The Bottom Line

The Bottom Line
When wading for bonefish, light line is required. Start off with 8-pound mono.

I have spools of fishing line everywhere these days, some “expired” and chalky looking, with others still fresh and slick. Several plastic boxes full. Different brands and line classes for all sorts of different jobs. It’s all monofilament, because I never could get into braid line, which is popular these days with inshore tournament guys; in their YouTube videos you can hear that distinctive Whew! Whew! when they crank their spinning reels with a fish on. After recently spooling up several reels, I thought I’d share what has worked for me over the past 50-plus years on the water.

Nowhere does the phrase “one size fits all” look worse, than with fishing line. It’s true that a range 12- to 20-pound line can accomplish a great deal in the right hands and in different venues, but it can’t do everything.

These days, my 4000 size spinning reels, so easy to cast even in wind, are used for catching all sorts of inshore species, and they’re a perfect match for 12-pound line. In my case that would be either Ande or (more easily found) Berkley Big Game. Both brands are what I consider to be “hard” lines, not so easily cut on structure, compared with softer brands. We’ve used Ande for about 40 years and that’s a tough line around jetty rocks and big barnacles growing on Gulf platforms offshore. They’re handy around oyster beds and limestone rocks in Baffin Bay, too.

Lately that 12-pound has worked and been sporty with bay redfish; I had a five-trip winning streak this past autumn, with my boat landing a combined 105 redfish, and we didn’t break off a single fish while using that 12-pound line. It should be noted that none were seven-plus-pound (what I call tournament winning redfish). They were slot-size reds from 18 to 25 inches. Caught by making long casts in five feet of water, over clean bottom with an occasional small snag. In this scenario and others I still use more 12-pound line than any other class, trimming away frayed line after each trip and after a few months, re-spooling entirely. Recently I turned in a two-foot cloth bag full of used line, to a local tackle shop for recycling.   

Fresh spools of line are sealed in quart-size plastic bags, mostly at home but at least one in the boat in case someone is spooled by a shark, jack or big stingray. Hooked to a big fish, some clients don’t realize they’re down to a few feet of line until I hear a disturbing Pow! Which means no line. They didn’t realize they could have gripped the reel’s spool and broke the line way out at the leader. With a spare spool, I refill their empty reel quickly by placing the 1/4 pound spool of fresh line in a small bucket, where it can spin rapidly. A hundred yards of new line fills their reel in less than three minutes.  

In our early decades of humping up and down the jetties for trout and mackerel, or working jigs deep around Gulf platforms, we used baitcaster Ambassadeur 5500 or 6500 reels, packed with 20-pound Ande. Tough line, that could cut a finger. There were countless days of slinging spoons from the rocks, or jigging around the platforms for all sorts of critters, from ling to snapper. Even from the stern of partyboats, though out there in blue water, we were undergunned with so many heavier lines in the water. Eventually we upgraded to 40-pound Ande on Ambassadeur 7000 reels, casting far from the boat with stiff 8-foot rods, and did so much better. Back on the jetties with 20-pound line, we caught loads of Spanish mackerel without using leaders, but also lost many gold spoons. Fortunately, they were cheap Acme spoons bought at Gibson’s.

As for those many kingfish tourneys years ago, our fish were all caught using 40-pound Ande line. Twice, winning kingfish were caught after the fish ran around a corner of the Gulf platform we were tied to, the line scraping barnacles. We’d free-spool until the boat was hastily idled around the corner, and out into open water. We also had a second-place king wrap around our parachute cord buoy line out there, and the Ande cut the buoy line and the fish was landed. If we’d used a softer line, we would never have landed those kingfish, much less made the winner’s circle back at tourney headquarters.  

Back inshore, our tarpon tackle had 40- and 50-pound mono on the reels. Hooking big tarpon on the Texas Gulf is a slug-fest because these fish can run deep and sulk, or they take to the air repeatedly, wearing themselves out. (Every tarpon is different.) Those big sluggers that go deep require hard work, like pulling on a shark. This is no place for lighter line, and our 40-pound was actually a little light. You don’t want to prolong the battle until that tarpon is almost dead. Aside from ethics, they are too few and precious to waste. Heavier line means a shorter battle and a better release. In that scenario, we consider 50-pound to be ideal.

Heavy mono leaders required for those long battles were made from spools of 150, 200 and 300-pound Ande. Many bull redfish were landed with those leaders. The same leaders were also used for deep-dropping with a window weight, some 700 to 900 feet down for grouper and tilefish. Fishing way out there in the Gulf you mostly see 80-pound line on the reels, either braid or mono used for marlin. When bottom fishing in deep water, you want no-stretch braid for detecting bites from deepwater grouper. Nine hundred feet down, mono line will work but it stretches like a rubber band and you can’t feel a bite.

At the opposite end of the line scale, I’m currently shopping for fresh 6-pound line for my ultra-light reels. Why? Spring crappie season is just around the corner and I need a spool of soft line, like the Mr. Crappie brand. Eight-pound line will do, but six-pound is better; you want that little jig to perform and light line draws more strikes.

Other considerations: While up in Canada, portaging the canoe to 19 different lakes, I loaded my only reel with 8-pound, which seemed a bit heavy. With eight, you can snag the shoreline and actually pull the canoe over there to jiggle the hooks loose. Some of those lakes were so clear (you could see 25 feet down) that the lake trout might have seen that  line. (Friends in the second canoe used six-pound and caught more trout). Lakes up there vary but have no tree snags after being carved out of rock 10,000 years ago. We caught some big smallmouth bass off their nests using topwater plugs and those were energetic fish, so maybe eight-pound was better than six. There were no break-offs that trip, even from bigger pike.

Traveling anglers should carry a choice of lines, but keep in mind that eight-pound also works great in the southern latitudes for bonefish. They live in crystal water and have keen eyes, and it’s a serious mistake to lob 20-pound line out there across flooded, white sand flats. That’s a venue where you want lots of line, not strength. Hooking one of those fish is like being tied to a small rocket, or close to it, so its best to loosen the drag and let that hooked fish run out of steam on the horizon.

That’s why there are many proven sizes and several brands in my tackle room. They are there out of pure necessity, each with specific goals in mind. Bottom line, it’s good to think about such things ahead of time.