Times seemed simpler in the late 1970s, when freshwater anglers in most parts of North America had three primary line choices: Berkley Trilene XL, Berkley Trilene XT, and Stren.
Trilene XL was the "extra limp," thin diameter, high-tensile-strength option that was easy to cast. Trilene XT was stiffer, with a little more diameter per break strength, more abrasion resistance, a little more difficult to manage, but "extra tough." Stren straddled middle ground and was known for superior knot strength.
And argue we did, as many hardcore anglers fell into one corner or the other. Stren anglers believed they had the perfect line for every situation. Berkley anglers reveled in the option of having two lines available to accomplish their objectives. The battle between advertising camps played out in many venues, too, including the pages of In-Fisherman, and most publicly at the Bassmaster Classics, where anglers taking the stage did their best to display their colors. Truth is all three lines were sturdy options for their time. They remain good choices now and have seen technological improvements over the years.
Today, more than 30 companies in North America alone offer line products, ranging from monofilaments to braids and fluorocarbons. Those three early options have grown to hundreds and hundreds of products to choose from.
Evolution of a System
I don't have time to tinker with everything on the market, but I do like to try the newest introductions. Over the years I settled on an ever-evolving system for choosing top-end lines. It's a simple system. Soon after Berkley introduced FireLine in 1996, I spent most of my time fishing with it. I used a short (typically about 4 feet) fluorocarbon leader at the end of it, to minimize line visibility, to help in handling fish, and to increase abrasion resistance, given the comparatively thin diameter of FireLine.
About the only time I used monofilament was in some situations for panfish and in ice fishing. And I like the stretch of it in combination with some circle hook applications.
As superior braids like Power Pro and Spiderwire Stealth were introduced I switched to them for heavy-duty fishing for muskies and catfish. Later I switched to Spiderwire Ultracast, as I found it a little smoother to cast. At that point I typically used FireLine on spinning tackle and Ultracast on casting tackle.
As most of you know, the lines I've mentioned have thin diameters for their rated break strengths. Even with those thin diameters they typically have actual break strengths about double their rated strength. And they don't stretch. FireLine is, however, created via a fusing process that makes the exterior smoother than the braids, which are weaved and have a slight "zzzzzzt" to them when you run a fingernail down the line. Collectively, this no-stretch line category, including lines like FireLine, and all the braids, often are called "superlines."
I began to use fluorocarbon, too, but I prefer braids on casting tackle — and most present-day fluorocarbons don't work well on spinning tackle because it's is so heavy that it slaps the first rod guide, instead of funneling through. Companies like Sufix offer new formulations like their "Castable Invisiline 100% Fluorocarbon" that are much better in this regard.
My answer to the spinning-fluoro problem has been to make casting rods do double duty. Turn them upside down, and attach a spinning reel filled with fluoro. I do this with 8.5-foot medium-action steelhead rods, using 4-pound fluorocarbon to fish slipfloats for walleyes, smallmouths, and panfish. In the lighter break strengths, fluorocarbon isn't so heavy you can't couple it with a float, so long as the float isn't tiny.
The main advantage to fluorocarbon, assuming, and therefore not getting into a discussion about how invisible it is to fish, is that most of them offer high abrasion resistance per line diameter at each break strength, especially in lines above 10-pound test. Line diameter is a major factor in abrasion resistance, in combination with the hard, slick finish on most fluorocarbons. This makes them handy to use as a leader at the end of the super-thin superlines.
Some companies bill their fluorocarbons as super sensitive, but they fish similar to most monofilament lines — pretty stretchy and not so sensitive, the reason I prefer braids in most casting situations.
The Evolution Continues
Two years ago Berkley NanoFil was introduced and chosen the single-most noteworthy new product at the fishing industry's annual big show (ICAST — the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades). By now I have hundreds of hours in the field fishing with it. I think it's as revolutionary an introduction as was FireLine in its time.
The other line I have even more hours on is Sufix 832, the smoothest-casting braid I've fished, and the line that has replaced other braids for me. NanoFil, it should be noted, is billed by Berkley as neither a monofilament nor a braid, a product designed for spinning tackle and not recommended for casting tackle. It's even smoother and slicker and easier casting than 832.
That, basically, is my present-day system for fishing for everything that swims across North America. When I can, I use the two products — NanoFil and 832 — to complement each other. More on this system a bit later. First, let me tell you about fishing with NanoFil.
NanoFil is for anglers who want exceptional performance with spinning tackle, for its properties don't provide advantages on casting tackle. Dealing with it is a little like working with a thoroughbred racehorse, as opposed to saddling up old Betsy, the easily manageable, dependably docile riding horse. NanoFil is so thin and so slick — and knots can be challenging.
