When line manufacturers first brought fluorocarbon monos to the forefront, the big benefit they offered—the major selling point, if you will—was their ability to “disappear” under water. Mainly, it was because that was about the only thing fluoros had going for them at the time.
Today, however, many bass professionals and other leading anglers fish fluorocarbon for the benefits it offers beyond its stealth factor. Strength, abrasion resistance, sensitivity and the ability to take lures deeper, or sink them faster, are just a few.
Certainly, fluoros were (and are) much less visible to fish, which made them invaluable to anglers anytime they faced extremely clear water, highly pressured fish or fish that were line-shy for any reason. And, yes, early fluoros offered good abrasion resistance and overall strength, but they were stiff and springy, and tended to jump off spinning spools and levelwinds alike. Trying to manage an early fluorocarbon line on a reel was a lot like attempting to catch grasshoppers by hand—you weren’t sure which way it would hop.
Therefore the very first fluoros were primarily used as leader material, and found an almost immediate following among saltwater anglers who saw the benefit of their natural camouflage when targeting predator species in the clear blue.
Fish have more difficulty seeing fluorocarbon than nylon because of its refractive index—the quantitative description of how easily light passes through a material. Fluoro’s index is closer to that of water than is nylon’s index.
But even with that valuable benefit, those fishermen quickly learned of the line’s drawbacks; for one thing, tying se-cure knots with the stiff mono wasn’t easy.
Then, in 1999 came the first flush of softer, castable fluoros. North American Fisherman’s October/November issue that year carried a “New Products” announcement for Berkley’s just-introduced Vanish under the headline “Soft Fluorocarbon.” It came in 6- to 20-pound test weights, and the copy said that “it’s limp enough to spool up on almost any reel.” At the time it was the most manageable fluorocarbon line we’d seen, but compared to today’s versions, it was closer to wire than a castable mono.
Fluorocarbon polymers, made up of strands of carbon, fluorine and hydrogen molecules, were discovered by accident in a DuPont Chemical laboratory in the late 1930s. They are very strong and durable materials that are highly resistant to UV light, heat, solvents, acids and bases. Thus, they’ve become a mainstay in many manufactured goods, such as linings for tanks and pipes, valves, gaskets, sealers, binders in certain types of batteries, insulation materials, and even cookware (yes, Teflon).
Fast-forward, now, twenty-some years to the Kureha (pronounced Cray-Ha) Chemical laboratory in Japan where scientists recognized that the strength and resistance attributes offered by fluoropolymers matched well with what anglers looked for in a fishing line.
They settled on a type of fluoropolymer called polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF), and were the first to process the material into a usable fluorocarbon fishing line—a brand that North American anglers now know as Seaguar.
PVDF remains the basic building block, but manufacturers have continually upgraded their processing methods in their quest to develop new and better fluorocarbon lines. This might include blending in an additive that softens the material, although any additive must be kept within strict limits for the product to keep its 100 percent fluoro label.
“PVDF was not designed for flexibility,” says Berkley’s senior polymer chemist Tim Wiedow, “so everyone has gone through a learning curve in trying to make a more manageable, fishable line while maintaining an acceptable balance among other factors, including shock resistance, strength and abrasion resistance.”
High Density And Lure Management
Fluorocarbon mono has a higher molecular weight, which means it’s denser and will sink faster than nylon mono. From a purely practical standpoint, the benefit here is that fluoro speeds the sink rate of a falling lure and increases the depth a diving lure can reach. This can greatly influence catch rates in certain situations, such as when water clarity dictates fishing light jigs in deep water, or pulling small cranks past fish holding deep.
Not long ago, in fact, NAFC Exec-utive Director Steve Pennaz illustrated fluoro’s effectiveness in targeting bass holding deep on California’s Diamond Valley Reservoir during a taping trip for “North American Fisherman-TV.” He and NAFC Life Member and noted big-bass specialist Bill Siemantel were faced with typical southern California weather.
“It was bright and sunny, with not a cloud,” he says. “The fish were at 75 feet, and the bite was tough.”
The combination of all those factors required the anglers to downsize their baits to 1/4-ounce jigs tipped with small plastics.
“There’s no doubt that the fluoro line we fished helped us get our jigs down there more quickly and fish them more efficiently. I’m sure we caught four times more bass than we would have if we’d been fishing nylon mono—simply because we could get the lures into the strike zone faster.”
