The heart-pounding thrill of fighting a big tuna, tarpon, or sailfish is hard to equal, and if you’re as addicted to the salt as we are, you know how it gets into your blood.
And from flounder to blue, specks to stripers, the variety of species saltwater anglers chase is astounding. But some things remain constant in this sport: the need for the right line, the right knots, and the right gear.
If you want to improve your odds the next time you hit the blue water, look no further. Below, you’ll find our saltwater fishing tips, each guaranteed to tilt the odds in your favor!
Table of Contents (clickable)
Don’t forget to check out our buying guides for saltwater tackle:
Choose the right line
Circumstances, species, and techniques determine the best type of line for saltwater angling, and savvy fishermen know what to consider when making this important choice.
We’ve written about line choice before. For our present purposes, let’s review some basics and assess the pros and cons of each option.
Nylon monofilament, also simply called mono, is composed of a single strand of nylon. It’s been around for a long time, and in advertising hype you might encounter, it’s been eclipsed by newer options like braid and fluorocarbon.
Don’t believe that for a second–our tests have revealed that mono has surprising strengths:
- It’s both highly “elastic” and tremendously “plastic,” meaning that it stretches easily but returns to its prior shape quickly–much like a rubber band. This combination provides superior, repeated shock strength, and mono is an excellent choice for hard fights.
- It ties well and possesses superior knot strength, too. Nylon bites on itself well, and because of its excellent plasticity, it can be easily bent, twisted, and contorted. That combo means that knots will be easy to make–and they’ll be very, very strong once tied.
- Finally, it’s amazingly abrasion-resistant. I’ve tested mono against braid and fluorocarbon, and mono vastly exceeded braid, while equaling fluorocarbon.
My top pick for saltwater mono is Trilene Big Game. From 10- to 130-pound tests, it’s never let me down. It’s also available in a range of color options to match your conditions, and like all mono, it isn’t going to break the bank!
Big Game is tough stuff, and in heavier weights, it makes great leaders, too.
Braid, as its name suggests, is a woven line composed (primarily) of Dyneema or Spectra fibers. No longer new tech, braid continues to be improved by the addition of new fiber types (GORE) or special coatings.
It can be an excellent choice in the right circumstances, but it’s critical to weigh its strengths and weaknesses for saltwater anglers:
- Braid doesn’t stretch much at all, and that’s both good and bad. For sensitivity and energy transfer during your hookset, braid simply can’t be beat. But when sudden shocks occur, say, during a hard fight, braid may fail at far less than its test strength.
- Braid is very, very thin for its strength. That lets you pack a lot of line on your reel, or jump up considerably in test for the same amount of line.
- Braid ties pretty well because it’s exceptionally limp, but because Dyneema and Spectra are both extremely slick materials, it has a hard time biting against itself. This leads to slippage and failure, and repeated knot strength tests reveal that you can expect about 50% of your line’s test strength from the knot.
- Dyneema and Spectra don’t take colors very well, and they can’t be made clear, so braid tends to be pretty visible.
- Finally, because of its woven construction, braid has very poor abrasion resistance. I’ve tested this myself, and braid fails remarkably faster than mono or fluorocarbon. Worse still, just a bit of line wear dramatically reduces braided line’s test strength, and my results had it down to 5%–that’s right, just 5%–when mono was still working at 86% of its rated test!
In fact, when I tested 20-pound Sufix 832 against 20-pound Stren Original by abrading both lines to exactly the same degree and then subjecting them to load, the braid was breaking at just 1.05 pounds, while the mono was holding until 17.25 pounds!
Far more often seen as leader material than main line, fluorocarbon is composed of a single filament of perfluorocarbon. Tough, clear, and dense, it’s just not pliable enough to beat the other options on your reel.
That said, fluorocarbon does have some interesting features:
- It’s more dense than mono, allowing greater feel and sensitivity.
- Fluorocarbon also sinks slightly faster than mono, but as we’ve discussed before, we’re talking about the difference between paint drying and grass growing!
Relative times to sink 12 inches.
