"More Anglers are Trying Spectra, Fluorocarbon and Copolymers Among the New Superlines and Reaping the Benefits"
“The big fish I’m catching now wouldn’t have been possible just a few years ago,” is becoming a common statement heard in tackle shops and at sportfishing landings. Improvements in technology have increased the fishing success factor for many anglers and the new breed of “Superlines” may be the main reason. Of the superbraids, Spectra’s “thinner but stronger” attribute is the biggest breakthrough of all. After using Spectra for a while you may wonder why it took you so long to change lines. However, as good as these Superlines are, they are not perfect and anglers need to know the benefits and negatives when using them in order to reap the maximum benefit.
Spectra started out with a bad reputation when braided Kevlar was initially put on the market. Kevlar’s fatal flaw is that it broke down in saltwater after a short time and lost strength. Adding insult to injury, Kevlar is an aramid that has a high coefficient of friction and is abrasive to rod guides and the line itself. Izorline was the first company to use Spectra according to company president Steven Ichinokuchi, and they quickly pulled the line off the market. After the initial effort, Russ Izor and staff tested a new superbraid called “Spectra TM Allied Signal”, that was being used for bulletproof vests, for a three-year period. It passed with flying colors and “Izorline Brutally Strong Spectra” was introduced to a now-skeptical angling fraternity with highly successful results. “On the 16-day long range trips, virtually every angler uses Spectra to some degree,” acknowledges Doug Kern at Fisherman’s Landing Tackle Shop in San Diego. Power Pro, Berkley, Spiderwire, Mason and Raptor have introduced new versions of Spectra to give anglers a variety of line properties to choose from.
Why is Spectra becoming so popular? That’s easy. Spectra is making good fishermen look great and the average ones look good for several reasons. The technical qualities of Spectra offer distinct advantages over traditional monofilament line. Spectra is up to four times smaller in diameter than mono of the same line strength. Spectra has little stretch, no memory, or “recoiling” effect and has excellent abrasion resistance.
Since Spectra is a small diameter line, anglers can spool more line on their reels for added capacity, or drop down in reel size without losing capacity. Lots of anglers have chosen to use lighter tackle spooled with enough Spectra to equal, or surpass what they would normally have with mono on a larger, heavier reel. I routinely load a Shimano Calcutta 700 reel with 500 yards of Power Pro 50-Pound Spectra plus a copolymer topshot when this reel normally reaches capacity with 190 yards of 30-pound monofilament. On a recent yellowfin tuna/blue marlin trip to the Marshall Islands, I loaded a Shimano TLD-50 with 600 yards of Power Pro 100-Pound Spectra plus 150 yards of 80-pound mono topshot that far exceeded the reels normal capacity even with lighter test mono. When that big fish hits the extra line capacity means you won’t get “spooled” as much. Stand-up style anglers also appreciate being able to use lighter, more comfortable tackle without losing fish-fighting ability.
“With the new superbraids, the need for backup outfits on long range tuna trips has been reduced due to the extra line capacity,” says Kern. “Also, that means fewer reels are lost, or ruined by going overboard,” he adds. It is common practice on long range boats that a crewman will attach a second, or even third, rod and reel to an outfit that is being emptied of line if the angler requests the backup. Eventually the whole outfit may be retrieved with a big tuna attached if the line doesn’t break. Some boats are putting anglers overboard in skiffs to chase their quarry to reduce the need for a backup.
Thin line has many additional advantages. “Spectra is great for deepwater rockcod fishing. It’s the only way to go anymore,” says Dan Hart, owner of Hook, line and Sinker Tackle Shop in San Diego. Spectra slices the water with little resistance and allows anglers to get deeper with less sinker weight. At Cook Inlet, Alaska, halibut anglers in search of “barndoor” trophies routinely combat severe fishing conditions. Fishing from an anchored boat in 200-to-300-feet of water with a six-knot current and a four-pound sinker made reeling in just to check the bait a chore. Not any more. Spectra has revolutionized this fishery by allowing for more drops, better hookups, lighter tackle and happier anglers. Thin line also means longer casts for both lure and bait anglers.
