What Pound Line Is Best For Centerpin Fishing

what pound line is best for Centerpin fishing

This article discusses what pound line is best for Centerpin fishing and what lines river guides like me use when guiding for trout, steelhead, and salmon. The right pound line for Centerpin fishing will help you present your bait better and it will have fewer problems.

What Pound Line Is Best For Centerpin Fishing?

The best pound line for Centerpin fishing is the 8lb test for most river conditions around the great lakes. 8-pound line is also the best pound test line for Centerpin fishing in smaller rivers for trout and steelhead but if you fish bigger rivers you may need to go up to a 10 or 12-pound test line.

I will discuss the best pound lines for steelhead, salmon, and trout on both on great lakes rivers, inland rivers, and on the big west coast rivers but make sure you read through because not all leaders are rated accurately and that can cause lots of problems when fishing.

I will also discuss why it’s best to go with as light a line as possible.

What Pound Line Is Best For Steelhead Fishing Great Lakes Rivers

The reason I recommend an 8-pound line for great lakes steelhead is because that is what I have been catching thousands of steelhead with for over 35 years, and it works for my clients and me. Even new anglers do well with 8-pound Centerpin line.

The other reason is that you DO NOT need any heavier than 10-pound line for great lakes steelhead because most great lakes rivers are small to medium size and they require smaller leaders.

What is the point of having a 14-pound line when your leader is only 6 or 8 pounds? As long as your mainline is 2 to 4 pounds heavier than your leader you are good to go.

I have never needed to go heavier than 10-pound line for great lakes steelhead and I find that anglers that do use 12 to 14-pound lines often have issues with it.

What Pound Line Is Best For Steelhead Fishing West Coast Rivers

The pound line that you need for Centerpin fishing for steelhead on the west coast is a 14 to 16-pound line because of the bigger stronger steelhead that use the big river and fast currents to their advantage.

A 10 to 12-pound leader attached to a 14-pound line works on most small to medium-sized rivers.

If you fish on larger rivers with faster flows you will need to use a 14-pound leader and a 16-pound mainline.

What Pound Line Is Best For Salmon Fishing Great Lakes Rivers

For salmon fishing around the great lakes in rivers that are small to medium-sized, you should use a 10 to 12-pound line.

For salmon fishing around the great lake region on large rivers like the Niagara River, you should use a 12 to 14-pound line.

What Pound Line Is Best For Salmon Fishing West Coast Rivers

When fishing for salmon on the west coast, a 16 to 18-pound line is best for salmon fishing. On smaller clear rivers, the 14-pound line with a 12 to 14-pound leader should be perfect.

On larger faster flows, an 18-pound line with a 16-pound leader is best.

What Pound Line Is Best For Trout Fishing

When I Centerpin fish or float fish for trout I will use a 6-pound line and if I use lures I will often go up to an 8-pound line.

The 6-pound line is perfect when you pair it with a 3 or 4-pound leader when float fishing.

If you are using lures you can tie the 8-pound line directly to the lure as long as it’s not a high-viz line.

Buy Your Line Based On Your Maximum Leader Size

When it comes to what pound line is best for Centerpin fishing, I tell my clients that they shouldn’t buy their Centerpin line based on the size of the fish as most guys do, they should buy their Centerpin line based on the size of their steelhead leaders.

What that means is that if the steelhead in your gin-clear 40-foot wide river are line shy and will only hit your bait when you use a 6-pound test leader, having a 15-pound mainline on your Centerpin reel is a waste of time, and it can even cause more problems than it is good.

Anglers fishing on a small river with Centerpin reels
Anglers fishing on a small river with Centerpin reels

I say a waste of time because in my experience with using hundreds of my client’s Centerpin reels or seeing my clients using many different Centerpin reels with different lines on them, the thicker the line the more problems it will have. THICK LINES JUST SUCK!

For more information on the right-sized steelhead leaders, go to my Leaders For Steelhead page but for now, let me explain what I mean.

There is a time and place for thick lines but for general-purpose river fishing around the great lakes, thick heavy lines are not good.

Thick lines are stiff and heavy and they sag. They will often sink too. You don’t want any of that.

When you cast and your float starts moving down the river, you want to keep the line up and off the water for as long as you can because you want a direct connection between your rod tip and your float. Thick lines will sag and create more of a belly in the line between the rod tip and the float. Thick lines will also sag and they will hit the water sooner than a thin line will.

Ideally, you want to keep your line off the water for as long as you can.

I’ve also found that thick lines don’t cast as well as the thinner lines do, and they also don’t cast as far as the thinner lines do.

I also find that thicker lines don’t come off the reel as nicely as the thinner lines do.

This is thick Centerpin line
This is a thick Centerpin line that was causing multiple problems for my client, but his partner was using my rod and reel with 8-pound line and had no issues.

