As instructors and guides we often get asked about fly lines. Lines tend to be the piece of kit that is paramount to efficient casting and fishing, but can often get overlooked for the important roll that it plays. Most newcomers to the sport tend to focus more on a new rod and reel than the line that is going to be used. In layman terms, a fly line is nothing more than a plastic weight. But with such a huge selection to choose from, which one will you want? Understanding fly lines can be as simple or as in depth as you want to make it. Most anglers are quite happy to use one type of fly line for all of their fishing and still catch consistently.
This is often good enough. Your gear is matched up and you will can go and catch fish to your hearts content. So what's the deal with all the other lines then? Why do some anglers carry reel bags full of spools and lines? One reason for this, is that they will be carrying a variety of lines for different fishing situations. Some will perhaps be sinking lines, or shooting heads. Basically the type of water that's been fished will determine the type of fly line that you use. Sometimes you may need a delicate presentation line for dry fly fishing, or a nymph line that is designed for turning weighted flies over. A selection of different sink tips is always worth carrying, to get the flies down when in high water or during certain times of the year. This is both true for both still and running water.
The first thing that you should consider when selecting a fly line is the use correct line weight for the rod that your using. Easy! If your using a five weight rod then match it with a five weight line. Dependant on the weight of rod that that your fishing with, will have some bearing on the size of flies that it will cast and perhaps species of fish that your fishing for. If for example you are fishing a small stream for small fish, that feed on small insects, then a light rod is what's needed. If you were to oversize everything then it would take the fun out of the fishing or even spook fish with over sized lines, leaders and flies crashing on a small water. The same applies if you wanted to use a light outfit on a big river where longer casts, casting heavy bugs are sometimes needed. You could find that you are a bit under-gunned for the job.
Weight and profile of line will dictate the size of flies that you can cast.
The next consideration is the taper of the fly line. This can be as important as selection the correct weight line for the rod that your using. If for example you were tying to use a nymph taper fly line to fish with small dry flies, you will experience an aggressive turn over that might spook fish. The same applies if using a delicate presentation fly line with a team of heavy bugs. The profile of the line will struggle to transmit the energy to the flies and turn them over efficiently. So it pays to understand various tapers and their fishing practicalities. A fly line that consits of a long, shallow front taper is designed to allow a smooth transfer of energy to the flies, where as a nymph taper or saltwater fly line will have a short, steep front taper that concentrates on maximum energy transfer and powerful turnover.
Different fly lines for different fly fishing situations
Fly lines have evolved with fly fishing, and most companies seem to have a dabble at producing their own. But you soon find your own favourite's for each style of fly fishing that your doing. I must confess, that Rio do it all for my fishing. Whether I'm guiding for small wild fish, firing pike flies at range or battling and onshore wind casting poppers at bass, there is a line for it all- and more! I'm looking forward to trying some of the new Rio wire and put it through its paces on the pike. I will let you know the results when it turns up.
So once you have determined the line weight and profile, the next thing to consider is the density. I like to carry a decent selection to choose from, as to maximize the chance of catching fish. Don't get me wrong, I don't have boxes of different sinking lines, I tend to have two or three for each rod weight that I use. As well as floaters, intermediates are always a good choice of line to carry. This is certainly true for the pike fishing. It's always nice to pick fish off from the surface of the water, but a lot of the time we usually have to get down to the fish. I also like to carry a sink-tip line and also a full sinker. Again allowing us to reach the fish at their holding/feeding depth. As well at the line rating in grains or AFTM, it will also indicate an ips rating. This is simply informing the angler the sink rate of the fly line. I.E 6ips = it sinks at 6 inches per second. These sink rates can vary somewhat when fished in saltwater though.
I hope that this as helped to cover a few of the basic questions that I come across. Its a matter of knowing the type of fishing that your going to be doing, and the type of fish that you will be targeting. Then its a matter of selecting the correct weight, taper of fly line and decide whether you use a floating or sinking line.
Choose the line to suit your fishing.