A major difference between Spectra and monofilament line is the stretch factor. Mono will stretch up to 33-percent of its length before breaking. Spectra has little, or no stretch. That means feeling what a live bait is doing on the end of the line and setting the hook is more direct and positive with Spectra. For lure anglers, manipulating a surface popper, soft plastic, or deep crankbait can be more effective. Now when I cast poppers, just a short move of the rod tip is enough to activate the lure properly because I’m not combating the “bungee cord” effect of mono. The same holds true for plastic tails when reduced rod movements create the desired result. With swim, or crankbaits there will be less interference with cross currents when retrieving lures that may create a belly in mono and keep a lure from tracking straight. When pursuing pelagics such as tuna and marlin, many anglers add a length, or “topshot” of mono to add some cushion for shock value as well as to make the line less visible.
Low stretch also means low memory. Spectras are limp lines and won’t retain the shape, or “coil” of the spool they’re wound on. They are well suited to spinning reels that have a reputation for creating a line full of coils when using monofilament. Backlashes on conventional reels can also be fewer and easier to work out with spectra. However, the Spectra must be packed on a spool tighter and anglers need to gradually “season” Spectra by making several casts so that it comes off the reel easily over and over. When a backlash does occur it may be helpful to work it out with the point of a nail clipper, or other tool due to the thin line diameter.
Other advantages of Spectra include low moisture absorption, resistance to ultraviolet light, superior abrasion resistance, durability and it floats higher in the water column than mono which can keep a live bait fresh far from the boat on a slow pick, or scratch bite. All of these attributes have been put to good use by a growing legion of anglers who are catching bigger fish on smaller tackle than ever before.
Spectra is not a perfect solution to line problems. Even some of its advantages can be disadvantages depending on the circumstances. The lack of line stretch means it won’t grip a reel spool as well as mono and the entire bulk of line can slip on the spool if not “anchored” well. Power Pro recommends using at least five to 10 yards of mono on the bottom of your reel before spooling with Spectra to make the line grip, or wrap the Spectra through the hole in the barrel of the spool if it has one. Dan Hart recommends using no more than 30-pound mono for anchoring Spectra because light line stretches and grips better than heavy line. It is most important to use mono with a spool that is smooth and does not have a protruding pin on the arbor.
With reel spools that have pins a direct tie can be made with Spectra. Hart uses the San Diego knot with 10 wraps and snugs the knot up on one side of the pin. He then wraps the line around the pin and starts packing the Spectra on firmly by line-winding machine. This provides a no-slip base for the entire amount of line on the reel. Since Spectra can cut onto itself, Hart advises a fairly tight wrap with a moderate crisscross pattern to avoid this possibility.
When I first started using Spectra I didn’t like the no-stretch feature. It was like fishing with a rope tied directly to my hand. I could feel every little headshake from a halibut that gave me the impression that I could lose a lot of fish this way. I have since learned to appreciate its hook-setting ability, among others and use lighter drag settings and more sensitive, parabolic rod designs when I’m “finesse” fishing. If you like to rip onto a hookset on a tight drag you may tear hooks out, or break the line no matter what fish you’re after.
Since heavier-test Spectra can be used on reels without losing line capacity, there’s a temptation to increase drag settings higher than a reel, or rod is designed for. Although a good rule of thumb is to set drags at no more than 30-percent of the breaking strength of the line, that rule was meant to be used with comparably sized tackle. Using 50-pound Spectra and 17 pounds of drag pressure on a small reel can burn out drags, wear out bearings and bend handles. Spectra manufacturers recommend setting your drag to match the rating of the weakest component in your tackle system. Check your drag settings with a hand-held scale.
Under certain circumstances anglers may use higher than normal drag settings to take advantage of Spectras line strength even though it’s risking damage to reels. If you’re aware of the risk it’s your choice. When I’m fishing around sharp rocks for powerful gamefish such as cubera snapper and amberjack, or coral reefs for giant trevally I’ll routinely put 20 pounds, or more of drag pressure on 50-pound Spectra using a Shimano Calcutta 700. I call this light tackle power fishing and used sparingly can be effective without undue damage if your using quality, high grade tackle. Once I turn a fish away from the bad habitat I’ll quickly back off the drag to a more normal setting. The bigger fish I formerly lost on the same light tackle with mono I’m now catching more of because of the power of Spectra.
