When pursuing giant toothy critters, you can have a $500 reel, but spool it with subpar line and it's for naught. These days, we have more high-quality options than ever before. And as a whole, new lines are tougher, stronger, and thinner.
Hunting big fish pushes gear to the extremes of performance and the last thing an angler wants is to lose a giant due to line failure. Better braids mean more pleasant and efficient hours of fishing, more fish boated, and fewer sad songs. But with so many options to choose from, picking the right line can be difficult.
Wisconsin-based muskie expert Pete Maina has many notches in his big-fish belt and remembers the pre-superline days: "I fished Dacron and heavy mono for years. In the early days with mono you watched a lot of fish get away. If the fish bit close to the boat it was okay, but out on a cast there was too much stretch. There was a rubber-band effect, somewhat nullifying your hook-set. Dacron was a good alternative. With less stretch than mono you could get a good hook-set. In the old days I preached re-tying several times a day because there was a lot of abrasion and lines weakened. The early superlines were slick and not as abrasion resistant, so baits would snap off on a cast. They didn't absorb shock well, and you had problems burying line in the spool. But that doesn't happen anymore with top-end braids. I may cut off 15 feet or so after a few weeks, but if you don't see significant wear you can keep using the line for a year or two. Just watch for visual signs of fraying."
How to tell a good braid from an inferior one? Experienced anglers gravitate to brands that demonstrate strength, resistance to backlashing, and subjective terms like "feel." Other criteria includes break-in period, suppleness, roundness, diameter, water absorption, castability, abrasion resistance, and color retention, all of which stem from construction, chemistry, and manufacturing processes. Specifications like PIC count (Per Inch Crosses) can be significant. Higher PIC counts improve flexibility, while a lower PIC count can increase stiffness. A high PIC count also can reduce water absorption. But PIC count isn't always listed; you have to dig. Carrier strand count can also be a good indicator of how round and supple a line is.
One company that lists PIC count is Sufix. Their original 832 has 32 weaves or PICs, within eight carrier strands — seven Dyneema fibers and one of GORE. According to former muskie guide and Lindner's Angling Edge TV host Jeremy Smith, Sufix lines offer great strength, powerful hook-sets, superior abrasion resistance, and long life. Smith has caught many big muskies using #8 and #10 Super Bous on 65-pound Sufix Performance Braid, which he considers the "pinnacle of muskie line evolution." He adds, "the ingredients of a line offer positives and negatives depending on the situation. For muskies you want something that won't break on a backlash, won't bury in the spool, and isn't so light the wind blows it around. Castability also is important. Muskie fishing isn't typically target casting like bass fishing. I want a line to go the distance."
Maina brings up another point about high PIC count: "The higher the PIC count, the longer a line takes to produce on the machine, so it costs a little more. But it lasts longer so it's worth it." His favorite is Berkley Trilene Braid, an eight-carrier braid introduced in 2013. "Overall, lines with higher PIC counts excel for casting, increase sensitivity to the lure and bottom, and offer better drag function," he says. "You also get a better snap hook-set, especially on a long cast. The other big factor for me is abrasion-resistance when trolling — purposely banging rocks.
"These lines also shed water, which is important, especially in cold or even freezing weather. I generally use 80-pound test for casting. I often go with 65-pound, especially on downlines over the side of the boat, where braid helps for depth control and feel when banging bottom. Sixty-five pound is okay for casting, but I never go below that. Thicker line gives you a little insurance against fraying and its extra diameter helps reel performance. The smaller the line diameter, the greater the likelihood of burying coils in the spool. If you've got a giant on and it runs, the line can break."
