How to Choose the Right Floating Fly Line
By Aaron Freed
One of the most common questions we hear throughout our fishing season is, “I need a new fly line. Which line do you recommend?” There are so many options available on the market today that finding the right line can seem overwhelming. While the answer is rarely simple, we use a straightforward process here at BRF to guide you through the line-buying experience, and this article will walk you through the steps we follow. To start, we'll ask you two important questions get a sense of what you need in a fly line:
What type of fishing will the line be used for?
Narrowing down what type of fishing the line will predominantly be used for will go a long way in determining where to start your search. A line designed to cast small dries delicately will probably struggle to toss a two-nymph indicator rig, and vice versa. There are lines that are made to do a little bit of everything, and there are specialty lines for every fishing niche you could think of.
What rod will the line be fished on?
The rod the line will be fished on is just as important as the intended use, particularly the rod’s action. Figuring out where your rod’s action falls on a spectrum of slow (very flexible, bending all the way into the butt of the rod) to fast (much stiffer, and bending mainly in the top third of the rod) will be key to picking an appropriate line. So if you’re not sure, pull out your fly rod and flex it, taking note of where and how much it bends.
Answering these two questions will guide us in determining what type of taper will best meet your needs. Most anglers choose a weight forward taper, which has a defined head with a front and rear taper, followed by a long length of thin running line on the back end. We can further divide weight forward lines into three different categories to help narrow things down: Dry Fly Lines, All-Around Lines, and Oversized Lines. Double taper lines, which have the same taper on each end of the line and a long belly in between, can be a great choice as well, and we’ll get into the merits of each category in just a bit.
Picking the right taper is ultimately the most important choice to make, but it is also important to consider different technologies, finishes and cosmetic designs available from each manufacturer. Do you want a line that has a textured finish, or do you prefer a traditional smooth finish? Textured finishes can help a line shoot better when casting for distance, but also can make a “zinging” sound when moving through the guides that some anglers find irritating. Do you prefer a brightly colored line or a drab finish? A bright line will be easier to see both in the air and on the water, making it easier to keep track of what’s happening with your line during your cast and your drift. Alternatively, a more natural color may provide a bit more stealth when casting to wary fish. Do you want welded loops at one or both ends? Loops make rigging a new leader quick and easy, but also are bulky and can get caught in your rod guides when trying to land a fish. Most likely none of these things will make or break your experience with an individual line, but they may improve the experience enough to help choose one line over another, and it's up to each angler to choose what is most important.
So now let's take a look at some actual lines. We’ll break down our line categories in more detail, and then give some examples of lines that fit those descriptions. Along the way, be sure to keep in mind that there is certainly some overlap between these categories, and also that just because a certain type of fishing may not be in a particular line’s wheelhouse, that doesn’t mean that you can’t push it outside its intended use from time to time. With each line, we’ll overview some of the key features, present a taper diagram so you can see the differences between each design, and link to the individual product page on our site so you can read about that line in more detail if you choose.
Dry Fly Lines
These are lines that are true to line weight standards and have long, gradually tapered tip sections for even distribution of energy when turning over, landing delicately for the best presentation with small to medium-sized flies. A better name for this category might actually be “Lines for Unweighted Flies,” as they will cast unweighted nymphs and soft hackles nicely as well. They’ll do a little high stick nymphing with lightly weighted flies if needed, but ideally you wouldn’t want to cast a large streamer or two heavy nymphs and an indicator. These lines also won’t be the best choice for really big dries like Salmonflies or hoppers, especially in windy conditions, since the long taper on the tip may not carry enough energy to turn over heavy and/or wind-resistant flies. Dry fly lines fish best on slower to medium action graphite rods, as well as similarly flexing bamboo and fiberglass rods.
