The importance of fly line cannot be overstated. Using the wrong type of fly line for a particular fly fishing situation is an absolutely wonderful way to have a bad day on the water.!
Unfortunately, fly lines, due to a daunting array of confusing terms and options that are available, are not that easy to figure out – especially for someone new to the sport of fly fishing.
So, to make things easier for people new to fly fishing but want to learn more about fly lines and their importance, we’ve created this Fly Lines Buyers Guide.
Use the wrong fly line weight and you can amusingly watch your flies land all over the place. Even worse, when you use a cheap or worn out fly line, you can also watch your sinking line submerge your dry flies.
The Importance of Fly Lines
Why are fly lines so important? Just like with fly rods and fly reels, fly lines need to match up with the types of fly fishing that you do. This match should be made precisely, too. Thus, if you have a 5 weight fly rod and a 5 weight fly reel, and it extremely important to make sure you have a 5 weight fly line. By not having a properly “balanced” fly rod outfit (which is where the fly rod, fly reel and fly line match in weight), the angler is very likely to have extreme difficulty in casting.
For example, using too light of a fly line for a particular fly rod will present severe casting challenges. Remember, in fly fishing, the weight of the fly line – not the fly itself – is what allows the angler to cast. The fly rod, as it is essential to casting, will not properly cast the wrong weight fly line. Thus, where the fly rod is “heavier” than the fly line, the fly rod will never be fully loaded (will not bend properly), since the weight of the fly line is not enough to properly bend the rod during the cast. Likewise, should the fly line be heavier than the fly rod, the fly rod will bend excessively during the cast, making line control an iffy proposition at best.
In essence, if you forget everything in this article, please try to remember this very simple thing. Make sure your fly line weight matches precisely the weight of the fly rod you are using as well as the weight of the fly reel you are using.
In an ideal world, you want to always go by this formula :
Fly Line Weight = Fly Rod Weight = Fly Reel Weight
Well, now that we’ve gone over the importance of fly lines, let’s dive into more technical details about fly lines.
Fly Line Weight & Measurement
All fly lines are given a weight measurement that is generally clearly shown on the box. This fly line measurement corresponds to the actual weight of the fly line, measured in grams. Happily, the fly line manufacturers, back in the 1960’s, ganged up and adopted a common standardized measurement for fly lines, suspecting that the weight of the fly line – when shown in grains – was likely to be more confusing than helpful.
This measurement standard lists the weight of the fly line on a numerical scale which runs from 1-14, with the lower the number the lighter the fly line will be. Thus, a fly line with a weight of 5 will be lighter than a fly line with a weight of 10.
For purposes of measuring a fly lines weight, only the first 30 feet of fly line is measured. The weighing of the fly line excludes any tapers (discussed later) that the fly line may have. Thus, if a fly line has a weight forward taper, the measurement begins on the first “level” 30 feet of the fly line after the taper.
In real life, for those interested, here is what the fly line numerical scale breaks down to in the terms of actual weight of the fly line.
|Fly Line #||Actual Weight in Grains||Fly Line #||Actual Weight in Grains|
One thing to be noted is that other fly line weights do exist. These fly lines are specialty lines, designed for very specific situations. Thus, from time to time, you may see some strange fly line weights on the market that don’t fall neatly into the scale above.
In short, fly lines come in different types of weight. The weight of a fly line is expressed in the form of a numerical scale that runs from 1-14, with 1 being the lightest.
Fly Line Taper
If there is anything that can confuse beginning fly anglers quickly about fly lines, it will be the taper of the fly line. There are a number of different tapers in a fly line, all of which are designed for differing uses and situations. Moreover, the tapers of a fly line are generally identified on a box of fly line in a rather strange way for people not familiar with how tapers are identified.
Happily, fly line taper isn’t that hard to figure out once you get the basics down, so let’s get started exploring fly line taper.
