How to choose Fly Line
When starting out, choosing a fly line can be a big (b)ass mess. Between different weights, brands, and colors, it can be overwhelming to make sure you find just the right fit, like shoes. Choosing fly line is often underrated because it seems simple but is crucial to the presentation of your fly, which will play a large role in the number of fish you hook into! Before diving into all of the many different aspects of line, let’s talk about what exactly fly line is, and what role it plays in fly fishing.
What is Fly Line, and Why is it so important?
Fly line is made of three parts. It has a braided core that keeps the line strong, and prevents it from snapping when you are railing giant fish all day. There is also an outer layer made of plastic often in a bright or noticeable color. Depending on that outer layer, the line will either sink or float.
Fly line is what separates fly fishing from traditional spinning fishing. Fly fishing is the “process of transferring energy through the fly line to cast your fly out ahead of you.” (theflyfishingbasics.com). In traditional fishing, the lure that is on the end of your line provides enough weight to effectively cast it a great distance. In fly fishing, the line’s weight is what provides an effective cast of small or lightweight flies. Because of this skillful transfer of energy, it is crucial to find a balance between the weight of your rod, and the weight of your line. This will significantly impact your ability to make an accurate cast.
All fly lines are ranked by weight (AFTM). Depending on the weight of the rod, you will want to match your line to that weight. For example, if you have a 5 weight (wt) rod, you will need a 5 weight line to pair with it. As an angler just starting out, the best thing to do is to talk to your local fly shop about this, and they can help tell you if a lines weight ranking is accurate, and if it will be a good fit for you rod and reel.
Most fly lines on the market are between 80-90 feet in length. That’s like stacking 14 Lebron James’ on top of each other! This length will cover most anglers needs. Although it may not always seem like it, most fishing is done within a 40 foot range. An exception to this would be fishing saltwater flats. In this case, an angler may need line that is 100 feet long or more, and will also need an impeccable distance cast.
Most fly lines have a taper, meaning that the lines thickness will vary according to where in the line it is. Weight forward taper and Double taper. A weight forward (WF) tapers holds more weight towards the end of the line (closest to the leader). Because of the nature of the weight, it makes it easier to cast the line longer distances, keep your cast short and managed, and aids in windy conditions. WF tapered lines are used most often, and are a great choice for new anglers. A double taper line (DT) holds more weight in the middle section. The section closest to the backing, and the section closest to the leader are the same weights. This allows the line to be reversible, which will extend the life of the line. The reason to use a DT line would be for very delicate presentation needs, where you might want less weight towards the front section of the line.
Floating line is the most common type of line used in rivers and streams. It can be used for a variety of different types of fly fishing, but is commonly used for nymphing and dry fly fishing (see types of fishing page). The outer layer of the fly line is what gives it the buoyancy or not. Floating line is typically found in two different taper styles, weight forward line and double taper line. This is important because it will determine what the line will be used for.
Sinking Fly Line:
Sinking line has a different outer layer than the floating line. The outer coating is more dense than floating line. This allows for the line to sink. The more dense the outer coating is, the more quickly it will sink. It is important to match the necessary sinking rate to the area you are fishing. Sinking line is rated by Slow Intermediate line, Intermediate line, and Fast Sinking line. Deeper water will require faster sinking line. Slower sinking line can be used for shallower water, or for fish feeding just below the surface on emergers. Sinking line is typically used for nymphs, wet flies, or streamers.
Fly lines can come in crazy and vibrant colors which can seem strange considering that fish are so easily spooked. It is a common misconception that the bright green line you are drifting down the river will spook all of the potential fish you will catch causing them to skedaddle. When fishing during the day, the color of your line truly does not matter. From black line to hot pink line, it all looks the same to a fish underwater looking up. When choosing a fly line color, pick a color that you will easily be able to see, and one that you like. I always like to match my line color to the wrappings on my rod, or to an accent color on my reel because why not color coordinate? Tan France would approve and that’s really all I care about.
As with most things, to keep the quality of your line, it is important to keep it clean, and free of damage, just like your pores. Line life will depend on how often you fish, as well as how well you take care of it. It is wise to wash your line every once in a while. Using just soap and water, you can scrub away anything that may have made a home on your line. After washing it, it is best practice to apply a silicone gel (sold at a fly shop) to prevent the line from squeaking. Line cleaning will prevent it from getting nicked and thinning. Fly line does eventually need to be replaced if it has broken, thinned, or been nicked. You will however only need to replace your backing about every other time you buy new line.