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Pro Tips - How to Choose the Right Line for Side-Drifting

Fishing the North State by kenny Priest,,

Fishing the North Coast by Kenny Priest
With some spare time on my hands this week due to the recent storms, I checked out a few of our local fishing guide’s web sites to see what they were up to during their time off the water, I ran across a particular item on guide John Klar’s page that caught my eye. He’s been answering questions each day from readers pertaining to winter steelhead fishing. One of the questions concerned the line Klar uses for different techniques. After reading his answer, I thought this could be very useful information to share with the readers of this column. After a quick phone call to Klar to run the idea by him, I then asked a few of the other local guides the type of line they use for side-drifting as well as pulling plugs. Here’s what they had to say:

John Klar (
“For side drifting, I use 15# P-Line CX Premium in clear fluorescent because I'm looking for two things in a line; fishability off of a spinning reel and visibility. CX Premium is a thin, supple line. Stiffer lines tend to spring off the reel when the bail is flipped, which creates casting issues. More importantly, I want my lines to sort of drape from the rod tip while the bait is drifting. I also get a great strength to diameter ratio with the CX Premium. I like the clear fluorescent color for side drifting because I can see it against the green backgrounds of the Smith and Eel Rivers. For leader, I use either 8# or 10# P-Line fluorocarbon depending on water height and clarity.

For plug fishing, I use 12# P-Line CXX X-tra strong in crystal clear. I want a line that is abrasion resistant and handles the shock of the violent strikes so commonly associated with this technique. I'm less concerned with diameter here, looking more for brute strength, and CXX gives me that. You wouldn't think line color would be as critical here since you're fishing straight downstream of the boat, but I want to know exactly where my line is entering the water so I can put the lure right off that limb or just outside the seam of current coming off that rock. I also splice an 18" piece of 20# CFX fluorocarbon to the end of my main line for added abrasion resistance.”

Brice Duci (
“For side-drifting with spinning reels, I have always been a Maxima Ultragreen user but just started using P-line CXX X-tra Strong. My main reason for using these lines is their abrasion resistance and strength. The downside is they have more memory. The P-Line seems to have less memory than the Maxima and is just as strong or stronger. For pulling plugs with casting reels, I use 12# or 14# P-line CXX X-tra Strong. I use the heavier lines in high water and the lighter lines in the low, clear conditions. For leaders I use the same as the main line or P-Line fluorocarbon. If I use the main type line, I drop down in line weight 2 pounds. For the fluorocarbon I use the same line rating. Even though they are rated the same, the fluorocarbon is not as strong and will break before the main line.”

Val & Gary Early (
“We are totally old school when it comes to line and are tried and true Maxima users. We generally use 12# main Ultragreen for steelhead fishing with 8# Ultragreen for leaders. Occasionally we will use the fluorocarbon line (8# or 10#) for leaders when the water is extremely clear, although running side-by-side with 8# Ultragreen, the bites are the same. We like the 12# main because it has a slightly bigger diameter and the lower flows at times will push it to drift better than the smaller diameter 10#. And you’ll lose a lot less gear.
For our plug rods, we like to run 12# Maxima main with 30# Spider Wire for leader material to avoid the twisting, turning, jumping steelhead from breaking off our best lure.”

Alan Borges (
“For side-drifting, I prefer 12# or 15# P-Line CX Premium clear fluorescent because it’s soft and visible. It’s very forgiving, lies on the water nicely and doesn’t have much memory. For leader line, I go with 10# Seaguar fluorocarbon. My plug rods are rigged with either 12# Maxima Ultragreen or 12# P-Line CXX. I like these lines because they’re tough and still dive well. If I’m plugging in clear water, I’ll splice in a three-foot leader of Seaguar fluorocarbon.”

Mike Coopman (
“For side-drifting, I use 10# Maxima Ultragreen. It’s not as soft as some of the other lines out there and I need to change it out often, but it’s strong. On the Smith, I can fish it at all different levels. If the water isn’t super clear, I’ll use it for leaders as well. When it gets clear, I’ll switch to either a 10# P-Line of Seaguar fluorocarbon. For pulling plugs, I go with 35# Power Pro braid. I like to use real soft rods, and the braid compensates for that. Without the stretch, I get maximum action from my plugs in fast water and maximum depth in deeper water.”

Tony Sepulveda (
“For my spinning rods, I use 12# Suffix Clear Blue. I like the way it lays on the reel, it’s really soft and easy to see. It’s also fairly inexpensive, which helps because I like to change it out often. For leader line, I’ll use either P-Line or Seaguar 10# fluorocarbon. I like to use 12# Maxima Ultragreen on my plug rods. I like it because it’s tough and strong and I don’t have to worry about it springing off the reel. If it’s real leafy or mossy, I’ll use a leader to keep the swivels on my plugs from getting fouled.”

Mike Stratman (
“For side-drifting, I use 15# CX Premium clear because its strong and when it’s paired with 10# P-Line fluorocarbon leader, I don’t lose very much of it. It also comes off the reel nice, which makes for easy casting and it’s easy for me to see. For my plug rods, I go with P-Line CXX X-tra strong in moss green. It’s thin enough to get my plugs down in deeper water and it’s extremely strong and abrasion resistance.”

Steve Huber (
“For side-drifting on the Trinity, which is where I spend my winters, I use P-Line Floroclear. I’ll use anywhere from 10# to 6#, depending on the water clarity. I like this line because it’s soft and comes off the reel easy. It’s also tough enough to handle large steelhead. For leader line, I use P-Line Fluorocarbon CFX. For my plug rods, I use 8# P-Line Fluorescent Green. It’s virtually bullet-proof and works well on the clear water of the Upper Trinity.”

[Editor's Note: Please share with our readers what you know that will enhance the experience of fishing in Northern California or Southern Oregon. What have you learned? Your expertise, no matter where you fish (fresh or saltwater) or what species you target, could be invaluable to other anglers. What not to do is just as important as what to do. Please send your strategies, ideas, tips, techniques and personal experiences to Please include your name and hometown.]

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