Sunday, June 23, 2019

Fort Collins Beginner Fly Fishing Lessons: Fly Lines?

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Fly Line: How, What, Why and More

When I teach an E.I. Fly™ course, I emphasize the need to balance the combination of your fly line, rod and reel. Specifically, I feel the most important aspect of any fly rod set-up is the fly line design and its physical properties. For the beginner, it starts with a basic understanding of the weight difference between monofilament and fly fishing lines; how the weight of the fly line is designed to produce flex in the fly rod vs. the weight of the lure creating flex in a spinning rod.  You don't hear much talk about fly lines, but experts agree, to achieve a great casting stroke, it has very little to do with the rod or reel. The use of the highest quality fly line, combined with sound casting mechanics, is the key to becoming a successful fly caster. 

To get you moving in the right direction, legendary casting champion and instructor Joan Wulff defines the fly-casting stroke as: 

“The fly casting stroke is a straight-line movement of the whole rod by the rod hand, in an acceleration to a stop.  During the acceleration, the weight of the fly line flexes the rod from the tip downward.  When the acceleration is ended and the butt section of the rod is stopped, the limber rod tip flips over and the long flexible line continues on its path, passing over the tip, to form an open-ended unrolling loop. “  J. Wulff. Fly Casting techniques.

Line Design: The Core

Unlike monofilament, it’s the core of the fly line that determines the tensile strength, as well as how much it stretches and the general stiffness of the line (or lack of stiffness).  As a general rule, all cores are built to be much stronger than the heaviest tippets that are used with them.  For example, a 3 weight floating line may have a break-strength as much, if not more, than 20lbs.  Heavy fly lines such as 10Wt.  may have a break strength well over 50lbs.  Chances are, the leader and tippet will break off 99.9% of the time before your fly line will.  With respect to stretch, it’s important that a fly line core have the right amount of stretch.  Not enough stretch and the line may develop memory problems.  Too much stretch and the fly line may become mushy and difficult to control.  Lastly, the stiffness of the core will determine the action of your fly-line.  For example, lines intended for tropical fishing are designed to withstand high heat extremes.  Equally, lines developed for more temperate water are made with cores that are less stiff.  This reduces the problem of line memory that occurs when stiff line meets cold waters.

The Coating: Floating and Sinking Line

The basic function of the line coating is to provide the casting weight needed to load the fly rod.  Precise weight standards are set by the fly-fishing industry and manufacture associations.  How does a line float or sink?  The density of the line’s coating will determine whether a line will float or sink.  Specifically, floating lines (as seen in photo to the left) have micro-balloons mixed into their coatings.   The micro-balloons create buoyancy, thus allowing the line to float.  However, if too many micro-balloons are added, this will add thickness to the line and adversely affect the lines castability properties.  Manufactures also apply hydrophobic coatings on the line that are H2o resistant.  These H2o coatings actually repel the water… much like car wax beads water on a car.

Sinking Lines

As seen to the left, sinking lines have a high-density material built into their coatings, thus, allowing the lines to sink in water.  Generally speaking, manufactures use powdered tungsten because it is denser and more environmentally friendlier than lead (though lead core lines are still available).  By controlling the amount of metal powder added to the line, the manufacture can set the sink rate per line.  For example, a sink line can sink 1.0 inch per second, or +10 seconds per minute.  Lastly, since the line sinks and you cannot see it, nor do you want the fish to see it, colors are often brown or grey.

Taper Designs

Tapers: Level, Double, Forward, Long, Triangular, Shooting
The fly line’s shape or taper determines how energy is transmitted and dissipated during casting.  By varying the lengths and diameters of the various parts of the line, specific performance attributes can be accentuated.

Parts of the Taper

1.  Tip: a short 6-12 inch level section where you attach your leader.  This section is to protect the lines taper. Since many anglers cut off a small part of the fly line when they change leaders, the tip allows these changes without shortening the front taper and altering the way the line casts.

2.  Front Taper: this section of the line determines how delicately or powerfully the fly is delivered.  Typically, 4-8 feet long, the Front Taper decreases in diameter from the Belly section to the Tip.  This graduation of the line’s mass (weight) determines its ability to transfer your casting energy.

3.  Belly: because it’s the widest diameter and longest length, this section is where most of the weight of a line is located, and, consequently, where your casting energy is carried.

4.  Rear Taper:  decreasing in diameter from the thicker Belly section to the much smaller diameter running line section, the rear taper creates the transition so important to smooth casting.

5.  Head: a term used to describe the combination of parts (front taper, belly and rear taper).

6.  Running Linetypically a much smaller diameter from the belly, this section of line has been designed to make casting distance easier.

