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OUTDOORS: Don't forget about the line

Line maintenance often neglected by fishermen

Tough vegetation, snags, and general wear and tear all compromise the strength of fishing line. Frequent line-checks and proper maintenance can alleviate a lot of angling headaches.

Tough vegetation, snags, and general wear and tear all compromise the strength of fishing line. Frequent line-checks and proper maintenance can alleviate a lot of angling headaches.

Jason Keith set the hook hard in the hefty largemouth that had just engulfed his Texas-rig worm in bankside cover. Working the fish through the underwater snags and stickups, the accomplished angler at last brought the scrappy battler to hand.

After unhooking and releasing the bass, Keith ran a thumb and forefinger down his fishing line. Feeling some tell-tale nicks caused by the fish and the structure from which it was taken, the vigilant fisherman snipped off a three-foot length of monofilament before retying and continuing to fish.

“There are too many other ways to lose a fish without letting your line be at fault,” he said. “Many of them you can’t do anything about, but your line is something you have some control over.”

Keith, an avid tournament angler and self-described “obsessive bass fanatic,” believes fishing line maintenance is something all too often neglected by the average fisherman.

“Usually, we never think about or notice a line problem until it’s too late to fix what’s wrong,” he explained. “Unfortunately, by that time your would-be trophy has escaped.”

Though proper line care is easy to ignore or put off, it is important to remember that even the highest-quality fishing lines eventually wear out or become damaged. Giving some thought to line condition can save an angler a lot of frustration and disappointment.

“Professional fishermen and even casual tournament anglers are really tuned in to the shape their line is in,” Keith said. “They check their lines before every tournament and change them as soon as they show signs of wear. The average fisherman is generally safe re-spooling with new line at the beginning of every fishing season and more frequent anglers should change line after every few trips.”

There are quite a few natural and “occupational” hazards where fishing line is concerned. Consider some of monofilament line’s principal “enemies.”

Ultraviolet radiation is not only bad for the skin, but for fishing line as well. UV rays can deteriorate the molecular structure of any nylon-based line, especially if it is exposed to strong sunlight over a long period of time. Overexposure to heat can also cause serious line damage. As a general rule, one should never store a rod or reel outdoors, in direct sunlight, or in the hot trunk of a car between fishing trips. Store fishing reels and extra line in a cool, dark place such as a cabinet or closet.

Rocks, sticks, hooks, and fish scales or spines can cause microscopic or discernible nicks on your line’s surface. Some line “dings,” no matter how minute, can reduce the strength of fishing line by 50 percent or more. Whenever there is a pause in the action, thoughtful anglers should check their lines by running the first ten feet through their thumb and forefinger while pressing the line with the thumbnail. This troubleshooting should also be done after landing a fish, dragging the line over a rock or stump, or just having a premonition that something could be wrong. If you feel any roughness or irregularity in the line, immediately cut off the worn section and re-tie the bait.

If your line starts to mysteriously break, check your reel and the line guides of your rod for sharp spots or other problems that might be damaging your line. Sometimes the ceramic rings in the line guides will crack or chip, leaving ragged, razor-sharp edges. Check for abrasive scratches and chips by running a piece of nylon stocking or a ball of cotton through the ring or across the reel’s surface. Any rough spots will instantly snag the fibers when they pass through. Built-up dirt and grime inside the line guides can also pose a problem. Make sure the guides are periodically checked and cleaned.

Nylon monofilament soon develops a characteristic called “memory.” Because of this, line stored on a reel for a long time acquires a certain “set” which results in a series of stiff, line-weakening coils. In addition to compromising line strength, this can also lead to frequent knotting and snarling. The easiest way to eliminate these coils is to soak the line in water for an hour before you go fishing. Simply remove the spool from your reel (with line attached) and put it into a bucket of fresh water. You can also use tension to remove line coils by following four easy steps: 1. Tie the line to a tree or other stationary object. 2. Let the line off the reel as you back off to the distance of a long cast. 3. Use your rod to put strain on the line as though you were setting the hook. 4. Apply moderate tension to the line a dozen times or more.

When it is time to change your line, or when you remove damaged line during a fishing trip, take extra precautions to dispose of the old line in a safe, responsible manner. Most fishing lines degrade very slowly, thus creating lethal traps for fish and wildlife if carelessly discarded. Never let your companions throw worn-out fishing line overboard, either. Finally, set an example for children and friends by taking a few moments to gather up snarls of fishing line that have been left behind by more thoughtless anglers.

Fishing line is the most important link between angler and fish. Taking care of it can make the difference between success and failure.