- Fluoro does stretch, and is pretty elastic. But it isn’t very plastic, meaning that once it does stretch, it has a hard time returning to its previous length. In the real world, that means that a good, hard fight will permanently deform your line, weakening it quite a bit.
- Because it tends to be a bit stiff, it’s harder to tie, especially in heavy weights. It also won’t hold those knots very well, as testing has confirmed time and time again. In TackleTour’s testing, the high-end fluorocarbons they reviewed experienced knot failure at an average of 63.5 percent of their tested tensile strength.
- Finally, it’s closer to the refractive index of water than mono, making it (perhaps) a little harder for fish to see, though the science is still out on this one.
You be the judge:
What does this mean for you?
When you’re fighting a heavy current or tide and fishing the bottom or when you need to troll at a precise depth.
If you’ve ever had a current drag your rig from where the bites are happening to a “dead zone,” you know just how frustrating this can be!
Because braid is thinner for strength than other options, it makes a great tide-busting choice. I run braid when I know that current or tide will be a significant issue, especially when I’ll be working the bottom.
It also offers less resistance–creating less blow-back–when trolling. If you need to run a very precise depth, braid can be a great choice to make this easier.
When you’re fishing deep.
Contrary to what you might have heard, braid does stretch–but not much, typically just 1 to 8 percent of its length.
That means two things.
First, you’ll really feel what’s going on at the end of your line, and from light strikes to the shape of the bottom, you’ll be in the know.
And second, when it’s time to set the hook, you’ll have a more or less direct transfer of energy from your rod to your hook, an important consideration when you’re running a lure or live bait at depth.
When I’m fishing deep (or long), I’ll often pick braid.
When you’re fishing around rocks, pilings, oyster beds, or other abrasive debris.
In my head-to-head tests, mono just crushes braid in abrasion resistance. And while I can’t precisely simulate a red running my line over oyster shells or a striper making a loop around a barnacle-encrusted piling, I can tell you definitively that mono will take that abuse much, much better than braid of double or even triple the weight.
What do you think this will do to your line?
Any time I’m fishing around anything that may damage my line, I reach for mono.
When the water is very clear.
Some species don’t seem to be line or leader shy, but I don’t like to put that to the test if I can avoid it!
Mono is available in a wider range of color options than braid, and that includes clear or nearly clear colors. When I’m fishing brilliantly transparent water, whether on the coasts of Croatia or in the Florida Keys, I’m reaching for mono every time.
When you’re fishing big fish that fight hard.
This may come as a surprise, given how strong braid is for its diameter. But two things tilt the odds in my favor with mono.
First, mono provides unparalleled shock strength, and I know that if a big fish suddenly changes direction, my line and my knots are going to hold.
And second, I find that the elasticity and plasticity of mono help to keep my hook in place with species that like to shake their heads and jump. And if you’ve ever felt your line go limp when a big fish leaps, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Choose The Right Leader
Whether you choose to spool braid or mono onto your reel, there are situations that demand a leader.
For instance, if you’re chasing species with a mouth full of teeth, a leader is critical. And if I have a choice between casting 20-pound mono or 60-pound mono, I’ll pick the lighter line all day–but that doesn’t mean that I might not want some insurance against abrasion, nicks, and cuts near my terminal tackle.
Plenty of anglers reach for fluoro leaders, but I’m just not convinced by my research, testing, and real-world experience.
Head-to-head, mono and fluoro seem to be roughly equal in terms of abrasion resistance. My own tests put 20-pound Seaguar Inviz-X and 20-pound Stren Original exactly on par in terms of abrasion resistance, and I’m not alone in these findings.
I think fluoro is on par with mono in terms of raw shock strength, but mono is easier to tie in heavy tests, holds knots better, and is much, much cheaper.
And as far as fluorocarbon’s vaunted invisibility, I’m simply not convinced.
To me, mono just stacks up better against fluoro than the marketing hype suggests.
A mouth full of sharp teeth is too much for even the toughest mono, and for species like bluefish, wahoo, sharks, and King and Spanish mackerel, a wire leader is a necessity.
This Spanish mackerel will tear through anything but a wire leader.
