Changing Lines

C HANGE IS INEVITABLE… except when it comes to the line on frugal anglers’ reels. Squeezing an extra month or year out of old “string” eventually will cost you a big fish.

Over a three-week period in late May and early June, I burned up a considerable amount of radio time talking about why and when to hang fresh line on fishing reels.

The “why” part is easy.

Older line, especially the monofilaments and fluorocarbons, react to sunlight and extreme temperature swings like Superman reacted to kryptonite. Both lines weaken, albeit gradually, over time, and no amount of time in a climate-controlled environment will stop the destruction. 

Most unfortunate is that your degrading line doesn’t come with any indicators as to how weak it’s become or where along that football-field’s length it is weakest. You’ll keep chunking, keep winding, keep catching your usual keepers even as the quality of the line flags.

Then, when you finally hook that big trout or red or bass or whatever, you’ll feel the line suddenly go slack. A break will have occurred for no apparent reason—except the most obvious one. You hadn’t changed that line since gasoline was two bucks a gallon.

I’ve never been one to follow my own advice, but even I take the time at least every year or so to dump the line on my reels and replace either all or most of it.

With mono and fluorocarbon, I’d be uncomfortable leaving that line on a reel longer than a year. It probably would function perfectly well for two years—unless it was pressed to its maximum.

That’s when you need it, that’s why you paid a little extra for premium line—big bite, chance of a lifetime. That’s not the time to be wondering whether your line’s going to hold up.

I’m more comfortable leaving braid on a real for longer, because braid is comprised of so many individual fibers. A nick or ding in braid isn’t as likely to result in catastrophic failure. As a test, I’ve had the same braid on one reel for nearly four years now. I wouldn’t use that reel in a tournament, but it sees plenty of recreational duty…and hasn’t failed yet—Yet.


One of the keys to replacing line regularly is to remember when you last dumped your reels and refilled them. My radio listeners had several ideas to mark that date.

Mine was antiquated, but still reliable. Peel off a short piece of duct tape, affix it to the rod just above the butt, and use a waterproof marker to note the reel-fill date.

One man suggested refilling when you replace your fishing license, which is another annual event for most of us. Another, after hearing my duct-tape idea, went higher tech and suggested adding Outlook reminders to our mobile phones.

In fairness to him, that mobile notification would get noticed whether you’re fishing on not when refill time comes. If I happened not to fish for a few weeks or months—unlikely and disturbing as that thought is—I wouldn’t see a piece of tape on the rod.

The most frequent obstacle to regular line changes—and it was—no surprise, was cost. Braided lines are not inexpensive. Neither are premium single-filament lines. You can lighten the blow to your wallet, as many fishermen do, a couple of ways.

One that I’ve seen used with braid by many anglers is to peel aging line off a reel and onto a spool, then put it right back on the same reel in reverse order. The former front end becomes the back end, and the new front end probably hasn’t seen daylight since its original winding onto the spool.

So long as you don’t anticipate hooking big fish that make long runs, I wouldn’t be opposed to that practice. There’s a chance you might stick a real speedster, say a jack crevalle in the surf. So, remember as that fish unwinds your line on its initial run, the farther it goes, the weaker the line that’s coming into the game.

Another legitimate money-saving method is to partially fill the spool with monofilament, mostly as a placeholder, and then “top” the reel with 60-80 yards of fresh braid or whatever you consider your go-to fishing line.

Most inshore and freshwater fish we hook, if we’re using the correct rod/reel combinations and have our drags set correctly, are unlikely to go any deeper into a spool. If you have a measured length of mono backing, it can serve as a caution light of sorts. When you see mono, you know you’re down to your final 40 or 50 yards of line and need to adjust your fight accordingly.

Your line is the only connection you have to the fish. There’s no “second string” that can jump into the game if the connection fails. Invest in the best line you can afford in a quantity sufficient to fill however many reels you use.

Every cast we make could land on the nose of the biggest fish we’ll ever hook. Don’t risk that rare chance to old, tired line.


Digital Bonus:

Line Spooling Tips from Bass Pro Shops



Email Doug Pike at ContactUs@fishgame.com


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