I have been float fishing with spinning reels and Centerpin reels for over 30 years and as a river guide, I know from experience that some float lines work better than others. In this article, I will discuss the best float fishing line and why some are good and some are not.
What Is The Best Float Fishing Line?
The best float fishing line that I like and use on all my steelhead float rods is 8lb Raven Mainline in the high-viz yellow color. The best float fishing line for trout is 6 pound Raven Mainline. There are a few other good options that some anglers prefer and you need to know how to set up the leader properly for a colored line.
8-pound line is what I use for great lakes steelhead fishing but if you are float fishing for trout or salmon the line size and color might be different. You will also need to consider the size of the river you will be fishing since 8 pound might be too light on some rivers. Lets find out why?
Something else to consider is what species you are fishing for. 8 pound might be great for steelhead and trout but might be too light if you plan to fish for salmon with the same reel.
Since some anglers want to use their reels for multi-species, I discuss the best line sizes for salmon on my page Float Fishing For Salmon: Advanced Tactics for Great Lakes Salmon, and I discuss the best line sizes for trout on my page Float Fishing For Trout- Expert tips and tactics for more trout.
If I was to use one line for both salmon and steelhead I would suggest using a quality made10lb line for small the mid-sized rivers and 12 pounds for larger faster rivers. When you start getting heavier than 12 pounds, I find you start bending or breaking hooks, or even worse is breaking rods.
Using a great float fishing line like the Raven Mainline for any species will improve your drifts and prevent some of the problems that can occur when using the wrong line or the wrong size of line.
The type of line, the size or weight of the line, the color, and even buoyancy of the line are all important and I will discuss that in this article.
You could try and use braided lines or fluorocarbon lines but the best float fishing line is a monofilament line. A good mono line for float fishing line should be buoyant, lightweight, thin, strong, have low memory, and cast easily.
Float fishing lines can be colored so you and others around you can see them easily, however, float fishing lines can also be clear or green, and I will discuss the benefits of the line colors below and why I always fish with and guide with colored high-vis float lines.
Using a float fishing line that has been tested and proven by thousands of anglers just makes more sense. Many of my clients come out with the wrong lines and they struggle with getting a good presentation or they have lots of problems.
If you ask enough anglers you will get lots of different opinions on which line is the best simply because most anglers haven’t tried enough lines to know there is a difference.
I’ve had my hands on probably over 500 float reels and I have used just about all the different lines that anglers use when float fishing, and trust me, there is a performance difference between lines. I will discuss this all below.
The Best Line For Centerpin Fishing
The best float fishing line for centerpin fishing will need to have low memory, be thin but still strong, and will be buoyant. The best line for Centerpin fishing is the Raven 8-pound or 10-pound Mono Mainline. Another great line that anglers like is Sufix Elite and suffix in 8-pound test.
If you are a trout angler in smaller trout streams the best float fishing line is 6-pound Raven Mainline.
A line that is too thick and a line that sinks can cause a lot of problems and affect your presentation and your hooksets. I will get into that more below.
A thin line and a floating line can improve your presentation and give you a better and longer drift and can also improve your hook sets.
There are a few other good lines and some not-so-good lines.
The float fishing line is also known as the mainline to differentiate between the line on the reel and the leader line. You may see that some companies call their line the mainline especially if they are companies that specialized in Centerpin fishing.
The Best Line For Float Fishing With A Spinning Reel
I have used a few good lines for float fishing with a spinning reel but I have narrowed it down to only 2 lines. The best line for float fishing with a spinning reel is Sufix Elite Premium Monofilament Line in an 8-pound test. Another great line is the Raven 8 Pound mainline.
These two lines are also popular with other float fishing anglers around the great lakes region.
Float Fishing Line Color
Float fishing lines come in many different colors and many anglers will have different opinions on which color they prefer. There are advantages to a brightly colored line and I prefer bright colors like yellow and orange and I will explain why.
Clear or green lines are popular with a lot of anglers and they use them because they believe that colored lines can spook the fish. But do they?
Can Fish See Colored lines?
Fish can see colored lines, especially in clear water with slow-moving baits, so it is always best to use a leader that is long enough to keep the colored line far enough away from the bait that the fish don’t see it.
When float fishing, I always use a colored mainline and I highly recommend them!
If you do not set up the leader properly then yes, bright-colored lines will spook more fish however many anglers do not set up their line and leader properly even when using clear lines.
