September 21, 2020
Anglers have debated the merits of monofilament versus polyethylene-spun braided lines for the better part of three decades. Early versions of low-stretch high-tensile-strength braids had enough flaws to make them questionable in the minds of some anglers. The coarseness of the lines ate up the inserts in rod guides and destroyed gearings on reels that weren’t designed with braid in mind. Plus, a fair share of rods were broken on hook-sets and “high-sticking” as anglers lacked experience working with a fishing line that had characteristics totally different from monofilament.
Advancements in braided lines over the last 10 years now make them a dominant player in the fishing line market. Manufacturers have re-engineered rods and reels for braid applications, and anglers are now singing the praises of braid. Dare I say that there are millennials who don’t have a single reel spooled with monofilament.
Among the casual catfish crowd, the braided-line trend has not taken hold as dramatically. There is a certain familiarity with monofilament that still makes it the staple fishing line among catfish anglers. However, with sizable improvements in braided lines, it’s worth reexamining where monofilament and braid have their advantages and how to get the most out of each line.
Braid: The Pros and the Cons
Braid is touted for its strength, thin diameter, lack of stretch, durability, suppleness, castability, knot strength, and sensitivity. More on each of these in a moment.
Negative attributes to braid include its cost, visibility, wind knots, buoyancy, and reduced ability to hold up to rocks and other sharp objects.
Too, its positive attributes of no-stretch and thin diameter can be a double-edged sword for catfish anglers. Strength and thin diameter go hand in hand, as do lack of stretch and sensitivity when discussing braid. These positive attributes come to the forefront when back-bouncing for flatheads and blue catfish. This technique has skyrocketed in popularity across the country due to its effectiveness and versatility.
For an insider’s take on the use of braid for back-bouncing, we talked with Captain Justin Conner of The Catfishing Duo Guide Service. He is one of the country’s more talented catfish professionals having mastered his skills for trophy flatheads, blues, and channels on the Ohio River and its tributaries in West Virginia, as well as tidal rivers like the James and inland lakes and reservoirs across the country.
Conner’s bias is markedly toward monofilament for 90 percent of his catfishing needs (more on that in a bit), but he is 100 percent behind braided lines when it comes to back-bouncing. “Everyone’s approach to back-bouncing differs slightly. We like to do it in late June and July when fish are coming off the spawn. If we have enough flow during this period to get the current moving at .7 mph or more below the dams, we enjoy this technique as it allows us to cover the maximum amount of water and focus on feeding fish.
“The technique is basically allowing your baits to be walked downstream or bounced off the bottom as you slip downstream with the current. I like to slow the drift of the boat to half of current speed, meaning if the current is flowing at 1 mph, I set the trolling motor at .5 mph. This allows our bait to run a bit back behind us, without the boat hovering right over fish.”
The thin diameter of braid allows Conner to run 80-pound braid and cut through the current better than 20-pound monofilament with a similar diameter. Running 50-pound monofilament creates significantly more drag on the line and requires twice as much weight to maintain bottom contact. This also means that smaller reels can be used and still have plenty of line capacity. This is important for a technique where the rod and reel are held the entire time and not merely placed in a rod holder waiting on a bite.
With back-bouncing, small adjustments in the amount of line let out from the reel are made by constantly picking up the weight off the bottom and placing it back on the bottom as the boat slips downstream. The sensitivity of braid makes feeling every rock and change in bottom composition possible. Bites are detected instantly and the no-stretch nature of braid makes hook-sets immediate. The stretch of monofilament dampens the feeling needed for this technique.
For this approach, Conner suggests using a more sensitive rod than standard blank rods. He favors Big Cat Fever (BCF) Bumping Rods designed specifically for this technique and with braid in mind. Unlike his traditional S-Glass-blank rods that he runs with monofilament and that have a slow-loading action when using circle hooks, the BCF Bumping Rods have a proprietary graphite-glass composite blank for a lighter and more responsive rod. This helps with quick hook-sets when using J hooks. For increased sensitivity, BCF Bumping Rods are engineered with pressed stainless-steel inserts to transmit feel better than ceramic inserts. They also feature carbon-fiber reel seats, instead of cork or foam, which dampen feel. These advancements are an example of a rod manufacturer fashioning their product to complement the attributes of braid and the requirements of a technique.
The suppleness, castability, and thin diameter of braid also comes into play for shore anglers. In ponds or cooling lakes where boats are not permitted, the added casting distance of braid can be a game changer to reach deep holes that you couldn’t otherwise reach with mono.
