Anglers ourselves, we want answers to the same questions you do. Questions like what’s the best fishing line? How do mono, fluorocarbon, and braid stack up against one another?
Assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the various kinds of lines is complicated, and it’s not made any easier by advertising copy and myth. What exactly is “low stretch” mono? “Abrasion-resistant” braid? Or “invisible” fluorocarbon?
We’d like to demystify fishing line and to do that, we’ve provided as thorough an analysis as we can, relying on evidence, testing, and real-world experimentation.
If you just want to know what products stand out – below we show some of the best fishing line on the market today:
Table of Contents (clickable)
A Hard Truth About Fishing Line
Right up front, we need to state an important fact:
There is no one best kind of line. What is “best” depends on conditions, technique, and the fish being caught.
With that out of the way, let’s look at a snapshot of our findings.
Overview and Summary
Our exhaustive research uncovered some surprising results:
Monofilament is an excellent general choice for almost all applications. Its stretch helps cushion shock, preventing sudden failures. Its awesome knot strength and easy tying mean that you’ll generally experience far fewer line break-offs, too. And it’s relatively resistant to abrasion, inexpensive, and available in a wide range of colors including clear. It casts pretty well, too.
But it’s weakness is sensitivity. Because it’s not very dense, and given that otherwise admirable stretch, mono is generally lacking in ‘feel.’
Check out our guide and reviews for the best monofilament fishing line!
Fluorocarbon is still probably best used as leader material by most anglers. It stretches like mono, absorbing shock, but its low plasticity means that it tends to stay stretched once it’s been deformed. It is very hard, making it a poor performer when casting. It’s also hard to tie well, and features relatively low knot strength. The verdict is still out on its supposed “invisibility,” too, and this seems to depend at least as much on the species you’re after as the line itself.
Check out our guide and reviews for the best fluorocarbon fishing line!
Braid is an excellent choice when you need superior casting, more line on your spool, or the highest possible tensile strength for diameter. It’s very, very sensitive, and is at its best when there’s a lot of line between you and your terminal tackle.
Its extreme limpness and low memory make it an exceptional choice when casting distance is critical, but it features very low shock resistance and very poor knot strength, meaning that the average braid will start to have trouble at just half its actual tensile strength. Braided line is not particularly abrasion-resistant either, either. It’s extremely visible in the water, too, making it better main line than leader material.
Looking for some recommendations?
Check out our guide and reviews for the best braided fishing line!
What does this mean for you in the real world?
Mono is probably still king, especially in higher-grade versions. Exceptions exist, of course, but if we had to choose a single type of line to spool on all our gear, our choice would be between brands of excellent nylon monofilament.
Comparison, Explanation, and Evidence
As its name implies, monofilament is composed of a single strand of tough material. This material is often a blend of nylon polymers with varying attributes that together make a pliable, strong line. A traditional choice that’s been around for a long time, it’s better suited for a variety of fishing tasks than advertising copy and fishing websites might lead you to believe.
Stretch – Due to the material used to make monofilament, it stretches a good bit under load–sometimes as much as 25 percent! Troy Gibson, a pro angler and lure designer, put this to the test and found that typical monofilament lines stretch about one-inch per foot, or roughly eight percent. Obviously, the longer the length of your line, the more this will matter, but exactly how much your mono will stretch depends on brand, diameter, and how wet it is.
Stretch may not seem like an advantage, but consider that this gives mono awesome shock strength. When a monster hits your line, you want some give to cushion that force. Otherwise, the full brunt of all that energy is transferred to where you don’t want it–your knots!
Low and high visibility options – Monofilament is available in a wide assortment of colors to match your conditions, including very low-visibility options for clear water. And for those who fish with techniques that demand easy-to-see line, like nymphing, mono is offered in bright yellow and other high-vis colors.
You’ve probably heard the hype about fluorocarbon’s “invisibility” to fish–and there’s some truth to that, as we’ll discuss shortly. That low visibility is a function of how water refracts light, its “refractive index.” The closer the refractive index of your line comes to the water’s number, the less visible it is (hypothetically). A perfect match would mean near invisible in water, like clear glass.
