Practical tackle


Should either your line or your trace part when casting it could well mean a lost lure, worse still, should one or the other fail at any time while you are playing a pike it is bad news for the fish. This makes it obvious that these two things are your most important items of tackle. No compromises should be made in this area.

The actual type of line you choose is determined by the kind of reel you are using. What works best on a fixed-spool might not be so good on a baitcaster, and vice versa. A look though the Berkley catalogue will show you that there are many different types of monofilament available for those who care to look. Limp lines, tough lines, lines that change colour. All at a price of course! It is possible to go to extremes over lines. My advice is to try a wide range, and, as with all tackle, settle on one or two lines that suit the way you fish.

I like my lines to be tough no matter what kind of reel I am using, to take the pounding that they get, to stand up to the wear and tear of contact with weed and rock. It is surprising how much damage weed can do to lines, and - to the surprise of many - to hook points. Don't underestimate the harm that can come to terminal tackle from the environment you fish in. Abrasion resistance and good knot strength are my two main requirements in a line.

Fixed-spools demand lines that are limp, with little memory'. That is to say they don't hang in coils when released from the spool, but almost straight. For a line to have this property is very nice, but limp lines don't always have such good abrasion resistance as they might. Lines with a fine diameter for their breaking strain are also advantageous for fixed-spool fishing. Of course, fine lines lack abrasion resistance. They do increase the running depth of your lures though, offering less water resistance. Yet another factor to consider. Choosing a line is always a matter of compromise where toughness, thinness and limpness are concerned. Balance each against the other to suit your fishing conditions.

Having a supple line is less of a concern when using multipliers, so I tend to opt for budget lines. The best of these offer excellent value for money, are tough and reliable and have the added advantage that you feel happy about respooling at frequent intervals. Bear in mind that Berkley's Big Game line is their lowest priced mono. Of the lines I have tried I can recommend Nash Power Carp, Berkley Big Game and Daiwa Sensor for multiplier use, and Big Game and Nash Power Plus for filling fixed-spool reels.

A selection of nylon monofilament lines and a Spectra braid as used by the author.

It is worth noting the diameters of lines, as there is some variation between makes when it comes to breaking strains. Also stated tests on the spools and actual tests can vary widely. When Big Game was launched in the U.K. the fifteen pound test was given rave reviews as it broke nearer twenty pounds. This should have come as no surprise because its stated diameter is close to that of a standard twenty pound line! There have been unfavourable comparisons made between Power Plus and Big Game by some anglers I have met. Totally unfair criticism when you realise that 15lb Power Plus has a diameter equivalent to that of a standard 12lb mono, while 15lb Big Game matches 20lb standard. When making such comparisons you should really judge lines of equal diameter. So as a general guideline I have included a chart towards the end of the book which gives breaking strain/diameter comparisons for standard monos. You can then compare any nylon line of your choice against these rough standards.

We really ought to take more notice of the diameters of the lines we use. This is the factor that determines how much line we can get on a reel, which in turn will affect casting, lure fishing depth and the overall way the line will handle when fishing. So when I say that I like to use the strongest line I can get away with, I should really say the strongest and thickest!

While I am happy using standard nylon lines, this does not mean that I haven't tried other types. Copolymers have a lot of fans, being fine, tough and reasonably limp. However, my experience, and that of a number of my friends, leads me to say that they are intolerant of less than perfect knots, and can be unreliable in use. It is their inability to cope with the repeated stress from casting that seems, to me, to cause copolymers to fail. I have heard it likened to case hardening. With the repeated stress of casting the last few yards become brittle very quickly, and therefore need cutting off far more frequently than is the case with nylon.

The degree of stretch a line has is important as it affects the amount of feel you have of the lure, as it works, bumps weed or suchlike and when a pike takes it. Stretch can also have a bearing on how many pike you hook. There is no doubt at all that very low stretch lines, like the new High Performance Polyethylene braids, enhance feel to an amazing extent. Every time the lure hits something you are aware of it unmistakably and instantly. There is no 'mushiness' in the way you sense what is happening to the lure. Low stretch monos are available, but they have very little shock, or impact resistance and as a result are liable to quickly weaken to a critical point through repeated casting. They are also unforgiving, the amount of stretch in a standard mono (around 25%) gives an added safety margin should a drag stick, or a pike hammer a lure on a very short line. The drawback to such a high degree of stretch is when trying to hook fish at the extreme of casting range. It is a deflating experience to have an obviously large pike hit a lure almost as soon as it has splashed down, only to feel the soggy sensation of the line stretching and the lure pulling free of the pike's jaws. The same thing can all too often happen when trolling lures on a long line. For some applications, then, low stretch lines can be a big help.

