A new twist for line
Fishing line that is braided is the latest advance offered by manufacturers though it is not expected to replace the monofilament lines. Evaluations of several braided fishing lines reveal that their strength is unsurpassed, but that some modifications to knot tying technique are needed.
Since March of this year, the fishing world has been swept up in growing excitement over an incredible new family of fishing lines. Claims about the performance of the lines–from unfounded rumors to the obligatory marketing hype–have bordered on the otherworldly.
These are braided lines, not monofilament, and they won’t make monofilament obsolete. Perhaps the most exotic is the one Kevlar braid from Du Pont called, appropriately, Stren Kevlar. Others in the long line of new lines include the Spectra fiber line (gel-spun polyethylene) made in the United States by Allied Signal Inc., and another Spectra product called Dyneema sold by Triple Fish Company of Ocoee, Florida. Fenwick and PRADCO are working with Japan to produce their versions of gel-spun polyethylene lines called IRON Thread and Silver Thread, respectively. Berkley and Cortland also have braided line entries.
Although these new products are a breakthrough in design and construction, it’s time to put things in perspective. Over the past few months, I conducted exhaustive tests to determine how the lines truly perform and to identify where their niche lies in sportfishing.
Discovered in 1965, Du Pont’s Kevlar fiber is in the aramid family, and is pound-for-pound five times stronger than steel. Its specific gravity is somewhat heavier than Spectra, which, being water-repellent, floats until something sinks it. Like Kevlar, Spectra is a modern miracle fiber, a gel-spun polyethylene also many times stronger than steel with abrasion resistance four times that of nylon. Both fibers have been used for body armor, boat hulls, climbing rope, cable replacement, as hunting and archery bow string, and in military and aerospace applications.
The first application of Spectra was for competitive kite flying.
Fishing lines of Kevlar and Spectra have tremendous strength for their diameter; stretch hovers between 3 to 7 percent, which translates into extraordinary sensitivity and hook-setting power. Dacron and polyester braids that were once thought to be the ultimate in low elongation have a stretch factor of about 15 percent, depending on size and formulation. By way of further comparison, Berkley 20-pound-test XT monofilament has a diameter of 0.019 inches, but one popular Spectra braid of 0.015 inch diameter is 80-pound test.
Back in March, my early Spectra line experiments were with Izorline, probably the first U.S. version of line using Spectra fibers, which was introduced by Capt. Russ Izor, a former Southern California party boat skipper. The line instantly caught on among anglers targeting powerful tuna and yellowtail jacks. Fine diameter and high test meant that smaller reels could be used. Bottom fishermen realized that they could now use half the weight to take a bait down. Offshore, big-game trollers could now legitimately downsize their outfits and still spool on enough line of the proper test.
Meanwhile in fresh water, big bass record holders Dan Kadota and Bob Crupi were fishing with the then prototype three-carrier Izorline (a carrier is what you’d think of as one of the strands forming the braid), about the diameter of 10-pound-test monofilament but with a 45-pound-test break strength.
In Texas, lure maker Terry Oldham was distributing his gray Spectra lines while Ron Totten of T&C Tackle was selling Western Filament’s T.U.F.Line, a blend of Spectra and one or two carriers (depending on the line size) of black polyester that act to visually break up the otherwise all-white Spectra.
Soon afterward Fenwick launched its IRON Thread in 30-pound test with the diameter of about an eight to 10-pound-test monofilament. The company now has a Full range of line sizes in green or gray. IRON Thread has a tighter braid and a harder, almost textured finish due to a polyurethane/ silicone coating, compared with some of the other Spectra fiber lines.
Suddenly one company after another, including Berkley, Cortland, Gudebrod, Innovative Textiles, PRADCO, Triple Fish and various small distributors, acted to either create a new line or sell a variation of Spectra braid. Interestingly, many of the larger firms had been looking at the fiber for years.
Berkley’s new Ultra Max, which comes in high (fluorescent) and low-visibility finishes, is unique in having a copolymer (like monofilament) core, giving it more body and spring. This is said to help the line perform better on spinning reels. The company’s business manager Bryan Thomas says that the core increases slack line sensitivity in flipping or pitching where moments of slack are incurred. The core also gives the line a neutral buoyancy.