Water has a refractive index of 1.333. Clear monofilament has a refractive index of just 1.53 to 1.62. That means that clear mono, at worst, is about 21 percent more visible than water, and at best about 15 percent more apparent to the human eye.
Superior abrasion resistance – This will be a real surprise to many of you–and it was to us–but mono is actually quite abrasion resistant when compared to braid and fluorocarbon. The reason why is pretty simple. Mono is a single filament of relatively thick diameter; moreover, it’s round. Together, this means that mono can take abuse without losing its strength, while also being able to roll across abrasive surfaces. Nylon is pretty tough material, too, and it’s forgiving of tiny scratches and nicks.
By contrast, braided line is stronger–diameter for diameter–in terms of weight holding, but its multi-strand composition leaves it far more vulnerable to abrasion. Strength is one thing; abrasion-resistance is another. Nylon monofilament, diameter for diameter, is generally the most abrasion-resistant choice.
But don’t take our word for it! Check out this head-to-head abrasion test:
mono vs braid
To be fair, this is one brand in one test–this isn’t science! But it does demonstrate something you should know about mono: it’s far more abrasion-resistant (when dry) than you might expect.
How much of that attribute it retains when wet will vary by brand, but the very high-end monofilaments are extremely resistant to abrasion.
Knot friendly– Monofilament is easy to tie and holds a knot better than the alternatives. That’s not a minor advantage, as all line tends to break at the knot, which is in all cases weaker than the tensile strength of bare line.
When TackleTour tested the knot strength of even average mono like Trilene XL, they found that it was exceptional: line verified by them to be 10-pound test held 9.7 pounds at the knot! Fluorocarbon and braid aren’t even close!
Floating – Nylon isn’t particularly dense material, and it tends to sink very slowly. That can be an advantage when fishing top water, for instance, but it’s not ideal in all situations and for all techniques. That said, as you’ll see below in our discussion of fluorocarbon, the differences in sink rate are really pretty minor.
Memory – Monofilament “remembers” the shape it’s been pressed into, and especially on ultralight reels, this can lead to line twist. Especially if you jig, this is a real problem. Here, braid is vastly superior and fluorocarbon much, much worse.
Absorbs water – Mono also absorbs water. As Berkley notes, this means that it will get a little easier to handle, cast, and tie as it loses much of its memory. But it will also encourage even more stretch, and it reduces its otherwise awesome abrasion-resistance.
Low sensitivity – If mono has a real weakness, it’s low sensitivity. Because it’s not very dense, and because it stretches well, mono can make it hard to detect bites and feel details, especially if you have a lot of line between your rod and lure.
On this front, both braid and fluorocarbon are superior.
Fluorocarbon is actually a monofilament as well, but rather than being made from nylon, it’s composed of–you guessed it–fluorocarbon. As a result, it’s harder and much denser than nylon monofilament. This gives it some unusual properties, but the chief selling point of fluorocarbon is its supposed “low visibility.”
Waterproof – Fluorocarbon is inherently waterproof, and even after fishing all day, this line won’t absorb water or change its handling characteristics.
UV resistance – Fluoro is also more resistant to UV break-down than nylon, and if you’re baking your line every day in the sun, this means that you can count on the fluoro to last longer without needing to be changed. That’s a nice feature, and something we appreciate.
Sinks – Being much denser than water, unlike mono, fluorocarbon wants to sink. For some types of lures, this is excellent, though keep in mind that the actual rate of descent for fluorocarbon alone is very, very slow. The chart below illustrates how long it takes various lines to drop one foot:
Fluoro’s density can still be an asset when jigging, for instance, so don’t discount this feature, but you’ll grow old watching it sink to the bottom!
Sensitivity – That high density also gives fluorocarbon better sensitivity than mono, and this characteristic is further enhanced by its relative stiffness.
Low-visibility? – The manufacturers or fluorocarbon suggest that its low refractive index, 1.42, means that it’s nearly invisible to fish. An easy test of this property that you’ll see online recommends that you dip clear fluorocarbon and mono of the same diameter in a glass of water together and see which is more visible. If you do this, the fluoro is generally the less visible.