Spectra is slippery. That means tying your favorite knot used on mono may slip right out on Spectra. Knot strength has been a major criticism of Spectra, but slight adjustments will solve this problem. Most anglers don’t tie Spectra directly to hooks because it is not even close to being invisible, however, simply doubling the line before tying a uni, palomar, San Diego, or “’turnaround clinch knot” will provide good knot strength. Power Pro advises not to use the common clinch knot. When connecting Spectra to mono, fluorocarbon, or similar lines a uni to uni splice, double surgeons loop, Albright, or Tony Peña knot can be used. Make sure all tag ends are trimmed close to the knot of choice to avoid hang-ups on guides. Adding Pliobond®, or similar liquid adhesive to line connections adds smoothness and durability. Since Spectra is slippery it is difficult to cut with standard nail clippers. Don’t even think about using your teeth. Instead, use sharp scissors such as inexpensive Metal Bladed Fiskars® found in most general merchandise stores. This thin, strong line can also cut skin easily so wearing gloves, or finger tape is advised when pulling line to check drag pressure, guiding line on the spool and so on. Even though I use a hand scale to initially set drags with, I periodically pull line off the spool to check drag pressure by winding the softer leader material, usually mono, or copolymer, close to the reel so a bare hand can be used rather than donning the gloves each time.
The apparent high cost of Spectra has been an issue with some anglers. Manufacturing Spectra in both superbraid and fusion forms is a time-consuming, expensive process so it is likely that Spectra will continue to be priced higher than monofilament. However, when Spectra’s durability, longevity (lasts up to four times longer than mono), resistance to ultraviolet light and other factors are evaluated, the cost of Spectra becomes more reasonable. “The long range guys are actually saving money by using Spectra,” says Kern. “The reason for that is they use Spectra for backing and let a long topshot of mono take most of the abuse. The only time the Spectra gets used is when a big fish gets into the backing. Mono is frequently replaced by serious anglers, but now they just replace the topshot instead of the entire spool. Meanwhile the Spectra can stay on for several seasons of typical use,” explains Kern. Other specialty anglers, like the halibut pros in Alaska, save money by using traditional braided Dacron as backing while replacing the first 100 yards with over 150 yards of thinner Spectra for their deep-water fishing. The fact is though; even if Spectra were more costly to use it would still be growing in popularity because of its inherent advantages for a wide variety of fishing applications.
The big appeal of fluorocarbon lines is their reputed invisibility in water – a distinct advantage when tempting a line-shy species to bite. Technical papers have been written both disputing the invisibility qualities of fluorocarbon as well as supporting the claims. Anecdotal information gathered from on-the-water experiences with the material is stacking up in favor of fluorocarbons fish-catching ability.
Introduced in the mid-‘90’s by Seaguar, fluorocarbon has caught on with live and dead bait anglers in a big way. “Local marlin anglers wouldn’t leave the dock without their fluorocarbon leaders,” says Kern. “Part of the reason is the visibility factor, but they rely just as much on the abrasion resistance fluorocarbon gives when casting a live mackerel to rough-mouthed marlin. They can also get away with 80-pound leader instead of heavier mono because it is so tough,” adds Kern.
Fluorocarbon is actually a generic term for a plastic resin called polyvinylidene fluoride, or PVDF. It was invented in 1970 by the Japanese company Kureha Chemical and has been used for a wide variety of applications from guitar strings to high tech dust filters. When I asked Dan Hart whether he believes in the stuff he was very matter-of-fact in his response. “Take a coil of fluorocarbon and clear mono and drop each in a jar of water. The fluorocarbon will sink faster because of its greater density and you won’t see it as well as the mono. That’s enough science for me so I’m convinced it works,” he explains. Kern is a little more undecided. “The effectiveness of fluorocarbon is a tough question,” says Kern. “A lot of the guys get bit better, but I think they may be better fishermen because they keep trying new things,” he adds.
One of the best applications for fluorocarbon is on the local light tackle halibut grounds. Using a fluorocarbon leader with live bait has been a productive combination for many anglers including myself. As soon as that leader touches water it virtually disappears from sight while the mono mainline is still visible. The one property of fluorocarbon that I don’t care for is that it is stiffer than mono. This can be compensated for by using a lighter eight to 10-pound leader that can resist abrasion better than heavier mono.
