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."
Preference for Braid
Redfish-tournament pro Bryan Watts says he and brother Greg use only braid, preferring Fireline Crystal and Spiderwire Invisabraid. The reasons: no stretch factor and improved casting distance.
"Being from the west coast of Florida, we still have a lot of fish on the flats that are spooky and wary. The primary reason for braid is casting distance. We want to get the bait as far as possible away from the boat," he says.
With a bait that far away, the brothers need the taut braid to drive home the hook point. "Basically, braid enlarges our fishing zone," Watts says.
Just how much farther braid casts remains debatable, but its smaller diameter compared with mono means it flies through the air and cuts through water more easily.
The brothers use 10-pound braid and spinning gear on the open flats, and then switch to 40- to 50-pound SpiderWire Stealth on bait-casting reels when fishing around mangroves. The stronger braid allows them to pull fish from structure quickly where mono might give the fish time and distance to wrap a few roots.
Braid's sensitivity makes it a great line for working plugs and lures and for bottomfishing. "It's great for any crank or spinner bait that has movement," Norris says. "If you pick up a piece of grass on the line, you feel it. And it creates more positive contact with the fish."
Braid also offers more strength compared with line diameter, which means anglers pack more line onto smaller reels — an advantage for long-range tuna fishermen off Southern California. SoCal yellowtail anglers prefer braid because it quickly slices through kelp, a favorite hiding place for those Pacific brawlers.
But while braid's strength creates confidence, its knot-failure rate means connections must be tried and tested. When you tie mono and braid together, braid will win. "With some knots, people are getting only 50 percent [breaking strength]," Drouet says.
Pros like Montella know how to make the best connections between braid and mono, and while they use braid for a main line, they also rig long top shots and wind-on leaders offshore to add stretch and subtract visibility.
"When daytime deep-drop fishing for swordfish, I complete my rig by using a 150-foot wind-on leader made from 250-pound Hi-Catch mono connected to a 9-foot piece of 250-pound Hi-Catch X-Hard clear mono to the bait. We've taken two first places and a second place in the last four swordfish tournaments we've entered," he says.
The evolution of braided lines in recent years has all but eliminated early issues with wind knotting and tip wrapping, Norris says. Monofilament has also come a long way, as the formulas now include multiple ingredients to focus on lowering stretch and memory and improving tensile strength. The current manufacturing trend seems to be combining the best attributes of the two.
In fact, at press time, Berkley had just introduced its new NanoFil, calling it a uni-filament — or unified filament — fishing line. NanoFil consists of hundreds of Dyneema nanofilaments molecularly linked and shaped, Norris says. "The fiber is shaped into a monolike structure. It's really cool and super smooth."
Sport Fishing Insight: Fluorocarbon Features
In salt water, anglers rarely use fluorocarbon as a main line, but the product would make a good inshore choice, says Clay Norris, senior product manager for Pure Fishing. Fluorocarbon features high shock strength and good abrasion resistance. Its primary drawbacks: cost and susceptibility to friction. Anglers must also take extra care when tying knots.
"Some knots don't do well — the Palomar is not fluoro friendly in small sizes," Norris says. "If you tie knots right, fluoro has fantastic knot strength, but it's very susceptible to friction."