Fly lines explained

Peter Hayes
I am in the middle of my flycasting course season, and as I sit here making up the 120th practice line on to the reel I got to thinking. fly lines really are much more than "coloured string" as I often call them.
Take my practice lines for example. Firstly it is important to me, and to students of our casting program, that they are highly visible. After all it is the forward and reverse loop shape that we need to see so we can modify our rod movements to produce better, faster, tighter loops.
Then there is the taper. For a practice line I want longevity and that is one of the reasons I have chosen a double taper. You see, as you stuff up the first end you simply reverse the line on the reel for a second life. A couple of other reasons are; double tapers are a much better roll casting line when casting longer lengths and they are much better for mending line too.

Now all this coloured string stuff comes as second nature to me as a fly casting instructor and guide of the past 12 years, but I thought that it may not to many of you. For what it is worth here are some of my thoughts on fly lines.

My first line was silk, but there have been many changes since those days. I have been lucky enough to have mates in the industry that import and sell lines and they send countless lines my way to try. Our Australia wide casting schools enable me to work with 20 casters a weekend and in these schools I get to cast a huge variety of lines too.
I've seen them all, read all the ads, all the glossy brochures, met some of the makers and listened to their extensive sales pitches. At the end of the day they are all just expensive coloured string but there are several aspects that you should understand.

I hope you have noticed that some parts of the line are thinner than others. Taper is required in a line to give a balanced flight and to distribute power appropriately during turnover. There are literally hundreds of different tapers available in modern flylines.
There are so many varying tapers in the weight forward range that it has become confusing even to the line making experts who have forgotten what tapers they have made.
Mostly to simplify things manufactures have started giving lines "fish" names. You know what I mean, there is the Bonefish taper, the Trout taper, the Redfish taper, the Atlantic Salmon and Steelhead taper, the Striper Taper, Billfish Taper etc.
If that doesn't work for you then you can look for the lines they use fly names to identify them with. Try the Midge taper or the Clouser taper. If that doesn't gel then you can think of the presentation you want to make. You could buy a General Presentation taper, an Exact Presentation taper or maybe a Maximum Distance taper. Wow, do you really believe if you want maximum distance you must have a maximum distance line? I'm sorry if I sound cynical.
There are just two basic taper types despite what the advertising says.
You know, once upon a time there were just level lines and people caught plenty of fish. Then, sometime before my time we had double taper lines. These work beautifully, much, much better than level lines. Then just before my time someone clever designed the weight forward line that has now become the industry standard.

Double taper
Firstly let me tell you a few reasons why you should not forget the old double taper. There is the obvious benefit of a second life if the line is turned around. The thick belly or mid part of the line enables you to belt the power into a strong,, thick section of line on longer roll casts. Likewise mending line is easier at the longer lengths.
Loop control is better and this is one reason all tournament casters use double tapers at targets of 50 and 55 feet.
There is a perception that a double taper will not cast as far as a weight forward but I think a good caster can throw a double taper just as far as a weight forward line for practical fishing situations.
Oh, and one more thing. Line control. When fishing with a long line the thicker handling line or mid section of a double taper is better to work with. It tangles less often, lays in more open loops etc.
Perhaps if you fish a lot or fish mostly on rivers or fish shortish distances then you should consider a double taper as your next line choice.

The weight forward taper
Well, as the name implies the weight is forward. There is little weight at the back or backing end of the line. Certainly not enough to act as a casting weight. As a side issue here once or twice a season I come across an angler that has fitted the line onto the reel backwards. Remember the fat bit has to stick out the rod tip when you are casting.
The reason these lines are supposed to be easier to cast longer distances is that once you deliver the fat coloured string into the air on the forward cast then only the light weight skinny stuff has to be pulled out and this offers less resistance than the equivalent fat, heavy line of the double taper.
There are a couple of obvious traps for new players with this assortment of weight forward tapers. For instance don't buy a windcutter or wind caster line designed to turn heavy flies over into a strong wind and expect it to roll cast well. Don't buy a short shooting head type taper and expect it to mend well in medium to large river situations. Don't put the line on backwards. Every weight forward line is marked "this end to reel" when straight out of the box.
You must put the Wulff Triangle taper into a weight forward category. These are great lines that shoot like cut cats (perhaps the best shooting line on the market) and roll well up to their head lengths of 38 - 42 feet. Wulff designed these lines to emulate our tournament distance lines.
Think about a weight forward line if you are often working at shooting long distances then think about a taper that suits the fishing and your casting method. I personally prefer very long bellied weight forwards that are really approaching a double taper in design.

Years ago an industry body decided that 9 feet of rod plus 30 feet of line and 12 feet of leader was a good, common, standard casting length that all rods and lines should be balanced at. They developed an international standard that says that all six weights despite their brand must weight a certain weight for the first 30 feet. All seven weights weight a little more for the first 30 feet etc.
This standard weight is identical for a weight forward or a double taper.