Thinner lines are much more supple and lightweight and they practically fall off the reel when it spins which is exactly what you want. Thinner lighter lines will also float which will cause less drag and improve your hooksets.

I have had days when 1 client is fishing with 12-pound line and has lots of problems while the other client has the same brand of line but in 8 pounds and he has no problems. I have always found thick lines cause more problems and affect presentation.

I also find that anglers that use thick lines tend to have more tangles for some reason. I think it might have something to do with thick lines being stiffer than thinner lines. Basically, thick heavy lines suck.

A nice fresh run steelhead caught on 8 pound Raven mainline
One of my client with a nice fresh run steelhead caught on 8 pound Raven mainline. He’s caught many with me and has never had a problem with his 8 pound line.

Back when I owned my tackle store, a bunch of Centerpin guys were coming in asking for 6-pound line. I was surprised when I found out that these guys were excellent Centerpin anglers and the reason they liked the really thin lines was that they liked the way the line came off the reel, the way it cast, and how it almost floated in the air without sagging on really long drifts. And they were right!

When I asked them about the possibility of breaking off fish they said it never happens and these guys were catching a ton of fish all the time. They would simply walk down the river when they hand very large steelhead on the line and when the fish was tired they would land them. I tell clients it’s like walking a dog.

GUIDE TIP: Your line and your leader are only as good as your knots. Are you using good knots? Check Out: 4 Best Knots Used By River Guides

Centerpin Lines Ratings

Big steelhead like this caught on 8 pound line
Myself and my clients have caught thousands of steelhead like this and bigger using 8 pound test line on a Centerpin reel.

Another thing anglers that use lines of 12 to 15-pound test don’t realize is that most of the time the line ratings on the spool are not correct. I used to ask guys what line they had on their reel and some would say 12-pound Trilene XT. My response was, “why do you think you need a 20-pound test line?”

They would look at me funny because they just said it was 12-pound test, but I would quickly explain that some 12-pound lines could lift a 20-pound dumbbell off the ground and not break.

In my experience, most Centerpin and spinning lines are not rated properly, even from big well known brands.

I have seen fishing line tests done that show lines with a 12-pound label that ends up really being 22 pounds when tested.

Unless you are using some cheap crappy line that might actually be less than what the label claims, I have found that most good quality lines that guys are using for Centerpin fishing are stronger than they say they are.

I’m not against using a 12-pound test line because, honestly, I bet the 8-pound Raven Mainline on my Centerpin reel could probably lift a 12-pound Dumbbell off the floor.

So when considering what pound line is best for Centerpin fishing, make sure you consider the true rating of a line.

Leaders are no different, they are also not rated properly.

Most 8-pound test lines tested to break are around 0.20mm to 0.22mm.

If you look at these popular leaders and you compare them to popular Centerpin mainline, this is what you get: They are all labeled 8lb or close (7.6lbs) yet they all have different diameters and I would bet they will all break at different pound tests.

  • Redwing Leader 7.6-pound = 0.23mm diameter
  • Seaguar STS Leader 8 pound = 0.235
  • Berkey XT Mainline 8 pound = is 0.30mm (this could probably lift a 15-pound weight off the floor)
  • Raven Mainline 8 pound = 0.26mm
  • Sunline Mainline 8 pound = 0.235mm
  • Suffix Elite Mainline 8 pound = 0.279mm

I mostly use leaders in the 0.20mm and 0.22mm for steelhead so my 8-pound Raven mainline is more than enough for steelhead and trout.

What Pound Line Is Best For Centerpin Fishing On Medium-Sized Rivers?

Anglers fishing a medium sized steelhead river
A couple of anglers fishing a medium sized steelhead river with 8 pound line. They hooked multiple double headers.

The best pound test line for Centerpin fishing in small to medium-sized rivers is 8 pounds or 10 pounds.

If the river is under 80 feet wide and you have the ability to walk with a fish that is running down the river then 8-pound lines should be more than enough on an average river around the great lakes.

If you can’t chase after a fish for some reason and you are using a heavier leader, going up to a 10-pound test line could be better.

All my reels have 8 pound Raven mainline on them and I NEVER break the line even on fresh run steelhead over 15 pounds.

I have been using Raven High-Viz yellow mainline for about 10 years and it lasts for about three years on my reels, and that’s even after landing hundreds of steelhead up to 16 pounds with no problems. You can get the Raven mainline at FishUSA -HERE

If you want to know all the best Centerpin lines, go to my page 5 Best Float Fishing Lines For 2021.

What Pound Line Is Best For Centerpin Fishing On Large Rivers?

An angler fighting a great lakes steelhead
A client fighting a steelhead on 8 pound line. This was one of over 30 steelhead on a guide trip with me.

The best pound test line for Centerpin fishing on large rivers where you can’t easily walk up or down the river to chase a fish is 12-pound test.