But that’s not really the whole story. As fishing photographers can tell you, mono and fluro look pretty much alike in real conditions. And given that fishes’ eyes aren’t like ours, what we see and what they perceive will differ.
It’s also worth noting that scientists insist that fluoro is NOT nearly invisible in water. They’ve done the physics, and the answer is pretty clear (if you can follow very, very advanced math, that is!). Jeff Thomson’s “Mathematical Theory of Fishing Line Visibility” is a good example of what we mean.
So what’s the verdict? Let’s just say that we’re not sure, but we have serious doubts. Given that this is touted as the primary advantage of fluoro, we’re not sold–and we don’t think you should be either.
In fact, when TackleTour tested Seaguar’s fluorocarbon in the real world, they found that it made a difference with salmon, increasing strikes over mono, but found the opposite result on striped bass.
Rob Hughes summarizes our view pretty well. “Flouro [sic] is a brilliant material for a number of reasons, but assuming that it is invisible is a recipe for disaster.”
Low-stretch? – Fluorocarbon, like nylon monofilament, stretches under load. When this is put to the test, fluoro demonstrates slightly less stretch than comparable nylon mono, though it tends to retain that elongation, permanently deforming as a result.
Take a look at these charts:
The results: fluorocarbon offers a cushioning effect like nylon mono.
Don’t take our word for it; trust Berkley! According to them, fluorocarbon “actually stretches more than nylon mono. The difference is, it takes a greater force to get fluoro stretching in the first place. As a result, fluoro makes a fine choice for situations where controlled stretch is helpful, whether as a mainline or a leader in conjunction with low-stretch superline.”
Clay Norris, the senior product manager for Pure Fishing, the parent company of Berkley, Stren, and SpiderWire, agrees. “From a design standpoint, what mono and fluoro have is stretch, and that can be a positive and a negative.”
And Rapala says much the same thing. “Fluorocarbon does have less stretch (average 25%) than most nylon monofilaments (average 28%) but the difference is nearly [in]discernable by anglers until the nylon begins to absorb water and become more elastic.”
UV resistant – When you strip fluoro, you can’t just dump it in the water. Because it doesn’t break down readily in sunlight, it presents a hazard to fish.
Cost – Fluoro is expensive to manufacture, and that cost is passed down to consumers. Given how pricey it is to use as a main line, we’re just not sure that what you get for your money makes this choice a good buy.
Hard to tie and low knot strength – Fluorocarbon monofilament is harder than nylon; that makes it stiffer as well. As a result, it doesn’t knot and bind on itself as easily as nylon mono, making it a lot harder to tie well. This is a big deal. Remember–whatever the tensile strength of your line, if a knot gives, it’s game over!
In TackleTour’s testing, various high-end fluorocarbons experience knot failure at an average of 63.5 percent of their tested tensile strength. That means that for the average 20-pound fluorocarbon, you can expect to start seeing knot failure at just 12.7 pounds of force!
There are exceptions, however, and the chemistry wizards have accomplished some real magic. Take Seaguar Invizx, for example. Our top choice for a fluorocarbon main line, its knot strength can actually exceed its tested tensile strength! That’s simply incredible for any line!
Casts poorly – That stiffness also translates into poor casting compared to both braid and nylon monofilament. Moreover, because it’s exceptionally hard, as it passes through a rod’s guides, it creates more friction than comparable diameter mono or braid.
All other things being equal, both alternatives outperform fluoro for casting distance and easy handling.
Not as abrasion resistant as people think – Fluorocarbon is tough stuff, and in some cases, may be tougher than an equal diameter of nylon monofilament. And like mono, it’s round, allowing it to slide over abrasive surfaces.
That said, even the manufacturers don’t claim that fluoro is generally tougher than mono. Instead, they suggest that because of its supposed “low visibility,” anglers can run heavier weight line, resulting in greater abrasion resistance simply because of increased diameter. But diameter to diameter, pound for pound, nylon monofilament is tougher when dry.
Watch this video to see what we mean:
mono vs fluoro
Deforms under load – “Elasticity” describes how much a given material will stretch under load; by contrast, “plasticity” describes how easily that material returns to its pre-load length.
