There was a time in my fishing career that I paid little attention to the less glamorous aspects of my fishing gear. I’d spend thousands on the boat and electronics and hundreds on rods, reels, spoons and plugs, and yet I would neglect the little things like swivels, hooks and, most importantly, line. Afterall, if you think about it, the most critical component of your fishing equipment might just be the line itself. Even today, I’m regularly surprised to see a fellow fisherman fishing a $650 reel spooled up with the same line that it came with ten years ago. Or when I sell a fancy reel to a customer, and when I ask if they want it spooled, they say no they’ll just take the line off their old reel. While I’m all for saving money, but I think they are being penny wise and pound foolish.
Today we have come a long way from wooden reels with steel line. (Full disclosure: I still fish with wooden reels, but I would be more then willing to try a high-end modern machined aluminum reel if any manufacturers want to bribe give them to me.) There are now myriad different types and colours of fishing line to choose from. And no one line is perfect for everything, not even Maxima Ultragreen.
The most commonly used line today is monofilament (mono). This is a single strand of line made of hydrocarbons available in clear or high-visibility (hi-vis). Different brands have different characteristics, but in general all have decent abrasion resistance and varying degrees of stretch. I use the aforementioned Maxima Ultragreen when I want limited stretch and no limpness; e.g., as a hoochie leader when I want a stiff line to transmit the action of the flasher to the hoochie. If I was fishing a spoon, then I would choose a line like Berkley ProSpec, as it is very limp and stretchy and would let the spoon swim freely and not be as affected by the flasher.
I personally feel the debate between hi-vis and clear monofilament is drawing to a close. While I still meet many fishermen that don’t want to use hi-vis line as they feel the fish will see the line and be spooked by it, I would say the majority of recreational fisherman are now using hi-vis as their main line for trolling. The charter guides I know mostly adapted to it years ago. This is with the exception of some in Haida Gwaii, as they seem to be traditionalists and are still cut-plugging a herring at 20 ft.
I personally try to put a different colour on each reel that I will be using, and this helps deal with the inevitable crossed lines and tangles (which are always caused by my buddies and never, ever by me).
Another advantage to hi-vis is that you can see it when tying knots, which is a huge advantage for aging eyes. Also, other fisherman can more easily see it if you are playing a fish on the surface, at least if they are trying to not run over your line.
I do use a clear leader line, often a fluorocarbon one, but I’m not convinced it is necessary for saltwater trolling. In fact, once I ran out of leader line and tried using my hi-vis fluorescent yellow main line as leader. I was trolling 30 ft down in 50 ft of relatively clear water. I could see the shine of my flashers as they rotated behind my boat. While this is an unusual situation in the Strait of Georgia (I’m normally fishing 150 ft down in 1000 ft of water), the salmon were there, so I fished there. It turned into one of the best fishing days of my life. I caught and released more Chinook in that day than I could count. All I can say is that on that day, the visibility of the fishing line did not bother the salmon one bit.
Braided, often known by brand names such as Spectra or Tuf-Line, is a multi-strand line manufactured from gel-spun polyethylene and microfibers. It is much thinner than comparable pound test monofilament, and thus will cast 30-40 % farther than mono of the same pound test. While more often found on bottom fishing or spin casting reels, I often see it on trolling rods these days. It gives better hook sets than mono, has less drag, and your reel can hold more of it.
It also is not damaged by sunlight like mono is, so it lasts longer. However, it has much less abrasion resistance, so check it often for cuts and scuffs.
One growing trend is spooling trolling reels with braided line. However, for trolling, a short “top shot” of monofilament is still used, as the braid slips out of most downrigger release clips. It is possible the stretch of the mono also helps when fighting a fish. The fisherman must also learn a good line to line knot to tie the two together and check that knot frequently for wear and tear.
I currently have not made up my mind as to wether or not I like braid for trolling. I have one reel spooled with it, and I am trying it out. All I need is more time on the water. So, if any of you know my lovely wife please tell her I need to fish more; you know, for the good of the fishing community…
Fluorocarbon is a relatively new type of monofilament line. It is comprised of fluorine, chlorine, carbon, and hydrocarbons. While similar to normal mono in appearance, it has different characteristics. Fluoro is very low-visibility line. I recall a Seaguar product display I once saw at work with various types of line backlit in a water-filled display. The highest-end line was invisible unless I got my eyes within a few inches. (At about $1 per yard, it better be impressive.) This is because fluorocarbon does not distort light passing through it in water. In fact, according to Berkley-Fishing.com, its refraction index is almost the same as water.
Additionally, due to its more densely packed molecular structure it is more resistant to abrasion and damage from UV light than standard monofilament. It also has less stretch than mono, but more than braid. This can be a trade-off. More stretch is good for fighting a fish and absorbing the shock of a big strike. On the other hand, stretch is bad for hooksets and sensitivity.
I personally only use fluorocarbon as leader line. That’s primarily for the abrasion resistance because, as stated above, I’m not convinced invisibility is a major factor when trolling deep in our low clarity ocean water.
One key aspect to its use is tying the right knot. I am currently using either an improved clinch knot or the Palomar knot. Different manufacturers have different recommendations, but one key detail is that it must be wetted prior to pulling the knot tight, or the friction of cinching the knot will heat up the line and weaken it.
In closing, use the right line for the application, and no matter what line you are using, don’t neglect it. If you start breaking off fish, check your line. Run the line through your fingers and see if you feel abrasions. Cut off any affected line and dispose of it properly. Then inspect your rod eyes and any part of the reel that the line comes in contact with. Look for burrs, cracks, or anything else that could damage your line. It’s best to do this prior to showing up at your local tackle shop and hollering about them selling you junk line, only to have the cracked rod eye pointed out to you.
Change your line regularly, and inspect it prior to every trip and after every fish. Know your knots, take your time in tying them, and re-tie your gear often.
Remember, it’s often attention to the little details that will change your fish story from the one that got away to the story about the monster Tyee you landed.