Fly Line: How to Choose What's Best for You

Published on 06/09/2023 · 13 min readReady to up your fly fishing game? Fly Fishing Expert Marshall McDougal helps you choose the perfect fly line for your needs.
By Fly Fishing Expert Marshall McDougal

Fly Line Options at Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop in Missoula, MT. Photo by Marshall McDougal

tl;dr: Whether you’re looking to purchase your first or your 100th fly line, you’ll need to consider the following factors: freshwater or saltwater; fishing style (dry fly, subsurface, euro-nymphing, streamers or two handed casting); target species (trout, bass, tarpon, etc); and casting ability/experience. Finding the correct fly line for your intended application is crucial in being able to cast effectively—and landing more fish! In this article, I’ll break down those factors listed above to help you find the best line for your needs.

On average, I am on the water a little over 100 days out of the year. Between guiding and taking trips to explore new rivers and destinations, I’ve had the chance to test out and cast tons of different lines on the market. Even in the same style and weight, there can be a notable difference in each line’s performance depending on one’s fishing application and ability.

In conjunction with fishing these lines, I have also been helping Curated customers pick the best line for their setup for over two years. I believe that no matter the price point, having a good line that is tailored towards your fishing needs will allow you to push the limits on your rod and get the best performance.

What Is Fly Line?

Fly line is casted out from the fly reel. Most traditional setups include backing tied onto a fly reel spool, which is then attached to the fly line. This backing serves as extra line on your reel in case a fish makes a long run. Attached to the backing is your actual fly line, which is then attached to a leader, and tied onto a fly—or in some cases, tied to a tippet then the hook. The fly line itself is the most important part of your setup, because it has enough weight to load your rod while casting.

What to Consider When Buying Fly Line

Fly line, leaders and tippet. Photo by Marshall McDougal

How Versatile Do I Need My Line to Be?

The most purchased line on the market is a WFXF, which stands for “Weight Forward X-wt Floating Line”. The “X”, or the weight, can be replaced by whatever weight matches up to that on your fly rod. Keep in mind, line weight is tailored to a rod’s casting ability.

For those who are only planning on buying a single line for their set up, I would recommend a WFXF. It’s the most versatile and covers just about every fishing style: from chucking streamers to throwing nymph rigs, and of course casting dry flies.

What Style of Fishing Will I Be Doing?

The art of fly fishing is to imitate an insect hatch and fool a fish into sipping your fly. So, presentation is king. How are you going to delicately land this fly upstream of where a fish is feeding and drift it into their feeding zone without them detecting it is connected to a fly line?

Dry Fly

A double taper line works best for dry fly fishing. This style of line is thicker through the middle section and features an identical taper on both sides of the line. This allows for a more delicate presentation when casting small dry flies.

The lack of a front taper allows for a seamless mend throughout your drift. Plus, the overall impact of the line when it lays down on the water is much less than that of a weight-forward line.


The best overall style for streaming is a weight-forward line, which comes in many styles. Front tapers allow anglers to turn over bigger, heavier flies and make longer casts. Shovel heads, shooting taper, and short heads all work well for these applications—as they consolidate most of the front taper weight to the first 3–10 feet of line. Further, they carry a heavier belly section before tapering down to the running line.


For subsurface fishing, the best line option varies between an indicator or nymphing line. These are typically weight-forward style lines, but offer color changes in the first few feet in order to detect strikes easier.

What Type of Water Will I Be Fishing?

If fishing in saltwater, line corrosion is a serious threat to performance. In response, many brands offer saltwater-specific line coatings for saline environments. Freshwater anglers have no need for this coating, though must pay attention to other factors, like water temperature range. Here, the core of your line matters the most.

For instance, in cold, snowy conditions, where there is still ice forming on the banks, cold-weather cores—like the Rio Glacier Gold—help keep lines from curling up. And in warm waters, when the sun is beating down and temps are getting into the 100s, a warmwater line—like the Rio Warmwater Predator or Rio Dog Days Gold—helps keep your line stiff in those warmer temperatures.

What Is My Target Species?

Certain brands make species-specific fly lines. For saltwater species, these include redfish, bonefish, tarpon, permit, and others. The taper these lines offer is geared towards being able to cast the flies and handle the conditions these fish prefer.

For freshwater fishing, species-specific lines include options for bass, pike and musky, predator, trout, and others. Typically these lines offer the appropriate core and coatings needed for fishing the waters these species frequent.

How Much Should a Fly Line Cost?

Last, but not least, the famed “Is it really worth the extra money?” question. Honestly, the answer isn’t always yes when it comes to fly lines.

