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Updated May 26, 2023 9:00 AM
Using the right fishing line for trout can increase your success. Trout are fun to catch, but they’re challenging, too. They have great eyesight, soft and small mouths, eat relatively small things, and live in a wide variety of habitats. To have the best bet at catching them, I strongly recommend a dedicated trout set-up—a rod and reel, lures, and terminal tackle all specifically designed to catch trout.
One of the most critical components of your trout setup is the fishing line. I would argue it’s more important than your rod and reel. Choosing the right line can be one of the most critical components in catching more and bigger trout, more easily and consistently. Here are a few reasons I think that is true, and my top-picks for the best fishing line for trout.
How We Picked the Best Fishing Line for Trout
My choice in trout fishing lines is based on nearly 30 years of angling experience. My passion for fishing began when I started fishing for trout at the age of six with my grandfather. These days I spend all my time fishing for trout with a fly rod, but for years all I used was a spinning rod. Whether you use a fly rod or spin rod, there’s no right or wrong way to fish for trout. However, no matter what kind of gear you’re using, fishing line is the single most important piece of your fishing tackle. This goes for every species, not just trout. So, for this article, I used my own experience with dozens of lines and tapped into my contacts: industry professionals, top-tier tackle suppliers and retailers, and some other trusted anglers. Here are some of the factors I considered:
- Casting distance: How well does the line cast with very small lures and bait?
- Stretch and sensitivity: How much stretch does the line have, and is this a positive or a negative for this kind of line?
- Abrasion resistance and durability: How does the line hold up to being rubbed against rocks and woody structure, or how will it handle highly vegetated areas? How long does it last after being subjected to water, sand and dirt, UV rays, and lots of hours being casted?
- Handling and memory: Often overlooked, how limp and soft a line is has a dramatic impact on casting distance and lure action. The harder and stiffer a line is, the worse it will perform generally. However, thicker lines tend to also be more abrasion resistant, so it’s all about trade-offs.
- Quality and craftsmanship: Is the line consistent and reliable from spool to spool?
- Price: Does the line offer good value for its stated purpose?
Best Fishing Line for Trout: Reviews & Recommendations
Best Monofilament: Trilene XL
- Materials and Construction: Nylon
- Four Pound Test Diameter: 0.20mm
- Colors Available: Clear
- One of the best performing low-budget lines of all time
- XL is relatively stretchy, good when trying to decrease pulled hooks
- Low-cost but relatively limp with low spool memory
- Available in two-pound test
- Not the thinnest, farthest casting, or most abrasion resistant monofilament available
- There are better handling lines, but they cost a lot more
Trilene XL is a legendary name in the fishing world. It is a line that has been around for decades, and still performs well for a variety of angling techniques and species. For trout, it has a couple of important characteristics. First, it is stretchy, which can prevent hooks being pulled from the soft mouths of trout. This stretch also pairs well with lightweight, and slower-action rods. Trilene Xl is also available in two-pound test, which some other models of monofilament and fluorocarbon is not. While it may not be the best line in any particular category, if you’re looking for a budget line that will be well suited for catching trout, Trilene XL is a great choice. If you’re looking for a tougher monofilament, that is also still relatively limp and excellent casting, I strongly suggest checking out Sufix Elite. It is a phenomenal line with a bit better handling, less stretch, and more abrasion resistance. However, it’s more expensive, and for many trout anglers looking for a low-cost line option they can buy just about anywhere, Trilene XL remains a great choice.
Best Braid: Sufix Nanobraid
- Materials and Construction: 8-strand Dyneema
- Four Pound Test Diameter: 0.08mm
- Colors Available: Low-vis green, aqua camo
- Very small diameter available: 2-, 3- and 4-pound test (and up to 14)
- Casts well with relatively low tangling risk
- Tight weave retains shape and strength over time
- Surprisingly tough, even at the lowest breaking strains
- Extremely thin diameter braid tangles easily
- Very low abrasion resistance
If you’re a trout fisherman, or use any kind of ultra-light tackle, Sufix Nanobraid is the best braided fishing line for your applications. Like other Sufix lines, it is smooth, casts outstanding, is very sensitive, and holds its structure and shape very well over time. However, it’s not really that much different than Sufix 832 in how it fishes once you get up into the 8- to 14-pound range. While it seems to be a bit thinner—and is advertised as such—I didn’t notice that much difference in fishability. However, in there is simply nothing else that compares to it in the two- to eight-pound class. The line is insanely thin! I found it surprisingly tough as long as you didn’t snag it on something. It’s perfect for casting really small jigs, spinners, or crank baits. Anything around a quarter- or eight-ounce flies through the air so much more easily with this very thin braid than with monofilament. And zero stretch makes feeling hits from small, fussy fish much easier.
Of course, with such a thin and low-strength braid, you’re not getting much abrasion resistance. I would keep this away from any kind of hard structure‑even rubbing it against a bush or boat carpeting can damage it.
