Select the right pound test fishing line every time

If you’re new to fishing it can be hard to decide what pound test you should be using. Unlike lures, you can’t easily switch out your fishing line. You need to decide right the first time and know that it will have to fit every situation you could want to fish it in. So it is an important decision that I can help guide you through.

You want to use as light or low pound test of a line as you can get away with. For most situations, the pound test you should use is double the average full-grown weight of the fish you are targeting. So for example, if you’re bass fishing, you want to use 8 to 12 pound test in most circumstances since bass average between 3 to 6 pounds when fully grown. Or if you’re crappie fishing, you’ll only need 4 lb as they rarely exceed 2 pounds.

But there is much more that can go into your decision so follow the guide below and you’re sure to get the exact right pound test for your fishing pole. Also, if you want to know my favorite single fishing line for beginners – CLICK HERE

Pound Test by Species

The table below will show the general guidelines for the pound test line you should be looking at by species. For more information – please read on. I have 6 pound test on some bass rods, and 20 pound test on others. So it’s not always that simple. But if you want a baseline to start out with – look below to find the species you’re targeting and determine what you should buy.

  • Bluegill – 4 lb. test
  • Bass – 8 to 12 lb. test
  • Carp – 12 to 20 lb. test
  • Catfish – 20+ lb. test
  • Crappie – 4 lb. test
  • Musky – 30 lb. test+  steel leader needed
  • Striper – 15 to 30 lb. test
  • Panfish – 4 lb. test
  • Pike – 12 to 20 lb. test steel leader needed
  • Shad – 4 lb. test
  • Trout – 4 to 6 lb. test
  • Walleye – 8 to 10 lb. test
The reason you would want a heavy pound test is obvious – the more pound test the harder it is for a fish to break your line. If you catch almost any fish on 50 lb. test – it isn’t breaking off. It’ll break your rod before it breaks your line. So instead let’s talk about the reasons you want to use as light of a line as possible.


pick right pound test fishing line stock

The lighter the line, the further you can cast it. This is because the heavier the pound test of a line, the larger its diameter (thickness). Which makes sense – have you tried to break a twig? Easy. Try to break a tree trunk? Not so easy. The thicker the line, the tougher it is in general to break and the higher pound test.

But this thickness also means that the line is heavier and creates more friction. The friction in your reel as you throw makes it slow down as you cast, shortening the distance. The increased weight makes it fall faster when you cast, shortening the casting distance. So simply put – heavier pound test means shorter casting distance in almost all situations.

Fish can see fishing line

Fishing line is hard to see – but some fish have great eyesight. Trout, for example, will see anything above 4 pound test in clear conditions. Like mentioned earlier, the higher the pound test the thicker the line. And the thicker the line – the easier it is for fish to see.

Thankfully, not all fish seem to care about thick lines. A catfish, for example, will not notice a 50 pound test line attached to a hook. So learning the species of fish you’re after is really important to knowing whether it’s a consideration you need to take into account. Walleye, Trout, and Crappie are all fish I’ve found that can be finicky with heavy lines.

Companies have come out with a variety of colors to assist fisherman in making the line as invisible as possible in the water. Moss green line is good for murky waters. But I generally stick with clear if I can. Also make sure you aren’t accidentally buying a hi-visibility line like bright yellow. These are meant to be used with leader lines so you can see the line above water but be invisible below the water.

pick right pound test fishing line walleye

Line Memory

A final reason for light line is that it has the least amount of “memory”. When line is put on any reel and sits for awhile, it adjusts to stay in that position. A heavier line is more likely to try and remain coiled like it was on a reel. Lighter line generally has better flexibility. If you use a spinning reel in particular, using heavy line will make loops in your reel during every cast that can be very frustrating to deal with. So staying as light as possible is always helpful.

So now the question is: if lighter line is better, why should I use a pound test heavier than the fish I’m after?

You don’t want to break off on a giant

Let’s say you’re bass fishing and you have 4 pound test because you normally only catch 2 pounders in your pond. You set the hook and you feel a monster bass – you fight him hard for awhile and you know he’s at least 8 pounds. Then as you near the bank, he pulls hard and your line snaps. Because it’s not meant to handle that big of a fish.

You don’t want to miss out on that once in a lifetime fish because you went with too light of line. This is the biggest reason you want to lean heavier than necessary by a little bit. Can you catch a 10 pound fish on 4 pound test? If you’re extremely careful fighting it, yes. Do you want to take the chance on it? Absolutely not.

You could be reeling in more than the fish

Often times you aren’t just reeling in a fish. If you catch a fish and it dives for a bunch of grass, you’ll be pulling in a few pounds of weeds with the fish. Even worse, if it dives for a brush pile, a light line is sure to break as soon as a decent size fish pulls into it. 

A great example of this is when frog fishing for bass. Most fisherman won’t use anything less than 20 pound test. Because they know that 3 pound bass might be in 10 pounds of grass, moss, lily pads, whatever that fish can dig into. So having a heavier line lets you pull in the fish PLUS whatever else may be coming in with it.

pick right pound test fishing line stock lilypads

Sometimes line will break lower than it's pound test

While we would all like to pretend we perfectly care for our fishing line, over time we leave them in imperfect conditions like heat, direct sun, and cold. We also fish around rocks, brush, and trees which cause knicks in the line and damage it every time we go fishing. So after a while, 10 pound test will break before 10 pounds of force is exerted on it.

Going with a pound test higher than what is needed for a fish helps combat this. Even if you have nicks in a 20 pound test line, it isn’t going to break with a little pull. 8 pound test can break off on a 2 pound fish if it has lots of nicks and hasn’t been cared for properly. So upsizing your line where possible is always good to combat this.

Row power also matters

Final considerations that should be taken into account include the rod and reel setup you’re using. If you use 4 pound test with a heavy rod – you will break the line everytime you set the hook. Or if you use 20 pound test with a light line – you’ll never have the backbone in the rod to set a hook. Instead, follow the general guidance below to match your rod with the pound test best suited for it. Also, every rod will display a recommended line size above it’s handle. So feel free to check there as well.

  • Extra Light/Light – Under 6 lb test
  • Light Medium – 4 to 8 lb test
  • Medium – 6 to 15 lb test
  • Medium Heavy – 12 to 25 lb test
  • Heavy – 20 lb test and over 

Finding that perfect balance

To get back to where we began – the perfect line size is small enough the fish won’t see it and allows for great flexibility and casting distance. But is also beefy enough to pull in every fish you’re going to catch without ever breaking, even if it hasn’t been cared for or you’re pulling in a tree limb with it. And it should also match the rod power that it’s paired with.

So take into account these factors and make your own determination. Are you fishing catfish (who don’t see well) and won’t be casting far or often? Use as heavy a line as you want. Or if you’ll be casting often in a crystal clear lake for a fish that can see well like trout – use a lighter line and you’ll be okay. 

Any other helpful tips for choosing pound test for your rods? Leave it below!

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