Home | Features | Instruction | Fly lines - part 2

Fly lines - part 2

Font size: Decrease font Enlarge font
Over the last few years there has been a vast increase in the range of fly lines on the market. Much of this development has gone into the design and production of ever-more specialised lines, for use for a single species or a particular set of conditions. In the second of two articles, Terry Lawton looks at sink rates, special tapers, multi-tip lines, line colour, and care and maintenance.

Sink rates

When buying a floating line you obviously hope that your choice will float and not start sinking after a few hours use. For all other lines - which should not float - there is a big range from which to choose. Sink rates vary from neutral or intermediate density, which is designed to hang in the surface film where a line is less affected by wind, to lead core lines which are designed to sink fast to great depths. Full sinking lines come in a whole range of sink speeds, measured in inches per second, from two to three inches per second, up to nine inches per second. It's worth remembering that sink rates are measured under controlled conditions and may not always be duplicated in real fishing conditions.

Because fish feed sub-surface for anything up to 90 per cent of the time, it makes sense to consider having a sinking line in your armoury. And particularly on stillwaters the depth at which fish feed will change with conditions, time of year etc. The sinking speed of a fly line is the same in both still and running water. Lines may seem to sink slower - or not so deep - in running water because they have less time to sink. This is obvious when you think about it. You can cast a line on a stillwater and stand there while it sinks. Unless it is windy, the line is only going to sink, it will not go anywhere else. But on running water, if you cast upstream the moment the line lands on the water, it is starting to come back towards you. So on running water it may pay to use a faster sinking line than you think you will need.

The early sinking lines had a major problem: the thickest - and thus heaviest - part of the line sank first which meant that flies were not presented at the best angle. They sank in a curve which made them less sensitive to subtle takes. To overcome this problem, density compensation was introduced to produce a line whose tip will sink at the same rate as the thicker and heavier, mid-section of the line. Density compensation makes the line sink in a straight(er) line and this helps the detection of gently takes. In simple terms density compensation is achieved by changing and increasing the density of the front taper towards the forward end of the line, in relation to the reducing diameter.

Fishing a neutral density line that just breaks through the surface film, particularly in a flat calm, and so reduces surface disturbance can be a killing tactic. Intermediates sink slowly so you can search for fish at different depths without your flies being pulled down at unnatural angles.

Scientific Anglers' Mastery Series Wet Tip is a range of lines with the tip and head tailored to the size of the line for optimum performance. The lighter lines, normally used for smaller flies and shorter casting/fishing distances, have shorter sinking tips and heads than the larger line sizes. Heavier lines, used for bigger flies and casting longer distances, have longer tips and heads. The sinking tips are tapered and the maker claims that the transition from the floating coating to the sinking is improved to give better turnover and delivery. Sink tip lines should give better take detection than full sinking lines because only the tip in the former sinks and the body of the line floats on the surface where it is highly visible. Sink tips lines have between 9 to 11.8m (10 to 13 feet) of sinking line which then blends into a regular floating line. The correct choice of line for use on rivers will be determined by the speed of water, depth and rate of retrieve.

Multi-tip lines are designed to provide the benefits of a range of different sink-rate lines without the need to buy a series of different lines and reels, or spools, on which to store them. But, with the body of the line on the surface and the tip sunk, will this line present your fly at the best angle? Would it be better to use a full sinking line? Although there are now density-compensated sink tip lines available, they still may not perform as well as a one-piece line. Multi-tip lines are also made in Spey casting tapers (see below).

Special tapers

Special tapers such as bassbug and saltwater tapers have a shorter and heavier front taper which is designed for casting large and wind-resistant flies with a minimum of false casting so that quick casts can be made. There are similar freshwater versions of these lines for fly fishing for pike and even nymph tapers for anglers who fish with heavy, weighted nymphs or add weight to their leaders to sink their flies in deep water. Bone fish and tarpon tapers are designed for extra-long casts in hot conditions so the lines are made extra stiff to prevent them from being too soft and floppy in hot weather. These lines may have a braided core which helps them to turn-over bulky flies and punch into strong winds. Long belly tapers have much of the roll casting ability of a double taper line combined with the shooting ability of the weight forward taper. The belly section may be up to 90 per cent longer than a standard weight forward.

Although not true special tapers, Lee Wulf Triangle tapers are different from other weight forward tapers in that the front taper varies in length according to the line weight and it is also a continuous taper. The continuous taper is said to give good turn-over for short to medium casts and the thin running line offers the least resistance when shooting line for long casts.

