Published Aug 31, 2022 9:00 AM
Fishing lines for catfish are a vitally important piece of your angling equipment. Catfish anglers in particular should be paying close attention to their line choice because they’re tangling with giant, hard-fighting fish, often around nasty structure, in strong currents, and deep water. You certainly don’t want to spend hours scouting spots and searching for honey-holes, then even more time soaking bait and sorting through smaller fish, just to lose the biggest fish of your life because you chose the wrong line. Or, even worse, find out that you’ve been using the wrong line all along and missing out on catching as a result—it really can be that important. In this article, I’ll break down the best fishing lines for catfish and make some recommendations to help you catch more fish and have more fun on the water this season.
Why It Made the Cut: Spiderwire Stealth is trusted by fishermen across the world for all kinds of species, and catfishermen will love how rugged, strong, and inexpensive it is.
- Construction and Build: 8-strand Dyneema braid
- Pound Test Available: 8 to 250
- Colors Available: Moss Green, Hi-Vis Yellow, Blue Camo
- Super tough, very high abrasion resistance (for a braid)
- Low cost—great for those who want to try out braid or need a lot of line
- Extremely reliable build quality
- Available in Hi-Vis Yellow
- Tougher on the hands—rough texture compared with higher-priced braids
Spiderwire Stealth is extremely strong and abrasion-resistant, making it a great choice for those fishing around demanding structure. It’s known in both freshwater and saltwater for being extra tough, and having some decent weed-cutting power. While it isn’t the thinnest braid out there, this actually plays to its strengths: That extra bit of diameter makes it harder to break if it rubs against something. The budget price of Stealth is also great if you are filling big conventional spools with a lot of line—the low cost means you can put more braid on, and less backing.
It’s just as sensitive and powerful as other braids, and still far thinner than mono or fluoro, making it a good compromise if you want to try out braid for the first time. It cuts the water similar to higher-priced braids, so it’s essentially equal in that regard, too. Some of the best anglers still stick with Stealth over more premium offerings because of its ultra tough characteristics and long-standing reliability, despite it being a lower-cost, older-technology line. It’s also available in a Hi-Vis color, making it perfect for use in dirty water.
The downside to Stealth is its rough texture due to its four-strand construction and thicker diameter. This means less casting distance when compared to premium braids. However, most catfishermen will not see enough casting difference to make it worth using a more expensive and less-abrasion-resistant line—I’d stick with Stealth and save my money.
Why It Made the Cut: Trilene Big Game is a versatile and tough line that performs well for a variety of catfish species in all types of waterways—especially if you’re after the very biggest cats.
- Construction and Build: Extruded nylon, single material
- Pound Test Available: 8 to 130
- Colors: Blaze Orange, Clear, Coastal Brown, Green, Pink Coral, Solar Collector (neon green), Steel Blue
- Excellent quality on every spool
- Low cost with large bulk spools available (3,500 to 10,000+ yards)
- Adequately low memory and good handling
- Good abrasion resistance
- Soft line which makes it is easy to tie strong knots
- A lot of stretch
- It’s an all-arounder, not a specialist
There’s no such thing as a line that can “do it all.” However, if you’re looking for monofilament to use for catfishing—whether as a main line or as a leader—Trilene Big Game covers most of the bases. It’s a tough line with good abrasion resistance that is easy to work with, ties excellent knots, and has decent casting performance. Second, it’s inexpensive and has a solid life-span, making it a great value. Third, it comes in a huge range of pound-test ratings, making it well suited for those fishing for the smallest and largest catfish out there. Finally, it comes in a variety of colors that will suit those who like low-vis or hi-vis lines. It’s a solid performer across the board, and is beloved by freshwater and saltwater fishermen alike.
That being said, Trilene Big Game isn’t really the best at anything—it’s just really good at everything. Because it has a good mix of all attributes, I think it offers excellent overall performance for typical catfishing scenarios, for all anglers from beginner to expert. The biggest downside I have found with Big Game is that it’s pretty stretchy—if you’re looking for a line with low-stretch, this is definitely not the best option. However, that same stretch characteristic makes it a really great leader material to pair with braid line.