Float Fishing Setup For Colored Lines
One of the reasons anglers do not set up the leader properly is that many older and some popular float fishing sites have leader diagrams that recommend putting the split shots on the colored mainline which runs down to a short leader that your bait goes on.
This is not the ideal way to set up a leader for float fishing and I will explain why.
In fact, there is no way that I would be able to have my clients hook over 300 steelhead a month with their leader set up the way most diagrams show, instead, it would be closer to only 50 fish hooked.
If you make the mistake of putting your weights on the colored mainline with only a short fluorocarbon leader then the colored line is too close to the fish and in the strike zone and that will likely spook them. This can even happen with clear lines.
What many anglers that use clear lines don’t realize is that putting your split shots on a clear mainline can also spook fish because the mainlines are thick and they are usually made of mono which is not invisible under the water like fluorocarbon is.
If you use what I call a shot line on your leader you can use bright colored lines without spooking the fish because it keeps the colored line far enough away from the fish that they will never see it.
With the proper leader setup, you will get all the benefits of the colored line without spooking the fish.
Whether you use a colored line or not, you should use a leader that is 3 feet or longer and made from fluorocarbon.
You can see the shot line and the leader setups that I use on my page 5 Most Effective Float Fishing Leader Setups. These are proven to be the most effective leader setups you can use.
Colored Lines For Float Fishing Are Better
I believe that bright colored lines have more advantages than clear or darker lines, especially as a beginner. The main advantage of a bright-colored float fishing line is that it makes it easy for you to see the line so you can manage and adjust it better when needed.
Bright colored lines are all that I use on my Centerpin reels and since I often catch more fish than most anglers on the river, I know for certain that a colored line combined with a good leader setup will not spook fish.
Bright lines are also much easier for other anglers around you to see so they are less likely to cast near or over your line and they can follow your line down to find your float easier just like you can.
I also use bright colored lines to help teach anglers about proper line positions and mending. I always struggle to teach anglers how to float fish well when I can’t see their clear line.
Therefore I highly recommend going with a bright-colored line especially if you are new to Centerpin fishing and if you are using the right leader setup.
Even as a veteran float angler of 30 years, I only use colored lines which shows that they are not just for beginners.
Float Fishing Lines That Float Are Better
Some float fishing lines are heavier than others. Fluorocarbon as an example is known to be a denser line and it sinks, as does some copolymer line and even some heavier monofilament lines.
The best float fishing lines should be strong but also as thin as possible and they should float or be neutral buoyancy. Thicker, heavier lines sink!
When the line floats it can easily be mended if needed, it doesn’t get dragged around by the current which can pull the float in an unwanted direction, and your hook sets are easier because your line lifts up off the water better with a floating line.
Lines that sink cause all kinds of problems. Some brands of lines that are made for tough fishing conditions like pike or bass fishing around rocks don’t work for float fishing and there are other lines that are much better because they are limper and are more buoyant.
What Pound Test Mainline Should You Use For Centerpin Fishing?
The best pound test for great lakes steelhead is 8 pounds however there are some rivers and situations that might require 10 pounds or more.
I go into great detail on what the best pound line is for float fishing and what I use for great lakes and west coast rivers on my page What Pound Line Is Best For Centerpin Fishing.
I have been testing lines for over 35 years and I always recommend going with as light a pound test for your mainline as possible and there are a few good reasons for it with the biggest reason that you will catch more fish.
It’s important to use the correct line size for the steelhead and the rivers that you fish, and I choose the size of the line by the size of the heaviest leader that I need to use for the steelhead in my rivers, and I upsize it by 2 pounds.
Why not just go with a heavy line?
Some anglers think that steelhead are big so why not just use 20-pound test line and not worry about it. Unfortunately, I see these guys come out with me on guide trips or lessons and they can’t even get good enough drifts to catch a steelhead because the line is too heavy. The simple truth is that an extra heavy line will cause problems, which I will discuss below so lighter lines are always best.
Why does the leader matter? The leader is a critical part of your setup. If you use a leader that is too thick the fish will see it, and if you use a leader too thin the steelhead will just keep breaking you off.
I have tested leaders for over 35 years so I know exactly what works for me on great lakes steelhead in all conditions. If you are not sure what leader size you should be using, I discuss leader sizes and my page Best Steelhead Leaders For Float Fishing.
