Why It's Important to Buy a Quality Fly Line

The right fly line is imperative for perfecting your cast and catching fish out on the water! Fly Fishing Expert Joseph Smith explains how to choose the right line!

Several fly reels laying together.

Photo by Joseph Smith

Fly fishers often get excited, focus on their rods and reels, and forget an important part of their gear: their fly line. True, picking a quality fly is essential for catching fish, and picking a quality fly rod with a good grip is important for casting. You may even spend some time contemplating your reel purchase, but do not overlook your fly line. True, the action of your fly rod and how well you practice your casts will reflect your casting ability, but your fly line also plays a significant role. Aside from your fly rod, your fly line will make the biggest difference in your fishing abilities. Choosing the right fly line is of paramount importance. A quality line should cast well, not have excessive coils, and last you more than one season. In this article, I will walk you through the attributes of a quality fly line and discuss what you should be looking for when you pick your next line.

Line Types

For beginners, there are only two things to worry about: weight and density. After that, I will cover some other features in another section, but this is where the focus should be.

Weight

A fly line laying on a table with a chart of fly line weight.

Photo by Joseph Smith

The weight corresponds to the number on the fly line. The American Fly Fishing Trade Association (AFFTA) has developed a weighting system based on the weight of the first 30 feet of fly line in grains. This number corresponds to the number assigned to a fly rod. Hence, a 5-weight fly line is designed to be cast on a 5-weight fly rod. It is a key point to remember. Matching up the line with the rod is crucial for both rod and line to work harmoniously for accurate, long casts. In all fairness, heavier fly lines load fly rods easier.

With the advent of faster action fly rods that are more difficult to load, fly line companies have technically started to cheat. Most 5-weight fly lines are actually 5.5 or even 6 weights, but this is just a technicality, and the AFFTA probably needs to be revised to account for this. There are a few instances where anglers may deviate from this, but for beginners, you will be further along if you match your rod to fly line and practice your casts.

Overlining

This is the practice of using a heavier fly line than the rod calls for. The advantage is that you can load a fast rod easier and generate tighter loops. Many say beginners should do this to help them learn to fish. In reality, this is a shortcut to compensate for a poor casting technique. Remember, fly lines are already made heavier than advertised. If an angler cannot load that fast rod, they need to practice casting or fish a rod with action more suited to their casting stroke. Not everyone needs a fast rod. Likewise, if you are already fishing a slower action rod, say a slow fiberglass action rod, overlining the rod will completely defeat the benefits and purpose behind the slower action.

Underlining

The practice of underlining makes even less sense to me. The premise behind underlining is to make a slower action rod stiffer. In essence, you would use a 4-weight line on a 5-weight rod. Seldom will the rod perform as it was designed, and the results will be mediocre. If you want a stiffer 5-weight line, buy a more rigid 5-weight rod. Then, you will use the rod as it was designed to be, and your casting will improve.

Density

The density of the fly line determines whether it sinks or floats. You will want a floating line for 95% of all fly fishing. If you are a beginner, get a floating line and learn to fish this before even considering other density lines. Due to the different densities, your casting stroke changes slightly with higher density lines, and fishing them is an art. Occasionally, you may want an intermediate line, a sinking line, or a tip. These lines are measured in sink rates of inches per second (IPS). They are useful for fishing streamers or nymphs in deeper rivers, lakes, or saltwater.

An intermediate line is almost essential for fishing in the surf as the waves will pull a fly attached to a floating line out of the water, whereas an intermediate line will cut through the waves and keep the fly in the strike zone. The sinking line is typically a uniform density where a sinking tip has varying densities that allow for some flexibility with fly presentation.

Tapers

A fly line laying on a table.

Photo by Joseph Smith

Every floating fly line comes with a taper, but they can be broken down into two types: double taper fly lines and weight forward fly lines.

Double Taper

Double tapers are built symmetrically with a taper at both ends and an even line between them. Dry fishers and ultralight anglers prefer these lines for a couple of reasons. The taper allows for gentle fly presentations, and the weighted belly allows for easier line handling. Because the weight of the belly is uniform, the cast's energy is easily transferred through the line to the leader. It allows for long roll casts with delicate leader turnover and fly presentation.

