An Expert Guide to the Best Fly Lines for Trout
Looking to catch some trout on the fly this season? You'll need the right fly line! Fly Fishing Expert Cory G. explains how to choose fly lines for trout fishing.
In recent years, one of the largest shifts in fly fishing gear has not been rod and reel design, but arguably, the number of fly lines available for the angler. By understanding this, it’s not surprising that one of the most frequent questions I get asked is what the best trout-fishing fly line is. When someone is looking for advice on types of fly lines, I like to dig a little deeper and find out what type of fishing they like to do most: dry fly fishing on a small stream, streamers from a drift boat, or maybe fishing indicators on a lake. This is only a small sample of trout fishing that is done with a fly rod. With that in mind, I’ll break down some of the best fly lines for different types of trout fishing.
This is where a lot of people start. Ever since A River Runs Through It—or “the movie,” as it is lovingly referred to in the fly fishing community—dry fly fishing has grabbed the angler’s (or future angler’s) imagination. After all, in some minds, this is the purest form of fly fishing, and it certainly is a blast! The best dry fly lines are accurate, lay down a small fly with a natural delicacy, and can be controlled easily to extend the angler’s drift in the strike zone.
Before weight forward lines were all the rage, double taper lines were the mainstay in a trout angler's arsenal. There is a reason why a double taper (or DT as it is sometimes referred to) line such as the Scientific Anglers Mastery Series Double Taper fly line has been around for so long. They simply work! The progressive taper of the fly line makes for instinctive smooth casting at close to middle distances. They delicately present dry flies and are easy to roll cast. The rear of the line is a mirror image of the front (double taper), allowing you to turn the line around on the spool when the front half is worn out. This effectively doubles the life of the line!
Small Stream / Dry Fly
Small stream and creek fishing aren’t anything new, but definitely growing in popularity with more anglers limiting travel and staying closer to home. Often, these smaller streams are a great place to find lots of hungry fish that are beautiful in the wild (bonus: they love dry flies). For these intimate waters where presentation is important, the Orvis Superfine fly line works great with slower-flex carbon, fiberglass, and bamboo rods. If you are working with a faster rod, but not making 60ft hero casts, the RIO Creek fly line is slightly overweight and makes those close casts a cinch. The RIO line will also easily turn over small nymph rigs and smaller streamers.
In my experience, a line that can do it all doesn't hit high marks in any one style. For many anglers, especially beginners, versatility is the key. Some folks may not want or need five or more fly rods set up with different lines to fulfill their angling wishes. This is where a one-size-fits-all weight-forward line comes in handy. These trout fly lines will present a dry fly with moderate delicacy and will turn over an average-size nymph rig (think indicator, a nymph or two, and maybe some split shot) or a small streamer.
In my opinion, the mad scientists at Scientific Anglers have hit the nail on the head with their Infinity Taper. This line is a half-size heavy to appeal to the streamer-tossing and nymph-flinging fan in all of us, but it still remains delicate when throwing dry flies. The extended rear taper on this line allows for easy mends for those long smooth drifts. The Infinity Taper is available in the Mastery, Amplitude Smooth, and Amplitude Textured family of lines.
Fly fishing for trout in lakes, ponds, and slow-moving streams require different techniques and can be very rewarding for the ambitious angler. Although it is true that you can get away with a do-it-all line, most stillwater aficionados will insist on two or more lines explicitly developed for presenting flies in these ecosystems.
Full sinking lines are for getting down deep and keeping a straight line connection from the angler to the fly. These come in different sink rates measured in inches per second, ranging from intermediate (1-2in per second) to sink 7 (7-8in per second). I like to choose a full sink for stillwater or slow water streamer fishing, straight line nymphing, or when taking a more traditional wet fly tactic. Intermediate lines get used the most when selecting a sink rate because they effectively fish water from two to six feet or so. RIO’s Aqualux and Camolux fly lines have been around for ages and get the job done. The Aqualux features a light blue running line and a completely clear intermediate head, making this a great choice for clear water and wary trout. The Camolux has a mottled brown coloration for stealthy presentations in stained or dirtier water. Both lines have a shorter head for fewer false casts and welded loops for easy rigging.
