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How to choose fishing line: catch the fish you want with mono, braided or fluoro on your reel

How to choose fishing line
Cast off with the right choice of line from the three major types and you can start reeling in your catches (Image credit: Getty)

How to choose fishing line is one of those questions that seems quite simple, but the more you understand about it, the more complex the choices can get. It can be a minefield of different colors, brands and types, and easy to make completely the wrong decision if you’re not experienced.

But choosing the right fishing line is key to success in lots of situations, so, let’s run through an explanation of the three main types of fishing line – monofilament, braided and fluorocarbon – their main attributes, and why you would choose to use each one.

Why choose monofilament line

Monofilament line or 'mono' is the most common type of fishing line used, both for freshwater and saltwater applications. It is also the cheapest kind of fishing line available and is usually clear. Monofilament line has certain attributes that make it ideal for a wide range of applications. 

First of all, it is the easiest line to cast. It comes off the spool easily and tends to not tangle as much as other types of line, making it the best choice for beginner anglers. Monofilament generally has more buoyancy than other types of fishing line. That characteristic can make a big difference in how your bait or lure is presented to your target fish, so it’s important to keep in mind.

Monofilament line also has more stretch than other types of fishing line. Depending on the type of fish you are targeting, and how they fight, having more stretch in your line can help withstand violent head shakes and keep a fish hooked.  

The downsides of monofilament are that it degrades when exposed to heat or sunlight. Also, if you are involved in a long, extended fight with a big fish, mono can get stretched out. Because of these two things, it’s always a good idea to regularly put some fresh mono on your spool before you go out to ensure it performs at its best and doesn’t fail when you’re hooked up to a big fish.

Fishing line on a reel

Braided line is thinner and stronger than monofilament but is more expensive and doesn't stretch as much (Image credit: Getty)

Why choose braided line

Braided line, which includes brands such as Spiderwire, Daiwa J-Braid, PowerPro and Fireline, is the newest kind of fishing line and has had a huge impact on the fishing industry.

The most important attribute of braided line is that it has a much smaller diameter than the same pound test of monofilament line. The smaller diameter allows you to put more of it on the spool of a fishing reel, plus it casts better and performs well in lots of different situations.

The smaller diameter of the line is achieved by using multiple fibers of high-tech fabrics such as Spectra, which is made in America. The ultra-thin fibers are woven together, usually in four-, eight-, 12- or 16-strand configurations, to form a solid line that’s far thinner and more supple than any other type of line. This makes it a good choice for a main line if you want to cast further or fish in deep water as the lower diameter of the line results in less resistance through the air and water. 

Braided line has no stretch. That attribute can be good or bad, depending on the application. Lack of stretch translates into more sensitivity, allowing you to feel a bite better. Knowing it doesn’t have stretch may make it necessary to loosen your drag or to use a lighter fishing rod to compensate for that lack of stretch.

Because of its slim profile, braided line sinks faster than mono under pressure, making it ideal for deep drop applications. Braided line, particularly types with four or eight strands, is more abrasive than mono, making it a good choice if you are in or near vegetation. The abrasiveness can make it effective in cutting through deep cover like kelp or grass. 

However, the fibers can easily be damaged on harder structures such as a dock, reef or pier, on wrecks, a shark’s rough skin or the underside of a boat, so it’s not the best choice if you’re fishing near hard structures like those. If you’re a beginner, braid can be tricky to handle so get it loaded onto your reel correctly and ask for advice on casting with braid at your tackle shop or search online for tips. 

Braided line is more expensive than mono, but lasts longer so it may ultimately prove to be better value over time. It also has superior performance in lots of scenarios and is used by professionals for many applications, often in conjunction with a mono or fluorocarbon topshot or leader to reduce the visibility of the braid main line.

Why choose fluorocarbon line

Fluorocarbon line or 'fluoro' is the third type of fishing line generally in use. The key attribute of fluoro is that it allows light to pass through it rather than reflecting. This characteristic makes it less visible to fish, which can lead to more bites. Lots of professional anglers swear by using this type of line as the leader to tie their hook to for this reason, especially in clear water. 

Another key attribute of fluorocarbon is its abrasion resistance. It is less prone to getting bitten through by the teeth of a fish, or fatally damaged on structures (rocks, reef, coral, jetty, pier, dock, boat hull, etc) found in environments some fish live in. 

Fluorocarbon is more expensive than mono because it’s harder to make but as it's used in smaller lengths than mono a spool usually lasts a while. It is typically utilized in conjunction with mono or braided lines in the form of a few feet at the end of the line, not as the main line you would spool a reel with.

Fishing hook

Monofilament line is the default choice for most anglers as it's cheap and versatile (Image credit: Getty)

How to choose fishing line – putting it all together

Armed with this knowledge of fishing line, you are now in a better position to choose the appropriate type of line to use for specific fishing scenarios. 

If you are just getting started or don’t know what line to use, monofilament is going to be your default line of choice.

Pick a line pound test that balances being able to handle the type of fish you are targeting while going low enough to get a bite. As you advance in your angling pursuits, you’ll get a better idea of what line or combination of lines best suits different applications.

As a starting guide, try 4-10lb (2-4.5kg) mono for light lure or bait fishing for species like trout, bass, small catfish, small surf species, bait fish from a pier, etc; 10-20lb (4.5-9kg) for heavier bait and lure fishing for salmon, carp, big bass, larger catfish, small rays and croaker-type species in the ocean; 20-30lb (9 - 13.5kg) for small game fish like tuna and big freshwater predators, 30-50lb (13.5 - 22.5kg) for serious game fish and small sharks; 50-130lb (22.5 - 59kg) for big game species like tuna, marlin and shark.

Braid can also be a good option for an angler with a bit of experience. It’s a little more prone to tangling and needs to be loaded professionally at a fishing tackle shop but its benefits are many and ultimately it will help you catch more fish a lot of the time.

Ideally, you’ll want to have different reels loaded with different lines to use for specific fishing situations, with your approach and line choice developed as you become a better angler and learn which types work best.  

When in doubt, ask the professional in your local tackle shop or one of the regular anglers where you are fishing to learn what they would use. Good luck!

Joe Sarmiento

Joe Sarmiento is the founder and primary writer for the So Cal Salty blog, covering the many saltwater fishing opportunities found year-round in California and Mexican waters. In addition, Joe’s writing has appeared on BD Outdoors, Western Outdoor News, and The Log. As much as Joe enjoys fishing, he also enjoys cooking and eating his catch – you will find many recipes for various saltwater species like yellowtail, tuna, rockfish and lingcod included in his work.