An Expert Guide to the Types of Fly Fishing Line: How to Choose What's Best for You

Fly Fishing Expert Robert Levin explains fly lines and how to choose the perfect fly line for your area and fishing style to keep you catching fish all day long!

A man fly fishing with fly line visible.

Photo by Tim Foster

When casting with reels loaded with conventional fishing line, the weight of whatever is fastened to the end of it pulls the line off the reel. This isn’t the case in fly fishing. The weight of the fly line alone does the work in fly fishing. Fly line has unique characteristics compared to other types of fishing lines. In this article, we will discuss the differences and the best applications for each.

Fly Line Attributes

There are literally hundreds of fly lines on the market made by dozens of manufacturers. Choosing the right one can be a chore. Here are the typical characteristics to consider.

1. Weight: The first 30 feet of a line’s weight in grains. If your scale reads grams only, 15.43 grains = one gram. Here is a convenient chart for reference.

Chart showing line weight and tapers.

2. Double taper line: Both sides of a line have a tapered end. 3. Weight forward (WF) lines: Lines made with a single taper on one end that has a thicker coating. 4. Float or sink: The line floats or sinks for dry or wet fly-fishing. 5. Sinking tip: Lines made with a sinking tip while the rest of it floats. 6. Shooting heads: 30-feet long specialty lines with little or no taper that attach to a level running line that fills the remaining space on the reel. They are used for Spey and Switch double-handed rods.

It’s clear that distinct lines are made for different fishing conditions and applications. We will get into their uses in the Taper and Types of Fly Line section.

Line to Rod Weight

The weight of the line should match the rod's weight in most cases. Some folks promote using a line weight one size above the weight marked on the rod to improve its casting performance, but manufacturers do not suggest this. For balanced casting performance, line and rod weight should match. For example, a WF5F (weight forward 5WT) fly line is great for a 5WT Fly Rod.

For single-handed rods, the fly line is typically configured this way.

Diagram showing the tip, taper, belly, rear taper, and running line on a fly line.

A typical fly line is one hundred feet long. The length of each portion is carefully designed by the manufacturer so it unfurls according to plan in the cast for the given application.

Line Coatings, Species, and Backing

The proprietary coatings on lines made of various polymers are valuable trade secrets! There are other substances within the formulas to help to float or sink the line when necessary. It depends on the type of line, the method of presenting the fly, water temperature, and species targeted. Fish feed at different depths, in still conditions, and at various current speeds depending on the body of water being fished. Lines exist to fish each of these conditions successfully.

These types of line attach to some backing on the reel wound on first. Manufacturer websites provide online charts that list the amount of backing that fits on a reel with a specific line, like the Temple Fork Outfitters example below.

Example of reel models from Temple Fork Outfitters and the appropriate backing and lines to fit each.

Example of reel models from Temple Fork Outfitters and the appropriate backing and lines to fit each. Chart courtesy of Temple Fork Outfitters

Take a look at the chart above. When purchasing a reel, refer to the capacity specs from the manufacturer to determine the amount of backing needed for the reel. For example, if you are purchasing the Temple Fork Outfitters NTR Reel in Black Gold (TFR NTR I BG) you will need 100yds of 20lb backing loaded on the spool. Our Fly Fishing Experts are here to help you and will provide the correct about of backing for you!

Once it’s time to actually spool your reel, check out this article.

Choosing Your Taper

Curated offers the full scope of fly lines. Let’s pick out a few examples so you can match them to the type of fly fishing you do and the species targeted.

Every fly line on the market has one of these three types of tapers: weight forward, double taper, and level taper. These specific tapers of the fly line help facilitate presenting your fly for your specific situation. Want to cast further to torpedoing Bonefish on the flats? There is a taper for that. Want to present a tiny dry fly to spooky spring creek trout? There is a taper for that. Want to throw big bass poppers to largemouth bass on your local lake? There is a taper for that. These tapers combined with specific fly line features will allow you to target any type of fish in any condition.

Weight Forward

Diagram showing a weight forward fly line.

Guess what? 95% of all fly lines are weight forward. If you are just getting started, this is the fly line for you. Imagine a piece of string that slowly tapers to a thicker end. From where you attach the fly line to your backing to where the taper starts, the first 50’-60’ of fly line is a consistent diameter with no taper at all. This is called your running line. The last 30’ of line is where your taper starts and contains most of the weight of the fly line, called the “belly.” After the belly, the fly line will taper back to a thin line (much like the running line portion) in the last 5’ - 7’, allowing you to connect your leader.