Some anglers believe they are fishing for big steelhead so they need a 10lb or 12lb or even 14lb test leader to be able to handle those big fish, they are usually wrong, a few exceptions apply.
I have fished rivers all around the great lakes and have been able to consistently land steelhead with 0.20mm diameter line. That size is thin enough that the steelhead will eat my baits but still strong enough for me to fight and control and land steelhead up to 16 pounds.
So if you only need to use a 0.20mm diameter line which is about 8lb test (some brands) just to get the fish to bite the bait, then having a 0.28mm (12 – 14lb test) mainline is just useless because you can’t even use all that extra strength of the mainline anyways or you will just keep breaking off at your leader.
Here is the catch, you can’t just use any brand of 8-pound leader and then just use any brand of 10-pound line!
You see, many leaders and mainline lines are not rated properly. On my Leaders page, I discuss brands with 4 pound, 6 pound, and 8-pound leaders labels that are all 0.20mm in diameter, and after testing them I found that they all break at roughly the same pound of pull (about 8 pounds).
On top of that, many, if not most brands of mainline in the 10-pound range are closer to 0.28 to 0.32mm which is actually closer to 16 pounds breaking strength and therefore too heavy.
This is why I always recommend and buy my leader and my mainlines based on the diameter size and not the pound test rating on the label. Honestly, most brands lie about how strong their lines are and if they say their line is 10 pounds, it’s likely closer to 20 pounds which is not what you want when float fishing.
What is the problem with heavier lines? There is a reason I recommend and use certain lines in certain line sizes. In my testing, I have found that heavier lines tend to sag and cause a belly in the line between the rod tip and the float which can cause unwanted tilting of the float.
A thinner and lighter line won’t do this and it will give you a better line angle and a better float angle.
If you don’t know why the tilt and angle of your float matters, you are going to miss opportunities for a lot of fish, which is why I highly recommend you read about the 5 fundamentals of good float fishing that I teach all my clients. You can read about that on my page Float Fishing: Tips From A Pro River Guide For More Trout
I find that thinner lines also don’t sink as much as heavier lines do, and higher floating lines are always best. This is why you never want to use Fluorocarbon lines when float fishing – they sink!
I also find that thinner lines cast better and cast farther than thicker heavier lines. Thinner lines are more manageable than thicker lines.
Many of my hardcore steelhead buddies will actually use a float fishing mainline of 6lb test because it casts better and tangles less. See the chart below for a guide on what pound test line you should buy.
The float fishing line strength can also depend on the type of water you want to fish and the type of fish you will be targeting.
As an example, on rivers that are large and deep like the Niagara river or some west coast rivers, or on rivers that you can’t walk along the bank easily to chase a fighting fish, you may need to go with a heavier line so you can pull them back.
On smaller rivers where you can easily chase a fish up or down the bank, you should use a lighter line that casts and fishes better. See my size recommendations below.
Float Fishing Line Sizing Table
Type Of River
Trout - Under 5lb
Large - Fast and Slow
Medium sized rivers
Pier / River Mouth
How Much Line To Put On A Centerpin Reel
How much line goes on a Centerpin reel depends on the reel. Some reels have different size diameters and hold more or less line.
This picture shows one of my guide reels that is just slightly below the full amount. You can see the gap between the spool and the base is a little over an 1/8 of an inch to the line.
The first thing you want to do is fill the Centerpin reel about halfway with a fly line backing. Then add the mainline to about 1/8 inch from the inside gap of the spool and the base of the reel.
Depending on your reel this will be about 200 yards of backing and about 200 yards of mainline. See the backing that I prefer to use below.
The backing I use is the Cortland backing from FishUSA.com
Best Float Fishing Lines
Guides Top Choice
Raven Main Line
The Raven Main Line is made by a company that specializes in Centerpin fishing and this line is actually made for float fishing. This line has been my preferred line for the last 12 years and it is by far my favorite float fishing line to use.
The Raven Mainline floats well, has a thin diameter, and comes off the reel easily with minimal line twist. The line casts great which makes it a good line for anglers that are learning to Centerpin fish but it’s also great for more advanced anglers.
The Raven Main Line is also much cheaper than most other similar lines considering the spool size is 985 yards for less than $13.00 at some stores. Most other brands are less than 350 yards for almost the same price or more.
