Fly Fish with Sinking Fly Line

How to Fly Fish with Sinking Fly Line

As anglers grow more comfortable with a fly rod, the methods and opportunities to target fish drastically increase. The transition into new methods or equipment is often an overwhelming experience for anglers. Knowing what flies, line, rods and techniques that work best isn’t always easy to understand. One of the most underutilized methods of fishing is with a sinking line!  

Most fly fishing setups are rigged with weight forward floating line and that’s as advanced as anglers will get. Using sinking line can open opportunities to land more and extremely large fish. Getting lower in the water column will act in the favor of the angler!

What is Sinking Fly Line and When to Use it

Sinking fly line is usually between 80 and 90-feet with the entire line or front portion of the line sinking at a particular rate. These lines are used in rivers and lakes and will sink anywhere from a quarter or half inch per second to a couple inches per second.

Anglers use sinking line when fish are feeding lower in the water column and they need to control the depth of their flies. It can be used in both moving and still water. If the feeding zone for flies is lower in the water column, sinking line is going to get you there much faster than floating line! It’s an extremely useful type of fly line!

Sink Tip vs. Full Sinking Line

Before we get too far into this guide, it’s important to describe the difference between a full sinking line and a sinking tip line. A full sinking line performs exactly how it sounds. The entire line is going to sink a specific rate and these lines are commonly used when fishing lakes! The full sink line sits in the feeding zone for almost the entire time as you strip!

A sink tip line only has a portion of the line falling in the water column. The sinking part of the line ranges anywhere from 4 to 30 or so feet. Anglers who fish deeper faster moving water with fish feeding on the bottom often use this line. As you strip, the line won’t immediately shoot to the surface. It’ll stay in the feeding zone for a bit longer than a floating line.

Fishing Sinking Line in Rivers

Fishing sinking line in rivers can be a bit intimidating. Many anglers choose to fish a sink tip line in a river instead of an entire sinking line. Since your fly is going to sit low in the water column, you have to be careful with how long you let your fly drift. The longer you let your fly drift, the more of a chance you have at snagging your fly.

However, the benefits of using a sink tip line in a river are vast! If you’re targeting big fish that are low, then a streamer on a sink tip line is going to get you where you need to meet the fish. You don’t have to cast as far upstream to get your fly lower in the water column.

The weighted fly and added weight is going to help! Many anglers who target salmon and steelhead on a regular basis use sink tip line regularly!

When you’re using sink tip line in rivers, make sure you pick your spot you want your fly to be at its lowest point. If you’re fishing a pool, cast upstream of the pool a bit and let it fall in the water for a few seconds before you start stripping.

Always give the line a bit of time to reach that necessary depth. Even though your fly may be drifting down river, it still needs time to fall in the water column. Be careful of letting your fly float directly through structure. You don’t want to spend the majority of your time retrieving a snagged fly.

Fishing Sinking Line in Lakes  

Fly fishing a lake isn’t a simple task. There are multiple factors that can complicate the process but utilizing a sinking line can you help you get closer to fish and cover more water as a result. The full sink line will help keep the fly in the feeding zone for almost the entire time you are retrieving it.

If you use a floating line, whenever you strip, your fly is moving vertically towards the surface of the water. Fish in lakes spend time deeper near structure. Cast your line, let it fall for a few seconds and then you can begin your retrieve.

While being at the appropriate depth is important for success on lakes, your retrieve style also needs to match the feeding habits of the fish. Slow retrieval, short jerks as well as a variety of other retrieval methods are going to allow you to potentially land fish.

Again, remember not to spend too much time with your fly near structure while using full sink line. It’s going to find its way onto the structure and often get snagged. If this happens, you lose time, gear and potentially blow a very fishy area! It takes trial and error, but the more you can keep your fly moving the water, the better chance you have at landing fish.

How to Set Up a Fly Rod for Sinking Fly Line

When you’re using sinking line, a 6 or 7-weight fast action rod is a smart choice. The fast action has enough power to lift the line out of the water without too much drag interrupting the process. You need the power to get the line up and into your false casts. That fast action rod is going to do the trick.

I took the below from my fly fishing class – If your want to learn how to setup a fly rod for dry fly fishing attend my FREE Video Workshop at this link –

Setting Up a Fly Rod for Sinking Fly Line
Setting Up a Fly Rod for Sinking Fly Line

Bring a Second Spool

If think it may be necessary to use sinking or sink tip line at some point throughout your fishing excursion, then it’s not a bad idea to bring a second spool with some attached. If you only go to the water with sinking line, you’re limiting yourself in the ways you can fish.

You never want to get to the water expecting to fish deep only to have the fish feeding near the surface the entirety of the day. By bringing an extra spool, you can easily change the equipment to whatever type of fishing is necessary.

Tapered Leader

Leader is an important aspect of your setup regardless of what type of line you’re fishing. However, getting it right when using sinking line is vital. You’re most likely going to be using streamers if you’re using sinking line and an extra long or thin leader is going to put you at a disadvantage.

Use leader somewhere between 0 and 3x. Also, make sure you don’t tie on anything longer than 7 or 8 feet. A tapered leader isn’t a bad option when using sinking line. As long as the leader taper isn’t too thin that your fly isn’t going to be able to handle the pressure of a larger fish!  

Guide Tip: Learn all about tapered leaders in this article – What is a Fly Fishing Leader

Also, you don’t need tippet when using a 7.5-foot leader on sinking line. If you’re using streamers, you aren’t necessarily trying to stay hidden in the water. Streamers are big and flashy enough that fish will be drawn to the fly rather than line that may be attached to it.