Advantages — With NanoFil, at any break strength I cast farther with lighter lures and can fish jigs and other lures at longer distance and in deeper water and still feel what's happening and set hooks. Last January I used 12-pound to make 150-foot casts with a 1-ounce jig and 6-inch Gitzit body to catch lake trout in 110 feet of water on Flaming Gorge. Last fall I used 6-pound to fish a 1/16-ounce jig in 30 feet of water for crappies, wind at my back, making casts of over 100 feet, letting the jig sink and then barely swimming it along the bottom. I could go on.
NanoFil is strong per rated break strength, although perhaps not so strong as braids that break at close to double the rated strength. Yet the ultra-thin diameters for each NanoFil break strength aside, 12-pound is so thin, slick, and castable that it fishes like a 6- or 10-pound braid — a superior combination of performance and strength.
NanoFil is available in break strengths of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, and 17 pounds, the single-most comprehensive offering of break strength options in all of fishing. That many choices is a big advantage for ultra hardcore anglers who want to fine-tune their fishing in specific situations.
Challenges — The range of break strengths from 1 to 17 pounds serves as an advantage, but also highlights a challenge for anglers such as myself. The respective line diameters for each of those break strength is .001, .002, .003, and predictably so on up the scale, with the 12 pound measuring .008, which typically is the diameter of top braids testing 10 pounds. I say again, though, that 12-pound NanoFil fishes like many of the 6-pound braids. Doing an eyeball check with a magnifying glass, comparing 12-pound NanoFil to several 6-pound braids, also suggests that it's a similar diameter as some of the 6-pound braids.
There was a day I could snell a #28 hook on 3/4-pound-test line. These days, even with 2.5-magnification glasses, it's hard for me to see NanoFil to tie it in break strengths below 6-pound. That hasn't been much of a disadvantage, because the 6-pound is so thin it allows casting a 1/16-ounce jig so far and fishing it so deep that I haven't found a need to fish lighter. After trying several different break strengths I settled on the 12-pound for most situations, occasionally using 10-pound when fishing small jigs for smallmouths. I use 6-pound for panfish. I have little experience with lighter break strengths.
€¢ The unifilament construction and resulting thin diameter cause it to wear faster than superlines. After a long day of fishing, the last few feet of the line may begin to look frazzled. In break strengths above 8 pounds the frazzles don't seem to immediately reduce line strength. In lower break strengths, because of the ever-decreasing line diameter, you need to remove any badly frazzled line.
€¢ Because NanoFil is so slick, if you don't take several precautions, the knot connecting the mono backing to NanoFil can emerge from the coils and cause problems on long casts. To keep the connecting knot as small as possible, I use 6-pound mono as backing and spool on extra NanoFil to keep the knot at least half way down on the reel.
€¢ NanoFil requires extra attention to knot tying. Because it's so thin that abrasion resistance is an issue, I always use NanoFil with a fluorocarbon leader tied on with back-to-back uni-knots. If you tie direct, double the end of your line with a two-wrap spider hitch about 8 inches above the end. Once your line's doubled, a three-wrap uni knot is easy to tie and should test at least 100 percent of main-line strength. With doubled line, even a three-wrap improved clinch knot works well. Berkley recommends the NanoFil Knot, which is a palomar knot tied with doubled line.
As I've said, I fish NanoFil with a fluorocarbon leader at the end to protect it. You must double the end of the Nanofil to get back-to-back uni-knots to connect. I use the same two-wrap spider hitch mentioned before, leaving about 10 inches of doubled line to work with. The back-to-back connections can be 4 wraps each. Test the finished knot by pulling firmly. At times the knots don't cinch up correctly and the connection breaks. At times I have to retie several times to get a great connection. This happens more frequently with the lower break strengths. Once you get a good connection it usually holds superbly. I check the connection after several hours of fishing by giving it a firm pull.
€¢ NanoFil is expensive, coming in at about $20 for a 150-yard spool. A spool of Sufix 832 is priced about the same, making them two of the highest-priced options on the market. They're worth it. In combination they fish like a miracle.
Meanwhile, I find 832, available in break strengths of 6-, 10-, 20-, 30-, 40-, 50-, 65-, and 80-pound tests, the best performing braid I've used. It offers exceptional knot and line strength; it's easy to work with; and it's durable. I have it on all my casting reels, but it also performs well in the 6- and 10-pound strengths on spinning tackle. Some of my spinning reels are loaded with NanoFil, the others with 832.
That's my system and I'm sticking to it — until yet another now-unimaginable line advancement hits the market and I have to move yet again on down that old evolutionary trail.
Need I say that other lines might be a better fit for you? Because so many friends love Power Pro, I spooled up a couple casting reels with their new Super8Slick, in 20- and 65-pound tests, and put about 30 hours on each, fishing 20 pound for bass and the 65 for muskies. Beautiful stuff. Smooth and quiet on the cast and strong and thin. Wish there was two of me and more time.
The Fishing Line Evolution