In locations with thick shoreline weeds, braid helps to land big fish. Not only does braid have the added strength to pull fish through shoreline cover, its thin diameter cuts through weeds when fighting fish under heavy pressure. A bonus in cold weather, braid maintains its suppleness better than monofilament. This makes it more manageable to cast and work with when temperatures drop below 60°F.
The strength of braid is also touted by anglers pursuing giant catfish. There is no arguing with the pure power of braids in the 100- to 250-pound range. At the upper end of this range, these lines become difficult to break—even when you want to break it. Using mono of this breaking strength is impractical due to the bulk of monofilament and its memory.
For some anglers in pursuit of record-class flatheads and blues, braided line gives them the confidence to tighten their drags to the maximum and give fish no quarter as they attempt to extract these monsters from thick cover. Monofilament is too springy and big fish are able to control the fight more easily. A couple extra feet of give to a line can mean the difference between landing or losing a fish of a lifetime. Braid’s lack of stretch also gives you a better chance to stop fish or at least steer them away from cover.
During most of our exotic international trips for giant catfish such as paraiba, jau, and redtail catfish in South America, or Mekongs, Salween Rita, and Chao Phraya in Southeast Asia, we almost exclusively use braided lines in the 100- to 150-pound range. While 50-pound monofilament may have greater abrasion resistance and have sufficient power to pull up a 100-pound catfish from the depths, most of these giant catfish have extraordinary speed and stamina. A big paraiba can strip 200 yards of line off a reel before you can get off anchor. That translates to being spooled if you’re using monofilament.
Braid also has a significantly longer lifespan on reels. It doesn’t degrade over time when exposed to the sun, insect repellents, or sunscreen. The UV rays from the sun and other chemicals associated with fishing weaken monofilament over time. So, monofilament should not be stored in direct sunlight and should be replaced annually on reels. While the initial cost of braid may be 3 to 4 times higher, it should last for multiple seasons and continue to perform flawlessly.
The cons of braid other than cost, include its lack of abrasion resistance around rocks and other hard objects like concrete and metal. When braid is put under extreme loads and then comes in contact with such hazards, it pops instead of wearing. Its thin diameter can be a detriment in break strengths of less than 30 pounds, as it can dig into the spool under heavy pressure if not wound tightly on the spool to begin with. By being diligent when spooling reels with braid, this problem can be eliminated.
The thin diameter can also result in line cuts to one’s hands when trying to bust off snags or landing fish. Again, a little planning can eliminate this issue but it can be a problem for the uninitiated and braid can cut flesh as quickly and deeply as a knife. Other deficiencies with braid, such as its lack of translucence, wind knots, and buoyancy are less of an issue with catfishing due to the common use of bottom presentations.
Not All Braids are Created Equal
Braids have become as specialized as monofilaments in recent years. Each of the major braid manufacturers has multiple offerings with their own unique attributes. Power Pro, for example, has three primary catfish offerings: PowerPro, Maxcuatro, and Super 8 Slick V2 Moonshine. PowerPro original is a workhorse utility braid. Its Enhanced Body Technology gives it added body and a rounded profile. As a four-carrier braid, it is slightly coarser and has the ability to cut through weeds better than rounder, slicker lines. This makes it a great general-use braid at a modest price point. Maxcuatro is 25 percent thinner than original PowerPro which allows it to manage current better and to load more line on smaller size reels. It’s also higher priced. Finally, Super 8 Slick Moonshine won the 2019 ICAST Best New Line award as an ultra-advanced 8-carrier braid. Super 8 Slick is woven under high tension to create an extra smooth and slick line which reduces friction and noise from the line. The Moonshine version glows when exposed to a black light, making it a great option for nighttime angling.
Berkley and Spiderwire are two other brands with multiple superline options. As a general matter, offerings with a lower number of braided fibers tend to be coarser and noisier through rod guides. Lines in this category include Berkley X5 Braid and Solutions Braid. Berkley X9 Braid costs a little more but its tightly woven fibers deliver a thinner and rounder line. Berkley’s Fireline Fused Tracer is not a braid, but instead a thermally fused line. Fusing generates a smoother and slicker line than braided alternatives. This translates into an ultra-thin line that cuts through current well. The “tracer” feature means that it alternates between a hi-vis and low-vis coloration every 5 feet, making it a breeze to track your line and detect line movement. NanoFil is a whole different creature. This unified filament makes it great for spinning-reel applications. It is slicker, softer, and casts farther than most other lines on the market. The downside for catfish applications is that it only comes in 6- to 17-pound tests.