Best Premium Mono
Why It Made the Cut: Sufix Siege features superior abrasion resistance, while still retaining good handling, casting distance, and knot strength.
- Construction and Build: Extruded nylon, single material
- Pound Test Available: 4 to 30
- Colors Available: Camo, Clear, Neon Tangerine, Smoke Green
- Built with extreme precision and reliability
- High abrasion resistance
- Relatively limp with good handling characteristics
- Excellent knot strength, low memory, and superior casting characteristics, especially with spinning gear
- Doesn’t come in high-test ratings
- More expensive than other monofilament lines
Sufix Siege continues to be my top choice in premium lines because it has the perfect blend of limpness, stretch, castability, and price—all while being extremely tough. Certainly there are more affordable lines but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Sufix offers a better value because even though it costs more upfront, it lasts so long, you won’t be replacing it as frequently. Sufix Siege is very abrasion-resistant while still being easy to manage with low memory. Memory can be an issue with tougher, harder lines, but not with Siege. Under my normal use, it comes off the spool very limp trip after trip, without coiling or kinking. I generally only cut back and replace it when I get into heavy cover and rub it on structure. It casts great for an ultra-tough monofilament, and it is average in thickness compared to premium lines. Siege is also available in Neon Tangerine, which makes it a good dirty-water option.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Fishing Line for Catfish
There are a lot of different lines out there, falling into multiple categories. But most catfishermen will be best served by using just one of two: monofilament or braid. Which of these you choose comes down to the places you fish, your style, and your overall goals.
Mono vs. Braid: What’s Better for Catfish?
Monofilament is the number one fishing line around the world for all species. Most fishermen use “mono” because it’s inexpensive and easy to get. However, there are actually several bigger factors to consider when deciding whether mono is best for your style of fishing.
First, a universal characteristic of mono is it’s stretchy. Some lines are stretchier than others, but all have substantial flex and extension. This can be a negative or a positive, depending on what’s important to you. Stretch means the line is not overly sensitive, which impacts your ability to feel a bite, especially if the pick-up is very subtle. A stretchy mono also means having to put more force into your hook-sets because you have to overcome all that stretch to drive the point into a big cats’ hard mouth. If you’re a catfish angler looking for a line with less stretch, those designed for extra abrasion resistance will work best. However, with less stretch also comes a stiffer, harder line, which can influence knot strength and casting distance.
Stretchiness (or “give”) isn’t always a bad thing. It can be an asset when a big fish charges hard, or changes direction suddenly. Mono acts like a shock-absorber, decreasing the chances the hook pulls. When you’re trying to drag up a giant from the depths and it takes a sudden dive, the mono will take up all that shock without any effort on your part. You don’t have this insurance factor with braid—all the shock absorption will be limited to your rod.
The largest advantage to mono for catfish anglers is its abrasion resistance. It’s vastly superior to braid in this regard. Mono can take impacts, get rashed, or even nicked, and still land a fish. If you fish around a lot of nasty structure, the abrasion resistance of mono may outstrip any other reason for using braid. This is why most serious anglers consider a mono leader essential even if they choose braid as their main line.
If I had to choose just one line for catfish fishing, it would be braided line, which is made of woven fibers, unlike monofilament which is constructed of extruded nylon. Braid is very, very thin—50-pound braid is only about the diameter of 14-pound mono, for instance—and has zero stretch. It’s popular with catfishermen for all techniques, but especially those fishing in strong current, deep water, or for really giant fish. While braid floats, its thin diameter cuts through the water remarkably well, creating less drag, which helps bait get down deeper, more quickly, with less weight—and helps keep it there. In some cases, you can use 50 percent less weight when using the same pound-test braid versus mono, which is a huge difference that can help you feel more hits, get better hook-ups, spook less fish, and prevent hang-ups.