Fly Line Taper Explained
First, though, what is fly line taper, anyway? As mentioned, in fly fishing, the weight of the fly line is what allows for casting. Unlike in spin fishing, where the weight of the lure pulls out the line behind it when cast, in fly fishing, the weight of the fly line (combined with the action of the fly rod) is what propels the fly out onto the water.
Tapers are essentially adjustments to the fly line that make the fly line cast easier and better in particular situations. You see, most fly lines are not “level” – that is, the fly line will not weigh the same or be of uniform thickness throughout its length. Instead, fine adjustments are often made on the fly line that either increase its weight or width in key sections of the fly line. These adjustments to the fly line greatly facilitate casting and line control. These adjustments made to the fly line are lumped together and are known as fly line taper. In essence, the type of taper a fly line has describes the types of adjustments done to the fly line to make casting easier and line control better.
Different Types of Fly Line Tapers
There are quite a few fly line tapers available. The available fly line tapers include:
- Level Taper (L)
- Double Taper (DT)
- Weight Forward Taper (WF)
- Shooting Taper (ST)
The Level Taper (L)
Level taper fly lines are the easiest to understand and the least used in the sport of fly fishing. A fly line that has a level taper, in essence, has no taper! You see, a level taper fly line is of uniform weight and width for its entire length.
While at first blush a level taper fly line would seem ideal for fly fishing, in practice, much better lines are available. Level taper fly lines, while they float extremely well due to their even weight and width, are much more difficult to cast and control than other fly line tapers. And, since the weight of the fly line is even throughout, the fly line has a tendency to make kind of a racket when it hits the water. About the only plus side of this is that level tapered fly lines – when you can find them – are probably the least expensive fly lines available since no fancy processes go into making them better. Beginner anglers should stay well away from level taper fly lines as they are more difficult to cast than other tapers.
The Double Taper (DT)
A double taper fly line is a fly line that is heavy and thicker middle section, and then gradually loses both width and weight the closer it gets to the end of the fly line. What is important to remember about double taper fly line is that it is balanced – both ends of the fly line weigh the same and each end gradually increases in width and weight the closer it gets to the middle section of the fly line at an equal rate.
For example, a double taper fly line is 90 feet long. In the first 15 feet of the fly line (the end closest to the fly), the fly line increases both in width and weight as it travels towards the middle of the line. Upon reaching 15, the fly line reaches the middle section of the fly line – which is the maximum width and weight of the fly line. This middle section of the fly line continues for 60 feet, with the same weight and width. Then, in the final 15 feet of fly line (the end closest to the reel), the fly line begins to lose both width and weight at the same rate it was gained on the other end of the fly line.
Double taper fly lines use to be the most popular fly line, especially for trout fishing. The light taper on the front of the fly line allows for the fly line to land on the water without creating a spectacle, and the weighted middle of the fly line allows for solid general fly casting. The double taper line is also excellent for casting using either S casts or the roll cast, as the weight in the middle of the fly line makes this easier. The double taper fly line also allows it to be “reversed”. Should the front of the fly line begin to wear out, all you need to do is to turn the fly line around.
However, the double taper fly line, while still popular, has lost ground to the weight-forward taper. This taper is described next.
The Weight Forward Taper (WF)
The weight forward taper fly line is the most popular fly line on the market today – as well as being the most expensive.
A fly line that has a weight forward taper has extra weight and width built into the first 30 feet of the fly line, although some specialized lines extend or shorten this taper. The rest of the fly line will then be level, of equal weight and width for the remainder of the fly lines length. The advantages of a weight forward fly line include longer casts, the casting of larger flies and more effective casts in windy conditions.
One thing to remember – because extra weight and width are on one end of the fly line, it is crucial that the line be put on correctly. You want the extra weight and width of the fly line to be on the end of the fly line, not tied onto the reel! A weight forward taper fly line also cannot be reversed in the event the end of the line becomes cracked or damaged.
For beginner anglers, weight forward fly lines are the recommended fly line to get. They are easier to cast than other fly lines, allowing for better control and longer casts. Additionally, weight forward fly lines are always used when casting things like bass bugs and streamers – in short, heavy things.
