Making Sense of Fly Lines
In a previous article about fly rods, I mentioned that fly lines are designated by weight and that they are available in different weights ranging from one to fourteen. In addition, I also mentioned that different fly line weights are chosen for specific purposes. However, you should also be aware that there are many different types of fly line tapers and the design of each taper has a dramatic effect on the fly line’s performance.
Thus, to start with let’s examine fly line weights. As I mentioned, fly lines are designated by weight and that they are available in different weights ranging from one to fourteen. In addition, a fly line’s weight is determined by weighing the first thirty feet of the fly line in grains (440 grains is equal to one ounce). Thus 1 wt. fly lines are the lightest and they are designed to delicately deliver very small flies to very skittish fish such as trout holding in slow, clear, water. On the other hand, 14 wt. fly lines are the heaviest and they are specifically designed to deliver very large, wind resistant, flies to very large fish such as Sharks, Sailfish, Swordfish, and Marlin.
Now, the reason that fly lines are available in so many different weights is that, unlike a spinning lure or a bass plug, trout flies have very little weight and a lot of wind resistance and thus we cannot “load” the rod by using the weight of the lure. Instead, in order to cast a trout fly, we have to use a weighted fly line. In addition, the larger the fly is, the more wind resistance it has and thus, the heavier the fly line that is required to cast it. Also, the stronger the wind is on any given day in the location where you are fly fishing, the heavier the fly line you need to cut through that wind and deliver you fly to the target. On the other hand, the lighter a fly line is, the more delicately it will land on the surface of the water and thus, the more delicately it will present your fly to the fish. Consequently, fly fishermen must choose their fly line in such a way that it balances each of these aspects as they pertain to the particular application. For instance, when fly fishing in crystal clear pools, glides, and still water such as ponds and lakes, where the surface of the water is glass smooth, you need a fly line weight that will land very gently on the water and thus present the fly in a very delicate manner. However, when you are fishing in rough water such as riffles and runs, delicacy of presentation is not nearly as important and thus, you can select a heavier fly line that will cast a larger fly that is more likely to be noticed by trout holding such water.
Last it important to understand that in the early days of modern fly lines, choosing a fly line was a simple task since all you had to do was choose a fly line weight that matched your fly rod and then choose either a Double Taper, a Weight Forward taper, or the God forsaken Level Taper fly line. Fortunately, none of the major fly line manufactures make a Level Taper anymore since they were specifically designed to be inexpensive fly lines and their casting performance was absolutely dismal. However, both Double Tapers and Weight Forward tapers are still available and each one serves a different purpose. As the name implies, a Double Taper fly line consists of a long “belly” or “body” section that is the same diameter for its entire length but, then tapers to a finer diameter at either end called the “front taper”. Thus, they are generally chosen for short range casting but, they are also capable of casting at longer distances because the long “belly” section allows you to hold more fly line in the air without the fly line “hinging”. Conversely, Weight Forward tapers are specifically designed for casting over long distances and thus, they consist of a short, thick, “head section” which incorporates both a front and rear taper that then transitions to a long, thin, “running line” section. Therefore, they are designed to use the weight of the “head” section to “shoot” the fly line over long distances while the thin diameter running line creates less friction in the rod guides due to its lesser surface area.
However, the manufacture of modern fly lines has now progressed to the point where there are a myriad of different types of specialty tapers. Consequently, in addition to double tapers, we now have weight forward tapers specifically designed for fresh water and salt water use and then, each of those groups has a plethora of specialty tapers; each designed for a specific purpose. Thus, for freshwater use alone, we now have delicate delivery tapers, distance tapers, Trout tapers, Smallmouth Bass tapers, Largemouth Bass tapers, nymph tapers, streamer tapers, and on and on. Also, the same is true with saltwater fly lines.
Thus, while it is ostensibly better to have so many different choices in fly line weight and fly line tapers, it is now far more important than ever to carefully choose the correct fly line for the particular purpose for which you intend to use it. Also, it is very important to be aware that different brands and series of fly rods perform better with different brands and series of fly lines than they do with others; even though they are all of the correct weight for your particular fly rod. Thus, I suggest that you try as many different brands as series of fly lines as possible in order to determine which one performs best with your fly rod.
Guide & Instructor
Harper Creek Fly Fishing Company