Dyneema Versus Spectra
A dichotomy exists between companies that use Dyneema and those favoring Spectra fibers, both brand names for ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) gel that's spun into materials with ultra-high yield strengths. Dyneema, called "the World's Strongest fiber," was developed by DSM, which designed the gel-spinning process used to make numerous Pure Fishing and Sufix braids. Spectra is a Honeywell fiber used in lines like PowerPro, Cortland Master Braid, and Hi-Seas Grand Slam Braid. It's created from the same process and licensed from DSM. The benefits of both Dyneema and Spectra are strength-to-weight ratios as much as 8 to 15 times higher than steel and reduced diameter, the reason these materials are also used in body armor, ballistics, and medical devices. Some companies are taking it a step further, combining ultra-high-strength Dyneema or Spectra with other technologies, such as Sufix 832 with Dyneema fibers and a GORE performance fiber for additional abrasion-resistance.
The latest technology to hit the scene is probably Honeywell's new Spectra HT (High-Tenacity) fiber, 25 percent stronger than other ultra-high-strength fibers. While 80-pound-test Spectra 375 has six carrier strands, Spectra 375 HT has four carrier strands, which reduces diameter 30 percent. Benefits include additional reel capacity, improved casting, minimal stretch, increased sensitivity, and decreased line visibility under water. Honeywell also claims twice the abrasion-resistance of other ultra-high-strength fiber products, less internal friction for longer life, and reduced fray. Spectra HT can found be in PowerPro's new Maxcuatro (awarded Best New Line at ICAST 2015) and FINS 40G braided lines.
John Stone of northern Illinois' Mr. Musky Guide Service fished Maxcuatro almost exclusively this past year and describes it as "smoother, rounder, tougher, and a bit slicker than original PowerPro. It has the same number of Spectra fibers but you get the advantage of stealth. It's super quiet and abrasion-resistant. Plus its smaller diameter matches smaller diameter reels and allows longer casts. I use 80- or 100-pound for casting, or 65 for small minnowbaits or single-blade bucktails." Some braids are coated with materials like DuPont's Teflon or fluorocarbon, which can increase strength, abrasion-resistance, color retention, and castability.
Maina feels anglers are better off sticking to larger line diameters. "Don't go too light," he says. "Lack of stretch accentuates any problem, like a nick from a hook even a net. The standard used to be that 30- or 40-pound test was plenty with mono and Dacron. But with braid you want higher test with greater diameter. I use 80-pound on 90 percent of my casting reels."
No matter which braid you choose, Maina recommends mono backing on the spool. "Tie most of today's superlines directly to the spool and the line slides, rendering your drag worthless," he says. "Add a mono backing so the line sticks or else tape the line to the spool if it's a small-diameter reel with only 70 or 80 yards of line. On larger reels, run 30- or 40-pound mono backing that allows 60 or 70 yards of braid for casting. It saves your expensive braided line, too."
Green Bay Guide Bret Alexander also is a proponent of 80-pound, but he prefers Spiderwire Ultracast Ultimate Braid, a round Dyneema-based eight-carrier braid. "I like how smoothly it rolls out on long casts," he says. "Extra distance can be important on big water. I use it for my trolling rods, too. It flows smoothly, it's strong, and doesn't stretch. When muskies hit, their mouths are so hard that you can't have any stretch. When you have a lot of line out trolling, there's give in the system so a no-stretch braid makes sense. That's the primary reason I don't run heavy mono. I've also been trying Spiderwire Stealth, which has a fluoro coating for extra abrasion-resistance, on casting rods. It's performed well for casting around rocks and anywhere you find zebra mussels. And I like round lines. Products that aren't round tend to get pinched in your spool, don't flow as well, and cut down on casting distance."
Smith favors a lighter approach. "I do a lot of muskie fishing with bass gear because some applications require thinner lines and leaders to get the right action out of lures. And when trolling, thinner lines achieve greater depths when that's needed. Point is: You don't need 80- or 100-pound braid to fish everything. There's a place for 40-, 50-, and 65-, too, as well as for different colors and metered line. Line plays a huge role in how you present lures to fish and get 'em to eat."