Shooting heads

The original shooting head lines were home made. You took the front end of a weight forward line, cut off the running line and then attached the fly line to a very thin monofilament running line. The idea was that the weight of the fly line and the thin running line could be cast very much further than a regular weight forward line. As with everything else, shooting heads are now available from all the fly line manufacturers which has taken away some of the fun of making up your own tapers. Shooting heads were developed for long casting such as steelhead fishing on the West Coast of the USA and Canada and then lake and reservoir fishing in the UK. Shooting heads are now popular in Scandinavia, particularly for the underhand cast using a double handed rod. As well as manufacturers developing better 'heads' for shooting heads, they have also developed better, tangle- and memory-free running lines.

Spey tapers

For many years most salmon anglers were happy to use double taper fly lines. These lines were thought to be the best line to use for Spey casting. Because American anglers were some of the last to discover and experience the benefits of fishing for salmon and other big fish with double handed rods, the development of special lines for use with these rods, and Spey casting in particular, got left behind. The American company Rio was in the vanguard of developing Spey casting tapers although there is now a wide range available. (Development of Spey lines has gone hand-in-hand with the development of faster action double handed rods.) The Rio Spey lines have a thick body to aid line control, mending and make pick-up for casting easier. The Rio range includes special tapers for Spey casting into strong winds, lines for the experienced Spey caster and tapers to suit the would-be expert caster. The Rio WindCutter lines have a relatively short head and short rear taper and a thin running line. They are good for beginners and intermediate Spey casters and for those who use soft or short rods or sink tips most of the time. They are very popular in Scandinavia where the casters there have found them to be an excellent alternative to shooting heads.


As with everything else to do with fly lines, there is an enormous choice of line colour, including clear lines. Your choice of colour is, largely, a personal choice. Clear lines and camouflage colours should, under the right conditions, make them less visible to fish. Multi-coloured weight forward lines with a change in colour at the 30 foot mark do have something to recommend them as it makes it easy to see that you have the right amount of line aerialised when casting. Some of the striped lines, designed for nymph fishing, may make it easier to detect subtle movements of the line. Lines for beginners that have a colour change at the end of the rear taper of the head so that you can see just how much line to aerialise when casting are worth considering.

Which is the right line for you, the way that you cast and the type of fishing that you prefer, is, ultimately, a question of trial and error. There will be a range of lines from which you can choose and it is then a question of trying as many as you can and then making your choice. Whether you choose an all-round mid-range line, a cheap and cheerful mill end or opt for a highly specialised line, you will not be short of choice.

Care and maintenance

Although fly lines are pretty tough, they are susceptible to damage from mud and dirt, being trodden on, sunscreen, solvents and insect repellants, particularly those that contain DEET. They don't like being left in direct sunlight and, when used in freshwater, they will pick-up microscopic particles of algae which will attract and collect dust and debris. All this gunge sticks to the line and adds weight which, eventually, will overcome a (floating) line's buoyancy. The dirt will start to wear the coating or finish of the rod rings. A dirty line will not shoot as well as a clean line and worn rings will also reduce a line's casting performance. You should also check that all surfaces of fly reels that come into contact with the line - particularly when casting or winding in the line - are not chipped, scratched or damaged in any way.

Although there are many proprietary cleaning products on the market, cleaning your line with a few drops of mild, detergent-free soap on a cloth is as good as anything. When your line is clean and dry, you can treat it with a special product or apply some pure silicon to a clean cloth and then simply pull the line through the cloth. Fly lines used in saltwater will collect a coating of salt and this should be washed off using soap.

A line that is looked after well will last much longer than one that is subject to regular or even infrequent abuse.

Stretching a line before use if it has been stored on a reel spool for any length of time or if the weather is cold is a good idea. It helps to stretch a new line first time out as it will have been stored in coils in its packaging. Lines with harder, tropical coating also need a good stretch before use.

The best way to store lines for the close season is to leave them on the reel and put the reel and line in a plastic bag in a cool, dark cupboard or drawer, away from any heat. But do clean and dry the line well before putting it into storage.

The way forward

Recent developments announced by the major manufacturers include specific tapers for specific applications and line weight, as well as coatings that are a better match for the line's use. Cortland's new 555 Series lines do not rely on a single coating, body material, core or taper. Each line is engineered to match the fly fisher's specific needs. The 555 floating line has a 'ground-breaking' chambered mono core design, super-durable body, slick multi-agent coating and long-distance taper.

Scientific Anglers is also developing tapers for specific applications and tailoring them to each line weight. It is claimed that these lines have increased control of distance and presentation all the way through the casting cycle and provide the optimum balance of taper-to-line proportion and turnover power versus presentation delicacy.

Manufacturers have also worked out how to make loop-to-loop connections - for multi-tip lines for example - work without excessive hinging, by making welded loops of similar stiffness to the line. This means that you do not have to make your own loops in the end of the line or used a braided loop. The Rio Grande is an example of a fly line with a manufacturer's loop on the business end.

Articles by the same author

  • Email to a friend Email to a friend
  • Print version Print version
  • Plain text Plain text

Tagged as:

No tags for this article