Updated: May 9, 2019
A strong plastic or fiber string used to catch fish when attached to a hook, lure and/or fishing pole.
Spectra/dyneema (ultra-high-molecular-weight-polyethylene) Braid
Floating/Sinking fly line
Naturally Interwoven auburn horse hairs
Artificially Intrawoven blonde pony tail fiber
Okay, so maybe some of those aren't actually spooled up on anyone's reels, but if you spend any time researching different fishing line types it can certainly be overwhelming. Tackle Warehouse has over 93 different types of Braided line alone! That's a lot of choices for something many anglers don't even think much about when they are first starting out. Hell, it's a lot of choices for someone whose been fishing for decades too.
They say Lures are designed to catch wallets more than fish, and the same thing can go for fishing line too. For the most part, all these fancy industry terms and specialty manufacturing techniques are used as marketing terms to differentiate one brand or type of line from another.
For example, that Windtamer line above? It's manufactured to be rounder, more dense, and smoother so that it reduces backlashes, wind-knots (more of those little fiends in a minute) and rod tip tangles. Now, I'm sure it has its merits and the engineers over at FINS probably spent a lot of time developing it. However, that whole description just sounds like a round-about way of saying that its a stiffer line that won't get all squirrelly on you as easily. Is it significant? I don't know, I've never tried it; it might be fantastic. What all these options definitely do not do however, is make shopping for line easy to understand.
For the purpose of this article, I'm going to focus on the 3 main types of fishing line for spinning and casting reels: Monofilament, Flurocarbon, and Braid. There are plenty of variations of each, but the basic merits and characteristics all stay the same.
Mono line is the least expensive of any of the options available, and was probably the first kind of line you used as a kid. It's buoyant, typically clear, and has some stretch to it. Lots of people use monofilament to great success to catch all sorts of fish. Because of its low cost, it's also popular to use as a spool backing to prevent braided line from slipping.
Commonly clear, but can be purchased in a wide range of colors
Floating line- which makes it great for topwater.
The most stretch of the 3 types- so you're less likely to rip treble hooks out of a fish's mouth.
Least expensive. (less than $10 for 300 yards)
Least durable to abrasion.
Not very visible to fish.
Often used as a leader with braid, as backing on a spool, and/or both.
Has a high degree of "memory" so the line does not lay flat after casting. This does however, make it easier to spool up on a spinning reel in higher lb test.
Least sensitive line to feel a bite-
Fluorocarbon has a very similar appearance to mono, but its characteristics are quite different, as are it's costs. It is significantly stiffer (for the most part) than monofilament and it has less memory, so it tends to lay flatter on the water. This makes it a little trickier to use heavier test lines on smaller spinning reels. If the line is too thick and the spool diameter too small, it can continue coming off the reel like a slinky, even after you cast. When sized and used correctly however, it has some significant benefits, especially for finesse fishing.
It has a very similar light refraction index to water, which means it is practically invisible once submerged. It is also denser than monofilament, and sinks instead of floats. These characteristics make it very popular for weightless bait presentations, and as a leader with braided line. It is also popular for anglers targeting fish like trout, who are known to be easily spooked by visible line.
Most commonly clear, practically invisible to fish underwater.
Sinking line- great for finesse and weightless presentations.
Less stretch than mono filament
Stiffer than monofilament (though some brands have softer varieties that are similar and cast easier)
Significantly more expensive than monofilament. ($25+ for 200 yards)
More durable against abrasion than monofilament.
Popular leader choice to use with braided fishing line.
More sensitive than mono, less stretch.
Braided line is completely different from mono and fluoro lines. Whereas they are basically long thin pieces of plastic, braided line is more like thread.
Most are made of Spectra or Dyneema fibers, woven together into a very strong and thin line. These ultra-strong fibers can be fused together, creating a floss-like stiffness, or left unfused, which results in a softer line. Braided line casts the farthest of the three in my experience, and is far more durable.
Braid's durability makes it very popular among bass anglers targeting thick weed beds or brush piles, or for pike/musky anglers (I never use leaders with my braid). In fact, I usually only ever spool my reels when they get low from retying lures- braid just lasts a long time. The downsides however, is that braid is very visible to fish, and can cause some nasty backlashes on casting reels if you're not careful. Braid is also much more expensive than monofilament, and is similarly priced to fluorocarbon. This cost is mostly upfront however, due to its longevity.