Low Stretch And Sensitivity
Fluorocarbon line stretches; there’s no doubt about that. “We’ve analyzed hundreds of fishing knots with nylon, braid and fluorocarbon lines using Berkley’s testing equipment for the ‘North American Fisherman-TV’s’ Knot Wars segment,” says Pennaz, “and you can see the fluoro stretch as it pulls taut. But the key is that it stretches more slowly than nylon mono under the same pressure.”
Slow stretch means superior sensitivity, which in turn offers several advantages. Touring pro Luke Clausen of Spokane, Washington, made use of one of them to win the 2006 Bassmaster Classic on Florida’s Lake Toho.
“It was windy, cold and raining and I was casting a Texas-rigged worm on 15-pound Vanish to fish spawning among lily pad roots,” he says. “But the water was tannin stained and the wind added to its color, so you couldn’t see a thing below the surface.”
On the last day Clausen needed one big fish to wrap things up, but the wind blew fiercely, making it nearly impossible to detect subtle pick-ups. To combat its effects he held the rodtip on the water’s surface and slowly dragged the worm over the root clumps.
“On one particular pad, I felt something different. I couldn’t tell what it was, just that it didn’t feel the same, and that gave me the confidence to stay and make follow-up casts. I cast 25, maybe 30, more times to that same pad and finally hooked a fish that turned out to be the biggest of the day, a 51/2 pounder.
“I never would have felt that first pick-up if I’d been using nylon line, and I’d have just kept moving on to the next lily pad.”
Siemantel likes fluorocarbon’s slow-stretch for another critical reason; it enhances hooksetting efficiencies. But at the same time he says anglers must bear in mind its other qualities to avoid losing fish.
“Fluorocarbon mono is stronger than nylon, and stretches less, but it’s more brittle. Fishermen who are in the habit of snapping the rodtip hard on a slack-line hookset are going to break fish off,” he explains. “With fluoro, you’re better off reeling down to the fish and then making a sweepset.”
This greatly diminishes the shock impact on the line, he continues, while its lack of stretch helps transfer more of the load of actually driving the hook home to the rod blank.
The first time Pennaz fished a fluoro main line he was targeting striped bass on Chesapeake Bay. “I had 10-pound fluoro on a large spinning reel when a big striper took me around a piling. It literally sawed across the rough surface, and the line held. I was amazed at its abrasion resistance.”
Most anglers who regularly fish fluoros agree the lines stand up to cover very well. Boyd Duckett of Demopolis, Alabama, has fished competitively for 30 years. He was among the first to embrace fluorocarbon, mainly because its stealth factor helped him catch more fish in the clear, deep lakes of Tennessee and Kentucky.
“We recognized that clear line matters in those waters,” he says, “but we also found out it offered other properties, like strength and abrasion resistance, we were looking for.” He doesn’t hesitate to use it when fishing thick cover, even when the situation calls for light gear and finesse tactics, he says.
“For one thing, I think you get hung up less with fluoro because you can feel the lure so much better. You know when it’s coming over a branch so you can avoid the snag,” he explains. “Even so, we’ve gained a lot of abrasion resistance with today’s lines. You can fish a 6- or 8-pound fluoro in brush, and if you hook a 4-pound fish, you’re going to get it out of there. I’m not saying you may not break off, but your chances of catching that fish are good.”
If fluoro does become damaged, anglers tend to think it’s due to abrasion. More accurately, it’s likely due to fracture, according to Dean Yoshizumi of Blackwater International Inc. The California-based company imports Toray brand fluoros from Japan, and Yoshizumi is a technical consultant.
“Fluorocarbon lines are more dense and brittle than nylon monos. If a fish wraps around a chunk of rip-rap or a piece of rebar, it can result in tiny cracks forming in the line. “Another way it can happen is by casting a big, heavy muskie or striper size lure with 20- or 25-pound fluoro on a low-profile baitcasting reel.”
The spool spins faster than line can pass through the pawl, he explains, so line “fluffs” off the spool and slaps against the reel frame. The cure? Yoshizumi recommends using a round reel when fishing large lures on heavy line, preferably one with a wide spool that’s filled to the proper line capacity. “It’ll spin slower and allow the line to exit the spool without the fluff.”
When a fish wraps around any hard, rough object, be it rip-rap or a dock post, the advice is the same as with any type of line—clip and retie.
If you are among the anglers who tried fishing fluorocarbon lines before—and were disappointed by their bad behavior—it’s time to give them another shot. New and better manufacturing processes have largely tamed their wild ways, and they offer benefits beyond invisibility under water.