Most 12-pound lines are closer to 16-pound or 18-pound test. This should be more than enough since your leader will likely be less than that. FYI, leaders aren’t labeled accurately either, which is why you should check out my Leaders For Steelhead page.

Learn To Centerpin Fish Better

Now that you know what pound line is best for Centerpin fishing, you should consider learning how to use it better. Check out my pages:

Got A Question About Steelhead Leaders

Hopefully, I answered all your questions, but if I missed something or you have some advice, let me know in the comments section below.

Tight Lines,


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  1. Hello Graham,

    First off, thank you enough for sharing all your fishing knowledge. It is truly greatly appreciated. I live on Vancouver island and I really want to get into Centerpin fishing for Cohos and Chinooks only (no steelhead fishing) at the Somass/Stamp river and Campell river. Thanks to your recommendations, I’m pretty much set regarding the reel and the rod length I want to get. However, I still struggle with the pound line for the mainline/shot line and leader.

    On your website, I read a section saying that 10 to 12 lbs is the best for centerpin fishing and I’ve seen else where that 16 to 18lbs is best for Westcoast salmon (which I’m leaning towards to). But I also read in your mainline section that thick line sucks because hard to cast and sagging problems.

    Could you please tell me which pound line you recommend for my scenario in terms of mainline/shot line and leader?

    Thank you in advance for your help 🙂 I wish you and your family a wonderful holiday season!


    1. Hi Oliver,

      I know guys that regularly fish Coho and steelhead that will go as light as 10-pound test for the mainline and 8 pounds for their leader. This can work well on slaller rivers where you can walk the banks and chase the fish if needed.

      On much larger rivers and in heavy flows, or where wood and log jams may be a problem, or where you can’t chase a fish along the banks, I’d upsize to 12 or even 14 pound mainline with a 10-pound or 12-pound leader.

      You are correct, the heavier the mainline, the more sag and problems I have seen, be sure you use a good line..

      Even though 12 pound line might sound light, if you strength test most 12-pound lines, they will likely break between 16 and 22 pounds +. and you have a big long rod that acts as a bit of a shock absorber, so the 12-pound line should be strong enough.

      Also, the better you get at playing a fish the less likely you will be breaking fish off and the faster you can get them in.

      Best of luck.


  2. Hi Graham. Thanks for all the great information. I’m learning a lot a looking forward to applying this new knowledge on my up coming trip. This will be my third year trout/steelhead/salmon fishing and so far I’m 0 for 2. I’m hoping for a win on this trip to Manistee and with that, I have a couple of questions.
    First You mention small to medium rivers. I would assume the Manistee is a medium size river as it’s not as wild as maybe the Niagara River. Is that assumption, correct? If so, and we are targeting steelhead, a 8 or 10 pound mainline with a 4 to 6 pound leader is a reasonable idea? Do I use a heavier line for the shot line or do I match it to the leader? In one of your diagrams, It looked like your shot line was slightly larger in diameter.
    Last bit. I’m still on a spinning reel. I’ve read a lot about center pin and I will most likely switch to that set up in the near future. It’s just a price point for now. I read a lot about braid for main line on spinning reels being a good choice but most of your posts talk about mono for mainline. Would you recommend a braid line for my spinning set up? And if so, what brand would you recommend and what weight or diameter? Thank you again. If tours and teaching is something you still do, I would love to book a trip sometime.

    1. Hey Jason,

      I’m glad to hear you are enjoying the website.

      To answer your questions:

      The Manistee is what I would call a medium-sized river.

      For the Manistee and most river of that size and smaller, go with a leader with a diameter of 0.18mm (gin clear) 0.20mm which is good for most water, or 0.22 in dirtier water or when fishing in very fast currents or when you fish near wood or other obstructions and you need to power the fish more. Just remember the thicker the liner the less bites, especially in clear and slower water. Also, Different manufactures have different line rates so 1 brands 6 pound might be more than enough while another brands 6 pound might be too light, so better to go by the diameter.. I run 4 pound Drennan, or 6-pound Seaguar InvizX, both are 0.20mm and same strength..

      You are correct, My shot line is always to 2 to 5 pounds heavier and made with fluorocarbon, so basically one or two sizes up from my lower leader. You always want it slightly heavier than your lower leader so the shot line doesn’t break off.

      Braid is very good for float fishing and phase a few good benefits. However it also has it’s drawbacks which include wrapping around the tip more often which occurs more often with newer anglers,and it can freeze in the winter if you dunk your reel. You also need to be sure it is put on properly or it can spin around the spool. For these reasons and the fact most of my clienst are newer to fishing, I don’t use braid often on my reels.

      These are good lines for braided lines if you want to try them: Sufix 832 Advanced Superline,
      Berkley FireLine Thermally Fused Superline,PowerPro Braided Spectra Fiber Line

      Getting a good guide is a great idea, but, the Manistee is not my specialty, try Alex from Fireplug Charters.

      Best Of Luck,