(Robert Hamilton, a former Bassmaster Classic champion, is a full-time BASS tour pro and industry consultant with over 30 years of on-the-water experience. He's not sponsored by any tackle or gear manufacturers, so he's uniquely qualified to deliver unbiased, behind-the-scenes reports on specific types of fishing products. An avid outdoorsman himself, he understands your need to buy the best product available within your budget.)
The jig slowly sank into the clear, green current, swinging by the concrete remains of an old bridge abutment. Just as it banged a piece of rebar, a giant smallmouth engulfed the lure and immediately went straight down. The angler set the hook, but in an instant, all that was left was the end of his fishing line. Gone was the big smallmouth and one more opportunity to win a national tournament.
Hey BassFans, I'm Robert Hamilton. This week in Hamilton's Lab, I'm going to try to answer some questions about fishing line. The scenario above unfolded at Pickwick Lake back in the 1980s. I finished 2nd for the eighth time during a 2-year span. It seemed I'd never win my first tournament.
Sometimes, even with good preparation, our fishing fate is literally hanging by a thread – or in this case, a monofilament line. My hook was sharp, my drag was set and my pork chunk was trimmed. What happened?
I'd planned for everything I could control. The fish had a mind of its own. There were 10 different directions that bass could have gone where I probably would have caught her. She chose to go straight down and drag the monofilament over a piece of iron. The friction melted the line in an instant.
Not long ago, I was in my library (at my house we also have a toilet there), looking at one of the large mail-order fishing catalogs. As I turned the pages in the fishing-line section, the story I just shared flashed through my mind.
I wondered what the outcome would have been today with some of the improvements made in fishing line. I truly believe, had I been using one of the many braided lines available today, that I would have caught that bass and won the tournament. Of all the changes and improvements made in the last 25 years, you could certainly make a good argument that fishing line has come as far as any other product.
So Many Lines
The Cabela's on-line catalog lists 4 pages of different types and brands of line. The Bass Pro Shops catalog has 5 pages. Some of the large retailers have whole kiosks featuring nothing but line. As pro anglers, we have a huge advantage here over the average angler. I wish I could claim that it was because we're so much smarter, but since this is an objective, unbiased column, I can't lie about that.
Most pros are sponsored by line companies – either through paid endorsement or free product. With the cost of fishing line, especially the premium braids, this is really important.
Instead, I hope to give you some good information about line application and what makes one line better than another. I personally use several types of line for different techniques. If I had to choose one line for every application it would have to be monofilament.
I look at fishing line as one of the tools I need to make my job more efficient. I guarantee you that Tiger Woods could still play great golf with a 4 iron, a 9 iron and a putter. But he takes advantage of being able to carry 14 clubs for many different situations. The same is true for most fishermen. The one thing that most bass fishermen share is the fact that we have more tackle than we could use the rest of our lives, but we all want more.
Fishing lines can be broken into many categories, but I'm going to list them in three groups: monofilament, braid and fluorocarbon. Each of these have advantages and disadvantages. For instance, braid is extremely strong and durable and great in heavy cover. Why not use it all the time?
The first reason would be clear water. The second reason would be that braid has no stretch and you'll overpower fish using certain techniques. A third reason: Because of friction, it's noisy to cast and will wear out certain types of rod guides.
Fluorocarbon is perfect for clear-water techniques, except for the poor knot strength and excess memory.
Premium monofilament is still the best choice under most conditions and that's what we'll discuss today.
Monofilament is simply a mixture of different polymers that are heated to a liquefied state, then extruded through a tip and cooled. It's then wrapped onto spools, labeled and shipped to your local tackle store. These spools can be anywhere from several feet for leader material to thousands of yards for use in saltwater.
For my use, I like 1,000-yard spools because I use that amount up before the spool gets old, and the size is easy to handle when re-spooling my reels. During tournaments I usually re-spool all of the reels I use each day with monofilament.
Fishing line is available in almost any strength, from 2- to 200-pound test. It's also available in many colors, including clear.
So what makes one line different from another? Why is Brand X's 20-pound test "stronger" than Brand Z's? Why do I seem to get more bites on light line? Why does my line coil off the spool on my spinning reel? These are all good questions that I'll try to answer.
One of the facts I've proven to myself over and over again is that I get more bites with light line. I'm not talking about spinnerbait- or crankbait-fishing – I'll address those in Part 2 of this column. I'm speaking of dropbaits like jigs, worms and other soft plastics. Occasionally, water clarity will play a factor in line size, but more often, the way the bait falls is the critical factor.
I'll guarantee you that seven out of 10 times you'll get more bites on the lighter line. It just has a more natural fall.
Another fact is that the stiffer the line, the more abrasion-resistant it is. The more limp a line, the better it casts and the less memory it has. For spinning-reel applications, I like a limp line. For baitcasting reels, I prefer a stiffer line for better strength.
With the exception of branded "IGFA-class" lines, most of the lines I tested broke at well over their advertised break-strength.
Line diameter is another factor to consider when purchasing fishing line. Although low-diameter line can be an advantage in really clear water, it can also be a problem around cover or rock.
Also, the type of knot used on a specific line has a lot to do with the actual break-strength. All of my tests were done using the palomar or Trilene knot. Both of these are 100%-of-line-strength knots when tied correctly and I never had a monofilament line break in the knot during testing.
However, be careful when tying knots in fluorocarbon. While these two knots are 100% knots for monofilament, they're nowhere near that with most fluorocarbons. Try a double-improved clinch for fluoro.
There are many more issues I want to address. Line care, how to spool your line and how to determine when to use different lines are just a few. Because of column length we will talk more about monofilament, braid and fluorocarbon next time. Until then, here's my recommendations for monofilament line.
Final Lab Report
BEST: Original Stren – My choice as the best all-around monofilament on the market. Low memory, great castability and super knot-strength make it my pick. (Approx. $15.99 for 1,000 yards of 12-pound test)
BETTER: Trilene XT – It's tough as nails with great knot strength. Would have been tied for BEST except for too much memory in spinning applications. (Approx. $16.99 for 1,000 yards of 12-pound test)
GOOD: Ande Premium Monofilament – Great knot-strength, abrasion-resistant and average castability. (Approx. $7.99 for 1,000 yards of 12-pound test)
Tennessee's Robert Hamilton Jr. is a former Bassmaster Classic champ and, like all fishermen, can't get enough gear. To suggest equipment to be tested in Hamilton's Lab, click here to send him an email.