I have cast $60 lines that I feel stand up to lines double that in price. The main take away from this is longevity and durability. Fly lines can cost anywhere from $30–130, but the average price of a line sits right around $70. Though most of the time the more expensive line will last you longer.

If you plan on spending many days on the water each season, spending a little extra money is certainly worth it. If you plan on taking one or two trips a year, the cheaper line might be the better, more cost-effective option.

Do I Need More Than One Line?

If you ask me, the answer is yes. However, it’s also possible to get away with a single line, like the standard WFXF discussed earlier. For those who are looking for a few extra spools for their reel, including an intermediate and a fast-sink tip line in your arsenal is a great way to increase your versatility.

In my opinion, the most versatile line is the Rio Freshwater Sink Tip Series Intouch Versitip II Fly Line. It offers one running line and four different 15ft tips that can be easily changed out depending on your fishing application.

What Are the Different Types of Fly Line?

Photo by Marshall McDougal

Double Taper

A DT-style fly line features two ends that have the same taper. These lines are meant for fishing small creeks with small dry flies. They fish fantastic on 2–4wt rods as well as glass rods.


  • Delicate presentations
  • Cast great on smaller weight and fiberglass rods
  • Dry fly fishing small hook sizes

Be Aware:

  • Can be hard to throw on faster action rods
  • Has a difficult time turning over larger flies

Weight Forward

WF-style lines have a front taper that is larger in diameter than the rest of the running line. These are the most commonly used lines on the market and have a wide variety of use cases.


  • Great, all-purpose fly line
  • Wide use case

Be Aware:

  • A lot of the time these are oversized for the line weight specified

Euro Nymphing

Euro lines are a one-size-fits-all for nymphing applications. The lines offer great connection and feel to your fly while having noticeable color changes in the line to detect strikes.


  • Offers great line visibility when fishing subsurface flies
  • Allows for precise casting
  • Shorter distance head for constant connection and feel to the fly

Be Aware:

  • Only used for nymphing


Spey lines are used on two-handed rods and are meant for swinging flies. These lines are helpful when there is not enough room for a back cast.


  • Allows angler to cast further
  • Great line control and mendability
  • Casts great when there is no room for a back cast

Be Aware:

  • Typically requires a longer rod

Skagit and Scandi

Similar to spey lines, these fly lines are used mostly in a two-handed rod application. They are very useful when there is not a lot of room for a back cast.


  • Cast further with little-to-no back cast
  • Comes with interchangeable heads

Be Aware:

  • Typically requires a longer rod

Different Fly Line Density

Floating Lines

Floating lines are all-purpose lines with a wide variety of applications, and are typically used for fishing water depths of 10 feet or less. They’re great for dry fly, nymphing, hopper dropper rigs, streamers and saltwater flats.

Hover Lines

Hover lines are ideal for water depths of 10 feet or less, when a fly needs to suspend just under the surface.

Intermediate Lines

Intermediate lines are all-purpose streamer lines that allow the angler to get their fly down further in the water column. They’re great for depths under 15 feet. If you are looking to fish baitfish patterns or even bottom-feeding patterns, this is a great option to get your down below the surface.

Sinking and Full Sink Lines

Sinking lines offer multiple tip-weights designs for quick-sinking applications. The higher line density helps get the fly further down in the water column. Therefore, they’re great for fishing lakes and deep water, and are designed for water depths of 10–50 feet.

A sinking line is the same as a floating line but offers a tip section that sinks at the rates specified in the below chart. A full sink line has no floating characteristics and is typically used for fishing super-deep water.

Chart by Marshall McDougal

Features to Look for When Buying Fly Line

  • Appropriate Weight: Make sure to match the weight of your fly rod to the line you are selecting, as line weight is tailored to the rods casting ability. If you buy a line that is underweighted, you will struggle casting at distance and accuracy. It will be extremely difficult to cast in the wind as well as turn over larger flies. When you buy lines overweight, you will end up being less accurate and can potentially damage your rod should you overload it too much. Though in some situations, overloading your rod can have its benefits, such as casting large streamers, casting in the wind, or casting from the surf.
  • Line Coating: A line that has a slick coating on it will reduce friction between the line and the rod guides to help cast further and with more ease.
  • Low Memory: Memory refers to how a line retains its shape from sitting on your reel or a spool. It’s always a good idea to stretch your line before putting it on your reel to make sure it does not curl up when casting. If you go cheap on your fly line, you will oftentimes see the line curl when it lays out on the water in front of you, leading to poor accuracy and difficulty recasting.
  • Texture: Some anglers prefer textured lines and some prefer smooth. Smooth is easier to clean, while textured offers more feel in your hand when casting. In freshwater applications, smooth versus textured is a personal preference. The real advantage to a smooth line is in saltwater applications, where you need to ensure your line is clean after use. If you do not thoroughly clean a textured line after saltwater use, it will begin to break down and become more brittle. Therefore, the next time you take it out to fish, the chances of it breaking on you is higher.
  • Welded Loop: I highly encourage you to choose a fly line with a welded loop. This makes it easier to attach the fly line to the backing as well as the leader. If your line does not feature a welded loop, a perfection knot can be used for your backing and leader connections, but this also adds another point of failure in your system.