I have tested this line in all weather conditions, even in weather as low as 7f / -14c degrees and it held up very well. I have also had the same line on my reels for 4 years before I needed to change the line and that says something considering that my Centerpin reels get a lot more use than the average anglers Centerpin reel would.
I have also used this on spinning reels when float fishing and it worked great for me with no issues.
Long Time Favorite
Sunline Line Fine Float ll
Sunline has been a favorite of many float fishing anglers for a long time. This upgraded version uses a special technology that really helps it float which is a big reason why many good Centerpin anglers use it.
P-Ion technology gives the floating line slickness, water repellency, color, and hydrophilic properties.
It has good strength, good handling, and durability. It also has three good colors to choose from.
Sufix Promix Fishing Line
This is another line that many float anglers love. It’s supple and sits well on the reel. In online forums, this is recommended by many guys as a good Centerpin reel and spinning reel line that works great for float fishing.
Some of my clients have had good success using this line on a Centerpin reel if they use the 8-pound or 10-pound line sizes. It floats well and casts nice and is a good choice for Centerpin fishing.
Backing For Centerpin Reels
If you’re setting up your Centerpin reel for the first time you will need backing to fill the bottom of the spool. Generally, about 200 yards of backing and about 200 yards of mono around 8lb should fill up your Centerpin reel nicely.
Is Braided Line Good For Float Fishing?
Braided line is good for float fishing because it’s buoyant, it is very thin, it’s strong, and it’s abrasion-resistant, and it has little to no stretch which is great when setting the hook at a long distance.
The primary advantage to using braided lines when float fishing is that it is very strong while still being very thin.
Another great advantage of using braided lines for float fishing is that it’s the best line I have ever used when setting the hook on a float that is 100 feet or more down the river because the line doesn’t stretch and that gives you a solid hookset.
Braided line does take some getting used to and it can be a problem for less experienced anglers.
Braided line does have a few disadvantages.
The downside to using braided lines and why I don’t recommend braided lines when float fishing is because anglers tend to break off more fish on the hookset when in close simply because it has no stretch to cushion the hook set. I find it’s even worse when guys use shorter stiffer rods that have less flex than the longer whippier rods.
To prevent this you need to either set softer when the float is close to you, which is hard to do in the excitement of your float dropping down fast, or you need to upsize your leader to a stronger and thicker leader.
The problem with upsizing your leader is that the fish might see it and then not eat your bait.
I have found that some anglers will break more fish off during the fight for the same reason.
Another issue that is common with braided lines is tip wrap. Tip wrap is when the line gets wrapped around the tip of your rod and this can happen when you reel the line in if wiggle the tip a lot. It can also happen on hook sets which is a big problem if you have a big steelhead on the end of the line.
Braided lines are also much stronger than mono and some guys will buy 20 or 30-pound line that has a diameter of 8 to 12 pounds. This is a problem because you are more likely to break your rod on snags if you are not careful and pull too hard.
The other problem anglers have when using the braided line is that it will freeze solid if it gets wet when winter fishing, especially if you submerge your reel for some reason. Once it freezes sold you will have problems with your drifts all day.
Some braided lines that I have used also tend to absorb more water which can make them sink which is not good for hook sets and for the presentation of your bait. A line that absorbs water is more likely to freeze or it will cause more ice build-up on the rod guides when fishing in below-freezing temperatures.
I have an article on how to keep the guides from freezing if this is ever an issue for you.
Use Float Fishing Lines That Experts Use
Whatever line you use for float fishing make sure you use one that has been used and tested by other anglers that actually know what they are doing. I have a lot of buddies and I know other guides that all float fish and they all tend to use these same lines and you should too.
Got A Question Or Comment About The Best Line For Float Fishing
If you have a question or a comment or suggestion about what float fishing line works for you, let me know in the comment section below.
Cool River Fishing Accessories
Simms Taco Bag
It’s a wet wader bag for storing your waders after a day on the water and it’s a mat to stand on to keep your feet dry when getting your waders on and off.
Duffel Bags and Stream Packs
Having a dedicated bag to pack and carry your waders, vests, boots, jackets, and more is a good idea. Waterproof and mesh bags are available.
Waterworks Release Tool
Protects your flies from damage caused by forceps, This tool gets all hooks out easily. Even deep hooks come out with this tool.
When I flip these down to tie knots a lot of guys say ” I need to get some of those”. These are great for anyone that ties knots. Make sure they are lined up properly for the best view.