Nothing makes an angler second guess themselves like trying to pick the best fishing line. It literally takes an entire wall at a sporting goods store to display all the types and brands of line. The more time I spend looking, the more confused I get. Not to mention, I go through this ordeal for every type of fish I target.
Trout fishing is one of my favorite pursuits and I strive to improve my tactics and skills every year. Luckily, after years of trial and error, I have slowly found what we believe are the best line types for trout in almost every situation.
So, what is the best type of fishing line for trout? For still fishing with bait or casting spinners and spoons, 6 pound test monofilament or fluorocarbon line is ideal. When trolling, use 10 pound test monofilament or braid with a 6 to 8 pound test fluorocarbon leader. Given the choice, most anglers prefer the invisibility of fluorocarbon as a main line or leader since trout are often line shy.
Every trout fishing situation is different and what works for us may not work for you. Whether you target trout in crystal clear lakes and streams or less than pristine urban waters, there is a lot to consider when choosing the perfect fishing line.
That’s why the rest of this article is dedicated to reviewing the most common trout fishing situations and how to decide what line works best.
Mono, Fluoro or Braid
Just about every discussion of fishing line starts with comparing the different types of line. So, to spare you from a long and boring explanation that you have surely heard before, I will only focus on the highlights of each type as it pertains to trout fishing.
There are three main types of fishing line to choose from and each has unique advantages and disadvantages when fishing for trout.
Mono is probably the most universal of all fishing line. Mainly because anglers have used it to successfully catch trout in every conceivable way. It’s easy to handle, inexpensive and comes in a huge assortment of weights and colors.
There are some issues though. Mono has high memory which makes it difficult to cast light spinners with heavier weight lines. In my experience, mono also forms more twists and tangles than other types of line.
Mono does not handle abuse very well either. When casting around rocks and structure, you’ll need to check frequently for abrasions. Always remove nicked sections of line or you risk loosing a fish and your tackle.
Overall, mono can be used for trolling, casting and still fishing with bait. When using monofilament for trout, we generally choose 2 to 4 pound test for still fishing or spinner fishing in streams. Depending on the type and size of targeted trout, start with 6 to 8 pound test mono when trolling with light tackle or small gang trolls.
When it comes to invisibility, fluorocarbon is king. Once submerged in water, fluoro line is nearly impossible to see. For trout, this is a huge advantage. Trout are some of the most line-wary fish I have ever caught and hooking into a trophy requires a stealthy presentation.
In addition to being invisible, fluorocarbon has low memory and more strength against abrasion and damaging UV light than mono. Fluoro also has less stretch than mono which increases its sensitivity on light bites.
When I’m casting light tackle lures in clear streams and lakes, 4 or 6 pound fluoro is my go to line. When I need more strength, I bump up to a heavier braid or mono and use a fluoro leader to retain invisibility.
As much as I like fluoro, it’s not all sunshine and roses. Fluoro is a dense line that sinks faster than mono so it’s not my first choice when still fishing with floating Powerbait. It also is much more expensive than mono. That is why we usually use fluoro as a leader on a mono or braided main line when trolling or casting heavier spoons and jigs.
Braided fishing line has garnered a dedicated following among bass and walleye anglers but trout anglers might have more mixed feelings about it.
The main advantage of braid is its sensitivity. With zero stretch, you feel every tick, bump and strike. This is useful if you are jigging for lake trout in 90 feet of water where stretchy mono would make it nearly impossible to detect a bite.
Braid is also incredibly strong with a super thin diameter that cuts through water with little resistance. For most trolling applications, the thin diameter braid works in your favor, especially, when trolling for trout in deep water without downriggers. It takes less weight and smaller divers to get braided line down deep.
The benefit of braided line for trout is less apparent if you are primarily fishing small, clear rivers and streams. With virtually no memory, even 10 pound test braid casts light lures smoother than most mono or fluoro but it’s far from invisible. In clear water, braid stands out like a sore thumb to line shy trout. Essentially, every time we fish with braid, we use a fluorocarbon or mono leader. I don’t recommend tying braid directly to bait or lures when trout fishing.