The Shooting Taper (ST)
Shooting taper fly lines were initially designed for fly casting distance tournaments. Which should tell you about their function. A shooting taper fly line is a specialized fly line that is heavily weighted on the first 20 feet of fly line. Then, the remainder of the fly line is of a uniform thickness and weight but is much thinner than a traditional weight-forward fly line. The combination of extra weight and width of the first 20 feet of fly line, combined with a thinner line for the remaining length of the fly line, which reduces air resistance and drags on the fly rod guide, can greatly increase casting distance in the hands of an experienced angler.
Unfortunately, shooting tapers, while they are great for making very long casts, lack the delicacy needed for general all-around fly fishing. The line, due to the weight on the front of the line, can make a racket when it hits the water. Moreover, control of the fly line is not easy -, especially for new anglers. Finally, since the back end of the fly line is thinner than a standard fly line, it has a nasty tendency to coil and get knotted up. To avoid this, many anglers use a stripping basket.
For beginner anglers, a shooting taper fly line is not recommended. While a shooting taper fly line works very well in the hands of an experienced angler who needs to make very long distance casts and fly fish in high winds.
In summary, fly line taper is an expression of the types of adjustments made to the fly line to make casting and control of the fly line easier and more effective. There are four primary tapers of a fly line that you need to know: The Weight Forward Taper (WF), the Double Taper (DT), the Level Taper (L) and the Shooting Taper (ST). For most fly fishing situations, and especially for beginner anglers, a weight-forward fly line will generally be the best choice of fly line taper to use.
Fly Line Density
The density of a fly line refers to whether the fly line float or sinks. And, if the fly line sinks, how the fly line is designed to sink. There are five different types of fly line densities available.
These are the floating fly line, the sink-tip fly line, the intermediate sinking fly line, the sinking fly line and the fast-sinking fly line. Each type of fly line is described below.
- The floating fly line does just what the name suggests – the fly line floats for its entire length. Floating fly lines are both the easiest to cast as well as the most popular type of fly line. A floating fly line is what is used for all dry fly fishing as well as when fly fishing with many streamers, nymphs, and wet flies. The reason floating fly line works well for many types of sub-surface fly fishing is because the weight of the nymphs/streamers, especially when weights are attached, will pull down the leader, allowing adequate sub-surface fly fishing in most conditions. In general, if you can only own one fly line, make sure it is a floating line.
- A sink-tip fly line is a fly line that sinks for the first 10-30 feet. The remainder of the fly line will continue to float. The sink-tip fly line is most frequently used for nymph and streamer fishing, as the sink-tip assists getting the flies down in the water while a large amount of floating line still allows for fairly easy pickups of the fly line off the water. One thing to be noted, though, is that most sink-tip fly lines do tend to sink quickly. Thus, if you want your fly into the water only a little bit, you may be better off using another type of sinking line
- An intermediate sinking fly line is a fly line that will sink entirely but at a relatively slow rate. Intermediate sinking fly lines are ideal where you want to submerge your fly just a little bit, with the fly line very slowly settling down into the water. It is most popularly used when fishing lakes that have lots of weeds and you want to fly to hold just above the weeds and vegetation.
- A sinking fly line is a fly line that will sink relatively quickly at a uniform rate. The actual sink rate of a sinking fly line will vary considerably and will be listed on the box. A sinking fly line can sink anywhere from 2 to 10 inches per second. Which sink rate is best really depends on how far down you need to take the fly and how fast you need to get it there. For fast moving water or real deep pools, a fast sink rate will be needed. Otherwise, a slow sink rate generally works well while making things easier to pick up and retrieve the fly line.
- Finally, there is a fast-sinking fly line. Fast sinking fly line, as the name suggests, sinks like a stone. Once again, the sink rate will vary from fly line to fly line and will be mentioned on the box. This type of fly line is only really needed for saltwater fly fishing or when fly fishing down deep in lakes.
