Tight Lines

Saltwater Techniques

Last updated 12:51 05/07/2011
If chasing records, always use IGFA rated options.
Above Left: High-visibility lines offer several advantages, including: enabling skippers to follow fish and avoid running lines over; helping anglers to avoid tangling with each other (and making it easier to get free again); and aiding the detection of bites when lures or baits are descending. Above Right: Be careful when re-spooling, as too much or too little line on the spool will cause problems. This reel has been nicely filled with braid. Below: The back-to-back uni knot offers a reliable way to join two different types of lines in lighter breaking strains.

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It’s funny how certain acts can make you feel good.

For me, one of those is going to the tackle store to get some fresh line for my reels. It’s kind of like when you wash your car: it seems to perform better afterwards. Fishing line is such an essential part of any set up, but is often the most abused and neglected.

Having said that, I do realize that deciding just when your line should be replaced is a tough one, as it largely depends on how much fishing you do, how many fish you’ve caught, and how you look after your gear. Basically, check for things such as: low line levels on the spool (down 3-4mm or more from the spool lip suggests re-spooling is needed); nicks, frays and abrasions (cut at this point and then check afterwards for possible low line level issues); and loss of line colour/sheen, suggesting high sun exposure and hard use.

However, before changing your line, decide what you’re going to replace it with. The answer will usually be determined by asking a few basic questions. Firstly, what is the outfit’s recommended line rating? Most rods these days are multi rated; for example, they might say suited to 6-8kg line. But this is not always the case with high-tech jigging and popper rods, which often have a PE rating instead (basically, each PE rating equates to 10lb/4.5kg, so PE 2 equals 20lb/9kg), as breaking strains and fishing techniques vary when using this kind of tackle. In all cases though, it’s useful to consider using “the lightest possible with the heaviest practical”. In other words, use the lightest line you can safely get away with, but in situations where the fishing can be brutal, make sure it is strong enough to avoid leaving lots of fish swimming around with expensive lures in their mouths.

Having established the breaking strain required, next look at how long the line needs to be. Most reels have recommendations on the spool as to how much line they will hold. Now, while monofilament is fairly cheap, braided line is relatively expensive (even though it lasts longer), so ‘top-shotting’ reels with braid is a common practice. This involves mostly filling the spool with mono, and then joining 150-300 metres of braid so the spool is nicely filled. This is a good way to save money, but you do need to join the two lines with a knot, and, as we all know, any join can be a weak spot. The other downside to using a top shot is that to do it well, you need to wind the line on in reverse order to get fill the spool nicely. Then it’s a case of taking all the nylon off onto a different reel or spool, before winding the braid off onto another. Then you can wind the nylon on, join it to the braid, and wind that on, too. (Whew, what a mission!)

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The choice of line material is a personal one, but for most fishing situations braid is fantastic. However, monofilament seems to come into its own for close-quarter bait fishing and some surf and rock fishing scenarios. Like I said though, it’s really a personal thing.

Many lines have different properties, such as fine diameter, extra abrasion resistance or low stretch. Again, all have their place in specific conditions and circumstances, so it’s really up to the individual to decide which best suits their needs.

One caveat though: if intending to fish for records or in game fishing competitions, make sure you use a line that is IGFA (International Game Fishing Association) rated, as these lines have been tested to ensure they’re likely to meet the various line-class categories.

Another point to note if you are a record hunter and you top-shot or use backing tied to the main line: the backing line is considered part of your mainline, so if heavier in breaking strain than your mainline, you’re likely to be denied a potential record.

Line colour is another source of much debate. Personally, I like high-vis line when I need to see what the line is doing, such as when chasing large fish around from the boat, or so I can detect subtle twitches when fishing soft-plastics. The rest of the time I prefer to have the lowest possible visibility, even though I don’t think a bright line puts the fish off in most cases, as you usually have a mono or fluorocarbon trace on the end. However, in really clear conditions I have noted that high-vis line looks like a laser beam!

Having selected your line, you need to place it on your reel. There are many tips and tricks to help you do this, as it’s important that the line performs well afterwards.

The first trick is to always use backing. I do this in two ways: sometimes I’ll put a couple of wraps of electrical tape around the spool’s arbor or I’ll use some light cord – typically dacron (but not braid!). The reason for this is twofold. If using mono, the accumulated pressure created by the layers of this stretchy line can create enough force to damage your spool or the line itself. (To see what I mean, try wrapping a piece of mono around your finger 20 times!) In this case the backing gives the mono something to crush down into, helping to absorb the excess pressure. The other reason is for when you’re using braid, where a few turns of backing (you can use mono for this) makes sure that the slippery braid does not slide around the arbor. This happens a lot, especially when anglers first start using braid.

Once you have tied your line to your backing, it’s important to wind it on under pressure. I find the best way to do this is to have one person winding while the other holds the line-spool with a screwdriver through the spool’s middle, using a cloth or a pair of gloves to apply pressure to the side of the spool. As the spooling progresses, you’ll find less pressure needs to be exerted. In all cases though, regularly push down on the line load while re-spooling to check it feels solid rather than spongy, or you’ll be faced by a number of potentially ugly problems afterwards – which we’ll discuss shortly.

If using an eggbeater or level-wind reel, you needn’t worry about spreading the line evenly on the spool, as this is done for you automatically. However, if it’s a standard boat reel or game reel, be sure to spiral your line across the spool rather than laying it on side by side. This is because when playing a fish, with the pressure really on, it’s possible for the line to slip down in between the coils and get jammed, causing a bust off. This is particularly true of braid, as it’s surprisingly slippery.

For a similar reason, if the braid is not wound on tightly enough, there’s a good chance the first few layers of loose line will fly off in a big clump when cast afterwards, leaving you with a big tangle to sort out. Also, same as with any line, once it is wound back onto the spool under the correct tension, you’ll find the line level is much lower than before. This will mean decreased casting capabilities and a premature need to re-spool once more!

It can be tempting to overfill spools too, but this often leads to problems as well, especially on free-spool type reels. A little inattention or overexcitement can see a hump of line created that jams on the reel’s housing, causing line damage and/or a bust off.

So if all this seems a bit too daunting, get the specialist tackle outlet you bought the line from to put it on for you!

- Fishing News

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