One of the questions we are asked very frequently goes something like this: “So, which is better, monofilament or fluorocarbon?” Unfortunately, the answer is more complex than many of you may think. Like so many other aspects of tackle, proper leader selection is a result of several different factors. If you’re looking for a “yes or no” answer to this common question, keep looking, because you won’t find it here. That said, we’ll be happy to tell you when and where we prefer which leader material.
Like so many other questions that pertain to fishing tackle, this one warrants an answer that isn’t very cut and dry. Both monofilament and fluorocarbon leader material have their own advantages and disadvantages, and different situations warrant the use of different leader materials. Not surprisingly, there is no blanket approach to choosing the proper leader. Any angler who swears strictly by one or the other could probably use some enlightening.
So, let’s delve into the details and see what we’re working with. To make the right decision, you first need to understand the different properties of these line materials. Fluorocarbon is denser than monofilament, making it more abrasion resistant. Furthermore, fluorocarbon allows much more natural light to pass through it in comparison to monofilament, making it less detectable to fish in most situations.
At face value, many manufacturers market fluorocarbon leader material as superior to monofilament in all aspects. Coincidentally, fluorocarbon is sold at a much higher price point across the industry. The facts are that fluorocarbon is stealthier, more abrasion resistant and, in many cases, boasts a thinner diameter than monofilament of the same strength rating. Additionally, fluorocarbon is UV resistant and absorbs no water, so the line is far less likely to weaken over time. We should also mention, however, that top monofilament manufacturers have taken several steps to mitigate water permeability and UV damage.
So, why can’t we just declare that fluorocarbon is better than monofilament when used as leader material and get on with our lives? Well, monofilament boasts a few key advantages of its own over fluorocarbon. Among these advantages, one of the most attractive is its much lower price point. That alone is enough to sway budget-conscious anglers. However, while this price discrepancy is nice when monofilament is right for the task at hand, sometimes you do need to splurge for the pricier fluoro.
In addition to a more appealing price point, though, monofilament also provides benefits on the water. Because it is softer than fluorocarbon, monofilament is much easier to tie knots with. This is an advantage in any scenario, but particularly when dealing with high-test lines when fishing for larger targets. Monofilament also has a leg up on fluorocarbon because of its elasticity. Fluorocarbon has some stretch, but monofilament provides a level of shock absorption that anglers appreciate when fighting fish like billfish and tarpon that jump and thrash frequently. This helps avoid pulled hooks, particularly when fishing braided main line that provides virtually zero stretch.
On that note, though, there are situations when minimal stretch is a good thing. If you’re fishing heavy structure with your drag maxed out, the last thing you want is a fish using the elasticity of your leader line against you to get that extra inch it needs to break you off. Another important consideration in the mono vs. fluoro argument is the buoyancy of each line. Fluorocarbon’s higher density causes it to sink at a faster rate, while monofilament is more likely to suspend unless it is weighed down. These characteristics can’t be generally classified as good or bad, it just all depends on the situation.
For example, if you’re fishing sub-surface lures that you want to dive deeper in the water column, fluorocarbon is going to be your best bet. Conversely, if you’re fishing a topwater lure, monofilament provides the ideal buoyancy for your offering to float as it was intended. By the same token, while monofilament is not quite as stealthy as fluorocarbon, there are situations where anglers benefit from sacrificing a little bit of stealth for a more buoyant leader. When bumptrolling live mullet on the surface, we’ve seen tarpon refuse baits rigged with fluorocarbon leader because they see the line before committing to the strike. With monofilament, they don’t see the line because it doesn’t sink in such a scenario. Furthermore, if you’re fishing at night or in dirty water and prefer monofilament, this is the time to go for it because the conditions dictate that stealth is not a priority.
To truly maximize your fishing potential across multiple wide-ranging pursuits, you’re definitely going to need both fluorocarbon and monofilament leader material in your arsenals. However, it’s also important that you know when to use which line. Attaining this knowledge is much easier when you understand the properties of these lines and where and when they excel or fail. Nothing beats experience on the water, so stock up on plenty of both and let the learning process begin.