My hands-on experience with many of the new braided lines has left me with some distinct impressions. First, the lines perform head and shoulders over monofilament in specific applications. However, they won’t replace monofilament for fishing with light and ultralight spinning tackle (though Fenwick has six and eight-pound-test sizes).
Like Dacron, the new braids are extremely flexible, which makes for easy action with stickbaits or jerkbaits. However, that limpness along with lack of stretch can result in the line falling back and fouling on the plug, with the line sometimes fraying on the lure’s hooks. A short, slightly springy monofilament leader can eliminate this problem, but so can changing your style. To reduce slack, use less energy when you twitch the lure. You’ll need to tame your hook-setting reaction as well.
While fishing for peacock bass several years ago I “sneak-preview” tested a prototype Kevlar line. PowerFul fish in the mid-teen weight range slammed my crankbaits and I slammed right back, yanking the fish from submerged treetops with great speed. I also felt the jolt from my end; the line has that little stretch. (Du Pont elected not to introduce the line then but, in refined form, now has.)
In March Texan Randy Dearman won a bass tournament on a Spectra fiber line at Sam Rayburn Reservoir in his home state. Dearman’s descriptions of hauling bass over tree limbs, and actually breaking off limbs using the line, captivated fishermen. Especially when they learned that the braid he used tested 80 pounds and was the diameter of a 20-pound-test monofilament!
Already there are stories of bass sailing out of the water and over the boat from the usual two-fisted hook set. Anglers just aren’t breaking off any more unless the braided line is cleanly cut on some debris or cover, and lighter hooks are being straightened. There also have been reports of rods breaking and cheaper guides scoring. Some manufacturers have even turned down warranty claims, with just cause: fishing 80 to 100-pound-test line on a rod designed for 20-pound test probably constitutes abuse. Jerry Gomber of Abu-Garcia predicts more lost rods and reels as anglers unfamiliar with such low stretch have their outfits plucked from their hands. He also feels fishermen will use drags more–especially bass anglers who can’t tame their hook sets. Drags will be adjusted to slip a bit as anglers rear back on the strike.
Rod makers are now starting to respond to the special qualities of braided line. Already Berkley and other companies have launched rods designed for the braids. They feature a more parabolic action, double-footed guides and more guides, which keep the line scribing the same arc as the bending rod.
As for casting, the flexibility and lightness of the lines can cause them to loft in the breeze and settle slowly to the water. Some of the braid brands I’ve used cast a bit better than others from spinning reels, but in general you’ll lose a little distance over monofilament. That’s not a critical problem in most instances. Line twist with spinning tackle seems reduced compared with monofilament. Overpowering casts with spinning equipment may cause line to spring off the spool, but the lines cast beautifully from levelwind reels. With all types of reels, these braids should be spooled on tightly. (The Triple-Cross line winding system on Ambassadeur reels is an excellent choice for tight line spooling.)
Also, in extremely clear water, when spooky species like tuna are being picky, the braids may put off some fish. On the other hand, there’s been some indication that light travels down transparent monofilament, causing a fiber optic effect that makes monofilament more visible than opaque braided lines.
After weeks of fishing many of the pure Spectra-based products in both salt and fresh water, I found no line degradation. Nor did these lines experience any strength reduction when wet, as there is precious little water absorption. My only abrasion problem with Spectra blends came from jerkbait hooks fraying the line.
In a deep jigging test of the new Kevlar line, Du Pont’s Bill Wohl reported the benefit of using leaders made of the firm’s High Impact monofilament for groupers at 180 feet. Otherwise, as the fish fled to their rock holes, the braid tended to saw through. Still, the advantage of the Kevlar was evident at extreme depths for hook setting and winching up fish.
Well-tied knots are more critical with the braids than monofilament. The materials are so hard and slick that poorly constructed knots can unwind under pressure. In my experimenting I broke off once using a single strand Uni-Knot to my lure. To hook, lure, or snap, I had the best results with a Spectra Knot (see illustration on page 64). Knots are slow tying in the limp braids, and the tag end of a trimmed knot will fuzz up, but if the knot is well-tied it should be safe. Allow at least one-eighth inch of tag end when you trim.
Du Pont and Berkley have alternative answers to knot problems. Berkley’s “Not A Knot” is a wire device around which you twist the line to make the connection. It’s marketed with the firm’s terminal tackle and has proven successful on the braided line, but the strongest available version tests 40 pounds.
