Of all the fly-fishing products and accessories, one of the most important, but least understood is the fly line. At first glance a fly line looks simply like a heavy string covered in plastic - and techno-speak aside, that is exactly what it is. Unlike other types of fishing where the lure/bait is the part that is casted, when fly-fishing you are essentially casting the heavy line, which drags the lightweight fly along behind.
While all fly lines work on this principle, there are different styles of fly lines designed for particular application. And like all things in life - using the right tool for the job makes the whole process go a lot smoother.
Let's go over the different types of fly lines.
Level lines are the most basic of all fly lines. Essentially the sides of the line are parallel to each other, offering no taper either fore or aft. They do hold the distinction of being the cheapest fly lines available, but are relatively uncommon due to their poor performance. They will sufficiently load a rod for casting, but for distance casting and delicate presentations they are lacking. In short, there are other types of lines that are far superior for any given situation.
Double taper lines have been popular for many years, their main advantages being the delicate presentation and the ability to be swapped end for end (the tapers are equal on both ends of the line) to extend their life. For fishing small streams where casts are not longer than 30 feet, a double taper line will work fine.
Weight forward lines are by far the most common lines used today. They are characterized by a much thicker front third section, tapering to a thin line for the remainder of the length. The thickest portion is called the "belly"; the thin section is called the "running line". A weight forward line allows anglers to sufficiently load the road with a minimal amount of line for short casts, but still obtain the maximum amount of distance for longer casts. Of the many manufacturers of weight forward lines there are literally dozens of different combinations of tapers, styles, and designs. Some configurations have longer, thinner front sections allowing for ultra-delicate presentations (actually more delicate than a double taper line) while others have short, fat bellies for turning over the heaviest of nymphs and large, air-resistant bass bugs. For most people the right line is somewhere in between these two extremes but if the majority of your fishing is one extreme or another, there is a weight forward line designed to meet your needs.
Sink or Swim
Regardless of style of line (weight forward, double taper or level) the next defining feature among lines is where it rides in (or on) the water column. The three main types are Floating, Intermediate and Sinking.
Floating lines do what the name implies - they float. They are a great choice for an all-around fly line as the majority of the time anglers will be catching fish on or near the surface. A floating line is the ideal choice for dry flies, but also works well for nymph and streamer use when the maximum desired depth is only a couple of feet.
These lines sink at an extremely slow rate (about 1-inch per second). This is a good all-around lake line for trout when using streamers. It will sink below the chop and is easier to punch through any wind while casting due to its dense nature.
Sinking lines also come in many configurations, but they all have one thing in common - they are designed to present a fly at a subsurface level - usually at a depth that cannot effectively be reached with a floating line and a weighted nymph. Sinking lines are rated as follows:
• Full Sink - Full sink lines come in sink rates from 1-inch per second up to 9-inches per second. These lines work well in deep lake situations, but can be hard to control, and hard to set the hook when used very deep due to the excessive drag imparted by the water.
Multi-Tip and Specialty Lines
• Sink Tip - Sink tip lines are floating lines with a sinking tip. The tip may vary in length from 5 to 15 feet and with various sink rates up to several inches per second. These lines are designed for a variety of subsurface fishing situations. They are easily casted, easily mended and direct contact with the fly is easier to maintain due to the long floating portion that rides on the surface of the water.
Multi-tip lines are relatively new on the market and may be the best option for anglers fishing under a variety of conditions, who don't want to buy an assortment of lines and spare spools. Essentially, a multi-tip line is a normal length running line with a quick loop disconnect section on the end. Different tips can easily be exchanged to meet specific conditions. Many of these kits come with a weight forward floating tip, intermediate tip and several weights of sinking tips.
Aside from lines dedicated to different fish species, depth presentations and flies, there are specialty lines designed for different environments. Some fly lines are designed to withstand the rigors of saltwater, while others are designed to work perfectly in extremely cold steelhead rivers while others perform flawlessly when the water temperature is more like bath water. If your fishing takes you to extremes, be sure to get a fly line that is up to the task.
Points to remember when buying a line:
• Buy the best line you can afford - if properly taken care of they will last several seasons and the difference between the best and the worst is not that much money, but the difference in performance is.
Care of Fly Lines
A standard weight-forward line is probably the best all-around choice for most anglers. While dedicated bass and pike anglers will benefit from a "bass bug taper" and a spring creek fisherman will appreciate the delicate presentation of a long tapered, weight-forward line, if you are looking for one line to do it all - a standard weight-forward line will suit most of your needs.
• Buy a line that matches your rod. If your rod is rated for two sizes such as a 7-8 get the heavier line ,i.e., use an 8 in this particular example.
• While many anglers use a floating line most of the time, it is often a good investment to get a multi-tip line for those exceptions when a sinking or intermediate presentation is what the fish are desiring.
Fly lines will last much longer if a few preventative maintenance steps are taken. For starters if you are fishing in salt water, be sure to strip all your fly line and backing into a bucket of fresh water at the day's end. Flush the bucket several times with fresh water before rewinding the line on the spool. When fishing in fresh water, this is not necessary, but should your line pick up sand or dirt this same procedure may be taken to clean it off. Depending upon how much use the line is getting, use a cleaner and dressing periodically to keep your line in top performing condition. By following these simple steps, your investment will last substantially longer and perform better on the water.