There are multiple varieties and tapers of weight forward fly line, and manufacturers are always improving them to hit that “sweet spot” for the species being targeted. You can have an aggressive weight-forward taper where the bulk of the weight is in the last 20’, or you can have a more moderate taper that extends further than 30’. Each taper is designed for different situations. The more aggressive the taper, the more power for throwing heavier flies and/or casting longer distances. The more moderate the taper, the closer the range and the more delicate the presentation.

Double Taper

Diagram showing a double taper fly line.

Much like the weight forward, the double taper is another common fly line that you will find. Back to our string! Now imagine we start at the end of the string and move toward the “belly” of the taper. Instead of the taper gradually tapering, the double taper will begin its taper after a few feet of line. The weight is pretty much centered directly in the middle of the fly line. This then tapers back to the original diameter, allowing you to attach your leader. The beginning mirrors the ending of the fly lines taper.

So what’s the advantage of double taper over weight forward? One is that the fly line can be easily reversed if one end becomes damaged. Remember, the beginning and ending of the fly line directly mirror each other. The second, and most important advantage, is that the double taper allows for a more delicate presentation. You may lose in its distance compared to the weight forward, but the subtlety of this fly line is best suited for spooky fish.

Level

Diagram showing a level fly line.

This is the least common of the three. Imagine your string and this time there is no taper at all. It is the same diameter throughout the entire length of the string. This is the most boring fly line out there! These lines are budget-friendly and do not provide any advantage other than they are less expensive.

Types of Fly Line

Now that we know all about tapers, let’s dive into the types of fly fishing lines. There are three main types: floating, sinking, and sink-tip. Within these categories, those types have specific fly lines such as a weight-forward tapered floating line with a special taper creating more distance, sink-tip lines that sink at the front portion of the fly line below the surface of the water, and sinking lines that can sink super fast to reach the bottom of deep lakes and rivers.

Floating Fly Lines

These do just that…float! This is going to be your most versatile fly line out there which will allow you to fish dry flies, nymphs, and streamers. Also great for rivers, creeks, lakes, and saltwater, this is the type of fly line I would suggest for anyone getting started!

Sinking Fly Lines

The sinking fly line is much different than a floating fly line. Can you guess what it does? These will typically be a weight-forward variety. They range from intermediate all the way to what we call a Type 7, categorized to a specific rate at which the fly line sinks. These are super helpful especially if you know where the fish are feeding. Lake fishing is going to be the most common environment where sinking lines will be used.

The sink rates are as follows:

  • Intermediate: 1.5-2.0 ips (2-4′)
  • Type I: 1.5-2.5 ips (2-4′)
  • Type II: 1.75-2.75 ips (3-6′)
  • Type III: 2.5-3.5 ips (5-10′)
  • Type IV: 4.0-5.0 ips (10-20′)
  • Type V: 4.5-6.0 ips (10-20′)
  • Type VI: 6.0-7.0 ips (15-25′)
  • Type 7: 7.0-8.0 ips (20-30′)

(Note: ips = inches per second)

Sink-Tip Fly Lines

This is a combo of the two mentioned above as the tip section is the only portion of the fly line that sinks. This is usually in the first 8’ - 16’ of the fly line, and the remaining line is a floating fly line. These fly lines are used when fishing streamers in rivers or fishing lakes to suspended fish.

When fishing with a sinking line, just know that the entire fly line will sink, even all that extra line at your feet! As you strip the line back, you will notice a lot of surface tension as you pull the line. It is a good rule of thumb to strip most of your fly line back before making a cast due to the added tension on the fly line. The floating lines will not have this problem, naturally. The surface tension is exponentially less due to the fly line floating on the surface. Also, with floating fly lines, you don’t have the excess sinking line to worry about getting tangled up in. Ideally, these fly lines are great for streamer fishing deep water.

If you’re ready to select a fly line, we offer the full line of Orvis, Scientific Anglers, RIO and Monic fly lines! The brands cover all use applications possible, and we can help you find the right one for you. Reach out to a Fly Fishing Expert here on Curated for more help, and tight lines on the water!

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Written By
Robert Levin
Robert Levin
Fly Fishing Expert
I have been an avid fisherperson since my teenage years. Caught the bug from my dad who fished exclusively with a fly rod. Not that he ever fished with a fly on that rod, he trusted the weight of the fly line as it would not break when he pulled a five foot Chain Pickerel out of the lily pads in the...
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