Best Fluorocarbon: Seaguar Tatsu
- Materials and Construction: Single strand, thermally fused polyethylene
- Four Pound Test Diameter: 0.165mm
- Colors Available: Clear
- The only double-structure main-line fluorocarbon available
- Casts and handles as well, or better, than the very best monofilaments
- Low stretch, nearly invisible, and long lasting
- Fluorocarbon sinks, unlike monofilament or braid
If fishing for trout is your passion, and you want the very best fluorocarbon possible, there is little to compare to Seaguar Tatsu. Seagur is on the cutting edge of fluorocarbon lines, and they do not disappoint with this incredible line. Most anglers who are used to the easy casting and limp nature of monofilament dislike fluorocarbon because it can be hard, stiff, and difficult to tie knots with. Tatsu addresses these weaknesses and provides a product unlike any other. While it’s a bit overkill for some other types of fishing, when you’re using extremely thin lines for extremely fussy fish, this can absolutely be worth the cost ($30+ for 200-yards!). However, if you want the ultimate trout line, then Tatsu is going to be nearly impossible to beat.
But, there are much less expensive fluorocarbon options. I personally think Trilene Fluorocarbon Professional Grade is a good performing, low cost 100% fluoro line at only $11.99 for 110-yards.
Also, if you’re just looking for fluorocarbon leader material, Seaguar Gold is a great. It is a very high quality, limber leader material avail be down to two-pound test- perfect for the trout fisherman.
Best Fly Line for Beginners: Rio Mainstream Trout WF
- Materials and Construction: Weight forward, floating
- Weights Available: 3 to 8
- Colors Available: Lemon green
- Covers most fly techniques for beginner or intermediate anglers
- Finish holds up well, is very buoyant, and easy to take care of
- The taper helps with casting, while still able to cast small, delicate flies
- Color is bright enough to see, without spooking fish
- Not the most durable fly line on the market
- Master of none, not the best for any one technique
If you’re looking to try fly fishing for trout for the first time, it can be overwhelming to try and pick out a line. Even within just one brand, you might have several dozen choices. I am a big fan of Rio products in general, and the Mainstream lines are some of the best value fly lines available today. They are not specialists; there are lines that are better with streamers, nymphs, dries and just about everything else. However, the Mainstream Trout WF will cover the general needs of the more novice fly fisherman at a very affordable price. While I have lines costing more than twice as much, I think the Mainstream lines cast excellent. The few I’ve owned have held up well to years of moderate use (both freshwater and saltwater Mainstream lines). At around $40, you cannot do any better. If you’re looking for a line to take your fly fishing to the next level, I absolutely love the Scientific Anglers Amplitude series, and the Cortland Trout series are also excellent. They both offer a line for every type of fly fishing, and they are fantastic casting, extremely rugged lines. If you’re looking to step-up from a budget line, but don’t want to jump all the way up to the $100+ price-point, the Orvis’s Hydros is a fantastic line that has been a real winner for me in the past.
Things to Consider Before Buying Fishing Line for Trout
Trout eat a lot of small prey, and this often requires casting lures or bait that is a ¼-ounce or less, often much less. One of the top mistakes new trout anglers make is getting line that is far too heavy. It makes casting a serious challenge, impacts swimming action on your baits, and is more visible to trout, which have excellent eyesight. Heavy line is also typically unnecessary when fighting most trout, unless you’re going after large steelhead, lakers or other giant trout. Most you’ll encounter will be 15-inches or under, and that size can be easily handled on line between four and eight-pounds; some anglers even prefer two-pound.
Braid, Mono, or Fluoro Fishing Line for Trout: Which is Best?
Braid: With the availability of very small diameter, high-strand lines braid has gained a following with trout fisherman in recent years. Lines like Sufix Nanobraid, J-Braid Grand, Berkley X9, and Spiderwire Ultracast are all available in six-pound test or less and all are the equivalent of one-pound monofilament or less. These ultra-thin braids cast incredible, even with the smallest spinners, jigs, or weightless bait (live or artificial). You can also check out our roundup of the best braided lines for even more info and options.
However, braid has no stretch, so you must be careful you don’t rip the hooks out of the soft mouths of trout. Using a light, moderate action rod will help with this. The bigger downside to using braid for trout is that it is highly visible underwater. Trout have great eyesight, and braided line can spook them. So, many anglers still prefer monofilament or fluorocarbon. Both are also much more abrasion resistant. Monofilament is the cheapest option by far, but fluorocarbon is the ultimate in invisibility.
Mono: Monofilament is still the most popular line, as it’s easy to use and cheap to buy. However, if you’re going to use monofilament, you must make sure to go very light on the pound-test. You must also buy a high-quality line that is soft, limber, and limp. Hard monofilament that has a lot of memory is horrible to use on ultra-light tackle, and can quickly ruin the fishing experience. Therefore, steer clear of cheap, bulk monofilament when fishing for trout.
Fluoro: The best in invisibility, fluorocarbon is made with materials that bend light in a certain way making it very hard to see below the surface. Though fluoro used to be very expensive, it is now possible to spool up a small trout reel for less than $12, even with extremely high-quality line. This makes it very appealing to trout anglers who want less visibility and greater abrasion resistance, compared to both mono and braid.