Cortland Master Braid: Comprised of premium Spectra fibers woven into a tight, round braid for reduced twist, longer casts, and extended life. It packs evenly on the reel without digging, offers exceptional tensile strength, and only 4 percent stretch for strike detection and instantaneous hook-sets. It's treated with proprietary FiberTech protection that penetrates the weave and bonds with individual Spectra fibers to stiffen and improve handling characteristics. Hydrophobic, it slices through water with minimal drag. Available in white, blue, bronze, yellow, green, and red, 10- to 200-pound test, cortlandline.com.
Hi-Seas Grand Slam Braid: Made with Spectra fibers and manufactured using a tight braiding process, Grand Slam is thin, round, and packs uniformly. It has enhanced abrasion-resistance and knot strength. Its compact texture reduces wind knots and rod tip wraps. It has virtually no stretch for sensitivity and quick hook-sets. Available in green, red, and yellow, 10- to 80-pound test, afwhiseas.com.
P-Line XTCB-8 Braid: It has eight fiber strands so is extremely tight and compact, with ultra-smooth finish, small diameter, and round shape. It uses DuPont's Teflon Surface Protector for abrasion-resistance, knot strength, and reduced friction. Available in green, 10- to 80-pound test, p-line.com.
PowerPro Maxcuatro: New Maxcuatro is 25 percent thinner than existing PowerPro of equivalent test. Its High Tenacity Spectra 4-End yields lighter and softer construction for long casts. Available in moss-green, hi-vis yellow, and aqua green, 50- to 100-pound test.
PowerPro Zero-Impact: PowerPro's ICAST 2014 "Best New Fishing Line" winner, Zero-Impact introduced anglers to a new concept called Termination Zone Technology that features knot-tying zones that are 50 percent stronger than the line designation. Zero-Impact is available in both hi-vis yellow/black and aqua green/black, 20- to 100-pound test, powerpro.com.
Spiderwire Stealth Braid: The newest Spiderwire is 30 percent stronger, features Color-Lock coating technology, Fluoropolymer-treated microfibers to shoot through guides, and Dyneema PE microfiber construction for roundness, strength, and smoothness. Available in moss green, hi-vis yellow, and new translucent, 6- to 250-pound test, spiderwire.com.
Sufix Performance Braid: Exclusive Y6 braiding produces a round, smooth, thin, and quiet line. Designed for effortless handling, castability, abrasion-resistance, sensitivity, and wind knot-resistance. Available in fluorescent neon fire, hi-vis yellow, and low-vis green, 6- to 130-pound test.
Sufix Metered Performance Braid: It consists of five colors in 25-foot segments for precise depth control. Exclusive Y6 braiding provides a tight weave that's round and handles easily. Exceptionally high strength-to-diameter ratio and low stretch for fast hook-sets. Available in 40- to 100-pound test, sufix.com.
Trilene Braid: This eight-carrier, high PIC count, Dyneema radial braid is round, smooth, and strong. Berkley says it's their strongest braid yet. Available in low-vis green, 10- to 80-pound test, berkley-fishing.com.
Tuf-Line Domin8: Tuf-Line's new eight-carrier braid has eight fiber bundles for superior handling and an ultra-smooth finish. Small diameter and round shape mean superior knot strength, castability, and reduced rod guide noise. Available in green and yellow, 10- to 80-pound test.
Tuf-Line 4orce: This new four-carrier braid has four fiber bundles for abrasion-resistance and strength. Available in green and yellow, 6- to 80-pound test, tuf-line.com.
Vicious Braid: New version has eight carriers in 65-pound and higher tests for easier reeling, improved castability, abrasion-resistance, and thin diameter. It's woven of Spectra with a U.R.C. process to resist abrasion, UV damage, and water absorption. Available in moss green, 10- to 100-pound, test, getvicious.com. â–
Jim Edlund, Becker, Minnesota, is an avid multispecies angler and freelance writer who contributes to many In-Fisherman publications.