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October 26, 2001

20-pound Line Test

We chose a common line size useful for many applications - 20-pound - and subjected 85 different lines to identical testing procedures.

RESULTS

Tensile Strength

Not surprisingly, head-to-head, braids generally beat monofilaments for tensile strength hands down. That is, at the same break strength, the gel-spun polyethylene superbraids are much thinner and, hence, truly much stronger. However, it's well-established that knots simply don't hold as well in braid as in mono, so they lose some of their inherent strength there. Many lines claim to be stronger than others. But, again, true strength is a measure of breaking point against size. On that basis the strongest braid was Western Filament Tuf Line. It was also underrated, claiming a 20-pound strength on its spool but breaking at 29 pounds (practically speaking, though, remember to deduct several pounds for lost knot strength). The strongest mono we tested was Remington Ultra. It broke at 31.8 pounds, yet it's very thin. Rounding out the top five monos in strength: Australian Platypus, which broke at 22.8 pounds (barely over the IGFA's 10-kilogram limit of 22.2 pounds), Berkley Trilene Sensithin, Platypus Super-100 and Super Silver Thread. However, for many of the lines we tested, differences in diameter were not vast, and not all anglers care about using the thinnest and most abrasion-resistant line they can find. For many, actual mean tensile strength regardless of diameter is most important; that is, at what strength did this line actually break wet? For those figures, see the data table. 

It's worth noting that among the five strongest lines all but the Platypus are considerably underrated. Although the spool claims 20-pound strength, in fact with Remington, Berkley and Silver Thread lines mentioned above - as with many other lines in this test - you won't be fishing 20-pound at all, but lines testing near or even well above 30-pound. Nothing wrong with that; it's just nice to know what you're really fishing with. 

Resistance to Abrasion 

We found surprising variation among braided lines, with some 20-pound braids lasting a mere 60 cycles on average, while others held on through more than 800 cycles. Loudly squealed protestations at being pulled back and forth over the steel told us at the start of a test which monos or fluorocarbons would abrade through quickly. Lines that lasted longer tended to remain silent when stressed. Why? One answer is that these tougher lines have polymer hardening additives or antifriction coatings that allow them to glide more smoothly over rough surfaces. Not surprisingly, these lines felt smoother or more slippery, and probably require extra care in cinching down tightly when knotted. 

Specifically, for its diameter Mason Tiger Braid was our top line for toughness, with Western Filament's aptly named Tuf-Line a close second, based on mean cycles to break as a function of diameter. However, ranked third among all 85 lines was our top monofilament Stren Original (proving you can't always improve on a good thing) which far outlasted any challenger, falling just five cycles short of a phenomenal 1,300-cycle average to break. (Its thicker diameter accounts for an abrasion-strength rating slightly below the two braids.) Interestingly, Stren Original also scored very high in our 1998 abrasion test of 8-pound lines, finishing second.

 

This test again reinforces the caveat emptor rule since, for example, one braided line claims in its ads to be 500 percent more abrasion resistant than competing superbraids. In fact, it broke very unimpressively at only slightly over 100 cycles, which in our tests makes it about 900 percent less abrasion resistant than those at the top. Or consider Stren's Supertough. Marketed by that name, you'd have to figure that would be the most abrasion-resistant line Stren makes, right? It lasted an average of 273 cycles versus the Stren Original at 1,295. Go figure.

 

Fluorocarbon leader has become popular for its invisibility in the water. But fluoro enthusiasts may want to take particular note and, if concerned about abrasion resistance, at least get a much heavier (thicker) leader than you'd normally use. Even the toughest fluorocarbon leaders and lines, both made by Triplefish, offered only modest abrasion resistance (with an abrasion-resistance index of 162 vs. 730 for the best mono). Most fluorocarbons tested dismally, lasting just 20 to 60 or so cycles on the machine versus nearly 1,300 for Stren Original (which might be both the toughest and most economical choice for leader material).Variance from 20-PoundIn this analysis, only absolute break strength is considered; thickness of the line is irrelevant. The idea is to see how far off each line is from what it claims to be, in this case 20-pound. However, some explanation is necessary since, in fact, we considered 22.2 pounds to be the correct strength. Why? Because the standards used for line classes, recognized by recreational fishermen around the world, are those designated by the International Game Fish Association. Given its international status, the IGFA uses kilogram ratings rather than pound ratings. So while fishermen conveniently refer to the 20-pound class, this is technically the 10-kilogram class, and 10 kilograms actually equals about 22.2 pounds. Most lines (59 of 85) were somewhere over the 22.2-pound mark. In other words, they were underrated. That's not surprising because manufacturers have long shown an inclination to underrate their lines. Why? Good marketing and business sense. You tell fishermen they're using 20-pound test, then you put 30-pound test on the spool (manufacturing it as thin as possible). Fishermen have no way of knowing the truth - and no doubt many don't care - so they end up praising it as really strong 20-pound. No kidding. Not that line manufacturers try to hide the subterfuge; some even brag in their marketing campaigns that they have the strongest 20-pound line on the market. What these ads are really saying is, Our 40-pound mono is the strongest 20-pound mono you can buy. On the Web site of a different manufacturer, we found a box bragging about label rating versus actual breakload, that is, saying how strong the spool claims the line is and how strong the line really is. The manufacturer boasts that its spools of 20-pound line are actually 39-pound line, pointing out that this is nearly double the stated strength! Our question would be: Why not label the spool 39-pound test, if you know that's what it is? In fact, 14 lines tested over 30 pounds, wet (which means that dry they'd test higher - some at least 40 pounds, probably). Again, buyer, beware. Fortunately for those who don't want to fool themselves and who want to fish with 20-pound line that is really 20-pound line, 26 of the 85 lines tested came out at or less than 22.2 pounds wet. Purchasing lines marketed as IGFA or tournament grade should help assure you of getting line that won't overtest. To better understand how lines are marketed to two groups of saltwater anglers - those who want to fish the real thing and those who don't mind if their line overtests the spool strength - consider Momoi Hi-Catch. Its regular 20-pound mono line is 0.40 inch in diameter with a mean break of 24.3 pounds, while its IGFA-class 20-pound is 0.018 inch in diameter with a mean break of 22.0 pounds.

 

These IGFA/tournament lines also tend to be of higher quality as well (the consistency ranking indicates this) by being more uniform, i.e., lacking irregular areas which may be too thick or, worse, too thin. 

Cost

 

To determine street prices, we went to several large mail-order firms. We tried to price out spools at or as close to 600 yards as possible, then figured the cost per 100 yards. That's a pretty common spool size, though it varied quite a bit. In a few cases we had to go with spools holding a good bit more or less line, and of course that could pull prices down or up, respectively. This is especially true for expensive fluorocarbon leaders, some of which were available only in 25- or 30-yard spools; obviously if one could buy them in 600-yard amounts, it would cost a fortune, but the per-yard cost would come down somewhat. We couldn't get prices from our sources for all lines tested. Still, what we found offers a revealing idea of how much cost varies among monos and braided lines. As with so many products, it also shows that money doesn't necessarily buy happiness. We found one of our top-rated lines, Stren Original, priced at a very reasonable $2.48 per 100 yards. Conversely, some of the more expensive lines did not rate particularly high for abrasion and/or tensile strength.