Deciding when to use braid or monofilament as a main line might seem intuitive in most cases. But while one pro advocates braid for all bottomfishing, another says it inhibits bites in clear water, even with fluorocarbon leader. One says mono offers more abrasion resistance; another says braid does.
As usual — easy ain't easy. But the nine experts we spoke to agreed on the following basic generalizations for the best fishing line in specific situations — with a few caveats:
- Trolling: mono
- Live-bait fishing: mono
- Kite-fishing: mono
- Bottomfishing/jigging: braid
- Fishing structure: braid
- Casting plugs/lures (especially with spin tackle): braid
- Fishing kelp: braid
"From a design standpoint, what mono and fluoro have is stretch, and that can be a positive and a negative," says Clay Norris, senior product manager for fishing line for Pure Fishing (Berkley, Stren, SpiderWire). "If you're not prepared on your end — the drag is wrong, you have the wrong rod action — you'll have issues with braid because of zero shock. The braid will break at the knot nine times out of 10 — something's got to give."
Mono's stretch becomes especially critical when anglers go big-game trolling. "With braid, if you got a direct hit on a big fish, say 600 to 1,000 pounds, I'd hate to see what damage could be done to your rod holders," says Chuck Gerlach, owner of Ande. "If you were not fishing a bent-butt rod, you'd end up with one before the day was over."
Norris says most offshore anglers also use mono for safety reasons. Take a wrap past the leader with braid, and you could lose a finger if a big fish struggles boat-side.
Mono holds knots better and costs less than braid. It also works better on smaller bait-casting reels because light braid can dig into itself.
Bryan Yamane, assistant product manager for Daiwa, says Florida sailfish and dolphin anglers still use a lot of mono on the troll, and it's popular for use with kite lines because it runs through the clips better.
Mono also helps prevent possible cutoffs when using kites, says South Florida captain and TV host Rick Murphy, who uses Sufix line products. "If the middle or long bait goes off and that fish goes screaming through the inside bait or across the down-current baits, a braided line would cut off those lines," he says. "You'd think braid would be perfect with its smaller diameter and less stretch; it puts less weight on the kite. But you run into problems when kite lines cross."
There's still a huge demand for mono, Murphy adds, especially for use in clear water: "That's the common denominator." Murphy uses mono as line for jigging snapper, live-baiting and sight-casting in the shallows when water visibility is crystalline.
"If you're snapper fishing with braid, even though you have a fluorocarbon leader, you won't get a bite," he says. "Same thing with bonefish. You may see hundreds of two- to three-pound bonefish, but if you throw a jig in there with braided line, you won't get a bite."
Murphy says he tested this theory while targeting snapper in the Bahamas. Two of the three anglers aboard his boat used clear mono; one used braid (of the same line strength as the mono, so smaller diameter); all used identical fluorocarbon leaders and jigs. Those fishing mono hooked up immediately; the angler with braid caught nothing. The anglers even switched rods in case one fisherman was imparting a different action.
"The clarity of the water sends up a red flag for me," Murphy says. "If I'm not getting a bite with braid, I'll switch to mono and see if that's the difference."
In some cases, mono isn't quite good enough. Southern Kingfish Association pro Chris Blanton of South Carolina says he uses straight Hi-Seas fluorocarbon for kingfish. "It's costly to do, but fluoro adds a little better feel, and we've found it works," he says, adding that he attaches six inches of wire to the fluoro as a leader. "We've had fish run around a rig in the Gulf, and it frayed up the fluoro, but it still caught the fish."
Fluorocarbon features average tensile strength, but its knot strength rates below that of nylon, Gerlach says. It does offer good abrasion resistance, better than mono, and some say better than braid. "Braid's strength is straight up and down," says John Drouet, sales manager for HiLiner (Diamond Fishing Products). "Braid breaks down when the fibers abrade. Once you breach that finish, the line is compromised."
On the other hand, Pure Fishing's Norris ranks the abrasion resistance of braid higher than mono — of equivalent diameter. "You get some fraying on the outside, but the fiber is so strong," he says. "Let's say 10 percent of the line abrades, but the line is still three times stronger than mono at the same diameter. "