Outdoors, by J.D. Richey, Journal Columnist (JDRicheyOutdoors@aol.com) You have angling skills that would make Zane Grey, Hemingway or Ike Walton envious, matched with the sweetest $300 super graphite rod, the most buttery smooth, three dozen ball bearing reel and the deadliest lure ever built. But you?re still only as good as your line. It?s the critical link between you and every fish you hook, yet the importance of line is often overlooked. Let?s be straight up here. With all the sexy new rods and lures and boats out there, fishing line is about as exciting as toilet-mounting hardware But it?s damned important. Why go through the pain of losing that huge brown trout you spent two years looking for because your line was too old? Don?t let line failure be the reason the salmon of a lifetime is still swimming and not on your den wall! So folks, let?s roll up our sleeves and get down to the ugly business of making sure your line is in tip-top shape. Let?s get it out of the way now so we can all fish with confidence this summer. Quality counts One of the most important things you can do to improve your odds in this game is to buy quality line. This is one place you don?t want to get chinchy. I?d rather you fished with top grade line and a $10 Snoopy rod & reel combo than vise-versa. Go with stuff like Berkley, Stren, Maxima, Ande, Izorline, P-Line, Spider Line and Sufix and, as appealing as it may seem, lay off the 10,000 yards for 99 cents deals you come across. Cheap line is, well, cheaply made and there is a huge difference! It breaks down quickly, has lower breaking strength and is prone to developing a ?memory? ? or lots of coils in layman?s terms. Change up Now don?t think that just because your forked out a little extra cash for the better line, you?re home free. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you?re also going to have to change your line often to ensure maximum performance ? even with the good stuff. How often? Well, that depends on a lot of factors including how often you fish, where you fish (fresh or salt?) and how you fish. For example, a guy who jigs for lingcod in the ocean is going to see accelerated wear and tear on his line because it will come in contact with lots of abrasive rocks, sharp fish teeth and other assorted hazards. Exposure to saltwater doesn?t help, either, and nor does the constant stretching that will take place when he yo-yo?s his heavy lure off the bottom all day. Conversely, a woman who fishes Power Bait at Rollins Lake for planted rainbows will find that her line lasts much longer because it won?t be subjected to harsh conditions. I often change my line at least once a week, sometimes every other day. Yes, it seems a bit excessive, but you have to remember that I?m on the water more than most people and I just can?t stand the thought of a client losing a fish because I was too cheap or lazy to keep fresh line on my reels. Check your line for signs of flaking and cracking. If you see any degradation whatsoever, change it! Another way to check the status of your mono is to make a cast and then clamp down tightly on the line with two fingers of your rod hand. Reel in and if you find that a white, chalky residue rubs off on your fingers, your line is toast. Spooling up Line twist can also lead to mono failure, so be careful when putting a fresh spool onto your reel ? it?s extremely important to make sure your line goes on the right way. If you have a spinning reel, have somebody hold the spool of line so that the label faces you as you reel. You don?t want the spool of line to revolve as you reel ? the line should just come off in big, soft coils. When spooling up a baitcaster, have your helper run a pencil through the hole on the spool of line to serve as an axle and then fill your reel while your buddy applies light pressure to the revolving spool. In either case, be sure to wind the line tightly onto the reel. Loops tend to form in loose line, which can cause all kinds of problems for you later. Tame the split ends Like hair, the working end of your fishing line can start to break down and fray over time. The more you fish, the more likely the lower sections of line will get brittle, kinky and nicked, so I like to cut off the lower 8 to 10 feet of line above the lure frequently. Storage A good way to prolong the life of your fishing line is to limit its exposure to sunlight. The sun?s UV rays are a major cause of line breakdown, so store your reels in a dark closet or storage box. Also, if you have extra spools of line, keep them out of the light as well. This simple little tidbit will dramatically increase the working life of your line. When you fish the ocean, bay or Delta, rise your line down with freshwater after each use. Like UV light, saltwater is hard on line and cause premature failure ? especially when the line dries after being submerged. OK, phew, that wasn?t so bad, was it? We got through what we had to do and now it?s time to go out there and fish. Fish in peace knowing that the critical link between you and that trophy isn?t the weakest link. J.D. Richey is a 1986 Placer High graduate, and his outdoors pieces have been published nationally. He can be reached at JDRicheyOutdoors@aol.com.