Fly line 101: Making sense of the wide world of fly lines (column)
In the order of importance, I feel that the fly line comes in second only to the fly rod. The fly line is an extremely important piece of equipment that often gets overlooked and abused. A great fly line can make a mediocre rod feel like a premium one. The technology that is involved in modern fly lines increase the slickness, durability and the floatability of the line.
I will breakdown some of terminology and try to make sense of the wide world of fly lines.
Matching a rod with a line
The place to start when looking for a new line is figuring out what rod you are planning on pairing it with. This is very easy to figure out. If you have a five weight rod, you will be in the market for a five weight line. The weight of the line needs to match the weight of the rod for it to function at peak performance.
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With modern, fast action rods, some fly line companies have weighted their lines a bit heavy to be able to load the stiffer rod. When shopping for a new line, be sure you know what type of flex your rod is rated. If you’re unsure, bring it into the fly shop and the staff there should be able to help pair a line with the style of rod you intend on using.
Reading the labels
Fly lines are labeled in an easy to read code if you know what it means. WF5F stands for weight forward, 5 weight, floating line. Weight forward means that the majority of the weight in the line is at the front end or shooting end of the line. It makes it easy to load and cast the line. Five weight is the weight of the line to be match with the weight of the rod. Lastly, Floating indicates that the line floats rather than sinks. This helps to keep the line visible and give dry flies a great presentation.
You might come across some fly lines that are marked DT. This stands for double taper which means that the front and back end of the line have the same tapered width, while the middle of the line has a slightly wider width. These lines are great for delicate presentations with dry flies. The other benefit of a double taper line is you can use the back end of the line when the frontend gets old. One drawback to DT lines is that they can be difficult to cast in wind.
Floating versus sinking
A floating fly line is the most popular and versatile fly line on the market. A floating line is designed to float and it does not sink unless the line is weighed down. If an angler can own only one fly line, a floating one is the best bet.
A sinking line, obviously, sinks. These lines completely sink in the water. How fast it sinks (known as it sink rate) depends on the sink rate of the line. Some lines sink very fast, others very slow. The major idea here is the entire fly line will sink and will sink at a uniform rate. Sink rates are rated in feet per second and will be noted on the line’s box. These lines are best used in big, deep lakes or saltwater.
On a sink-tip fly line (hybrid of a float and sink line), only the first 10 to 30 feet of the fly line sinks and the rest of the line floats. The purpose of this line is to allow for fishing nymphs and streamers in the columns of rivers where the current is moderately fast. These lines also excel when the water is high during runoff.
In the past 10 years, fly line companies have been creating lines for every species and technique possible. There are lines that are designed for slow, soft action fiberglass and bamboo rods that are ultra lightweight and easier to cast with the rods. Indicator lines that are focused on making nymphing effortless. Many species of fish, such as pike/musky, smallmouth bass, bonefish, tarpon and permit, all have their own dedicated fly line to make casting a piece of cake. Whatever or however you are trying to fish, there is a line to make it fun and painless.
As you can see, there’s a lot that goes into fly lines, and it takes some knowledge to figure out which one will work best for you. You can always stop by the local fly shop and have them help you match a line to your favorite rod. Remember, the fly line is the second only to the rod in the importance of your gear, so don’t skimp on the line. Get yourself a quality fly line, and see why it is so important.
Ray Kyle is the shop supervisor and a guide at Vail Valley Anglers. He can be reached at 970-926-0900 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.