move where it likes. Now there might be some scenarios where this will be appropriate. However using a no stretch braid mainline with a slow action rod may give a more balanced set up.

Consider your application and adjust accordingly.

Reel pairing considerations

The type of reel you use will also be important for what line type you use. The main consideration here is whether you will be using a spinning or baitcasting reel.

Spinning reels have an open faced stationary spool which don’t handle stiff fishing lines very well. So lines with high memory, particularly thicker fluorocarbon can be a big issue for spinning reels. High memory lines tend to not sit well on spinning reel spools and can jump off causing a tangled mess. If you want to use fluorocarbon on your spinning gear, try to keep it 8 lb or under.

Final Thoughts

There’s a lot to consider when deciding what fishing line to use. My advice is to start with the goal. What fish species are you targeting, in what environment and using what technique? Decide what line characteristics are best suited for the job and choose a mainline and leader that fits the bill. Next choose the test, length and colour of your fishing line making sure it is compatible with your rod and reel.

Follow this process and I’m sure you’re going to make a great choice in selecting the best fishing line for you. I wish you all the best for your next fishing trip and all the ones to follow!