The grey area of coloured string
Beware, in recent times some manufacturers have made lines on the heavy side of these standards. Like half a size heavier. When you buy a line that states 6 weight on the box you are actually getting a 6.5 weight. They do this because most average, or less than average casters like the feeling of the weight that they have never previously felt because of poor technique. They also say that the modern fast actioned rods require a heavier line to load them and this is perhaps partially true.
The good thing about having in fact half sizes of line weights is that it does give you the choice and rod loading is such a personal feeling thing.
Understand that if you are making repeated short casts like on a small creek and you may have say 15 feet of line out then you are only operating the rod at half its designed bending weight. There is nothing wrong with going up a whole line size in this case.
When you decide upon a taper type next try differing line weights on your rod. You may like the feel of half or even a whole line weight above the rods designed weight. Keep in mind what weight is best for the fishing too.
For instance. If you are a good stalker and you like to make short, accurate presentations to tailing browns at Little Pine on calm mornings it doesn't mean that you should overline your 6 weight rod and use a 7. I believe the 7 makes too much landing noise for calm, shallow water fishing.

Materials and Stiffness
Really soft lines do not shoot very well. Particularly if you have a cheap rod with too few rings to support the line. If the line is too stiff then the line is like wire to work with. Constantly coily and tangling. It is a fine balancing act for the manufacturer and they certainly have it right with the coldwater and tropical compounds. From first hand experience I can tell you that you are a fool going on a northern Australian holiday with a standard trout coldwater line. It will turn to soggy celery in the wilting heat and will become impossible to get any shootability from it.
I occasionally find the same thing happens here in Tasmania on hot days. If you are a boat fisher perhaps use a rubbish bin stripping basket with a little water in it to keep the line lubed and cool.
Some manufactures actually make their distance casting weight forward lines from a stiffer material. This helps loop control and power transfer.
Now I don't recommend this but I find it interesting that a mate of mine that I would rate as on of Australia's greatest ever fly fishers has been messing around developing his own lines with varying stiffness. He doesn't mess with the head section but the thinner running line of weight forwards get an overnight soaking in a bucket of radiator anti freeze. This, he tells me, leaches out the plasticizer and stiffens this shooting part of the line so that it handles better, shoots further and tangles less.
Definitely buy a tropical stiffness line if you are going north. Avoid lines that are like springs to work with. One manufacturer in particular has a poor reputation for coily lines.

I personally don't get too excited about whether or not the colour of the line makes it any worse for fishing. I think it is more important that you can recognise when a low level delivery is required.
Having said that I would not fish in the world championships with a bright line. Nor would I fish the beech forest  rivers of New Zealand with a bright line.
Understand there are plenty of times where a bright line can be a benefit. Casting practice, take detection, fishing moving water and mending line are some areas where visability is a help.
Make a conscious decision about whether or not there is an advantage in having a bright coloured piece of expensive string before handing over the money.

I could write pages on this subject alone. People think there are floaters, intermediates and sinkers.

Well there are floaters and there are floaters. Some lines float higher than others. I have an old line that always seems to sink for the final 6 feet. I think it is a good attribute for some of the lake fishing I do. This line would be a pain in the backside on a fast river when I wanted to mend. Some line manufacturers say their lines float higher than others. So what. Learn to be happy with whatever way it floats and understand its limitations if it becomes a tip sinker like mine. Understand that it is more likely to become a tip sinker with Fluorocarbon leaders or whipped on braided loops.

Sometimes a fluro leader on a floater or a light sinking polyleader and a fluoro leader on a floater can be a good substitute for a standard intermediate line. However when you need an intermediate you usually need an intermediate.
Coloured ones like the Cortland Blue are sensational in some circumstances. Clear or Clear Camo are sensational too.  Think outside the square a little and add a sinking poly leader to the full intermediate on occasions.
For what it is worth I think many Tasmanian lake anglers should own an intermediate line of some type if they want to catch more fish.

Sinking Lines
These lines are number to correspond with their sink rate. A type 3 sinker sinks at 3 inches per second. The fastest sinker on the market sinks at 8 inches per second. I find that the enjoyment of fly fishing decreases exponentially  with sink rate of the line. This is perhaps not personal, many anglers would agree.

Other tricky Stuff
I recently cast with a new grooved line. That's right a line with longitudinal grooves. After years of hearing manufacturers tell us their line is smoother and therefore it will shoot better there is a manufacturer that has changed their tune. The grooved line seems to work well enough but as far as I can see it feels just like any other new line. I cannot work out how you are supposed to get the line clean as the tiny grooves must surely trap grim.

Slippery coatings
They all tell you that theirs is best. Out of the box they all feel as slippery as eel slime. After a while all lines fail to shoot as well as when new. Clean them regularly and in my opinion don't be scared of using Armourall or 303.

Peter Hayes

Peter Hayes operates a Tasmanian Fly Fishing and Guiding Business as well as his Australia wide Fly casting program. He can be contacted on 0448 905 125 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or