Braid has a much smaller diameter than mono or fluoro line, this means you can fit more line on your spool, and replace it less often. Most reels will have a table on the side that illustrates this difference in capacity.
A Drawback to this thin diameter however are wind knots. Because the line is so thin, when casting it can literally tie itself in knots if there's too much slack and it gets blown around on long casts. This is especially prevalent with spinning gear and <25lb test line. There are casting techniques to help avoid this problem- like swinging your rod tip up before closing the bail, which helps remove some extra slack without moving your bait in the water.
Braid is always opaque, and never clear or invisible.
Tends to float on the water's surface due to surface tension, will not sink on its own.
Much stronger at a much thinner diameter than the others.
An easy casting line.
Very sensitive- zero line stretch.
Expensive (but lasts longest)
Best used with specific knots like the palomar knot to prevent slipping.
Rod Setup options.
Everyone's preferences are different, and depending on the fish you're targeting, the conditions, or technique you want to use, so will your line preference. There are lots of options, so ultimately it comes down to what you prefer to use, and how you prefer to fish. You can spool every rod with monofilament, fluorocarbon, braid, or mix it up for the application. A few common setups are:
Fluoro or Mono on baitcasters:
Because they are stiffer, when they backlash, it tends to be a little easier to pull the line out and get back to fishing. Because the line comes off the spool perpendicular to the axis, you can use these lines in a heavier test (15+lb) without worrying about it de-spooling like it would on a spinning reel.
40-50lb braid on baitcasters:
50lb braid is tough stuff- and has relatively the same thickness as 20lb fluoro or mono. While you may not need a line with 50lb breaking strength for most freshwater fish, the extra thickness helps prevent the line from digging into the spool when you have a fish on. 10-20lb test fluorocarbon or monofilament leaders are commonly used with this setup- it helps with presentation, and also lets you break off a bad snag down at the leader instead of cutting your line. With a new spool, putting a monofilament backing for the first few yards helps the braided line bite, and prevents it from spinning on the spool itself.
4-10lb fluoro/mono on spinning reels:
For finesse presentations, nothing beats the stealth of fluorocarbon. Most are relatively stiff, giving you a decent connection to the bait without a lot of slack to absorb delicate bites. Fluoro also sinks which helps with weightless rigs, and its virtually invisible to fish underwater. I've found that most fluoro heavier than 10lb has a tendency to de-spool when casting with a spinning rod- which is quite a headache. Some people will save cost by spooling up half with mono, and tying on fluoro for the last 50 yards, or just using fluoro as a leader anywhere from 3 to 20ft in length.
10-25lb braid on spinning reels:
Durability and cast-ability are the name of the game with these setups- you can really send your lure flying with a lighter braided line. It also will cut through weeds with a strong jerk because it is so thin. As always, if you want to make your braid less visible, a fluoro or mono leader is your best bet. Again, a monofilament backing is useful to keep the line in place on the spool. Braid is slippery stuff.
I run braided line on all of my rods. I really like the durability and line capacity braid gives me, but my favorite attribute is sensitivity. With braid, I can tell if I'm bumping a rock, log, getting bite, or pulling weeds along the bottom. These days, whenever I use a rod spooled with straight mono or fluoro, it kinda feels like I'm fishing with a slinky. I just don't get the same feedback from the lure as I get with braid. To get the best of both worlds, I'll use a 4-8 foot fluoro leader for some finesse presentations, but it all depends on the conditions. I find that I don't really need leaders for topwater or in shallower water with lots of weeds. Deeper clear water with a cleaner bottom is a different story though. A leader allows my presentation to be a little more stealthy, and the stiffer fluoro helps prevent the slack line from tangling up with the lure on the cast, keeping it out of those treble hooks especially well.
Ultimately, its up to you.
Many people love to use a spinning rod with nothing but fluorocarbon spooled up, while others use braid tied directly onto the hook. Still others use only baitcasters with red monofilament, or high-visibility yellow braid with a fluoro leader. What you use comes entirely down to your preference, and what gives you confidence out on the water. Buy a few spools, and see what works best for you. Better still, find a friend who uses line that you've never tried, and take some casts. The best way to make a decision is to try it out!