Mar 20, 2019

Below the Line

What type of fishing line to use? Various dynamics help you choose the right kind of line

By Tim Winchester 

As springtime quickly approaches, it’s time to transition from ice fishing to open water season.

Pull out you favorite rods and reels and grab that box of new, expensive custom baits. Now you’re ready to go right? Not quite. What about the main link between you and that fish of a lifetime – your line.

So you head to your favorite sporting goods store and find yourself in front of a massive display of fishing line. What’s the right line for you? That really depends on what you’re fishing for. The following is a general breakdown of the lines I use for different fishing situations. 

Mondo mono

Monofilament – or mono, for short – is a single strand of material most commonly made of nylon. Sometimes it is blended together into a multi-polymer to produce various degrees of stretch, strength and resistance to abrasion.

Mono is a great all-around fishing line and works well in most fishing situations. Because mono stretches, it can help if your drag sticks when fighting a big fish and if you set the hook too hard. The stretching of the line also works as a shock absorber when fighting a big fish near the boat.

The diameter of monofilament line is typically larger, which can help or hurt you. First, it will slow the sink rate of your jig or lure, which can lead to more bites. I’ve seen before when the slow fall is the key to fishing success. If you are fishing deeper water, you will need to use a heavier jig because mono has a near neutral buoyancy. Due to the larger diameter, mono will also limit how deep your crankbait will run.

One of my favorite fishing techniques is a simple bobber. When I fish for panfish, I typically use 4- to 6-pound Berkley Trilene because I’m typically fishing semi-clear water.

When I’m slip bobbering for walleye, I use a bit heavier main line. I use 10-pound Trilene for a main line up to my bobber and weight, then I’ll attach a barrel swivel to a leader of 8-pound line and my jig or hook. Why do I do this? Because when you snag, you will only lose your hook or jig and not your entire set up. I also have a rod rigged with 8-pound mono set up for casting smaller crankbaits in shallow water where I don’t want the bait to dive too deep.

For trolling with planer boards, all my rods are rigged with 12-pound Berkley Trilene. I believe that in big waves, this sturdier line limits the jerkiness you would get with a braided line when trolling and the boards surge forward after a big wave hits. It also acts as a shock absorber when you have a big fish and they shake their heads to make last second runs.

Feeling fluoro

Fluorocarbon took the market by storm in the late 1990s. Fluorocarbon started as a saltwater leader material because it’s durable and virtually invisible under water, and now its popularity has spread to many freshwater applications.

The fact that it’s invisible under water means you’re able to catch more fish from clear water lakes. You can also get away with using heavier line. Fluorocarbon does not stretch the way that mono does, so it’s easier to detect bites.

Fluorocarbon also repels ultraviolet light, so the line itself doesn’t break down over time the way that monofilament does. Because of its dense composition, fluorocarbon is three times heavier than mono, and it sinks better for this reason.

I primarily use fluorocarbon as leader material. I love its durability and the fact that it’s invisible. The only downfall is that it’s expensive. Fluorocarbon line can range from $15 to $25 per spool, but when you use only a few feet at a time, the price seems less of an issue. I typically run a 2- to 4-foot leader on all my jig rods, and sometimes longer if I’m fishing extremely clear water, such as 8-pound or 10-pound on my casting rods. I also tie all my spinner rigs for walleye with 12-pound fluorocarbon.

Braided brawn

Braided line is made up of synthetic fibers such as Kevlar, Spectra and Dyneema, often woven together to make an extremely strong line.

Braided line is often a third to a quarter the diameter of monofilament or fluorocarbon, and often exceeds its marked breaking strength. I like how durable braided line is because you can bang it on the bottom or drag it across zebra mussels that would normally cut mono to shreds and reel it in with hardly a scratch.

Braided line is also easy to cast as it comes off the reel smoothly and doesn’t have any reel memory the way that mono gets when it sits on a reel for a long period of time. You can also fish baits deeper because of braid’s thin diameter.

Some of the disadvantages of braid line is its cost – about $15 to $30 per spool – but it can last two to three seasons. It is also highly visible in the water, so a fluorocarbon leader is a must! I simply attach a 3- to 6-foot leader of fluorocarbon to my braid with either a double-uni knot or an Albright knot. Both knots are very strong and easy to tie with a little practice.

Braided line is also very hard to cut, so make sure you carry a sharp scissors with you. Braided line is probably my favorite because I can cast it a long distance and can detect the slightest bite since it doesn’t stretch. When I cast crankbaits and the bait has picked up debris or is not running properly, I can often clear up the situation with a sharp rip of the rod when using braided line. I can also feel every time my bait hits a piece of structure.

I have all my jig rods rigged with 8-pound Power Pro in Hi-Viz yellow because I can watch the line and often see the line jump when a fish bites before I feel it. On my bait-casting rod I use for pulling rigs or casting larger crankbaits, I use 10-pound Seaguar Smackdown. This line is awesome because it’s smooth as silk and comes off the reel nicely.

As you spool up this spring in preparation for another open water season, remember the main link between you and that fish of a lifetime is your line. Make sure you buy quality line and tie good knots.

Some people always preach that lightweight line catches fish, but my theory is how heavy of line can I get away with using. Tight lines, everyone!


Tim Winchester grew up in Oshkosh and has fished the Lake Winnebago system for more than 30 years. He has spent the last 20 years competing in walleye tournaments on the system and is the 2017 Otter Street/Battle on Bago champion and has finished in the top 10 on four separate occasions in the Mercury National Walleye tournament. He has a passion for teaching kids how to fish and enjoy the outdoors.