Line Management 101 by Scott Haugen
January 2011 Feature:
There’s no doubt that among the many advancements in fishing technology, lines have dramatically advanced over the past decade. I recall growing up in the late 1960s and ‘70s, going to Bi-Mart and having only one brand of line to choose from. Back then, the biggest decision was what pound-test line to buy, not which brand.
Since those days, lines have become highly specialized to meet the growing fishing techniques anglers apply. Furthermore, lines have been developed to fit specific rod designs, reel models and even species of fish.
With the multitude of lines on today’s market, choosing which one to use, when and where, can be a challenge. The more you fish, the more your thought process will develop–along with personal preference–as to which line to use to best apply a specific technique in a certain situation.
Based on a lifetime of fishing, I've been amazed with the lines of today and how well they fit the many styles of fishing I apply and the various species I pursue. I take my full-time job as a writer, speaker and TV host seriously, using the best gear that helps me put food on the table, literally and figuratively. Fishing line is no exception.
Following is a look at some of today’s more common types of lines and what purposes they serve. This is not an in-depth look at the scientific intricacies surrounding these craftsmanship of these lines, rather a general overview of the lines themselves and how they may best be used.
Copolymer lines are crafted from a blend of nylons, versus the traditional monofilament that I grew up with which is made of a single type of nylon. Due to this combination of nylons, copoly’s are usually tougher than monofilament lines, which is their selling point for salmon, steelhead and trophy trout anglers.
I prefer using copolymer lines when drift fishing, backbouncing, free-drifting, dragging, side-drifting, spinner fishing and backtrolling baits for salmon, trout and steelhead. That's not to say I only use copolys' when applying these methods, but I like this type of line for two reasons. First, the copolymer line I use, PLine’s CXX X-TRA Strong, is extremely tough and abrasion resistant for the true diameters in which it comes. These are crucial requirements in the rocky, rough-running rivers I most often fish.
I once hooked a springer which took me under a ledge and badly frayed my line. Curious to see how the line would continue to hold up, I caught another fish on it, then another. Before it was over, I caught 11 springers (releasing the wild ones) on the same frayed line before finally changing it out.
That's about the best durability test there is and I’ve been using the X-TRA Strong as a mainline and leader, ever since.
Second, I like copolys' due to their memory levels. They are not as relaxed as say, a braided line, meaning they won't whip and wrap around the rod tip, costing valuable time, or worse yet, a fish. They are just stiff enough to maintain control over and that's important when pinpointing where you want your line to be.
If you don't have confidence in the pound line you are using, then upgrade to a heavier pound test. It's better to go too heavy than too light, for what's the use in hooking a fish if there's not a prayer of landing it?
Braided lines are valuable tools and have revolutionized much of salmon and steelhead fishing. When it comes to bobber and jig fishing, I used to depend on braided lines–many anglers rate them as their float-fishing line of choice. A braided line that floats allows for mends to be made to ensure the bobber is being carried downstream at a natural rate.
Without a floating line it can be tough bobber fishing moving water over extended stretches as the line control simply isn't there for me.
I also like braided lines for running big plugs and trolling for fall chinook and especially those big kings in Alaska and Canada. These are methods where hangups are few, meaning you don't have to break the line off when getting hung-up. At the same time, these are approaches where a stronger line, with a smaller diameter, can allow you to better manage big fish, increasing the chance of landing them.
I know guides who fish for a living and they routinely use 60- and 80-pound braided mainline when trolling, even heavier in some cases, as it greatly increases the odds of less experienced anglers getting big fish to the boat.
I know of several guys who drift fish braided line, but I personally find myself getting in too many tangles and not being able to control my terminal gear as I'd like. That’s just me. A lot of it comes down to fishing style, the gear, rods and reels you use, and the specific holes being fished.
Some braids, like Cabela’s Ripcord, are metered by color. These are great for trolling situations so you know exactly how much line to let out each time you make a pass, whereby allowing you to reach precise depths. If you don’t have a line counter on your reel, metered braids are a great tool, even for backtrolling plugs.
Floatfishing is a basic, straight-forward technique that a novice can pick up in a short time and find success with. It’s also a very effective way to cover water, whether you’re fishing off the bank or from a boat.
One of the keys to effective floatfishing is the mainline. I know of some great float anglers who stand by their copolymer and braided lines, and regularly catch fish. Personally, it was the non-braided lines that drove me crazy during the infancy of my floatfishing days, nearly 15 years ago. My biggest struggle back then was lack of line control. I later switched to braids, with good success, but wasn’t totally happy with how the braids would eventually flatten out, separate, discolor, absorb water and sink.
After years of experimenting with various floatfishing mainlines, I had the opportunity to help the folks at PLine create one specifically for salmon and steelhead angling.
The line, called Hydrofloat, was developed with multiple objectives in mind: perfecting a non-braided mainline with zero stretch that has good visibility, ages slowly and most importantly, floats sufficiently enough to properly mend while allowing constant visual contact to be maintained in an effort to achieve the perfect delivery.