Choosing the right fishing line for different trout species
The first thing to consider when selecting line for trout is the species you want to target. Obviously, line that works for giant lake trout will be much different than what works for smaller stocked rainbow trout.
No one type of fishing line is perfect for all species in all situations. Sure, you can catch fish with just about any line given the right circumstances, but the goal is to tailor your gear to increase your success for each situation.
Are you casting spinners for wild rainbow or cutthroats in a small mountain stream or are you trolling for brown trout in stained urban lakes? Deciding on the most common situation where you’ll be fishing and for what species is half the battle.
Most of the time your line choice for different species comes down to figuring out the appropriate line weight. Generally, light line in the 2 to 6 pound test range for average sized trout (14 to 18 inches) is sufficient. Bump it up to 8 or 10 pound test for larger fish or when trolling.
If you’re expecting to catch huge brown trout or lake trout, heavy monofilament or braid (20+ pound test) might be required.
Once you know what species you are fishing for, it’s time to look at how different water conditions affect line choice.
Best line for trout in clear water
Trout thrive in cold, clear, pristine waters. Clear water with good visibility might let you see over 20 feet to the bottom but it also means trout can see fishing line easier too.
Finicky, clear water trout demand naturally presented baits using fluorocarbon as a main line or leader.
Clear mono is a close second but getting the same invisibility as fluoro means using 2 or 4 pound test mono. That’s fine for small stocked trout or panfish-sized brook trout but it gets a little hairy when targeting large trout in rivers. With fluoro, you can bump it up to 6 pound test and get the same smooth casting and invisibility, all in a stronger package.
Braid might not be the best choice for clear water unless you tie on a long mono or fluoro leader. I have caught plenty of nice rainbows with braid and a 6 to 10 foot fluoro leader. However, I believe that for every trout I caught on braid there is one or two that darted away from the streak of braid as it sliced through the water. Long leaders reduce the problem when fishing in clear water.
Best line for trout in stained water
You definitely can get away with less than perfection when fishing for trout in stained or dirty water. Even braid won’t hinder your presentation nearly as much as it would in clear water.
Although, don’t get complacent just because you’re fishing in stained water. It is still a good idea to match your line to the water color if you can. Monofilament wins out here since it comes in a larger array of colors to match most water conditions.
Since mono is so inexpensive, it’s reasonable to keep a variety of line colors on hand. Regardless of your main line, tie on a leader with the mono that most closely matches the water.
Best line for casting spinners and spoons
Spinners and spoons are some of the most successful trout catching lures ever created. Some of my favorite in-line spinners include Rooster Tails, Panther Martins and Mepps. I also like Needlefish, Little Cleos and Thomas Buoyant spoons.
Casting small spinners or spoons requires light line with low memory for ultra smooth casts. Anything less means inaccurate casts and unnatural action.
Anytime I fish for trout in small streams or lakes using in-line spinners and spoons, I use 4 to 6 pound test mono or fluorocarbon line. Both types of line cast well and are adequate for line shy fish. I give fluorocarbon the edge when the water is ultra clear.
Best line when still fishing for trout
Still fishing might not be the sexiest way to catch trout but success speaks for itself. Whether you use a bobber or a sliding sinker rig, the key with still fishing is suspending your bait off the bottom at the depth cruising trout feed.
With a sliding sinker rig, the goal is to keep the bait floating just off the bottom so you need a leader that won’t sink and pull the bait to the bottom or below the any weeds. This is where monofilament shines. Fluorocarbon might be invisible but it’s denser than mono and doesn’t keep the bait suspended.
In order to decrease line visibility, use 4 pound test clear mono for average water clarity and tint. Use green or blueish mono for stained water. With super clear water, I might even drop down to 2 pound test clear mono. Just make sure you go easy on the drag if you hook into a big one.
For this setup, the type of mainline is less critical and stealth should be a priority. I have still fished with mono, braid and fluoro as a main line and caught trout without a problem. It’s the leader that matters.