Kit McNear, Director of Education for WESTERN OUTDOORS, is a believer in fluorocarbon. “Let me put it this way”, says McNear, “When I was fishing tuna in Panama you could not get bit without fluorocarbon. There were a lot of fish around porpoise and they were touchy. I switched to 90-to 130-pound fluorocarbon on eight-foot leaders crimped to a black ball-bearing swivel and quickly caught four yellowfin between 75 and 150 pounds. Captain Jack Webster of the Qualifer 105 was using straight 80-pound mono and didn’t get bit even though we were both using live bait and he was using lighter test line. That tells me a lot about the value of fluorocarbon”, adds McNear.
Fluorocarbon has a definite niche in the marketplace, but it doesn’t fill every need. Trolling lures with fluorocarbon leaders has been viewed by some anglers as a waste of money. Pulling lures fast through turbulent water probably means the fish aren’t going to see any type of line very well. However, since lighter leaders can be used the lures may swim better under certain conditions and once hooked up the abrasion resistance factor may help in landing fish. Speaking of money, fluorocarbons are pricey. A 90-foot section of 200-pound Seaguar costs about $82.00, or 91 cents per foot. As a comparison 200-pound Jinkai mono costs about 6.5 cents per foot. Fluorocarbon line is expensive to make. Raw PVDF resin costs about four to five times as much as nylon, the primary ingredient for monofilament. Added to the manufacturing process it’s about 10 times more expensive to produce. Price is a good reason why most anglers use it for leaders only.
Another shortcoming is that fluorocarbons stiffness means that it doesn’t keep its strength when tied into knots. “Anything above 60 pounds I crimp,” advises McNear. There is also quite a bit of variation in the fluorocarbon even though there are relatively few manufacturers. Try a few to see what works best for your type of fishing.
COPOLYMERS’ AND MORE
Copolymer line is a single fiber made from a blend of nylon. It was introduced to the U.S. market in 1983. Copolymers’ have excellent qualities with few drawbacks. Compared to standard monofilament, copolymers have smaller diameters, very low memory, better castability, low stretch, high abrasion resistance and good knot strength. “It casts an anchovy great on 15-to 30-pound line,” says Kern, who uses P-Line CXX. Because of its small diameter I use a six-foot, 100-pound P-Line leader tied directly to Spectra when I’m doing some rugged popping around rocks, or deep jigging yo-yo style. Its soft, pliable quality creates excellent, “snug-tight” knots while it has just enough stretch to serve as a shock absorber when an aggressive fish explodes on the lure, and relatively short leader. I use the low profile Tony Peña Knot for the Spectra/copolymer leader connection because it “casts” through a levelwind and rod guides without bumping, or snagging these components.
Copolymer is less expensive than fluorocarbon and therefore lends itself to filling a spool with it. For example, 100-pound P-Line is about 4.9 cents per yard and 10-pound P-Line is about 1.7 cents per yard when purchased in 3000-yard bulk spools.
Innovation is the word in fishing lines and anglers have a great, if not bewildering, opportunity to try new products. P-Line has introduced the first fluorocarbon-coated copolymer line called Floroclear that adds the element of invisibility to its other qualities. Floroice is another fluorocarbon variation with a silicon coating to reduce water absorption and resist freezing. Berkley’s Fireline is a superbraid made with Micro Dyneema, the ‘Strongest fiber known” according to Berkley. Spiderwire Fusion bonds dozens of micro-fine Spectra fibers. It isn’t braided but is “fused” to form a third generation line. Mason Tiger Braid is a gel spun polyethylene fiber combined with polyester to yield a low-diameter line with a little more stretch than most superbraids. Raptor is another superbraid. It’s Dyneema fibers are cross-spun around a core of super fibers to create a round, torque-balance line. The line is then thermofused together to give it superior limpness, castability and knot strength.
When it comes to Superlines this is not a complete list of products available, or manufacturers that are competing for space on your reels. Even the nylon monofilament line market has become so diverse and specialized it will take some study time to figure out what is best for you.
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The Roving Angler