As a fly fisherman, you might know that fly fishing is a bit different from other forms of fishing because the fly line is the foundation of the tackle, not the reel and rod. That’s because flies don’t have any weight, so they can’t help with casting.
In fact, some flies can even make casting more difficult because of their air resistance. That’s where the fly line comes in. It adds weight and helps with casting.
Types of Fly Lines: Floating, Sinking, Sink-Tip
There are a ton of options when it comes to fly lines – they come in different tapers, weights, colors, and lengths. It can be overwhelming, even for experienced fly anglers. But there are a few main things to consider when choosing a fly line: the line weight, line taper, and line type (floating, sinking, sink-tip). Getting this right will help you set up your entire fly-fishing rig correctly.
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Understanding Fly Line Tapers
Fly lines are designed to be the casting weight in fly fishing tackle. Because the fly itself doesn’t have any weight, the fly line gives the fly fisherman something to cast. There are fly lines designed for different types of fish, from small brook trout or panfish to larger species like salmon, steelhead, and saltwater fish.
Matching Fly Lines to Rods
Fly line manufacturers weigh the first 30 feet of different thicknesses of line and assign them a weight based on grams. Rods are designed to work best with fly lines of the same weight. For example, a 5-weight line and a 5-weight rod are considered a good match by most fly fishing tackle manufacturers.
Guide Pro Tip: It might seem like I’m talking in a “secret” code. Stuff like 9-foot, 4-piece, fast action, 5 weight is a lot to get you head around. To help read my article👉 What Do The Numbers Mean on a Fly Rod
Range of Fly Line Weights
Fly lines come in weights ranging from 0 to 15, with 0 being the lightest and 15 being the heaviest and/or thickest. You might use a 0-weight line with a corresponding rod for small fish like brook trout, while a heavier line and stiffer rod (like a 15-weight) would be better for larger saltwater species like billfish or tuna.
Recommended Fly Lines by Type of Fish
Here is a table with some recommendations for fly line weights for different types of fish:
|Fish species||Recommended fly line weight|
|Small trout or panfish||0-3 weight|
|Medium-sized trout or bass||4-6 weight|
|Large trout or salmon||7-9 weight|
|Saltwater species (e.g. bonefish, tarpon)||8-12 weight|
|Very large saltwater species (e.g. tuna, marlin)||10-15 weight|
Keep in mind that these are just general guidelines and the actual fly line weight you should use will depend on a variety of factors, including the type of rod you are using and the size and strength of the fish you are targeting. You may need to experiment with different line weights to find what works best for you in different situations.
Introduction to Fly Line Tapers
Tapers are a way to customize the line to suit different types of fishing and conditions. For example, if you’re using an 8-weight fly line for bass, you might have different needs than a steelhead angler using the same weight rod. Bass bugs are large, wind-resistant flies that can be tough to cast. To make it easier, you might switch to a 9-weight rod, but that could be too stiff and take the fun out of the fishing.
That’s where tapers come in. By moving more of the line’s weight toward the front of the fly line, you can increase the effective, usable weight of the line without changing the overall weight of the line. This is called a weight-forward taper, and it’s great for casting bigger, more air-resistant flies.
Double-Taper Fly Line
On the other hand, some trout fishermen noticed that the end of the fly line spooked fish in slow, clear waters like spring creeks. To solve this, they came up with the double-taper fly line, which is heavier in the middle and tapers toward each end. One cool thing about this line is that you can flip it over on the reel and get the usability and life of two fly lines.
Level Fly Line
Level fly line is a consistent diameter the full length of the line. Similar to the “running” line of a modern weight forward fly line.
Level line is used in two different fly line setups. Both are some what specialized for the style of fishing and water. The first is in competitive fly fishing and the second is spey casting.
Euro-style nymphing requires the fly to sink deep and fast. Which allows the angler to have a direct connection with the fly, this method dominated the fly fishing competitions. The anglers realized that a 100% monofilament setup worked best, regulations were put in place around using actual fly lines instead of thin monofilament.
Spey casting whether “Skagit or Scandi” uses a heavily weighted shooting head to propel the fly using a longer fly rod and water loading technique. These fly lines are “tuned” to the water conditions and fly rod weight. The shooting head is attached to a level line for ease of handling.
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Recommended Fly Line
For a fly fisher starting out on their fly fishing journey, I recommend getting a weight forward fly line matched to the fly rod or over-lined one weight. (Matched means the fly line weight and fly rod weight align) Get a cheat fly line in the beginning, unless the fly rod was purchased as a combo.
The reason I recommend a cheat line (less than $25) is the angler should experiment with different line weights on the fly rod. As much as I’d like to say rods, lines and anglers work in perfect harmony, they don’t. The caster is probably the biggest variable. Style, power and timing all come into play with how a fly rod casts.
If you want to shortcut this experimentation, get a high quality fly rod combo like the Sage Foundation (full article here).
What fly line is best? Scientific Anglers Amplitude is amazing. The downside is that it’s expensive – well over $100. It cast like a dream though, very low memory and stays flexible in a mid-range of temperatures. Check the current prices on Amazon 👉 Scientific Anglers Amplitude.
If you do get the SA Amplitude remember that it is sized 1/2 a weight heavy. So a 6 weight fly line is more like a 6 1/2 weight.
Types of Sinking Fly Lines
In addition to floating lines, there are also sinking lines for presenting flies beneath the surface of the water. These come in two main types: full sinking and sink-tip.
Full Sinking Lines
Full sinking lines are weighted from one end to the other and are great for presenting nymphs or streamers in deeper water or fast currents. They come in different subcategories based on sink rate, such as slow sink, medium sink, and fast sink.
Sink-tip lines are a combination of floating and sinking line, with a sinking section at the front and a floating section at the back. They come in different lengths and sink rates as well.
Shooting Head Lines
Another type of fly line that can be floating or sinking is the shooting head, which is a removable, weighted section that can be attached to a lighter fly line or heavy monofilament. It allows you to adjust the weight of the line to match different fishing conditions.
One More Cast
Fly lines come in a range of weights, tapers, and types to suit different fishing needs. Line weight, taper, and type can all affect performance and handling. Sinking lines are available in full sinking and sink-tip versions, with different sink rates and lengths. Carefully selecting the right fly line can improve casting and increase fishing success.
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