As you already know, nylon monofilament is quite elastic. But it’s also quite plastic, returning to its pre-load length after stretching. That’s not true for fluorocarbon, however.
After a heavy load, fluorocarbon permanently deforms, retaining the stretch it was forced into to a maximum of about 5 percent. That will weaken the line’s tensile strength, demanding that you respool even more often with this expensive line.
Braided line is just that: a carefully woven, multi-strand “rope” of spun polyethylene fibers. These are either Dyneema or Spectra, differing only in how they’re processed. Braided lines vary in how many such strands they employ, ranging from a low of three to a high of eight. In any case, these strands are braided together, providing very high tensile strength for diameter.
Strength – Braided line has a higher tensile strength for diameter than any of the alternatives. In practice, this means that you can use relatively heavyweight braid on ultralight reels. For instance, 20-pound Sufix Performance Braid has the same diameter as 6-pound monofilament.
For some applications, that increased strength for diameter is important. And it can allow you to spool very strong braid as your main line, with a mono or fluoro leader for shock absorption and low-visibility. That can offer massive advantages, helping to explain the popularity of braided line. For instance, when angling for large fish that will run, having more line on your reel can be the difference between elation and frustration!
Low stretch – You may have heard that braided line doesn’t stretch. That’s simply not true–it just stretches less than mono or fluoro, indeed a lot less! As a result of its composition, braided line will typically stretch from 1 to 8 percent of its length.
Sensitivity – That low stretch translates into increased sensitivity, and the longer the line, the greater the advantage in “feeling.” Here, braided line excels, easily crushing both fluoro and mono.
Especially as you have more line between your rod and lure, that added sensitivity will make a real difference.
Casting – Braid is very, very limp and has almost no memory. As a result, it casts quite well, though how much better than mono is still an open question.
Check out this video to see one example of braid’s superiority in casting:
Low shock strength – Because braid doesn’t stretch much, when it’s suddenly subjected to shock, it can’t give to cushion that force as mono and fluoro do. That can lead to sudden failure, usually in a knot.
Tangling – Thin braid tangles like nothing else in the world, and when it does, it’ll leave you cursing the day you bought it.
Poor tying and low knot strength – The polyethylene fibers that make up braid don’t bite on themselves very well, leading to poor knotting and relatively low knot strength. We recommend a Palomar or Surgeon’s knot, as these work well with braid. But this is a serious issue, and poor knots will negate the strength advantage of braid.
TackleTour’s tests revealed an average knot strength of 49 percent–even less than fluorocarbon. For 20 pound test, then, that means that average braid will start to experience knot failure at just 9.8 pounds!
That’s simply a huge disadvantage, largely negating the superior strength of braid.
Visibility – Braid is hard to dye. Generally speaking, you get darker shades that quickly fade in the sun. It’s the most visible line type, and not a good choice for clear water.
And to help prevent these colors fading, manufacturers coat braid with materials that, especially at the low-end, flake and impair handling and casting.
Poor abrasion-resistance – You’ll often hear that braided superlines are abrasion-resistant. That’s simply not true. As Berkley explains, “Due to their exceptionally thin diameter, not all superlines stand up as well to abrasion.”
Other experts agree. “The fact that braided line is manufactured by wrapping multiple strands over the top of each other means that those strands can separate. When they do separate–and they will whenever something hard scratches the surface in just the right way–they allow water to enter what was a sealed surface. When they open up, the water that gets in wears them, and that wear can result in breaks. Trust us when we say that those stresses will result in big fish getting away.”
As a result of its basic composition, the smoother the braid, the better its resistance to abrasion.
You may come away surprised by our findings–we sure did! And to be clear, we’re not trying to start a flame war or suggest that if you’re using fluorocarbon as main line, or like fishing braid, that you’re doing it wrong.
That’s simply not the case.
Instead, we wanted to reveal the tested, real-world advantages and disadvantages of each of these types of fishing line, keeping in mind that performance is dependent on the brand, technique, and conditions.
If you found this analysis helpful, please leave a comment below. If you disagree, please tell us why, and join the conversation!