Hydrofloat–a spectra-fiber base, thermal-fuse coated line–is my preferred medium with which to present a float. The spectra-fiber line is a gel-spun polyethylene (a fancy phrase for plastic), and is exceptionally strong for its diameter. It’s not a line to be used with any other method of fishing as the coating will breakdown when dragged over rocks and across limbs.
Over time I’ve found that by applying a floatant like Gink, (a liquid that adds buoyancy to the line) over the first 30-feet, I’ve been able to fish it more effectively in choppy and semi-swirling water.
What helped me most with floatfishing was finding a mainline that floated, whereby allowing me to make the proper mend. If this method of fishing is giving you fits, maybe it’s worth trying different braids, Hydrofloat or some other options to see what works best for you.
I once stood in a crystal-clear Alaskan stream, where steelhead into the 20 pound class swam in front of me. The man next to me was flustered at not hooking any fish, so downsized from a 10 pound copolymer leader to a 6 pound fluorocarbon leader.
His reasoning was that the fluorocarbon would not spook the fish, and he was right, but the mistake was in downsizing the line.
If anything, he could have increased the pound-test when switching to fluorocarbon. I preceded to watch him hook and break off several fish, while I landed double-digit fish with 15 pound fluorocarbon leader, all in the same hole.
Fluorocarbon leader is ideal for clear water conditions because it has a refraction index nearly identical to water. In other words, it's virtually invisible underwater. Fishing fluorocarbon leaders makes the most sense in very clear, usually low, water, where fish may be spooked by other, more visible lines passing near them. It's also valuable on extremely bright days, in slightly sediment-laden water, where light rays penetrate down to the leader.
This coho fell for a jig tied on a fluorocarbon leader, with a Hydrofloat mainline.
However, I routinely see it being used in off-colored water, which is fine, but not really necessary once you stop and think about the purpose for which this line is designed.
Early in it's developmental stages, fluorocarbon received a bad rap as there were some sub-par products on the market. Overall production and quality-control is more stringent now, and some companies were forced to step-up their standards to compete with the higher quality fluorocarbons already on the shelf. The most dependable fluorocarbon leader I've personally used is crafted by PLine, and I've caught big steelhead and trophy trout on it.
Fluorocarbon, no matter what the brand, is a hard line, and wetting the knot prior to cinching it down is a must.
If the line is not wet, and a fish breaks off at the knot, it's likely due to friction which creates heat, thus a loss of knot strength. This is something an angler can help control by thoroughly wetting the knot before snugging it tight.
Not always is there a place for fluorocarbon. I regularly use it in very clear water where steelhead may be spooked, and in crystal-clear trout streams and lakes. I rarely, if ever, use it on salmon as they aren’t leader-shy and the waters I routinely fish them in are usually a bit off-color.
The beauty of fluorocarbon leader is that it allows you to increase the weight-class of line being fished due to its refraction index and go after fish without spooking them.
Experiment with fluorocarbon leaders and find what works best for you.
Pulling plugs for salmon and steelhead has been around for decades, and really reached is peak in the 1980s. Today, many anglers still apply this method, some even live and die by it. Pulling plugs can be easy but it's far from simple. There is a lot more to pulling plugs than tossing them in the water and backing them downstream.
Speed, position, depth, action and reading the water to see what's ahead are just some of the factors plug-pullers have to pay constant attention to in order to keep that plug fishing. Just because the plugs are in the river doesn't mean a fish will bite. I know of people who have pulled plugs for two and three years and never hooked a fish, and I can promise you it's not the plug's fault.
Above all else, the oarsman must control where the well-tuned plug is going and where it needs to go. Plug positioning does not happen by chance; it's a deliberate movement put in place by the oarsman. In order to figure out where plugs should be positioned, it’s best to be able to see where the lines are going.
This is where a high visibility line comes in handy.
I prefer the same copolymer line I normally use, but in a high visibility, fluorescent green. Be it dark mornings, against dark or bright water, in heavily shaded stretches, amid tense rains and even in dwindling daylight where it might otherwise be difficult to detect a standard colored copolymer or braided line, the high-visibility line is always easy to see. When running multiple rods, a high visibility line is a big bonus when it comes to maneuvering plugs with pinpoint accuracy as the lines are easy to see, even out of your peripheral vision.
Rather than tying terminal gear direct to the high visibility line, simply tie a six to nine foot copolymer leader of a different color to a size 7 barrel swivel, to which the mainline is tied to the other end. If the swivel is picking up too much debris in the water, and the action of the plug becomes inhibited because of this, I'll join the two lines with a blood knot. I know of anglers with aging eyes who have gone to high vis’ line when drift-fishing, and with good success.
There you have it, some of the most common types of fishing lines used by salmon, trout and steelhead anglers. While the technology behind these lines runs much deeper than outlined here, their practical applications are straight forward. From here, take some time to experiment with different makes, sizes, colors and styles of lines, and determine for yourself what works best for you.
The key to becoming a more proficient angler is putting in the time, learning about the gear and what it’s capable of doing.
Fishing lines are no exception.