Fly Line Buyer's Guide

If your fly rod is the lead singer and your reel is the guitarist, then your fly line is the drummer. Just like a band with a drummer who can’t keep a beat, a fly-fishing outfit – even one with the highest quality rod and reel on the market – won’t perform well without the appropriate fly line. Not only does your fly line provide the weight necessary to cast a weightless fly, it helps with the technical aspects of fly fishing that extend far beyond casting.

Line Weight
If you want to cast better, finding a fly line that works with you and your rod is one of the most important things you can do (other than practice). The easiest way to match a line to your rod is to purchase a line that has the same weight classification as your rod. If you have a five-weight rod, use a five-weight line. While this is generally effective and a good rule of thumb, it is not definite. At short distances, a heavier line makes it easier to load your rod. Some modern lines are manufactured with slightly higher grain weights than they traditionally were. These lines work well with todays fast action rods, allowing them to cast better, especially at short distances.

AFTM Fly Line Table

AFTM Number In grains (range) In grams In Ounces
3 100 +/- 6 6.48 0.228
4 120 +/- 6 7.78 0.274
5 140 +/- 6 9.07 0.32
6 160 +/- 8 10.42 0.366
7 185 +/- 8 11.99 0.422
8 210 +/- 8 13.61 0.48
9 240 +/- 10 15.55 0.55
10 280 +/- 10 18.14 0.64
11 330 +/- 12 21.38 0.75
12 380 +/- 12 24.62 0.86

Line Type
There are several types of line. The one(s) you choose should depend fully on what you’re fishing for and the flies you’re using.
Floating line – The entire line floats. While the most obvious application for floating line is dry-fly fishing, it’s also useful when fishing with nymphs and streamers in shallow water. Because the whole line floats, it’s easier to control the line when it’s on the water.
Sinking line – The entire line sinks. This type of line is typically used when fishing deep, often in lakes and ponds.

Sink-tip line ­– Only the tip sinks. Sink-tip line is excellent for fishing streamers in rivers. It gets your fly deep, but because the majority of the line floats, mending your line to get the proper drift or swing is possible.

Sink Rates

Type Inches Per Second
1 1.25-2
2 1.75-2.75
3 2.75-4
4 4-5
5 4.5-6
6 6-7
7 7-9
8 8

Weight forward (WF) – Tapered so the heaviest part is toward the front of the fly line. Weight-forward fly line is excellent for general casting and shooting line long distances. The tip section is tapered down to deliver your fly with precision.
Double taper (DT) – This line has identical tapers at each end. It holds loops with more stability because it’s more level, but it’s best used at short to moderate distances for most casters and doesn’t shoot as well as WF line.
Shooting tip – This line is similar to WF line, only it doesn’t have running line on the back. Generally, the whole line is only around 30 ft. long. It attaches to a smaller-diameter shooting line, and is typically used for extreme-distance casting. Line control with these lines is limited.
Integrated shooting taper – Similar to shooting tip, only the shooting line is permanently attached to the shooting head. While convenient, you can’t attach different shooting heads to your shooting line to match various conditions.

Fly lines are constructed by placing plastic covering over a core. The core is what gives the line its stiffness and strength, while the plastic affects the weight, density, buoyancy and slickness of the line.
Fly-line cores are generally made of either braided multifilament, braided monofilament or monofilament.
• Braided-multifilament line is best in cool to moderate temperatures. It’s too supple for tropical heat. Its hollow center makes it more buoyant.
• Braided-monofilament line is stiff so it stands up to tropical heat, but it is too stiff for cold temperatures. Its lack of air in the middle hinders its flotation.
• Monofilament line is moderately stiff and good for all climates. It is small in diameter and makes excellent fast-sinking line. Monofilament is the only core that can be used to make clear lines.
Fly-line coverings are generally made from three different materials as well.
• Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) allows for slicker lines and more chemical enhancements.
• Polyurethanes are solvent-resistant and durable.
• Polyethylenes are rarely used, but are naturally slick and abrasion-resistant.
There are a large number of technologies employed by line manufacturers to increase line performance, but these are the most prevalent:
• Glass microballoons are added to help with flotation.
• Glass beads are added to make lines sink slowly.
• Highly dense powdered tungsten is added to make fast-sinking line.
• UV inhibitors are often added to tropical line to protect it from the sun.
• Manufactures infuse many coatings with lubricants to make line slicker, decreasing friction and increasing line speeds.
• Hydrophobic chemicals are added to help line shed water and dirt so it floats higher and lasts longer.
A fairly new technology in the fly-line industry is textured coating. Texturing fly line reduces friction and helps with buoyancy. However, it is noisy when passing through the guides and can be abrasive on your hands, especially the more aggressive textures.  While it provides great performance, it is not for everyone.

Leaders and Tippets
Leaders and tippets are all too often neglected as an important part of casting. Leaders and tippets provide a strong, translucent, flexible link between the fly and fly line. It is important to have the proper taper to your in order to properly turn over your fly and line.
The proper tippet lets your fly move naturally with the current. Light flies are more controlled by tippet stiffness than heavy flies. So, when you are using smaller flies, if you are going to get a realistic drift that will entice a fish to strike, you need to use smaller-diameter tippets because they are more flexible. A good rule of thumb is to divide the size of the fly you are using by three and use that size of tippet. For example, a #18 fly would use 6X tippet. So long as you are using the appropriate rod and drag setting for your species, you should be able to successfully land and release large fish when using fine tippets. Also, using a tippet that is too small for your fly, like a 6X tippet on a #6 fly, can cause knots to slip, losing flies and fish.
The strongest leaders are knotless leaders. Manufacturers create already-tapered leaders that start very thick and taper down to the desired diameter. These leaders require no knots, so weak spots are reduced. Also, the gradual taper helps with turning over flies.
Tippets and leaders are made with several different materials that all have their benefits:
• Monofilament is the most common and least expensive material used, and is excellent for most fishing situations.
• Fluorocarbon is more expensive than monofilament but is also more transparent and sinks. If you’re fishing fine tippets for large fish, fluorocarbon is an excellent choice because it has a higher breaking point relative to diameter than monofilament and is virtually invisible underwater.
• Furled leaders are a good option when using strike indicators, as they are less likely to kink. They also allow for a more-natural dry-fly presentation.
• If your target species is toothy, wire leaders are vital as they won’t be cut on by sharp teeth.
• Tungsten plastic coated on a nylon core is helpful when you need to fish deep.