Spiderwire comes to the market with great options at every price point. These include its entry level EZ Braid on up to its high-end super-performing Stealth Braid. Stealth Braid has a primary Dyneema PE microfiber construction, along with special fluoropolymer treated fibers for a slicker and better casting line. Catfish anglers will like the new Stealth color, American Camo. Spiderwire also offers specialty items such as a glow, camo, and translucent braids to match any catfishing needs.
Sufix offerings range from Performance Braid as their utility braid, to 832 Advanced Superline with a thinner diameter, and Nanobraid as a hybrid braid for greater casting distance. Sufix Performance Braid is generally rounder and smoother than other standard braids due to its precise Y6 digital braiding process. A tighter braiding process makes for a smoother line. Apart from improving the braiding process, a better line can be created by using superior materials. That comes into play with both Sufix 832 Advance Superline and Nanobraid. 832 Advanced Superline uses seven HMPE Fibers, plus one GORE Performance Fiber and then weaves these fibers at a rate of 32 pics per inch. This makes for an ultra abrasion resistant line that’s perfect for targeting big catfish near brushpiles and submerged wood. When casting jigs or any application where added sensitivity comes into play, Nanobraid reigns supreme. The higher tension process in creating this line results in an ultra-thin and silky smooth line. Casting distance is unsurpassed with Nanobraid.
Monofilament: The Cons and Pros
The negative aspects of mono have been addressed above when it comes to its thicker diameter-to-strength ratio, lack of sensitivity, being susceptible to degrading over time, and having memory when left on a reel for any period of time. These are factors that most catfish anglers are aware of and have worked around without much difficulty.
The pros of monofilament are the reasons why so many catfish anglers continue to make it their number-one line of choice. For most catfish applications, the stretch and “forgiveness” of these nylon lines is a bonus. As Conner notes, “For 90 percent of our fishing needs, we are confident using 50-pound hi-vis Slime Line monofilament as our mainline, along with an 80-pound mono leader. We like Slime Line for its overall toughness and forgiveness.
“We fish in rough conditions on the river. That means presenting baits tight to cover, including brush and logs, sunken barges, boulders, and blown-up dams with slabs of concrete and rebar littering the bottom. This is nasty stuff covered in sharp zebra mussels. This mono lets us set our drags extra heavy and muscle trophy flatheads and blues from this cover. When we get these angry fish close to the boat, the shock resistance and extra play in the line helps to guard against angler errors and pulled hooks.”
Based on the amount of nighttime fishing done by Conner, he runs the hi-vis version of Slime Line and lights it up with a black light in his boat. “Having a line that is ultra-visible helps in so many ways. We’re able to see subtle line ticks to alert us to an impending bite. We get a better gauge on the direction of fish as we are battling them to avoid tangling lines and when tangles do occur, it makes getting them out easier.”
Because monofilament sinks, it’s a better choice when using slipfloats or baits without added weight. These techniques apply when fishing wind-blown shorelines at ice-out for channel catfish scavenging for deadbaits. These early season catfish are sensitive to extra weight on the line. The buoyancy of braid makes it more difficult to keep baits positioned on the bottom. Braid acts like a sail as it catches any surface wind or waves and makes it more difficult to detect bites with this added slack in the line.
The stretch of mono is also favored by most anglers when using circle hooks. The slight give to the line allows fish to take a bait and move off without immediately feeling excessive pressure from the rod. As they swim away with the bait, the hook slides into the corner of their mouth, allowing the circle hook to pull tight and embed there as intended. Conversely, some anglers are using braid while dragging for blues with circle hooks but have gone to slower-action rods to allow a little more give prior to the hook coming tight. This is an example of anglers having their own personal line preferences and modifying their gear to fish their chosen line more effectively.
No matter if you grew up fishing monofilament exclusively or were introduced to the sport as braided lines skyrocketed in popularity, it’s worth knowing the positive and negative attributes of each line. Since habits are tough to break, an outright conversion from one type of line to the other might be asking too much. However, switching over line on just one reel might just make you a better catfish angler and give you a better appreciation of the advancements in today’s fishing lines.
*In-Fisherman Field Editor Steve Ryan is an outstanding multispecies angler and contributor to all In-Fisherman publications.