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June 20, 2019 4 min read

Whether you’re just getting started with fly fishing or you’re an intermediate fly angler, choosing the right fly line for the right application is critical to have more chances at catching your quarry.   In today’s world, fly lines come in various tapers and weights for different uses – there are even species-specific fly lines!  While having options is generally a good thing, having too many options can make selecting the right fly line feel like grocery shopping for a breakfast cereal (seriously, the cereal options are flat out overwhelming!).  In this post, we are going to break down fly lines into their functional uses and explain basic fly line terminology to put you on the right fly line for your water.

Floating Versus Sinking Lines

Keep in mind that a fly line is simply a delivery system – we are casting the weight of our fly line to propel a near weightless fly to a targeted location.  At the end of the day, all fly lines, floating or sinking, are designed with this basic goal in mind.  

Floating Lines

Floating lines are arguably the most versatile type of fly line and are useful for a variety of applications in fly fishing.  They are also the easiest to cast and to mend on a drift.  While designed for fishing dry flies, a floating line can also be used to fish streamers and nymphs!  By simply adding a sinking leader to your floating line, you can fish flies at greater depths. 

Sinking Lines

As you might have guessed, sinking lines are all about getting down to fish that are holding at depth below the surface.  While more difficult to cast then a floating line, using a sinking line opens the world of fly fishing up to lakes and other still-water fisheries!  Sinking lines are available in full sinking lines and sink tip lines, and are specified for different sink rates, from half an inch per second to 7 inches per second.

  • Full Sinking Lines. With full sinking lines, the full length of the fly line sinks at the same rate.  These kinds of lines are essential for fishing lakes.  The advantage of a full sink line is that the fly remains at depth (and in the feeding zone) for longer during retrieve than it would be using a floating line with a sink tip. If you want to find those Northern Pike or Lake Trout holding deep, use a full sinking line!  

  • Sink Tips.With a sink tip, only the tip section of the line is designed to sink.  These fly lines are easier to cast then a full sink line and are more effective in moving water.  Ranging from a few feet to 20 feet or more, (with longer tips sinking much quicker), sink tips are often used on rivers to locate trout holding in deeper pools. 

Tapers

At one time, fly lines were simple, level lines, with the entire length of fly line having the same diameter.  Today, most fly anglers prefer to use tapered fly lines.  Tapered lines have a thicker diameter section referred to as a belly section.  From either side of the belly section, the line tapers down to a thinner diameter section.  There are two primary types of tapered lines, weight forward and double taper.

  • Weight Forward (WF). With a weight forward taper, the belly (most of the weight) of the fly line is in the last 20 or 35 feet of the line before it tapers down to a thinner tip section.  The belly section is preceded by 40-50 feet of thinner diameter running line, which functions similarly to backing.   A weight forward taper is designed to load the rod quickly, enabling the angler to shoot line and make further casts with less false casting.  Another advantage of a weight forward line is that having most of the weight at the front of the line helps provide the energy needed to cast bigger flies (bass bugs) and to cut through the wind.
  • Double Taper (DT).The double taper fly line has a symmetrical design with a much longer belly section that runs an equal distance from both the front taper (to the tip section) to the back taper (to the running line).  A less aggressive design than the weight forward line, the double taper excels in situations where a delicate presentation is paramount (think fishing dries to wary trout).  In addition, the double taper is also an economic choice as you are essentially are getting two tapered lines in one.  When one side of the fly line begins to show signs of wear, you can simply reverse the line on the spool and use the other half!

Weights

Fly rods, fly reels and fly line are all rated in weights (1-weight all the way to 12-weight+!).  Generally speaking, the weight of your fly line should be consistently paired with a rod and reel in the same weight.  Choosing the weight of your fly line should be primarily driven by what you will be pursuing with larger weights being appropriate for larger quarry.

  • Consider a fly line in the 1 – 3 weight class for panfish and smaller trout,
  • A fly line in the 4 – 6 weight may be appropriate for a variety of species, from bass to larger trout and even walleye.
  • Use at least a 7-weight fly line for steelhead and large bass.
  • For salmon and larger salt water species an 8-weight fly line or larger is a safe bet.
  • Consider a fly line in the 10-12 weight class for musky and large pike.

Flying High

Equipped with a basic knowledge of the different types of fly lines you are now ready to make solid, confident decisions about what fly line you will need for different applications.  Get ready to elevate your fly fishing game to a whole new level and fly higher than ever before!

 


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