How to choose the right fly lines

There are many differences between fly fishing and conventional spinning tackle, but the predominant difference is the use of fly line and the different varieties.  Choosing the proper fly line is not always obvious, as they come in several different varieties and some can be used for overlapping situations. Below is Fishbrain's guide to the diferent fly line types and which kind you should choose for each fly fishing situation.

How to choose the right fly lines

There are many differences between fly fishing and conventional spinning tackle, but the predominant difference is the use of fly line and the different varieties. 

Fly line is what is used to propel a fly through the air and to its target. Unlike spinning rods, which use the weight of a lure, or an added weight onto the line (often in the form of split shot) flies are light with such little weight, they cannot be propelled the same way.

Presentation of a fly often needs to be gentle, as to not disturb the water’s surface too much. Because of this, the line needs to be weighted to propel the fly. Besides that basic function, there are also different types of fly line used for specific waters and species.

Choosing the proper fly line is not always obvious, however, as they come in several different varieties and some can be used for overlapping situations. Below is Fishbrain's guide to the different fly line types and which kind you should choose for each fly fishing situation.

TAPERED

Fly line diameters will change depending on the type you choose. Tapers have different functions based on your fishing needs.

WEIGHT FORWARD: This is arguably the most popular taper. Your line has a constant diameter, beginning at where it connects to your backing, but as the last 30, or so, feet begin your line will increase in diameter, giving it slightly more weight, before slimming back down in diameter where you attach your leader. 

BENEFITS: The forward weight makes casting your line out easier. Weight forward lines also come in different varieties, where the weighted section is in different locations. A more aggressive weight forward will have the weighted section much closer to where you attach your leader, allowing for a more powerful cast. Having the weight set slightly farther back allows for ease of casting, but with a slightly more finesse approach to your cast.

DOUBLE TAPER: This style finds the weighted, thicker, section of your line in the very center. 

Your line will start narrow, but after the first several feet, will gain in weight and diameter. This diameter will run most of the length of your line, keeping the weight centered, before scaling back down in the last several feet, allowing you to attach your leader.

BENEFITS: You cannot cast as far with a double tapered line, but it does allow for a much more gentle cast. Specifically this is needed when dry fly fishing cal water and easily spooked fish. Another advantage is that if you damage your line, toward the leader, you can reverse your line, attaching the damaged end to your backing and having an undamaged end for your leader. This can't be done on weight forward tapers as you will lose all the weight.

LEVEL TAPER: This is a bargain bin option for anglers on a budget. It has no inherent advantages like the other lines and will not cast as far, but will work in a pinch. Sometimes you need to save some money.

FLY LINE TYPES

FLOATING: Like the weight forward taper, this is probably the most popular style of line. Floating line is good for almost all types of fishing, regardless if you are chasing trout, bass, pike, or anything else. Floating line will, as described, float. THis lets you fish a variety of different methods. THe floating line will keep your dry flies on top of the water, but will still allow your leader and tippet to sink for nymphing and streamer fishing. 

Your length of leader and tippet you tie on will depend on how deep you want a subsurface fly to sink. Your floating line will work increeks, ponds, most rivers and lakes and is the perfect all purpose choice for most anglers.

SINKING: For when you really need to get down there. These lines are almost specifically for streamer fishing in those deep and hard to get areas. The tapers on these almost always will be weight forward, which helps the line sink rapidly.

Sinking line is broken up by how fast it will sink. 

The sinking rate ranges from:

Intermediate (sinks at a rate of 1.5-2 inches per second and is good for fishing around 2-4 feet of water) all the way to type 7 (sinks at a rate 7-8 inches per second and is good for fishing a depth of 20-30 feet) Knowing how deep you are targeting fish, will help you choose which type of sinking line you need. 

For example, every spring I cast for lake trout as they rise from unfishable deep waters into a depth range of 20-30 feet. Knowing how fast I need my line to sink, as well as the depth range of the fish, influences the line I select.

SINKING TIP: Sink tips are the perfect line choice for when you need to get down in the water column, but not too deep. Sink tips are weighted at (you guessed it) the tip of your line and float for the rest. Sink tips are predominantly used for streamer anglers who target bass, larger trout, pike and even some steelhead and salmon. If you know before going out that you’re going to chuck nothing but streamers, then a sink tip could be your best option.

SALTWATER: Saltwater line is all about performance and durability. Saltwater fish are bigger and stronger than almost any freshwater fish you will find. Combine that with the abrasive and destructive nature of saltwater and you need a line that can hold up in the toughest conditions. 

Saltwater lines can come in floating, if you are fishing flats, or sinking for deeper water species. The line’s core is often heavier, which helps when casting into the winds that will inevitably plague you. Salt lines are almost always chosen to be weighted forward as casting needs to be quick and follow up casts need to be even quicker.

Choosing the right fly line for the right situation can be just as paramount as choosing the right fly. Knowing exactly what you are fishing for and the water you are fishing plays a large influence on your choice. It's even a good idea to have several spools for your reels with different types of lines all ready to go.

Now let’s go fishing.

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