Line is one of those necessary evils of fishing – without it, you’re not fishing in the traditional sense. Yeah, there are those who would argue a spear or net is more traditional than rod and reel, but I don’t consider those forms sportfishing. In the sportfishing sense, line it the conduit between you and the fish. Buy low quality line and you’re bound to have a bad day, buy quality line and you’re bound to complain about its cost. Where’s the happy medium?
For the last 15-plus years or so there’s been a lot of complaints about line prices – especially when you look into fluorocarbon lines and even some of the superlines such as spectra braids. Fluorocarbon lines are generally twice as much to fish with as standard nylon monofilament lines but under certain applications will outperform its nylon brother. Fluorocarbon line also doesn’t need to be changed as often as nylon either, so if you can get twice the use out of it, that actually decreases the cost by half.
Superlines, on the other hand, although more expensive, can be fished an entire season in some cases. It may hurt the pocketbook on the initial purchase, but if you compare filling a reel up with nylon line after every trip for a full season, the braid price really is cheaper.
So what were some of the line technologies of the past and how do they compare with today’s state-of-the-art? Well, I happen to have a couple of 1930s vintage South Bend catalogs that show all what that famous company had to offer. It was pretty eye-opening what I saw.
For one thing, all the lines offered were made of Japanese silk and braided – folks, braid wasn’t invented in the 1990s. These lines were offered in a number of sizes (see the catalog pages), colors, costs and styles. One interesting fact of the South Bend “Oreno” and “Obite” lines is that nearly all of them were offered in only a 50-yard spool, the only exception to this was the 50¢-Oreno line, which was offered in a 25-yard spool.
If you read each description of the lines offered, you’ll also notice that they specifically state whether the line is waterproof or not. Non-waterproofed lines had to be taken off the reel after each trip in order to dry it out. If this wasn’t done, the line would rot.
The most amazing bit of information in this catalog, in my eyes, was the cost of the line. A 50-yard spool would cost the angler anywhere from 80¢ to $3.75 – in 1939 dollars. In today’s money that’s a range between $13.41 and $62.89 – for a 50-yard spool. Makes Sunline FC Sniper seem cheap, doesn’t it?
Having never fished lines of this type before, I’m not sure how they held up under the daily stress of fishing or how long they actually lasted (maybe Bill Sonnett will speak up here and fill in some of those gaps). One thing for certain, though, fishing was an expensive hobby even back in the 30s. If you add the cost of a bamboo rod, stainless steel casting reel and line, I’m amazed anyone but the elite could afford to fish.