Keying on anglers’ use of various cyanoacrylates (Super Glue) to strengthen knots, Du Pont developed a quick-drying adhesive product for use on the new Stren Kevlar. (Some of the cyanoacrylates can slightly degrade nylon, thus the new formula.). The adhesive can be used to strengthen knot efficiency to just less than 100 percent. As an alternative, the adhesive comes with a small-diameter tubing that can be used to form a knotless connection much like crimps used with heavier saltwater leaders. The system is called Stren Lok-Knot.
You can also simply tie on a black high-quality snap (with no swivel) to attach lures and avoid having to tie knots frequently. On a recent trip I used a snap connected to a short length of single strand wire leader and caught (and released) 82 northern pike, most weighing in the teens, before retying the knot that held the snap. Some anglers may elect to use a swivel or aluminum ring, typical of saltwater fishing, to connect monofilament or wire leaders to the braid.
The new line is excellent for trolling; the way you feel distant hits or bottom contact makes monofilament seem like a long rubber band. Also, you usually get snagged lures back one way or another. I hung up a very tough, well-made crankbait once, and decided to see what would happen if I screwed down the drag and just hauled. I actually broke off part of the lure’s integral bill.
The lines are expensive but they have long life. It takes some manufacturing time to braid the products; for example about an hour is required to produce just 100 yards of Stren Kevlar. For typical bass fishing you only need to spool on 50 yards. Dacron, polyester or monofilament line should be used as backing behind the braid to fill the reel. Thus, a 150- yard spool of braided line will fill three reels. Typical prices for the lines range from $13 to $23 per 150 yards. Other anglers will, of course, need more braid for various types of fishing.
The new lines hold promise as excellent backing for fly reels. If the lines prove out, their small diameter should allow a reel formerly used for salmon and bone fish to be used for tarpon, and a tarpon reel for bill fish. With a lot of line out, you’re dealing with proportionately smaller diameter spools, of course, so line retrieve would be slower.
The use of Spectra (and Kevlar) as fly-line core might seem natural, but there are potential problems. According to Bruce Richards of 3M/Scientific Anglers, there’s a danger that when under pressure, the small-diameter Spectra core could cut through the fly-line coating. Additionally, all current flyline coatings cause memory (the line stays slightly coiled), which is removed by stretching the line. Kevlar and Spectra basically don’t stretch, which might cause more line memory. It’s also difficult to get coatings to stick to Spectra or Kevlar.
Solving these problems, however, could produce fly line with a diameter an entire line-size smaller than today’s equivalents. That would result in less air resistance for longer casts and faster dropping sink-type lines. The line could prove to have many of the advantageous casting qualities of old silk lines without the inherent disadvantages.
Marketers and anglers alike are hailing the introduction of new braided lines as a dramatic step forward in fishing, much akin to the emergence of graphite rods. There’s no doubt that the lines will advance angler success in many phases of the sport, and as improvements and fine-tuning occur, they will probably find their way into new applications. For now, you’ll be missing out on a good thing if you don’t try some of the current crop of this fascinating new age fishing string.
KNOTS THAT WORK
* For attaching line to lure, hook, snap or swivel, anglers are advised to use one of the following knots: Spectra Knot; Double Line, Double Loop Uni-Knot; Silver Braid Knot; Bimini Twist (results in doubled line); Eight-Turn Clinch and Eight-Turn Improved Clinch; knotless connections (Du Pont, Berkley); and Miller Knot.
* For leader and backing connections use the following: Improved Blood Knot with polyester or monofilament doubled; Off-Side Blood Knot (six turns with monofilament or polyester, four rams with the braid).
BRAIDED LINES AT A GLANCE
* Extraordinary strength per diameter. Drastically reduces break-offs, and lures can inevitably be freed from snags.
* Extremely low stretch provides great sensitivity and efficient hook sets.
* Very good abrasion resistance.
* Excellent limpness for better lure action.
* Little water absorption.
* Excellent casting characteristics with revolving spool reels; good with spinning reels.
* Line sizes are applicable to a wide variety of saltwater and freshwater fishing specialties.
* Knots must be tied with great care or replaced by a no-knot connection system.
* Abrasion factor with Kevlar requires the use of leaders in some conditions.
* Anglers must adjust technique in hook setting and fighting fish.
* Knots and lines must be cut using scissors or a knife. Clippers (even on good pliers) won’t work.
* Initial high cost.