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Fishing Lines: Untangling the Mess


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Part one on modern fishing lines

Grant Ferris

Grey/Bruce Outdoors

Monofilament, superline, spiderwire, copolymer, kevlar, flurorocarbon and dyneema! What is all this technical jargon and what does it mean to an angler?

Millions of dollars in television advertisements are ample proof that selling fishing line is big business. High-profile television anglers try and convince you that their sponsor’s lines are tougher, stronger, and limper, they will catch more fish than any other line. You absolutely have to use their latest product or there is no sense going fishing!

What’s the truth?

Although the process of nylon extrusion was invented in 1938, the nylon monofilament market really took off with the boom in sport fishing after WW2. Fishing line manufacturers, chasing after hundreds of millions of dollars in annual sales soon learned to woo customers by developing new products or by using marketing ploys to draw customers from their competitors products.

As a result, the angling public has been provided with tremendous technical advances in the product but at the same time assaulted with a volume of misinformation similar to the propaganda released during the cold war.

It’s funny really, when you think about it. How can there be a 10-pound test line, which is 30% stronger than all the competitor’s products? It wouldn’t be 10 pound test anymore; it would be 13-pound test!

This is marketing hype at its worst and lots of companies practice it. Since some couldn’t outdo the competition in quality, they resorted to false-labelling the product. Knowing that few anglers carry micrometers, 14-pound test line is labelled as 10-pound test and viola! We have a 40% improvement in line strength. It must be magic.

Not all companies are guilty of this baloney advertising and to be fair, some that are still make darn good line. It’s just a very competitive business and millions of dollars can be made through slick advertising. The advertising and sales departments might not even know the engineering and development people.

After all, they must figure, unless an angler hoped to qualify for a world record fish in a particular line class, whom does it hurt? Except for destroying advertising credibility in general, probably no one smart enough to read small print.

Before the latest round of technical advances hit the market you could use simple rules to buy fishing line. An angler would decide on a line by selecting monofilament that had good knot strength, was limp enough, and had sufficient abrasion resistance along with minimal line stretch. If it was hard to see in water, and had a small diameter for it’s breaking strength, that was even better. Four or five popular monofilament lines had varying degrees of these qualities and usually the price was right. It was and is possible to buy a very good monofilament fishing line in bulk spools from local tackle stores for a reasonable price.

Competition and the space race however, resulted in technical advances. Nylon monofilament was not the final answer after all. Again we have a bewildering array of choices, lines with yet smaller diameters, even less visible lines and some with almost no stretch. Naturally these new products cost more money but they are absolutely essential. Or are they? Part two of this article will include information on the newer line developments including fluorocarbon and the minimal stretch so called “superlinesâ€, some field test results and the availability of these products.

Untangling the Mess (part two)

Nylon monofilament leaders took over from gut leaders for fly fishers after WW2 and even in 1954 you could buy a good grade of monofilament line called Damyl Platyl from West Germany. For the next forty years or so, anglers had little choice other than monofilament, although there was a bewildering variety of this mono on the market.

Meanwhile, other line types were being invented and used for special purposes. An example is the invention of fluorocarbon lines by Kureha Chemicals in Japan more than twenty-five years ago. Japanese domestic anglers wanted a low visibility line to catch a spooky little fish called "Ayr." in the island streams and fluorocarbon was the result of the search for a suitable product. This new lower visibility line was overlooked by anglers elsewhere with the exception of some tuna fishermen who used the line in heavy pound tests and found increased catches justified the extra cost. At the same time, German and U.S. line development proceeded in another direction with the emphasis on reducing stretch and diameter. The first real departure from monofilaments to hit the North American market was braided lines, made with materials developed from space age research and woven into a smaller diameter per breaking strength than mono could ever hope to achieve. These materials included lines braided with Kevlar, “Spectra†™ and “Dyneema†™ fibres and for a while were the best thing in special purpose lines available.