HPPE, gel spun, Hi-Tech (or whatever other name you might want to call them by) braids are comparatively new on the angling scene, originally being introduced in the 'States where they were initially hailed as the ultimate line. It didn't take too long for the honeymoon to end and articles began to appear urging caution with these braids and proposing that they are useful in some cases, and less so in others. Rather as I had suspected in the first place. Because these lines have as little as 4% stretch there have been many horror stories of rods being broken by anglers using these lines! Apart from the Spectra fibres used in the majority of the new-age braids other materials have also been used, Kevlar and Dyneema for instance, but they are prone to weakening from exposure to ultraviolet light and water. Not exactly what you want in a fishing line!

Braided Dacron has been around for a very long time, and shares many features with HPPE braids. As well as having little stretch (around 12%), it behaves in a similar way when fishing, although much thicker for a given breaking strain. Both types of braid are less dense than mono, and more supple. This leads to them catching the wind easily when they are slack, and can lead to tangles around the rod rings. I find this happens most often when you are changing lures. These lines require careful spooling when loading your reels. If wound on too lightly the uppermost turns will dig in when you are retrieving under pressure. This will cause snatching on the next cast, and more than likely a bird's nest. Hence the upsurge in cross wind line lay systems on many of the latest reels, both fixed-spool and multiplier. With careful spooling they are quite manageable on standard baitcasters. The trick is to wind them on under tension, so tight that the line feels solid on the reel. Either get someone to hold the line spool under so it revolves under pressure, or use one of the loading devices that are available. An alternative method is to load the line under moderate tension then run it all off, tying the line to something solid, and winding it back under tension as you re-spool. I find this latter method to be the best as the cushioning effect of the rod keeps the pressure even. It is when you get an over-run that the biggest drawback of all braids becomes obvious. They are an absolute nightmare to untangle, the more so if spooled on loosely.

Hi-Tech braids have a number of advantages over Dacron. Notably fine diameter and abrasion resistance. Dacron is much thicker than mono of the same test, while HPPE braids are considerably thinner. Dacron is highly susceptible to fraying, while HPPE lines are among the most abrasion resistant materials available for making lines from. Neither line is tolerant of inferior knots (those which 'strangle' the line like blood knots), so Palomars and doubled Uni knots are highly recommended. In practice I have found that because it is possible to use a HPPE line of 50lb test, in place of a 25lb mono, a standard Uni Knot is usually good enough. We're back to choosing line by diameter rather than stated breaking strain again - let's face it, even if the knot halves the breaking strain of the line it will still be 25lb. Plenty strong enough for most circumstances! Some people recommend the use of Superglue on braid knots, but with the two knots mentioned above I honestly think that you will gain nothing by gluing them. The glue is suggested to prevent the knots slipping and pulling out, neither of these knots is likely to do so because their construction prevents this. The blood knot, on the other hand, as well as 'strangling' the line can pull free of itself.

Two of the most interesting things about these braids, or any ultra-low stretch line, are that your rods feel different, and casting seems much sharper. Both of these effects are due to the fact that the line is not soaking up the energy you are putting into the tackle, therefore the rod will feel crisper', the action coming close to that of the bare blank being flexed. Playing fish is also a new experience, every twist and turn that the pike makes is transmitted to your hand. To some degree, low stretch lines increase casting distance. I remember trying a Spectra braid as a shock leader, a few years before the lines were on the market, and being surprised that it increased my casting distance by an appreciable amount. When you think about it this is bound to happen. Because the line hardly stretches at all more of the energy you put into the cast will be transmitted to the lure, less being absorbed by stretching the line.

|Palomar and Uni Knots
Palomar and Uni/Grinner knots. For extra strength the Uni knot can be tied in a doubled length of line.

It has to be said that HPPE lines are initially very expensive to purchase. Currently between œ10 and œ20 for one hundred yards. This is offset by the fact that such strong lines can be used that you will be able to recover most lures that snag up - and often the snag too! It has been said that these lines will last longer than mono without deterioration, and while this might indeed be the case they are subject to wear. After some time casting heavy lures you might notice the last foot or so above the trace taking on a furry appearance. The braid is fraying slightly, and while only a few filaments are affected and its strength will not have been reduced all that much, it is better to be safe than sorry and cut back the line and retie the trace. In time you will lose an appreciable length of line and it will need to be respooled with added backing, or replaced altogether. However, as with all technical innovations the launch price of these braids is high, but I expect them to drop in relative price over the next few years. Certainly if they prove to be very popular.