For the beginner angler who will be fly fishing rivers, a floating fly line is a mandatory first fly line. Once the angler becomes proficient in casting, the sink-tip fly line is an excellent second fly line to have. A sinking-tip fly line allows an angler fishing in rivers to get their nymphs and wet flies down quite quickly into holes and in fast water, while still providing control over the fly line. On the other hand, if the angler will be primarily fly fishing lakes, an intermediate sinking line is a good choice, since the line will take the fly down slowly and because the fly line is still easy to cast. Full sinking fly lines are really only needed in specialized fly fishing circumstances or when fishing down deep in lakes and in saltwater.
Fly Line Color Guide
There are quite a few colors of fly lines available. Some floating fly lines are bright yellow, others are fluorescent green, and still, others are a pumpkin orange. So, with all the fly line colors available, which one should you choose.
For sinking lines, it is generally best to choose a line that is darker in color, such as brown. While this point is open to argument and debate, most anglers seem to conclude that when sub-surface fishing, fish may be less apt to see a darker color fly line than a bright one.
However, for topwater or floating lines, the color of the line is generally immaterial as far as the fish goes. Whatever the color of the fly line, when looking up, a fish is bound to see it except for at night (when a dark line may prove beneficial). A fish looking up towards the surface of the water will see the fly line regardless of the color since the line itself is lit up from the light of the sky – and thus casting a shadow over the fish. Since this is generally accepted (although arguments do rage on about this), it is generally best to choose a fly line color that is easy for YOU to see.
Brightly colored fly lines are much easier for the angler to see, and seeing the fly line is crucial for successful fly fishing – especially when fly fishing with nymphs. This is especially true in low light conditions, where actually seeing your fly is almost impossible, and the angler must instead rely on the actions of the fly line.
In sum, for topwater fly fishing, choose a fly line that is easy for you to see in all lighting conditions. For sub-surface fishing, choose a darker color fly line (most sinking lines are dark in color, so you won’t have many choices!).
Fly Line Codes
Now, let’s move on to how to decipher the various codes that are found on fly line boxes around the world. Any angler who has looked for fly lines undoubtedly knows that lots of abbreviations and codes are used to identify the fly line. So, here are some examples of how to identify fly lines when looking at them in the store.
- DT-4-F: This code means that the fly line is a double taper fly line, with a weight of 4, and floats
- WF-5-F: This code means that the fly line is a weight-forward taper fly line, with a weight of 5, and floats.
- WF-10-S: This code means that the fly line is a weight-forward taper fly line, with a weight of 10, and is a sinking line. How fast the line sinks (it’s sink rate) will be listed on the box.
- DT-7-F/S – This code means that the fly line is a double taper fly line, with a weight of 7, and is a sink-tip fly line. The sink rate of the fly line, as well as how much of the line actually sinks, will be listed on the box.
- L-5-I: This code means that the fly line is a level taper fly line, with a weight of 5, and is an intermediate sinking line. The sink rate of the fly line will be listed on the box.
- ST-6-F: This code means that the fly line is a shooting taper fly line, with a weight of 6, and floats.
Fly Line Summary
Well, if you’ve read this far, you should have a good knowledge about fly lines. But, let’s sum things up.
Fly Line Weight – The weight of a fly line should be the same as the weight of your fly rod and fly reel. Using the wrong weight fly line will unbalance a fly rod, leading to poor casting and long days on the water.
Fly Line Taper – The taper of a fly line refers to enhancements made to the fly line to provide better casting. The most popular taper is the weight-forward taper, which is the ideal fly line for a beginner. The weight forward taper fly line is also the most versatile line available.
Fly Line Density – The density of a fly line refers to whether the line sinks or not. A floating fly line should always be the first line used by beginners as it is the most versatile as well as the easiest to cast. Other fly lines that sink all have their uses, though, so more experienced anglers – especially those that fish in lakes, saltwater or subsurface with nymphs, should also pick up a sinking fly line that meets their fishing needs.
Fly Line Color – For topwater fly fishing, get a fly line that is easy for you to see in all fishing conditions.