If you’re from a family that loves to fish, I’m willing to bet there is at least one spool of fishing line in your house that is more than a few years old. My dad is still using a 3,200 yard spool of 4 pound test bought over 20 years ago!
As I got ready to replace my fishing line for this season, I looked at that 20 year old spool of line and wondered, does old fishing line go bad?
Well, does old fishing line go bad? High quality, braided fishing line lasts for many years without needing replacement. However, monofilament and fluorocarbon line will eventually go bad after a couple seasons of use in the water. Even unused fishing line will loose peak performance after a few years if stored improperly.
Keep in mind though that there is a difference between line that actually goes bad versus line that is still functional but just past its prime. Keep reading and you will see what I mean.
What makes fishing line go bad
There are a multitude of factors that impact the longevity of your fishing line. Everything from temperature changes, abrasion, water quality and UV light damage can shorten the life span of fishing line.
The life span of line that is on the reel is also different than the expected shelf life of a new spool still in the packaging.
On the reel
Once you start using line to fish, you expose it to a wide range of abuse.
Abrasion from rocks and other underwater structures is the most common damage that occurs. The first few feet of line, closest to your lure, always suffers the worst and requires frequent trimming to remove the nicks and cuts. If this happens enough you will run low on line, which means it is time to re-spool.
Don’t be fooled, line makers brag about their abrasion resistance but even braided line can only take a beating for so long. You still need to check for nicks that can weaken the line or you may risk losing more fish and expensive tackle.
Never underestimate the power of the sun. UV light is very harmful for monofilament line. Avoid storing your rod and reels in the sun any more than necessary while fishing.
Along with not storing your line in direct sunlight, keep it out of places like an attic that heats up in the summer and reaches frigid temperatures in the winter. Excessive heat will degrade your line in no time and cold weather can make it brittle and inflexible.
As unlikely as it sounds, water quality is also a factor in the life span of line. Salt water is especially hard on fishing line. Get in the habit of rinsing your reel and line with freshwater when you get home.
Fishing line also has memory, especially mono. When it is wound tightly on a reel it will develop tight coils that make casting and trolling difficult until it loosens up again.
Pull out a rod and reel that has been in storage for the winter and you can experience this frustration first hand. Line memory rears its ugly head as soon as you open the bail and the line pops off the spool in a tangled mess.
Still in the packaging
There are no actual expiration dates on a new spool of fishing line. Yet, most anglers agree that even a new spool of monofilament line, still in the packaging and stored indoors for years, will go bad at some point.
In my own experience, I found that an unused spool of mono maintains its strength for about 3 or 4 years and will then last on the reel for a single season before getting weak. Other sources agree and also suggest that fluorocarbon keeps its integrity after 7 or more years in the packaging.
How do you know how old line is at the store? Hard to say. It is probably safe to assume that the inventory in most stores cycles through every one or two years. With that in mind, if you buy a “new” spool of mono, it is best to use it within the first 2 years just in case it has been on the shelf for awhile.
When should I replace my fishing line
As I mentioned earlier, there is fishing line that actually goes bad and fishing line that is just past its prime but still perfectly functional.
Below I will summarize the life spans of the three main types of fishing line as described by many anglers and line manufacturers like Berkley.
Additionally, I will give my estimated functional life span based on first hand experience and success with landing big fish on aged line.
Please remember, the estimates below are my personal recommendations only. Always check your line before fishing.
Monofilament is by far the most widely used line. It is cheap, easy to handle and great for tying strong knots. As the name suggests, mono is commonly composed of a single strand of extruded nylon material.
How long does monofilament last?
- Heavy fishing: 4-6 months
- Moderate fishing: 1 year
- Occasional fishing: 1 year
- On the shelf: 3-5 years
- Functional life span on the reel: 2 years (minor loss of quality with proper storage)
The primary benefit of fluorocarbon over monofilament is its near invisibility under water. Fluorocarbon is also less susceptible to the damaging effects of UV rays.
How long does fluorocarbon last?
- Heavy fishing: 6 months
- Moderate fishing: 18 months
- Occasional fishing: 2 years
- On the shelf: 7 years
- Functional life span on the reel: 3 years (minor loss of quality with proper storage)
Braided fishing line is some of the strongest line ever made. Its long life and narrow diameters make it ideal for trolling or plunking for bass. It may be expensive but it will last longer than other types of line.
How long does braided last?
- Heavy fishing: 1-2 years
- Moderate fishing: 2 years
- Occasional fishing: 3 years
- On the shelf: 8-10 years
- Functional life span on the reel: 4 years (minor loss of quality with proper storage)
How to properly store fishing line
Getting the most from your investment in fishing line means storing it right. Some thoughtful considerations when finding a place to put your fishing gear is sure to get you an extra season or two from your line.
Here are a couple tips to increase the life of your fishing line.
- Keep your fishing reels and line spools in the house. The moderate temperatures of a home are optimal for getting long use out of your line. Find a spot in your house where the temperature and humidity is relatively constant throughout the year. A spare room or office is ideal.
- Store fishing line in a dark place. Light is the biggest enemy of monofilament line. Put new spools in a dark box or drawer. Avoid placing your rods and reels near a window that has a view of direct light. Even winter rays can damage mono. Braided and fluorocarbon lines don’t suffer the same UV damage, but it’s better to keep them out of the light too.
Inspect your line regularly
Even with proper storage, damage is bound to happen. Get in the habit of inspecting your line before each fishing outing. It is better to detect bad line at home where you have a chance to change it out for new.
Check for abrasions. Most nicks or cuts are going to be in the first few yards of line. Pull some line from the reel and pinch it between your finger and thumb. Run your fingers up and down the line, feeling for rough spots along its length, until you reach smooth line. Cut the rough line off. Do this for all types of line.
Check for UV damage. You don’t need to worry about this so much for braided and fluorocarbon lines but keep a close watch for UV exposure on monofilament. UV damage is seen as cloudy portions along an otherwise clear line. Use a bright light to easily spot issues. Cut off any line that shows signs of UV damage. Sometimes you may need to just re-spool your reel.
Check for memory. Monofilament memory does not necessarily reduce the line strength but it definitely causes frustrating tangles and twists. You can easily see memory issues by removing a few feet of line from your reel and letting it hang limp. If you see tight coils, it is time to read our article on fishing line twist and how to remove it. Try following some of our advice in the article before throwing away your line.
Check your knot strength. The first point of failure when fishing line goes bad is at the knot. Any time you tie up a lure, give a solid tug on your knot to test its strength. This little bit of time spent testing the knots can save you a small fortune in lure replacement costs.
Disposing of used line properly
With over 40 million anglers in the United States, there is a lot of fishing line that makes it into the landfills. The next time you change out your line, consider recycling it instead. Most outdoor stores offer recycling for used fishing line. You may even be able to discard it in your household recycle. Just make sure it’s wrapped up and not loose.
Another option that is popular among avid anglers is to use braided as the main line and monofilament or fluorocarbon as leaders. Not only will this save you money in the long run, it will also help reduce waste.
Fishing line is an essential component to every angler’s setup. We all want to get the most from our equipment while also giving ourselves the best possible chance to catch more fish.
You may find that you get years of use out of a single spool of line or you may choose to replace it every few months. It all depends on your style of fishing and the performance expectations that suit you. Either way, check your line often and if in doubt, change it out.