You can also use a short piece of fluorocarbon leader with either monofilament or braided main line to help cut down on the visibility of your line. This requires an extra knot and a bit more complexity, which is the trade-off, but it also means putting fluoro where it matters most. Personally, I like using a very light braid (six-pound or less) and a light fluorocarbon leader. You get the benefits of both lines, making casting and presenting small lures easy and very enjoyable.
What Pound-Test Should I Use?
The pound-test (or breaking strain) of line that you use is influenced by how small the lures you need to cast, and how far you must throw them. Line diameter and pound-test go hand-in-hand: the stronger the line, the thicker it is. If you’re regularly casting very small lures or bait, you need to go very light. If you’re using monofilament or fluorocarbon as your main line, I would strongly suggest four-pound for most situations.
If you are considering braid, you can go much higher. I find eight-pound test easy to use with small lures, but six-pound is even better (and my favorite). That being said, four-pound Nanobraid is truly amazing, and just so darn easy to cast! Plus, these low-test braids are still more than strong enough to handle even larger trout in fast moving water. I have landed a 9-pound largemouth on six-pound Sufix braid, and my wife landed a 36-inch pike!
Just be aware, the thinner the line you use, the more it will tangle. Braid is the worst in this regard. Pay extra attention to all steps of the cast and retrieve, especially if you just put the line on the reel.
How About Fly Fishing Lines for Trout?
Entire books have been written about fly fishing lines for trout, but here’s the basics. With fly fishing, you have three lines to think about. The fly line provides the weight needed to cast tiny flies, and is perhaps the most important. This is connected to a leader, which tapers down from thick to thin. Tippet, the last and shortest piece, attaches form the leader to the fly. This is generally the thinnest piece and is replaced throughout the day as you change flies and it gets shorter.
If you’re looking to try fly fishing for trout, I suggest keeping it simple. Try not to get overwhelmed by all the choices in main lines. The best overall line for fly fishing for trout is a floating, weight-forward (WF) line that matches the line rating of your fly rod. That one type of line will prepare you for nearly 90 percent of trout fly fishing situations across the country. Weight forward floating lines are not the perfect line for tiny dry flies, or swinging big streamers in deep water, but they will be effective in most places, with most flies, for most fish.
As far as leader and tippet, this often becomes even more complicated than the main line, so keep it simple to start. I would match the leader to the length of your rod if you’re a beginner. So if your rod is nine-feet, use a nine-foot leader. Typically, you’ll want to use a leader that is either equal or a step or two lower (thicker) than the tippet you will be using. If you plan on using 4x or 5x tippet, a 3x leader will be best. It’s tough to use very fine tippet with a thick leader—like a 2x leader with 6x tippet—so having a few options to swap out as you fish is smart. Tippet is the final piece of line you’ll need, and I suggest starting with 4x, 5x, and 6x. However, this is only a very rough guideline and I urge you to check in with your local shop, or ask some local fisherman what they are using on your local waters.
Q: Is braided line good for trout?
I personally really like braid with ultra-light- and light-action rods and very small lures for trout and smallmouth bass. Braid allows you to cast so much farther with the tiniest of jigs and spinners, and you can even cast unweighted bait like worms, Powerbait, or small minnows. Braid is also so sensitive that even the softest nibbles from trout can be felt; the stretch of monofilament can make it hard to detect these subtle bites.
However, you really must use some sort of less-visible leader with braid. This means buying another kind of line on top of your braided main line. I like fluorocarbon for my leader, but this ca be expensive. For many anglers, monofilament can be adequate to get out and have fun catching stocked trout in both rivers and ponds.
Q: How do you set up fishing line for trout?
There are two common options for trout anglers using a spinning rod (I won’t cover fly fishing here). First, you can just use a normal running line without a leader. If you’re going to do this, I would suggest using either monofilament or fluorocarbon. This is because braid is more visible under water, and without a leader, the fish might be able to spot your line.
The second option is to overcome that visibility of braided line–or thicker monofilament—by using a leader. Typically, this will be a short, 6- to 12-inch piece of line between your main line and your lure. If you’re using the leader to decrease the visibility of your main line, you have a few options: use thinner leader than your main line, use the same diameter fluorocarbon, or both (a thinner fluorocarbon).
Q: What color fishing line for trout?
While I’m of the opinion that the color of your line doesn’t matter for most species, trout might be an exception. I think choosing a neutral, natural color is a good idea, and you should steer clear of neon colors. When in doubt, use clear.
Q: Can trout see fishing line?
Yes, trout can see your line. This might even prevent them from hitting your lure or bait. If you aren’t getting any hits, try sizing down the diameter of your line. This will often increase your chances of hooking finicky fish.
Q: What is the best time of the year to go trout fishing?
Trout fishing can be good year-round, depending on where you live. April is often the trout opener in many Northeast states, and early summer can provide great fishing out West. Fall and winter are also great times to catch trout.
Trout are fun to catch, partially because they are a bit more challenging than other species. However, they require scaling down your gear and paying attention to the details, including your fishing line. Purchasing the right line will make it easier to cast small lures, feel subtle bites, and land more trout every time you’re out on the water.
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