The next decision you have to make with your leader is whether or not you need nylon or fluorocarbon. Nylon leader is more likely to float than fluorocarbon. Plus, it’s cheaper so many anglers choose to use it! However, remember that when you’re using a sinking line, you don’t need a leader that’s going to float. You need it to stay deep with your line!

Fluorocarbon line sinks and is much less visible underwater than nylon. If you’re fishing any sort of subsurface presentation, then fluorocarbon is the go to option. It’s easy to turn the flies over and it’s going to stay at the same level as your sinking line. Do yourself a favor and spend a bit more money on fluorocarbon leader when using sinking line. You’ll likely find yourself with more fish.

Straight Leader

Straight leader is also an option for anglers using sinking line. If you know you’re after trophy fish, five or six feet or straight fluorocarbon line is smart. Use 1 or 2x line to make sure you don’t get broken off by anything.

It’s not a bad idea to ask a local fly shop what their preference might be before you begin fishing. They’ll have information on what is going to work best for you!

Flies for Sinking Line

Again, streamers are the most common option for anglers looking to use sinking line. Streamers are flies that imitate baitfish, crayfish or any other sort of larger prey that fish enjoy eating. They sit lower in the water column and can be drifted or swung. These flies are a blast to use!

Streamers are found in either weighted or unweighted options. Weighted streamers have a beadhead or some sort of dumbbell eye attached to them. The weighted flies create more momentum when you’re casting and fall in the water column at a faster rate.

A non-weighted streamer gets a bit heavier as it takes on water, but these flies can represent emerging patterns. The deeper the fish, the more weight you’re going to need on your fly. Some fish don’t love the flash that a beadhead or weight can create in the water, but this is rarely an issue.

Great fly options:       

  • Clouser Minnows- Clouser Minnows are staples within the streamer world. They are a great representation of a minnow and they come in dozens of different colors. If you’re fishing an area with quite a few baitfish, the Clouser should do the job. They come in size 2 to 6.
  • Muddler Minnows- Muddler Minnows are most commonly used to imitate Sculpin. They’re found anywhere from size 2-12. They work great on sinking line because they won’t hold your line up in the water and will have a natural appearance that deep in the water column.
  • Woolly Bugger- Every fly angler knows the value of a Woolly Bugger. These flies represent baitfish, crayfish and a variety of things in between. These are fished from size 4-8 in several different colors. Black and olive green have proven to be the most successful. Do yourself a favor and carry a few of these in your box.
  • Sex Dungeon- This articulated streamer is a beast. It’s often 3 to 5 inches long and has two hooks. It is a front heavy fly and almost behaves like a jerk bait. If you’re targeting large bass or trout in still water, the Sex Dungeon is a necessity. Make sure you check with your local game and fish department to understand their regulations on number of hooks you can use.

How to Cast Sinking Fly Line

Now that you have your rig set up, it’s time to get your fly into the water. When you’re casting a sinking line compared to a floating line, you’ll immediately notice a difference. A sinking line is much more challenging to get out of the water than a floating line. With floating lines, you’re pulling the majority of the line of the surface of the water, so you don’t have as much drag.

With sinking line, you’re the majority of the line out of the water so you’re going to be met with quite a bit of tension.

  1. To create the most efficient start to your casting, strip in the majority of your line and then lift out of the water.
  2. Once your line is in the air, you don’t have to completely change your form, but small adjustments do need to be made. You’re going to have to increase your arm movement and motion a bit to achieve full loops. This is going to help prevent tangles!
  3. Quite a few of your sinking lines will have a shooting head. Therefore, you don’t need nearly as many back casts as you might think. Make one or two solid back casts and shoot your line toward your target.
  4. You’ll be able to achieve some serious distance with a sinking line.

Best Sinking Line

A solid sinking line has a few features that make it great! First, an accurate sink rate. Many companies make a variety of sinking lines, but not all of the sink rates line up with what is advertised. You don’t want a line that is advertised to sink at 1 inch a second to fall at 3 or 4 inches.

Also, a quality sinking line has a specific makeup. If you have a full sink line that’s 80 feet, you want the running line to be around 40 feet, the rear taper to be somewhere around 3 feet, a body around 30 feet and a front taper also around 3 feet. This will get your line down quickly and also be extremely easy to cast. Too many companies’ lines have a poor makeup!

Recommended Sinking Fly Line

The Scientific Anglers SONAR fly line is some of the best sinking line on the market. First of all, SA is perhaps the most reputable brand when it comes to fly line. Their products are tried and true and perform the exact right way. Scientific Anglers also makes Orvis fly lines (Orvis bought SA some years ago) Highly recommended and spooled on my reel. Check pricing and reviews on Amazon with this link – Scientific Anglers SONAR fly line

Last Cast – with Sinking Line

Fishing with sinking line takes time! Many anglers get hung up on fishing one particular way but lose out on quite a few fish as a result. Explore the world of sinking line especially if you fish quite a few lakes and deeper rivers. You’ll find yourself with more fish and have the opportunity to learn a new skill. 

Are you looking for some great How To Fly Fish Articles? Checkout this list:

Hi David Humphries Owner of Guide Recommended. I love everything to do with fly fishing. Casting, Tying, YouTube, writing about it and even teaching. I’ve got a FREE video workshop teaching how to dry fly fish at this link How to Fly Fish

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