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Anatomy of a Fly Fisherman Part 3: Fly Line

Various Available Fly Line Types and Brands

Line is by far the most important feature of your fly-fishing rig. Because I want you to be the most capable fisherman possible, I'm going to explain the different aspects of fly line, as best I can, without putting you to sleep. Talking to people I know that fly fish I’m astounded to find that many of them only know about floating and sinking lines. They had no idea about any of the weighted aspects of the fly line on their rigs. With spin fishing the weight of the lure being cast pulls the monofilament line off the reel. It’s the opposite with fly-fishing; the weight of the line carries the fly to the fish. The fly line you cast and the way you cast it creates the "presentation" of the fly. To catch fish you must present your fly in the water column the way the fish expect to see their natural food appear. The right fly line makes that possible. Nothing can "sink" your fishing trip faster than showing up with the wrong line for the given fishing situation. For instance, if you have floating line on your rig and need to use nymphs or wet flies, which require sinking line, they will not work well together.

When choosing a fly line there are many different characteristics that you must consider such as shape, construction, length, weight, taper, color and coatings.

  • Shape and construction: These two aspects determine how the line delivers the fly.

  • Length and weight: Fly line weights range from a 1-weight to a 15-weight. A fly line's weight is distributed throughout its length - from 90 to 105 feet or more - but its weight designation (1-15) is determined by the weight of the front 30 feet of the fly line.

  • Taper: The way fly lines shoot, turn over a heavy fly, present a small fly delicately, or cast efficiently at long or short distances is through the taper design. The fly line's taper (its outside dimension) is designed by varying the thickness of the line coating. Notice the way a fly line is described - tip, front taper, belly, rear taper, head and running line. All these elements can be varied to change the casting performance of the line. Fly lines are broken into five design categories: the—seldom-used—level (L), the highly popular weight-forward (WF), double taper (DT), shooting-taper (ST), and specialty taper. The fly lines you will use the most are weight-forward, double taper and specialty. I use a weight forward for my floating rig.

  • Color: Many fishermen prefer a line that is easy to see and cast while others want a line that blends in well with the surrounding water. I prefer a line that is easy to see.

  • Coating: Fly lines float because the manufacturer designs them with tiny air bubbles in the lines surface. If instead the manufacturer adds lead or tungsten to the fly line's coating, the line will sink.

An important yet often overlooked aspect of the line is keeping it clean. If I'm not going to use my rig the very next day or when I leave the water to head home I try to wipe it down by running it through a rag or paper towel (more often than not it's my shirt tail). I do this because things like algae and mud can dry to the line and cause it to cast or strip improperly next time out.

It's important to pay attention to how your line casts, especially with sinking lines. Obviously, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line and with that being said you need to watch for a "belly" in the line or for the line to sink in the middle before it sinks at the head (end nearest the leader). It's supposed to sink at the head first because this allows better "feel" should the fish spit the fly.

Hopefully, I’ve shed a little light on the subject of fly lines for you and provided an understanding of the subtle differences of all the different types of line. Next time we will discuss Leaders and Tippet that subject will be shorter I PROMISE!! Until then...

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Tight lines, Friends!

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