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Outdoors commentary: Don't be afraid of braid

Fill the spool of a spinning reel right to the rim for best casting with braid.
Fill the spool of a spinning reel right to the rim for best casting with braid. (Bill May photo , Carroll County Times)

Fishing lines have changed dramatically in the last decade with new versions of monofilaments, braided lines, fused lines, fluorocarbons and you name it coming out seemingly every month. Some of the great old lines, e.g., Original Stren and Trilene Big Game monofilaments still do the job, but the large majority of serious fishermen and even stubborn old guides have switched to various lines lumped under the category of "braids" for a majority of fishing applications.

Braided lines offer two major advantages: First, they are thin, e.g., 15-pound test braid has the same thickness as 4-pound monofilament, allowing longer casts and use of lighter lures. Second, they have no stretch, and therefore provide great bite detection and hook setting.

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Some potential disadvantages include added cost, casting tangles, slippage with some knots, and dangers and difficulties breaking line when necessary. (All these problems will be addressed.) I use braided line for most soft plastics, frogs and other weed-walking lures, jigs, spoons and spinnerbaits. I use monofilament for crankbaits and most other surface lures, where a little "give" is desirable.

Choosing A Braid

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Most of the inferior brands have been eliminated. Two popular, moderately-priced brands are Power Pro and Fireline. Most anglers prefer these in such neutral colors as moss green or tan. I often use high visibility yellow or chartreuse lines for even quicker strike detection and line location in windy conditions.

I run the last 10 feet of line through a green felt tip for reduced visibility in water. I use 15-pound braid for most freshwater applications, 20 to 30-pound braid for frog and weed-walking lures, for spinnerbaits and salt water, and 10-pound for fishing perch jigs.

Anglers are divided on use of leaders with braid. Some just tie lures directly on braid using a Palomar Knot. I prefer a 3 to 6-foot fluorocarbon leader testing the same strength as the braid in most cases and attach leader to line with a pair of Uni Knots. Where a much heavier leader is needed for toothy fish or fishing amid shells or barnacles, I attach this leader via an Albright Knot. I use a 100% Loop Knot for attaching most lures to the leader and a Double-improved Clinch Knot (Trilene Knot) for spinnerbaits and ringed or clipped lures. Many of my spinning reels have one spool loaded with braid and another with monofilament.

Putting Braid on A Reel

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Do not attach braid directly to the spool of a casting or spinning reel. The major reason is that braid will slip on the spool and can damage the reel. A secondary consideration is that braid is thin and expensive; a huge amount of braid would be needed to fill most reel spools. Instead lay a base of woven line, such as salt water nylon or dacron "squidding" line or heavy monofilament. But make sure the top layers of the base are applied in compact diamond patterns; this avoid the braid's digging into the base under the pressure of a heavy fish. Then tie on the braid. There are three precautions here: 1. You only need about 50 yards of braid for most situations. 2. You must fill the spool of a spinning reel right to the edge. 3. You must add the braid tightly under pressure (a situation difficult to maintain in practice.)

Casting With Braid

You MUST close the bail manually on a spinning reel loaded with braid to minimize line twist and monumental tangles. Everything else is standard.

Dealing With Tangles

Expect to get tangles with braid on casting or spinning tackle. This problem is especially prevalent when casting light lures and retrieving line under light tension, e.g., when fishing unweighted or lightly weighted plastics, a technique where braid excels. The line will not be wound tightly on the spool. (Monofilament presents similar problems.) You can lessen your chances of tangles by making an occasional "clearing cast," i.e., making a long cast away from a fishing target and retrieve the lure under tension from your rod hand.

The best advice on dealing with tangles is given by eminent American philosopher, Bart Simpson, "Don't have a cow man." Where there is a simple loop in the line, just pull off line against the drag, until the loop is reached and pulled out. (You may want to loosen the drag to do this, but don't forget to reset it.) Then rewind under tension from the rod hand. A much uglier situation is for a large loop to wrap itself multiple time around line coming off the spool, so that there appear to three strands of line coming off the reel spool. The solution here is to unwrap the loop from the other line then proceed as above.

Stay cool. Do not open the bail of a spinning reel or freespool a casting reel and start yanking line off. All this does is waste a lot of time and braid, because you'll end up with a mess that needs to be cut off.

Dealing With Snags

Some guides hate to see clients using braid because of the danger of yanking on snagged hooks or lures with strong braided line. When you snag with braid: First, do not try to break the line using the rod tip; the rod will likely break first. Pull directly on the line. Second, do not pull the lure and/or hooks directly back toward yourself or your fishing companions. Third, do not use your bare hand. Use a heavy glove or a dowel and wrap the line around it several times and give a quick snap. If all else fails, get as close to the snag as you can and cut the line. These are good guidelines for all fishing lines.

Special scissors are made for cutting braided lines, but I have found good nail clippers work in a pinch.

Modern braids aren't foolproof, but they're often the best lines around.

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