If I’m making my own, my favorite choice is AFW’s Tooth Proof Stainless Steel Single Strand Leader Wire. Available in weights ranging from 27- to 195-pounds, AFW has you covered with three color choices.
Choose The Right Knot
Any experienced angler can tell you that the right knot–tied well–can be the difference between a fish in the boat and nothing but disappointment.
When I hit the salt, five knots are foremost in my mind.
I’ve chosen these knots for their relative strength, ease and speed, and utility, all of which I’ll discuss below. Each has its place, and knowing when to use which knot is essential.
Incredibly strong, the Palomar ties well in any line. Ideal for securing a hook to the end of your line, it’s easy to tie and can be completed quickly, even on a pitching deck.
I don’t recommend this knot for lures for two reasons.
First, it’s tough to pass over large lures with big hooks, especially in real-world conditions.
Second, while exceptionally strong, it isn’t a loop knot. As such, it won’t allow the lure to move as naturally as a knot like the Kreh.
That said, it’s the only knot I use on hooks.
When you need to connect your main line to a thick mono leader, the dissimilar diameter makes more common knots like the Double Uni a no-go. Try them side-by-side, and you’ll see why: the FG will hold better, longer, and stronger.
Not an easy knot to tie, and pretty darn slow, it’s still essential for its purpose.
Whether you need to attach your braided main line to your reel or a wire leader, nothing beats the Braid Uni.
A slight modification of the standard Uni, this knot holds really well and is very easy and fast to tie.
For my money, the Kreh is the ultimate loop knot, allowing your lures the very finest action.
It’s also easy and quick to tie and works well in braid and mono.
Among the easiest knots to learn to tie well, the Uni is a great general purpose knot for mono that’s fast to tie in the real-world.
I like to use it to attach a wire leader, secure my line to my spool, and for anything else that doesn’t require a loop knot.
Re-tie, re-tie, re-tie
When the fish are biting like crazy, it’s easy to lose your head.
One of the most common mistakes I see–and one I’ve made plenty myself–is forgetting to stop, cut, and re-tie.
Every fight, especially on fish with sharp gill plates and tough teeth, means that your leader is taking a beating. And even wire leaders will show the strain quickly enough.
This is a disaster waiting to happen!
After every fish, I recommend that you check your leader.
If you’re using a wire leader, look for kinks and damage, replacing the leader as necessary.
But if you’re running a mono or fluoro leader, no matter how tough, it’s worth considering a quick re-tie. Cut your line, make another leader, and get back in the action with fresh knots and undamaged line.
It may slow you down a little, but when you hook the fish of your life, you’ll be glad you took the time!
Check (And Change) Your Hooks
We’ve all got that time-tested lure that we just know gets the bites!
But every few months of serious fishing, you should check each lure and hook for rust, damage, and dullness.
At the very least, rusted, dull hooks need to come off–and new, sharp hooks need to go on.
Which of these hooks would you trust?
And even new lures can use this treatment. To keep costs down, lure manufacturers tend to skimp a bit on hook quality. Replacing those brand new hooks with higher-end alternatives can really improve your success.
I’m a big fan of Gamakatsu’s treble hooks, and since they’re available in a variety of styles, you can always find just what you need.
For single hooks and live bait, I strongly recommend Gamakatsu circle or octopus hooks, as do many professional guides.
By design, they tend to catch the fish in the corner of its mouth, limiting nasty throat hooks. And that’s a win-win: it improves lock-up and saves fish.
As George Poveromo, who makes his living guiding clients, explains, “In addition to being a huge conservation tool that limits the chances of hooking a fish deeply, inline circle hooks actually catch more fish. When set properly, it’s difficult for a fish to shake it — and that provides great peace of mind when that tarpon, big snook or sailfish takes to the air.”
The trick with these hooks is that a strong hookset is actually counterproductive. Let the fish take your bait and just tighten your line–the hook will slide into the corner as it should.
Whatever species you’re after, you’ll find more success when you pick the right line, choose the right knot, and run the best hook–no question.
We hope that these tips help you catch the fish of your dreams, and we’d love to hear from you if they do!
Please leave a comment below.