Indicator nymphing in lakes usually means small midge nymphs with long leaders. True, a fly angler could fish this way with a do-it-all line, but the serious lake nympher will want to get a line designed to maximize the efficiency of their time on the water. The Scientific Anglers Anadro Amplitude Textured taper brings the punching power to turn over these long clunky rigs with ease but can also cast a dry fly a mile and sling a streamer on a sinking poly-leader, making it a great all-around stillwater fly line.
Streamer-specific fly lines are gaining popularity as fishing for larger predatory trout grows. Casting a soggy oversized fly on a dry fly line or even a do-it-all line can be difficult even for the seasoned fly angler. Fly line manufacturers have answered the call by creating fly lines with shooting head tapers two or three times heavier than what would be called for when dry fly fishing. That extra mass at the end of the line helps transfer the power turning over larger streamer flies.
Sometimes, trout are in shallow water and looking up, and you want to keep your streamer just above a weed line. In situations like these, you want to grab a floating streamer line. RIO’s new Elite Predator floating line has an incredibly slick coating and a supple low-stretch core. For trout, I like the 5-7 weight. These lines utilize that dense head section but have a nice gradual taper in the front for better accuracy and presentation of your streamer or popper.
Sink-tip fly lines for streamer fishing have their fan base, but where they really shine is when an angler is streamer fishing from a moving boat (think floating a river in a drift boat). For me, the best sink tip will quickly and accurately cast to the bank or structure and dig in through the water column, getting the fly to the trout. The floating section is paramount for mending and controlling lines, especially through multiple current lanes. The Scientific Anglers Sonar Titan Sink Tip checks all these boxes. This line is also available in three different sink rates, allowing the user to really dial in their depth and fly control.
For fishing massive streamers to trout in large slow-moving rivers or lakes, you will want to grab a full sinking line that has the guts to turn over that fly and search the depths for that trophy trout. A few single-density lines still exist, but improved manufacturing has allowed companies like RIO and Scientific Anglers to offer lines with three different sinking rates on one line; where the front end sinks quicker than the belly, which in turn sinks faster than the handling section. For example, a line could be had with a head section that sinks faster than the handling section. This can be confusing for deep-water newcomers, but it makes casting and fishing that much better. These triple-density lines cast more like a conventional floating line, and after a long day on the water that makes a big difference. Another benefit is that these lines keep a more direct and straight line to the fly. This allows for more sensitivity when detecting bites and commanding hooksets. I really enjoy the Scientific Anglers Sonar Titan 3D lines. This taper is available in a few different sink rates for a fine-tuned fly presentation, but for most folks, the Sonar Titan 3D INT/SINK2/SINK3 will strike a happy medium between too shallow and slow to sink and too deep and fast of a sink.
Indicator Nymphing / Euro Style Nymphing
A fly line designed for indicator fishing has two main attributes: a heavier head like a streamer line for turning over bulky bobber rigs, and an extended rear taper for mending long distances. On the flip side, for many, an ideal Euro-style fly line needs to be as light as possible. Most are thin, level lines only to take up room on the reel and help balance the setup.
For indicator fishing, I usually recommend the Scientific Anglers ANDRO fly line. Again, this line is available in three different tiers: the Mastery Series, Amplitude Smooth, and Amplitude Textured. The heavy head and lengthened rear taper allow the caster to throw open loops, which decreases errant tangles, and facilitates casting with just a water load. This fly line will also cast a streamer rig, dry/dropper combos, and smaller dries with the addition of a long tapered leader. A little versatility makes this a great line for someone who would like to fish with an indicator most of the time but will occasionally want to use different methods.
A Euro Nymphing or ESN line has a small diameter and tends to be ultra-light. Because of the mechanics of Euro nymphing, anglers are looking for a line that has very little sag that can be caused by a heavier traditional fly line. The Scientific Anglers Mastery Euro Tactical Nymph Line is a super thin and light-level fly line built on an extremely sensitive monofilament core. The angler will just need to add the leader system of choice to this fly line for a competitive Euro nymphing system.
In the end, an angler choosing one of the many trout lines available comes down to what type of trout fishing they intend to do and how it works with the rod they intend to use it with. I would stay away from a fly line advertising a monofilament core because in cold water, these lines tend to have more memory than braided line core fly lines. Welded loops make the rigging easier. Some anglers will opt to cut these loops off for personal preference, but it is nice to have the option. I always say that buying the best fly line that fits your personal style and budget is the best choice. Reach out to Fly Fishing Expert here on Curated, we’d love to geek out on some fly lines!