Given a choice between Dacron and HPPE lines I would opt for the latter, its fine diameter and high abrasion resistance being preferable. I can certainly see me using it regularly for trolling where the problems created by repeated casting will not arise. The increased ability to pop lures free of weed is a big time saver when trolling. I was afloat with a mate of mine one day, I was using braid while Martin was using mono. Every time we went through a weedbed I was able to clear my lure and get it running properly again with one snap of the wrist. Poor old Martin had to wind his bait in every time and pick the weed off by hand. Fishing topwaters over thick weed is another situation where gel spun braids have a big advantage over monos. Not only do they tend to ride on the water, which helps lure action and control, and keeps them out of the weed, but their improved abrasion resistance is a life-saver when a fish is hooked. Being fine and tough they cut through weed without much trouble, staying in one piece as well. Even the toughest mono won't stand up to much of that treatment. The more I use these new braids the more I get to like them, but I still think mono will have a place on some of my reels for some time to come. 

One advantage that braids offer (if that's what it is) that isn't often mentioned is the fact that these new braids enable you to use a smaller reel than you would have to use with mono of a similar breaking strain. If you find large reels uncomfortable to use, then the new braids will allow you to drop down a size while retaining the line strength you need. Even so, I prefer to replace mono of a certain diameter with a braid of roughly equivalent thickness. I say roughly equivalent because most braids are not circular in cross-section, many being flat or almost square. Only Berkley's Ultra Max with its solid central core is close to round in cross-section. My reasoning for maintaining line thickness is that casting potential, and lure fishing depth and so on, will remain more or less unaffected, but I should be fishing with a much tougher line - and certainly with a more sensitive one.

The very latest developments in line, which I have only read about, involve Spectra or Dyneema fibres formed into lines that are not braided. Apparently the filaments are fused together, giving a line that is more like a mono, but with the strength and low stretch of the current braids. Where it will all end is anyone's guess!

I hope I have put the pros and cons of braided lines in a fair manner. With something so new as HPPE braid I will not stick my neck out one way or the other at the present. I know a number of anglers who swear by them already, and one or two who have abandoned them after initially hailing them as the best line ever. I fully expect that braids will find their niche in time, being singled out for use in some situations or with particular techniques, and left alone for others. I even have a feeling that certain brands will be singled out for specific purposes. Mason Tiger Braid, for example, has black polyester braided in with the Spectra fibres. This gives a touch of colour to the line. It also seems to take on water and cause the line to sink. Berkeley's Gorilla Braid, the green at least, has a coating that I think helps keep the line afloat. I have definitely found Tiger Braid more difficult to fish surface stickbaits with due to its sinking tendency. Nonetheless, Tiger Braid is the best of the Spectra braids that I have used so far. Despite the advantages of these new braids I feel sure that there is a lot of life left in nylon monos yet.

One aspect of line choice that has not really been looked into much in the past is that of colour. These days both braids and monos are available in a range of colours. Be warned, though, that Spectra fibres do not take dyes well, and all clours will quickly wash out of these lines (hence Tiger Braid's polyester threads). So you might just as well buy the (usually cheaper) white versions in the first place. Interestingly, clear (or white as they appear to be on the spool) nylons are inherently the most abrasion resistant. I think it is something to do with the dyes added to coloured monos that reduces their abrasion resistance. On a similar tack, fluorescent monos seem to me to be more supple than standard versions of the same line. Why this is I don't know, but I have been told that fluo monofilament is also less tough than standard nylon. These properties aside, why should you choose one colour over another? It has to be said that a high visibility line helps you guide your lure around features, and gauge precisely where your lure is at all times. Fluorescent lines are especially useful in low light. In some light conditions a very dark line can be even more obvious than a light coloured one. What you have to decide is if being able to see your line clearly will improve your fishing. What the use of a fluorescent, or otherwise highly visible, line will not do is put the pike off. I have proved this to myself time after time, and with artificial and natural baits. Even with static deadbaits, which the pike have plenty of time to inspect things, I have no proof that they are put off in any way. When trolling with multiple rods hi-vis lines can be a help when executing tight turns to show if there is a risk of tangles, and to make it clear how far behind the boat the lures are working. For other techniques I find little to choose between high or low visibility line. Overall I suppose I prefer a neutrally toned line as I feel that this is least likely to scare the pike. Even though I know that when a fish is sufficiently focused on a lure it is oblivious to the line.