North American bass professionals compete hard in big money tournaments and are always looking for an edge. The braids quickly became popular when adopted by top tournament winners. Suddenly there was a line available as light as 8-10 pound mono, with a breaking strength of 20-25 pounds yet with almost no stretch and increased sensitivity. In comparison the nylon monofilaments were like fishing with thick twine attached to elastic bands. Soon however, amateur anglers discovered that new materials require new methods and the skills to fish no-stretch lines had to be learned. Thousands, even hundreds of thousands of rods were broken and fish lost because the forgiving 25 per cent stretch of mono wasn't there. Braided lines do not work as well nor cast as far on spinning reels as they do on casting reels and the increased cost of the product also turned off a lot of prospective users.

Next to come from the chemical company labs was fused or bonded lines, using the new-super strength filaments still but instead of being woven and ribbon-like, an inside core was bonded to an outside sheath of filaments not unlike the construction of a marine nylon rope. Fireline, Fusion and Raptor are lines made this way in a round cross-section suitable at last for spinning reels. Although not completely without stretch like the original braids, the compromise is a better overall line.

Meanwhile rod and reel manufacturers were quick to tell the great angling public that they had to buy specially designed rods and reels to cope with the new lines…a promoter’s dream. Get out that check-book again.

Using the New Lines

Today on the market we have three new types of fishing lines, more expensive than monofilament but vastly superior in most ways and thanks to competition, coming down quickly in price.

I tried using the early woven lines for winter jigging when they were first released but found the price high and the product unsatisfactory due to the weave plugging up with ice. The smaller diameters were easy to tangle and knot, almost impossible to unknot and not as easy to handle as mono.

Next I tried Fireline and Fusion, both on spinning and level wind reels. The low stretch of both these lines made it much easier for me to feel light bites and set hooks even in 100 feet of water and with 6-8 feet of monofilament leader there appeared to be no loss of bites from fish being spooked by the lines. I don't like the feel of either on a spinning outfit but they seem not bad with a bait-casting rig.

Now that the price of fluorocarbon line is more reasonable, a combination which should work even better for jigging is a mainline of Fusion or Raptor and a fluorocarbon leader.

I also experimented with different brands of fluorocarbon leaders, down-rigging for salmon, float-fishing for rainbow trout and fly-fishing.

The first fluorocarbon leader materials averaged about $15 to $20 per 25 metres and were distributed under the Dragonfly, Dai-Riki and Orvis brand names but all may have been made by the same company.

These leaders did not appear to be less visible in a glass of water compared to mono of the same size but in practice, fishing gin-clear water, the fluorocarbon leaders seemed to catch more fish. They also had good knot strength and resisted abrasion well.

Next I bought four different tests of a fluorocarbon line made by Triple-Fish, designed to be used as mainline and reasonably priced. In use it proved too sensitive to abrasion and with insufficient knot strength, prone to breakage. After breaking off about two dozen fish (some dandy rainbows too) with light pressure, I filed this product away and crossed the product off my list. About a year later I was told that early production problems created a bad first batch which could be replaced if I sent in my spools to a distributor. I did this and found the product much improved, although it will take a little while before I have full confidence in the line.

In January of 2000 Bass Pro Shops began carrying the new Berkely "Vanish" fluorocarbon line and at $9.99 U.S. for 250 yards, if the product proves out, it could become very popular. U.S. giant Cabela's outfitters have Sea-Guar fluorocarbon line available in 150 yard spools for $14.99 US now, more expensive than monofilament but many times less expensive than fluorocarbon leaders were just a few years ago.

Since SeaGuar is made in Japan by fluorocarbon line inventors Kureha Chemicals, I figured it was worth a try so I ordered several spools of Sea-Guar in 4 & 6 pound test and I had excellent results with it.

After two years using the same spools of Seaguar as leader material with no problems as long as splicing is done with surgeon's knots I can heartily recommend it. Sub-freezing temperatures didn't adversely affect the line, if anything the cold water made it perform even better.

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