If you like using slip bobbers for trout then sinking line is not a problem and I would use 4 to 6 pound fluoro as a leader. Again, the type of main line is less critical than the leader.
Best trolling line for trout
In general, trolling for trout is a much more complex process than casting lures or still fishing and refining equipment to match your techniques is a challenge.
For trout, we troll with a variety of setups: “pop” gear (gang trolls), crankbaits, spoons, flies and worm harnesses. Regardless of the tackle we use for different situations, the crucial consideration is depth.
How I intend to get my trolling gear down to where the fish are is what determines my fishing line selection.
In most cases, mono and braid both work when trolling with weights, divers and downriggers. For most trout species, 10 to 12 pound test line is plenty sufficient for trolling. Again, I like using a mono or fluoro leader no matter what trolling rig I use.
If you don’t have downriggers and you struggle to get deep enough, the thin diameter of braid gives you some extra depth. For long lining (trolling without weight), mono or braid is fine.
A popular tactic for trolling deep without individual weights or divers is to use lead core line. It’s length is marked in colored increments of 10 or more feet to let you know how much line is out. Lead core is ideal for long lining for suspended trout in 30 to 50 feet of water. Leave a backing of 12 or 15 pound test mono when tying on a lead core line.
I highly recommend reading our comprehensive article on trolling without downriggers so you can catch more trout on your next outing.
Best ice fishing line for trout
Pulling rainbows and brookies through the ice is a blast and line choice does not need to be complicated. However, ice fishing environments throw a couple curve balls that will influence what line you choose.
Ice fishing is predominately done vertically through a hole cut in the ice. There is no casting involved. Therefore, any fish that approaches the bait has time to get a good look at what you’re offering so the leader better be invisible.
Once you hook up, a trout will drag your line along the edge of the hole as it fights. Abrasion resistant line prevents the loss of fish right at the hole. Ask me how I know.
Also, in case you have not been ice fishing before, it’s cold! Conventional fishing line starts to get stiff when temperatures drop below freezing so you’ll want a line that retains flexibility in the cold.
One final consideration is sensitivity. Unless you’re going after lake trout in 50 plus feet of water, most other trout ice fishing occurs in less than 30 feet (usually trout suspend in 10 feet of water or feed on shallow flats). Which means, sensitivity in deep water is important but not a necessity.
For those of you keeping track, targeting trout through the ice requires fishing line that is invisible, abrasion resistant, flexible in cold weather and relatively sensitive. Fluorocarbon fits the bill perfectly and that’s why many anglers, including us, use it when ice fishing for trout.
Several companies make ice fishing specific lines and all work reasonably well for most situations on the ice. But fluoro wins our vote over mono and braid. Try 4 or 6 pound fluorocarbon the next time you hit the ice for trout.
If I could only choose one line setup
We are all looking for that “silver bullet” to conquer trout on any lake, river or stream. It needs to be something that works for trolling, casting and still fishing without the need to re-spool or keep half a dozen rods handy.
Unfortunately, that does not exist. However, if I could only choose one fishing line setup for trout that works most of the time, it would be 4-6 pound test mono or fluorocarbon.
It is light enough to cast small lures yet durable enough to long line troll with light trolling rigs. It also works for still fishing and all you need is a mono leader if fluoro sinks your bait. Either line is an all-around good line for most trout fishing.
If you need to scale up for trophy trout, our choice for a one line setup is an 8 to 10 pound braid in conjunction with fluoro or mono leaders. There isn’t much you can’t do with 10 pound braid.
So, there you have it. Picking the best fishing line for trout is not easy but hopefully you are now armed with the knowledge necessary to make a more informed decision. Although, you still need to pick a brand of line. Yikes!
Best brands of fishing line for trout
With today’s technology, the difference in quality and fishability of various manufacturer’s fishing line is razor thin. With the exception of cheap, bulk spools of mono from Walmart, most brands of line are excellent and it comes down to personal preference.
Here are our favorite fishing lines for trout.
(click the links for the best prices at BassPro)
These are just a few line options for trout. Try them out and I am sure you’ll find one that works great for you.