The only worse feeling than getting skunked after a night out on the water tossing bait is hooking a real monster, playing it out for a while to get the fish closer and closer to you, only to have your line snap and break right before you dip your net into the water – all because the line was old, brittle, and a little frail.
Unfortunately, this nightmare scenario plays out thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands) of times each year to fishermen and anglers all over the world.
We spend a mountain of money on high-tech rods and reels, get our hands on next generation lures and bait, and cut no corners when it comes to our fishing apparel – but when it comes to something as critical as the line we use to reel our trophies in so many of us fly blind with whatever we spooled up a season (or five) ago.
Below we dig a little deeper into the ins and outs of the expiration date different types of fishing line have, helping you to better understand whether or not your fishing line is going to help you – or hurt you – bring in those monster catches.
Let’s get started!
Just How Long Will Fishing Line Last?
Before we really get into the meat and potatoes of what breaks down your fishing line, it’s important to highlight the fact that there are three major types of line that you are going to be working with – and that each of them have their own distinct “shelf life”.
Monofilament line is far and away the least expensive fishing line you’ll find on the market today, but also incredibly popular because of its cost, its dependability, and it’s easy to understand strength rating.
A synthetic fiber made most often out of nylon, the beautiful thing about monofilament line is that it has a bit of extra “stretch” to it before it breaks. That helps you avoid some more catastrophic failures you have dealt with when you have larger or more aggressive fish on the line, jumping and darting throughout the water.
Fluorocarbon line has always been popular as a leader (especially in the flyfishing world), made out of a different material than monofilament that’s next to impossible when it’s in the water – helping you to avoid spooking fish you were going after.
Fluorocarbon line has a bit more rigidity to it, though, and a bit more “memory” which means it’s more prone to breakage and failure, especially if it isn’t put away and stored correctly.
Braided line is unique in that it is made up of a number of different fiber strands woven together to create a superstrong solution that is even lighter and skinnier than monofilament, though it doesn’t have the same kind of stretch.
Of the three options, monofilament is going to break down the fastest for a couple of different reasons, fluorocarbon is going to last up to four times longer than monofilament, and braided line should last a lifetime (and then some) as long as you take care of it).
Biggest Factors That Degrade Fishing Line
When we talk about the “shelf life” of fishing line we aren’t literally talking about how long it’s going to last on the shelf or in the packaging until it starts to fall apart.
Pretty much every run of modern fishing line today is made of materials that will work just as well as brand-new years and years if left in their packaging.
No, your fishing line isn’t going to start degrading until you pop it out of the package and spool up a reel – and that it really starts to break down and degrade after you start tossing lines out into the water.
As soon as you pop that fishing line out of the package, though, you immediately start exposing it to things like UV light damage, water damage, abrasion from the things it comes in contact with in the water, temperature changes (sometimes real wild swings, too), and obviously the force put upon fishing line every time you hook and play a fish.
Obviously, a little bit of UV light damage as you throw a line into the water and then reel it in isn’t going to do as much a number on your line as leaving your rods and reels out in the sun for days on end. And tossing a line into a mountain brook stream going after little trout won’t be nearly as hard on your line as throwing some out into saltwater hoping to hook a monster tuna.
But every time you use your line it’s going to become “overworked” and there’s potential there for the line to become damaged and even break.
How to Inspect Fishing Line
As a general rule, it’s not a bad idea to swap out old fishing line for new fishing line every six months or so (especially if you are fishing pretty often) – but it’s also good to know how to inspect your fishing line to get a little more life out of that purchase, either.
One of the fastest ways to inspect your line is to simply play it all the way out on dry land and then as you real things back in pinch your thumb and index finger on the line and feel for abrasions.
If you feel rough spots you’ll want to cut the line right there (if you have enough line left over to be useful) or replace it completely.
UV damage is easy to spot on monofilament by looking for portions of your mind that appear to be cloudy. Spots are pretty easy to pick up on when you’re looking at monofilament, and it’s a good idea to carve those chunks out ASAP or replace the line completely before you have breakage with a fish that’s been hooked.
Checking for extra memory (especially important with fluorocarbon and braided lines) is something you want to do at least a couple of times a season. Memory and your line is going to cause things to bunch up and will certainly compromise the strength of the line itself.
How to Store Fishing Line
Every time you come home from fishing you’ll want to think about how to take care of your gear and equipment, and sometimes that means pulling fishing reels offer of your rods and keeping lines in your home where temperatures are better modulated.
It’s also a good idea to keep your fishing line in a dark location, as light is going to do a number on every type of line – but especially on monofilament. Tuck your stuff into cabinets, tackle boxes, or storage crates and you’ll have a lot less to worry about.
At the end of the day, you should be able to get a full season of fishing out of your line if you’ve purchased something that’s high quality, dependable, and reliable – and if you are taking care of your mind the way that we recommended above.
If you’re using your fishing line the chances are pretty good it isn’t going to last any longer than a season or two with the most, though, so expect to upgrade every once in a while if you want to be sure that the next big one you hook makes it to the landing net.