Catfishermen also love braid because you can feel any subtle pick-up or hit, and hook-sets are more powerful and immediate. Most anglers that get used to braid rarely go back to mono, and many trophy hunters love braid because they can use incredibly strong lines. It’s much easier to cast and work with braid in the 50-, 80-, or even 100-pound test range than it is with similarly strong mono.
With these amazing benefits in mind, there is one big downside to braid for catfishermen: it has only a tiny fraction of the abrasion resistance of mono. This can be a huge issue for catfishermen, who are dealing with lots of bottom structure and hard, abrasive mouths. You have very little room for error with braid if it touches a rock, log, piling, or barrier, or even if it rubs back-and-forth inside a big cat’s mouth. Braid also can’t handle much shock, which can result in pulled hooks.
Additionally, even after decades of using braid, I still snarl occasionally on conventional gear. This is more troublesome when you use a lighter pound-test. It’s less of an issue on spinning gear, however, and once you get used to braid you’ll find you rarely tangle.
I hear a lot of fuss about the cost of braid, but because it lasts a lot longer than mono, it might actually cost less in the long run. Besides, if it means the difference between going home empty handed, and catching the fish of your dreams, isn’t that extra price worth it?
Type of Leader
Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of both lines, I recommend using braid as your main running line and a monofilament as a leader. Monofilament at the business end of your rig helps prevent break-offs and takes up some shock. I typically use a uni-to-uni knot to connect my braid to my mono leaders, and it’s never failed me. However, you can also use a small swivel between the braid and mono or another more sophisticated knot.
Some anglers like to use a weaker mono leader than their main braided line, so if they get hung up, they can break off the bait or weight, without sacrificing any of their more expensive main line. This is personal preference, but regardless, a variety main line can work with a variety of leaders—30-pound braid or mono can work with leaders from 10-pound all the way up to 100-pound.
How long of a leader you need comes down to where you’re fishing and your overall goals. For example, if you are dropping bait from a boat into strong current for giant fish, and have a lot of structure to deal with, a long, thick leader that wraps onto the reel may be ideal. However, if you’re casting with spinning gear from shore for smaller fish, using a leader short enough to cast easily without going through the eyes of the rod is preferable. Most anglers will find a leader between 15 and 30 inches adequate, but you can use a leader as short as 6 inches or as long as 6 feet.
As to the best pound test for catfish, it’s hard to give just one recommendation because it depends on the species and your location. If you’re fishing for smaller cats—typically under 20 pounds—in most parts of the country and either don’t need or want braid, monofilament in the 12- to 20-pound range will probably work just fine, even without a leader (though I still encourage you to use one). Adding 1 to 3 feet of 30- to 60-pound leader to the main line will help you step up to bigger fish.
If I’ve convinced you to go with braid, you’ll be best served by line in the 20- to 80-pound range and a mono leader in the 20- to 100-pound range. Personally, I think 30-pound braid with a leader from 10 to 120 pounds is a good compromise, versatile for most sizes of catfish. Adding 2 to 3 feet of leader is probably enough, but if you’re looking for the most protection and shock absorption possible, going longer isn’t a bad idea. Whatever pound test you choose, make sure your reel will hold enough of it.
Fluorocarbon is becoming more popular with catfishermen, but it represents a very small minority. Also known as “fluoro,” it’s similar to mono but is made from a polymer called polyvinylidene fluoride. It works well for some species because it’s virtually invisible underwater, but this won’t matter for catfishermen.
Fluoro has two main benefits over mono and braid for catfish. First, it sinks, while both mono and braid float. This allows you to use less weight, or none at all, in the right situations. Compared to mono, this can translate into more hook-ups. However, compared to braid, it gets more complicated. Because braid cuts through current much better than fluoro, it will be superior at keeping your bait on the bottom.
The other strength of fluoro is that it generally has less stretch than monofilament, but much more than braid. This puts it in a middle ground between stretchy mono and steely braid. You have more sensitivity and hook-setting power than mono, but you can also handle dramatic runs and hard changes in direction better than with braid. This, in combination with the sinking character of the line, makes it a good choice for those anglers fishing for catfish in water that isn’t moving fast or if your goals don’t require you to use line over 30 pound-test.