Similarly, when mending the fly line, the energy of the rod tip transfers easier through the uniform fly line belly. One last advantage of a double taper line is that you really get two lines for the price of one. When it is time for a new line, simply reverse the line. The back will become the new front, and you will have saved some money.

Weight Forward

Most anglers use a weight-forward line of some sort. A weight forward line is a shooting head of line followed by a thin running line. One advantage is less friction because the running line goes through the guides. However, this means that the cast will go farther. Another advantage is that the shooting head will punch through the wind easier. The tapers come in different configurations and, over the years, have become very specific and can be broken down into different taper configurations.

Long Front Taper

A long front taper is the most common. An example of this would be the Scientific Anglers Trout Fly Line. Here the taper is drawn out to allow the line to make gentle casts still and handle various tasks commonly encountered while fly fishing.

Short Front Taper

These lines have a larger, shorter head. This design allows for quick rod loading for quick casts or ease in turning larger flies over. Saltwater fly lines are typically made with this type of taper to easily pick lines up and make fast casts in windy conditions. Examples of these lines include Scientific Anglers Mastery MPX Fly Line, Scientific Anglers Saltwater Taper Fly Line, and Monic Icicle Fly Line.

Rear Taper

All weight forward lines also have a rear taper that will affect casting and line handling. An elongated rear taper will improve casting stability as the weight of the casting head is evenly distributed. Likewise, mending the fly line is easier with a longer rear taper as the energy from the fly rod can be easily transferred to the thicker line.

Special Types of Fly Line

Fly fishing technology has come a long way. We no longer use fly line from horsehair. In addition to different tapers, temperature rating matter with fly line. Cold water fly lines are typically better when the air temperature is less than 60 degrees Fahrenheit (F) and the water is less than 50 degrees F. Any warmer than that, the fly line will become sticky and difficult to cast. Try casting a Steelhead line in a bass pond, and it will feel like you are casting pasta al dente. Tropical lines, on the other hand, work best when the air temperature is greater than 70 degrees F and the water temperature is greater than 60 degrees F. Any colder than this and the line will have coil memory. Even with good line stretching, this will be hard to cast.

Line Care

So, hopefully, I have convinced you to spend some money on your line. Take care of it. Cleaning your line will extend its lifetime and help it cast and float better. Floating lines are made to be porous so that they trap air bubbles to help with buoyancy. Periodic cleaning will remove grime and clean out the pores. The easiest way is to strip your line off and put it into a bucket of warm soapy water (use liquid hand soap). Run a soft cloth over the line and transfer it to another bucket of warm water for rinsing. Then dry the line with a clean cloth and respool.

The frequency you do this will depend on the water you fish in. Slimy bass pond water or saltwater will necessitate more frequent cleaning than alpine trout streams. Occasionally, you will need to dress your floating line. Ensure you follow the manufacturer's instructions as each line may have different requirements, but most use a silicone-based dressing. Again, this is only for floating lines. Simple kits make this application very easy.

New Line Replacement

Despite your best intentions, lines will need to be replaced with 250 use-days as a good rule of thumb. Depending on how much you fish, this may be a couple of years (guide level usage) or up to 10 years. A lot will really depend on how well you maintain it. Too many anglers put up with bad lines for far too long. Replacing your line will add distance and accuracy to your casting and overall improvements in fishing technique. Visible cracking is a good indicator that it is time for a new line. Cracks in the coating will hinder the line’s ability to float and cast well. Other indicators are frayed lines that catch in guides or a line that simply does not float as well as it should despite being properly cleaned.

Final Thoughts

A fly line lying on a table.

Photo by Joseph Smith

Fly fishing can be an expensive hobby. If you want to be a better caster, do not overlook your fly line. Buy a quality fly line and plan on maintaining it. Just as you would pick your fly rod for a specific application, pick your fly line that way, as well. Know what type of fly line you will need for your desired outcome. If you approach fly line this way, you will have a much better result. If you need help finding a fly line, please reach out to a Fly Fishing Expert here on Curated. We are waiting to help. Tight Lines!

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Written By
I am an avid fly fisherman. Luckily, I have a pond in my backyard exactly two minutes from my fly tying bench. If there is open water, I will fish just about every day. Although I grew up fishing the fabled streams of Pennsylvania, I love to travel and fly fish for diverse species both fresh and sa...

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