A second property of lines that is often overlooked is whether they float or sink. This might not matter too much for most lure fishing but with surface baits it can be important. A floating, or slow sinking, line is a help when trying to work smaller surface plugs, or even buzzbaits, when any extra weight will make the task of keeping them on the top much harder. The reverse is also true, but to a lesser extent, in that a floating line will keep diving baits a little higher in the water. Sinking lines can be used with stickbaits to work them just below the surface, provided you allow sufficient time for the bulk of the line to sink. As tough monos are dense and gel spun braids far less so you have two options open to you in this department. Another instance where the new braids have a specific benefit.

Having mentioned the Palomar and Uni knots for use with braided line, I can also recommend them for monos. When it comes to knots it is worth lubricating them before snugging them down, and a purpose made lubricant is a far better than saliva. I have used the Kevin Nash stuff and found it to be excellent. I have also put a drop of line-lube on a nasty tangle when casting with braid and found that this made it easier to un-pick. If a knot looks suspect when first tied, retie it. The extra time spent might prevent a lost fish. As a session goes on I retie my traces at frequent intervals when using mono (so far, Spectra braids appear to need retying far less frequently), at least after every fish and once an hour if sport is slow. It is worth checking the trace for signs of wear at this point, and replacing it if in any doubt at all. Kinks, split strands in the wire and deformed snap links all result in a fresh trace being tied on. Better safe than sorry.

I always use a reliable multistrand wire for my traces, usually Berkley Steelstrand, and top quality swivels and snaps. Again Berkley swivels and either Duolock or Berkley Cross-Lok. Duolock snaps are available in the U.K. under the Lindy and Cordell labels. There is no point cutting corners where a pike's well being is at stake. I had complete confidence in the Duolock design until I had one open out on me while playing a fish that looked to be in the 6-8lb class. The snap was one of the black coated type which I had not used much before this incident, previously trusting the stainless steel ones - even in very small sizes. I am sure there is a lesson there, and shall be sticking with stainless Duolocks from now on. Since reverting to the stainless variety I have had no trouble with Duolocks.

My traces are between twelve and eighteen inches long, constructed from wire between 30 and 100lb test (depending on the method in use) with snaps and swivels of a matching strength twisted - not crimped - to them. A swivel at one end, and a snap at the other is all that is needed. For the most part I carry just two trace designs: 100lb wire with 150lb Cross-Lok and swivel; and 60lb wire, 65lb swivel and large or medium sized stainless Duolock. These two styles cover me for 90% of my needs, all but the lightest of lures, or unless spinners or bucktails are being used when I might feel the need to use ball bearing swivels. With these lures, and some spoons, ball bearing swivels are essential to reduce line twist.

Black Berkley Cross-Lok and stainless Duolock snap links, shown both open and closed.

Something I have recently started doing to my traces is sleeving the twists of wire at the snap end of the trace, and part of the snap itself, with shrink tube. This makes the snap almost an extension of the wire and prevents the annoying habit that snaps have of slipping out of line. This alters the angle of pull on your lures and can result in them tracking out of true. The shrink tube stops that happening. Clear shrink makes for a very tidy looking trace, but the black stuff works just as well in practice. Another case of the pike not caring one way or the other!
All wire and most fittings are dull in colour, causing little flash under the water. The exception being the stainless Duolocks. Dull components have the benefit in that their black finish gradually wears off through use. When the bare metal is showing through, it is replacement time for that particular trace.

Duolock snap sleeved with black shrink tubing to reduce the incidence of tangles and kinking.

To some of you the traces that I use might seem on the heavy side. For many years I have been reading articles and books that tell you to keep traces as light as possible so the action of your lures is not adversely muted. There is something in this, but only with very small lures. For my run-of-the-mill pike lures heavy traces have no adverse effect. Heavier wire is inherently stiffer, and therefore less prone to kinking when a lure fouls the trace on the cast. I find that I also get through far fewer traces in a session than when I used lighter wires. Individual traces are stored and carried in small grip-seal bags to protect them from damp.

Next : 4 - Hooks