Classic Gear Part 3: Fishing Line

This week, we’re looking at the gear that’s won the Bassmaster Classic. Yesterday we reviewed the rods and reels that have won bass fishing’s best-known title. Today, we’re all about line.

Fishing line in the Classic era (1971-2023) has probably undergone as much evolution as any component in the angler’s hands — rods, reels, lines and lures. Yes, rods have gone from fiberglass to graphite in that time, reels have nearly tripled in retrieve speed, and more art and science have been dedicated to lures than at any other time in history.

But lines have been completely transformed.

For the first 30 years of the Classic (1971-2000), it was all about monofilament. Even though superlines made their appearance in 1993 with “Lynch Line,” mono ruled the Classic for one good reason. For most of that time there simply were no viable alternatives. Then, even after the superlines came along, most of the Classics were not held on heavy-cover fisheries where braid was required.

The biggest change came about in the late ’90s and early 2000s with the advent of viable fluorocarbon that was more than merely leader material. The first angler to attribute part of his Classic winning catch to something other than monofilament or a copolymer was Kevin VanDam in 2001. He won his first championship on the Louisiana Delta using 25-pound-test Bass Pro Shops XPS Fluorocarbon to fish a jig and craw combo around shallow vegetation.

After being the only winning line for 30 years, monofilament has been almost no factor at all among Classic champions in the past two decades. Just one winner used mono since 2005 (Chris Lane in 2012).

Every winner except Lane had fluorocarbon as part of his mix. Five also used some braid. All of the line types used have been tallied below (that’s why the total number is greater than the number of Classics).

Here’s how the three line types stack up through Classic history.

Wins By Type of Fishing Line

  • 34 monofilament
  • 19 fluorocarbon
  • 6 braid

One reason that monofilament has not been much of a factor in the past 15 years is that the Classic has moved from the summer to the late winter and early spring. Mono is the choice for floating topwater baits and sometimes gets the nod for crankbaits and jerkbaits (popular choices in late winter and early spring), but mono has not been the choice of Classic champs in recent years despite the fact that many competitors are probably using some mono. They’re just not winning with it.

Since topwater baits are a non-factor in February and March Classics, monofilament is not the default choice of many competitors. It’s clear that some of these tackle trends are driven as much by circumstance and conditions as by marketplace and user preference.

Will fluorocarbon ever catch monofilament in the great line race? Maybe, but it’s also possible that technological advances will bring us a new line type that we haven’t conceived of yet. Imagine a super-strong line that’s clear and comes in floating, slow sinking and fast sinking versions — a little like fly lines have been offered for decades.

Here are the fishing line brands that have factored in the most Classic wins:

Wins By Fishing Line Brand

  • 17 Trilene
  • 15 Stren
  • 6 Bass Pro Shops
  • 3 Silver Thread
  • 3 Sunline
  • 2 Hi-Seas
  • 2 Seaguar

Four other brands have been credited, but none of them have more than one win.

Perhaps the most interesting fishing line story to come out of the Bassmaster Classic occurred in 1981. That was an historic Classic for a few reasons. It was the first in B.A.S.S.’s birthplace — Montgomery, Alabama — the first with an indoor weigh-in and the first with a consumer outdoors show. The winner — Stanley Mitchell — remains the youngest champion in history at 21, and he used 10-pound-test Stren (monofilament) to win the tournament.

What was odd was that Du Pont Stren was the “official line” of that “BASS Masters Classic,” and competitors were required to use Stren in competition.

Can you imagine that rule today, when most of the pros have line sponsors? Here’s a line we’d hear from the stage:

“I would’ve won but I busted off a couple of good fish on that XYZ Brand line. I’d be lifting that trophy right now if I hadn’t been required to use that cheap sewing thread! That line’s not fit to floss my teeth.”

It was almost that bad in 1981. After Mitchell won the Classic, Berkley took out an ad in Bassmaster Magazine notifying the fishing world that he was a Trilene user. They even included a photo of Mitchell in a Trilene-branded cowboy hat. Three other Classic qualifiers — Harold Allen, Don Doty and Greg Hines — also appeared in the ad. But the kicker was in the text, which said that these four anglers “did not fish their preferred Trilene at the Classic because tournament regulations required them to use a lower tensile strength line.”