Here are a few of our favorite options:
Key Features: camo olive finish, welded loops on both ends, affordable price
Key Features: dual color finish marks where the head meets the running line, MaxCast hydrophobic coating to repel water and increase buoyancy, welded loops on both ends
There are many fine lines available that are designed to fill the jack-of-all-trades role, the one line to do just about everything. With these lines, keep in mind that lines designed to do a lot of things reasonably well won’t truly excel in any one area. As we’ve mentioned before, any attempt to make a line cast more delicately with small flies will sacrifice its ability to launch heavier flies, and vice versa. For many anglers, though, the convenience of switching techniques without switching lines is well worth this compromise, and this is the direction that the vast majority of anglers go with their line choice.
We can break this group into two sub-categories: lines that are true to line size standards, and those that are intentionally weighted above those standards, generally referred to as oversized or over-weighted lines. Typically, rods in the slow to medium action range will cast better with lines that are true to size, and stiffer, fast action rods load better with lines that are a half size or even a full size heavy. That extra weight helps flex the rod more, making casting more comfortable and giving you a better sense of what’s going on during your casting stroke.
Average casting distance can play an important role here also. If you make short casts most of the time, an over-weighted line may load your rod better, even if it’s a slower action rod. In contrast, a distance caster may prefer a true-weight line even on a stiff rod, because the long length of line they’re casting provides sufficient weight to load the rod. All of this is to say that, once again, it’s ultimately up to each angler to determine what’s most likely to work for their particular needs.
Here are our top taper choices in this category:
Key Features: true to line size, all-around taper that leans towards the dry fly end of the spectrum, AST Plus slickness additive for superior buoyancy and durability, different texture zones to maximize shooting and buoyancy, three-color finish marks transitions in taper, long rear taper for better mending at distance, welded loops at both ends
Key Features: true to line size, all-around taper that leans towards the dry fly end of the spectrum, AST coating for enhanced slickness and buoyancy, two-color finish, long rear taper for better mending at distance, welded loops at both ends
Key Features: true to line size, dual-color finish with drab olive front section and brightly colored running line, MaxCast hydrophobic coating to repel water and increase buoyancy, welded loops at both ends
Key Features: half size heavy, AST Plus slickness additive for superior buoyancy and durability, camo tip with drab overall finish, color change marks transition from head to running line, welded loops at both ends
In our last category of weight forward lines, we have tapers that are not only over-weighted, but also concentrate the majority of the weight into the very front end of the line, with a very short, abrupt front taper. These over-weighted lines have heads that tend to be on the shorter end of the spectrum to keep the line near the accepted standards for each line size (compare the taper diagrams below with those above, and the difference will be readily apparent). This design lends itself to casting large and/or heavy flies and multi-fly indicator rigs, using more mass in the front of the line to turn over the additional weight present in the terminal tackle. Lines in this category will still fish well with bigger dries, but won’t be a great choice for small to medium dry flies. Accordingly, these lines will typically fish best on modern fast action graphite rods, which are best suited to those types of fishing.
The following tapers are all great choices for this type of line:
Key Features: half size heavy, AST Plus slickness additive for superior buoyancy and durability, different texture zones to maximize shooting and buoyancy, three-color finish marks transitions in taper, welded loops at both ends
Key Features: half size heavy, AST coating for enhanced slickness and buoyancy, two-color finish marks transition from head to running line, welded loops at both ends
Double Taper Lines
So far we’ve talked only about weight forward tapers, which are certainly the most popular option these days, but the double taper is still a viable choice for many anglers as well. Double tapers are typically true to line size and will perform similarly to lines in the dry fly category. Since double tapers have a heavier belly in their midsections rather than thin running line, they will mend easier at distance and can even perform spey casts due to their extra mass further down the line (due to the extra mass throughout the midsection, a double taper will also take up more space on your reel than a weight forward line, so if you are switching from a weight forward to a double taper, you’ll probably have to remove some backing). There is also the added bonus of two lines in one; since the taper on both ends is the same, when one end wears out, you can flip the line around and receive the same performance from the other end.
Here is our top double taper recommendation:
Key Features: camo olive finish, welded loops at both ends, affordable price
Hopefully this breakdown makes choosing a line a little simpler, but as always, feel free to give us a call at 406-646-7642 if you have more questions. We have personal experience with many of these lines and we’re happy to share those experiences with you if you’d like. We’re here to help, so don’t hesitate to give us a shout!