Features to Avoid When Buying a Fly Line

  • Cheap: Typically, $20–30 lines off of Amazon are low quality and won’t hold up to real-world conditions.
  • Colors: Do not get attached to a specific color of fly line. The overall performance is what you are after, so chasing something that is aesthetically pleasing isn’t always the best option.

How to Choose the Right Fly Line for You

Photo by Marshall McDougal

Finding the right fly line isn’t always a straightforward process. Sure, the standard WF floating line is what most people go with, but are you really getting the right line? In this section, we’ll go through a few real-world buyer scenarios to try and help you identify the best line for your needs.

John: A Northeast Striper Angler

John is an angler on the East Coast who targets saltwater stripers, and is looking for a new fly line for his 8wt rod. Because he will be fishing mostly from the shore, he’ll need his line to get down deep in the water column.

Features John should look for:

  • Saltwater compatible with a corrosion-resistant coating
  • Smooth texture to aid in removing all corrosive particles from the line when cleaning
  • S6 or greater sink rate
  • Line that he’s able to cast far and get out to the fish

Fly line examples: Scientific Anglers Sonar Titan 3D Sink 5 or Sink 7, Rio Saltwater Coldwater Series Outbound Short, Rio Saltwater Coldwater Series Premier Striper Fly Line

Mark: A Euro Nymph Trout Angler

Mark is wanting to purchase a new fly line for euro nymphing. He currently has a 4wt 10ft rod and WF4F line on it but is frustrated with not being able to pick up fish strikes. He has to use an indicator or bobber and is wanting to get away from that because the fish in his trout stream are spooky and he thinks they are seeing the indicator when he is drifting his fly.

Features Mark should look for:

  • Indicator line or a euro nymphing-specific line
  • Line suitable for a 4wt to be careful not to overload the rod
  • Double taper or thinner line to resist drag from current and make a tighter connection to the fly

Fly line examples: Rio Freshwater Specialty Series Technical Euro Nymph, Scientific Anglers Mastery Competition Euro Tactical Nymph Fly Line, Rio Freshwater Specialty Series Elite Indicator Fly Line

Sam: A Tarpon Angler in Florida

Sam is taking a trip to the Florida Everglades to chase tarpon and snook. She has purchased a 10wt rod and reel combo and is looking for a specific line for this fishing application.

Features Sam should look for:

  • Floating or hover line to keep the fly suspended in the water column
  • This line needs to be saltwater rated and smooth to resist corrosion and be easy to clean
  • A clear tip on this line is also a great option, as it gives you an extra 10-15ft of line that appears invisible to the fish
  • Weight-forward or shooting head that will give her the ability to throw bigger flies and cut through wind

Fly line examples: Rio Saltwater Tropical Series Elite Tarpon, Scientific Anglers Sonar Titan Tropical/Jungle Clear Tip Fly Line, Rio Tropical Series Premier Tarpon QuickShooter Fly Line

Connect With a Real Expert

The three most important considerations anglers have to make when choosing a new fly line are versatility, use case, and target species. Though if you’d like more help choosing a new line, reach out to a Curated Fly Fishing Expert, like me. We offer free, customized gear recommendations to help get you out on the water sooner.

Marshall McDougal, Fly Fishing Expert
Marshall McDougal
Fly Fishing Expert
I picked up a fly rod at the age of 10 and have never been able to put it down. Fly tying started shortly after and I have been chasing fish all over the US and Mexico. I now own a small fly tying company as well as run guided trips. My favorite area to fish is the Bitteroot River in Missoula, MT and my favorite species to target is Redfish in the Texas Gulf.
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Written by:
Marshall McDougal, Fly Fishing Expert
Marshall McDougal
Fly Fishing Expert
I picked up a fly rod at the age of 10 and have never been able to put it down. Fly tying started shortly after and I have been chasing fish all over the US and Mexico. I now own a small fly tying company as well as run guided trips. My favorite area to fish is the Bitteroot River in Missoula, MT and my favorite species to target is Redfish in the Texas Gulf.

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