How to choose fishing line: know when and how to use mono, fluorocarbon and braided lines

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 for your next trip is one of those questions that seems quite simple because there are only a few types of line, each with their own distinct advantages and disadvantages. 

But, making the correct choice can be a decision–making minefield with different variants, hybrids, colors, brands, and sub–categories all stacking up to confuse you into the wrong decision if you’re not experienced. Hence, this expert–written guide.

So, let’s run through an explanation of the three main types of line – monofilament, braided and fluorocarbon – their main attributes, and the occasions when they're the best fishing lines to use.

If you've ever wondered what line the fish can't see, or what line to spool up with use to cast further, or what type of leader to tie on if you're fishing near rocks, then this line choice how–to guide is for you.

How to choose fishing line: when monofilament line is the best choice

Monofilament line or 'mono' is the most common type of fishing line used for recreational angling with rod and line, both for freshwater and saltwater applications. It is also the cheapest kind of fishing line available and is usually clear. This popularity is because monofilament line has 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 of main line for beginner anglers. It's easier to manage than braided main line, which we'll talk about later, and cheaper too, should a tangle or breakage occur.

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 (check out our how to choose fishing bait guide), so it’s important to keep in mind if you're lure fishing or looking to present a bait near the surface.

Monofilament line also has more stretch than other types of fishing line, around 15–30% depending on the brand and breaking strain. 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 stretchiness of mono line can be really useful if you're a beginner angler or helping a youngster out – it makes it very forgiving of someone putting too little or too much pressure on a hooked fish, for example.

As well as being cheap, easy to use and stretchy, monofilament line is also usually very abrasion resistant. This means that if you're fishing near rocks, pilings or any sort of structure, you'll want to be using mono as main line, or at least as a leader, to take the punishment of a hooked fish swimming around an abrasive element. A leader is the bit of line tied to the end of your main line and covers the lines used as casting or rub leaders (also called top shots) and bite leaders. So mono is a great leader choice for when you need something that can handle some abrasion, and it's good at resisting toothy fish, too, albeit not as well as a wire bite leader.

Two of 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. 

Mono line can also twist when spooling onto a reel or when repeatedly retrieving a spinning bait like a lure, which results in poor casting and tangles. This can be solved by careful spooling (making sure the line isn't twisting up as it leaves the spool for the reel, and flipping the spool so it loads without twisting), and also ensuring the line roller on the reel is functioning correctly. Most tackle shops will spool reels for a small fee and this is a great option for beginners.

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)

How to choose fishing line: when braid line is the best choice

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. It's the first choice of many pro anglers.

The most important attribute of braided line is that it has a much smaller diameter than the same pound test of monofilament or fluorocarbon line. The smaller diameter allows you to put more of it on the spool of a fishing reel – plus it's very limp with zero memory and, thus, 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. You can comfortably use a much lighter sinker with 20lb braided main line versus 20lb mono, for example.

Braided line also 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, lure action or sinker hitting bottom better. Knowing it doesn’t have stretch may make it necessary to loosen your drag or to use a lighter–action 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. Bass anglers love a tough braided main line for fishing frog–type baits into heavy weedy cover, for example.

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.

How to choose fishing line: when fluorocarbon line is the best choice

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 due to having a similar refractive nature to water. 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 to tie their hook to for its low–visibility properties, especially in clear water. Fish can't easily see it and won't spook off a bait because they can see a line attached. Another common use for fluorocarbon is for a leader between the main line and rig to ensure fish can't see the few feet of line above the rig. It's a great choice of line when stealth is needed.

Another key attribute of fluorocarbon is its abrasion resistance. It's not 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. This means fluoro is a good choice of leader when up against such scenarios.

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: expert chooses best lines for getting started wherever you fish

Armed with this knowledge of fishing lines and their key qualities, you are now in a better position to choose the best type of line to use for specific fishing scenarios. 

Let's get the big question out of the way first: if you are just getting started or don’t know what line to use, monofilament is going to be your default line of choice for now.

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, panfish, small surf species, bait fish from a pier, etc. Go for 10-20lb (4.5-9kg) mono or braid for heavier bait and lure fishing for salmon, carp, big bass, larger catfish, small game species and drum–type species in the ocean. 

Hit the 20-30lb (9 - 13.5kg) braid or mono category for medium–grade game fish like tuna and big freshwater predators; 30-50lb (13.5 - 22.5kg) for big catfish, serious game fish and small sharks; or 50-130lb (22.5 - 59kg) braid and leader combos for big game species like tuna, marlin and shark.

Braid can also be the best 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, then you'll build up a mental list of the scenarios where each type works best for future reference. When you've got this type of information logged, working out how to choose the best line is really easy. 

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.