The downsides of fluoro are its cost and handling. Cost is really only a factor if you’re going to be using more than 150 yards of line. Handling is a bigger issue. While it has come a long way, fluoro is harder and stiffer than most high-quality monofilaments, which makes it tougher to tie solid knots. It also doesn’t cast even close to as far as braid, but this is probably not too much of a concern for catfishermen.
One final point: I hear anglers (both professional and amateur) and industry representatives repeatedly say that fluoro is more abrasion-resistant than mono. This commonly held belief is far from proven, and in fact has been disproven as many times as it’s been shown to be true. Ultimately, abrasion resistance comes down to diameter—the thicker the better)—quality and consistency, and material. A high-quality monofilament is going to outperform a budget or mid-tier fluorocarbon, especially if the mono is designed specifically for abrasion resistance.
If you want more information about fluoro, and some of my top picks, check out my article on the best fluorocarbon fishing lines.
Q: Does fishing line color matter for catfish?
No, the color of your line really doesn’t matter. Catfish have horrible eyesight so they can’t see your line. However, a lot of catfishermen prefer high-visibility line because they’re often fishing in water that is either dirty, deep, fast moving, or a combination of all the above. Color is the last factor on my list when it comes to choosing a fishing line.
Q: What size line should I use for catfishing?
This is a very difficult question to answer with a single number or two. If you’re after smaller catfish (under 15 or 20 pounds) in areas without too much hard structure, you’ll be fine with either monofilament or braided line in the 12- to 30-pound range—especially if you’re using a stronger leader to go along with the running line. If you’re fishing for giants, or in strong current or really nasty structure, braided line in the 50- to 100-pound range is often used with equally strong leaders. If you can’t afford or don’t want to add a special catfish setup, plenty of anglers do just fine with traditional bass rods and reels, too. I’ve caught catfish up to 15 pounds on a 6-foot bass rod with a 10-pound test.
Q: Do you need a leader line for catfish?
While you don’t need a leader, it’s cheap insurance. Taking a couple minutes to add some inexpensive, thick, and tough monofilament to the business end of your bait setup (no matter what kind of running line you use) is an easy way to help ensure you land the fish of your dreams. Catfish are tough, strong, and live in places that have lots of structure—a leader is armor that helps you overcome all these obstacles, and helps get your trophy cat to the boat or the bank.
Catfish are extremely fun to catch, there’s no denying that. While your fishing setup doesn’t have to be complicated to catch them, the more informed choices you make with your gear, the more likely you’ll land the fish of a lifetime when it finally picks up your bait. Your line is a critical part of this—far more important than most catfish anglers realize. Whether you choose mono or braid (or even fluoro), you should select your brand and model of fishing lines for catfish based on a lot more than just price.
My choice in catfish lines are based on nearly 30 years of angling experience, which includes thousands of hours fishing from shore, kayak, canoe, and boat. I am meticulous and very calculated when it comes to choosing my fishing gear, no matter what angling style I’m engaged in. I think that line, hooks, and terminal tackle (swivels, split rings, etc.) are often overlooked by many anglers. Frankly, I would argue they are more important than the rod, reel, or even the lures you’re using (and in the case of catfishermen, maybe even the bait type).
I have carefully weighed the top factors I believe are most important to the diverse needs of catfish anglers all over the country (and the world) to come up with my picks. I evaluated each line based on the following criteria:
- Stretch and sensitivity: How much stretch does the line have?
- Abrasion resistance and durability: How does the line hold up to being rubbed against rocks and woody structure? How will it handle highly vegetated areas? How long does it last after being subjected to water, sand and dirt, UV rays, and hours of casting or hanging in the current?
- Handling and memory: How limp or soft is the line? This has a dramatic impact on casting distance and overall knot tying and handling.
- Quality and craftsmanship: Is the line consistent and reliable from spool to spool?
- Price: Does the line offer good value for its stated purpose? Will it outlast other lines if it’s more expensive?