Taper Types

Level Fly Line (L):  are the easiest to understand and the least used.  A fly line that has a level taper, in essence has no taper.  A level taper fly line is of uniform weight and width for its entire length (+/- 75 ft).  In other words, it has one diameter (thickness).  Level lines float extremely well due their constant weight and width, but are much difficult to cast and control. Delicate fly presentation may be difficult because the line tends to splash on the water during a cast.  Further, level lines do not shoot as well, thus, limiting your ability to make longer cast. Take Away: Low Performance features. It transfers energy erratically and is hard to control while casting.   The best function of the level lines is in the form of fine diameter shooting lines or sinking lines to be cut up for tips for custom lines. 

Weight forward (WF): The line has extra weight and width (diameter) built into it the front potion of the line.  Taper design can vary by Manufacturer and targeted species.  But generally speaking, a WF taper is about 30 feet in length, with a short belly and short back taper followed by 60 feet of thin diameter level line. The advantages of the WF line: works over a wide range of conditions.  Casts ranging from 20-100 feet with normal size flies.  More effective line to cast in windy conditions. Take Away: easy to false cast and good for long cast. 

Special Note WF Lines:  because the extra weight and width are on one end of the fly line, it is crucial that the line be put on correctly.  Today, almost all manufacturers will assist you in this process by adding a tag(note) on the line.  A WF line cannot be reversed.  Lastly, any line whether floating or sinking which has a “head” and “running line” section which are seamlessly joined can be termed a WF fly line.  For example: Rocket Tapers, Saltwater Tapers, Steelhead Tapers, Triangle Tapers, and Teeny are well WF fly lines.

Double Taper (DT): Historically speaking the DT fly line was the most popular line at one time, and the fly line of choice for trout fisherman.  DT lines are perfectly balanced; both ends of the fly line weigh the same and each end gradually increases in width and weight the closer it gets to the middle section of the fly line at an equal rate. Thus, due to identical tapers at each end, the DT line is reversible.  If one end becomes worn, simply switch ends.  Specifically, the DT line is 90 feet long.  The first 15 feet of the line, from one end, gradually thickens .  Thereafter, the line maintains its diameter throughout the belly for 60 feet.  Upon the last 15 feet of line, the DT line gradually decreases in thickness (at an equal rate of the front taper) till it reaches the end point.  Take Away: designed to make short/medium cast at 20-50ft.  The belly of the line makes this line difficult to shoot line (you must make more false cast with line over 30ft).  Advantages: Easy to mend and roll cast due to weight of line in belly section.  Great line for dry fly delicate presentations.

Shooting Taper (ST):  Also, called Shooting Heads, were originally designed for fly-casting distance tournaments.  Like the WF line, the front portion of the ST line (or, commonly called the head) has 30 feet of heavier weighted line.  The remaining running line is uniformed in diameter and weight, but is much thinner than a traditional WF fly line.  The “Head” is joined to the shooting line by a loop-to-loop connection.  The purpose of this configuration is to reduce air resistance, and reduce friction in the rod guides.  Take Away:  Great for long cast +100f feet (world record over 200 feet). Can be highly effective in strong wind conditions (Ocean, Patagonia, etc).  Disadvantages: delicate fly presentations are almost impossible. Line control is challenging.  thin running line tends to coil and gets knotted up. To avoid these known issues, many experienced Anglers use stripping baskets.

Teeny Taper (TT): Developed by Jin Teeny, this taper does not have a front taper and has a smaller than normal running line (similar to a shooting taper/head).   The taper is designed to be very fast sinking…think deep fast water. 

Standard Line Weights

AFTMA the former American Fishing Tackle Manufacturers Associations -- now the ASA -- American Sportfishing Association states:  Fly Line Standards were developed to help fly fishing tackle manufacturers create a system that would match fly line weight to fly rod performance.  Cortland Line Company’s Leon Chandler was instrumental in initiating and completing the project.  In theory, this would standardize fly tackle manufacturing across the industry and enable fly fishers to select and balance their equipment for optimum performance. 

The system uses the weight in grains (a very small weight measure of the first 30 feet of fly line as a standard).  The table below shows fly line weight designations and their grain weight.  The system also established a tolerance level that is acceptable. (Copied from Cortland Line Company website).

Number Designation
Standard Weight
Margin For Error



Tip:  The sooner you start thinking and talking in grains, in the long run, the better your fly line knowledge will be. Why? Experts and most of the world other than the USA, speak and label products in grains. 

More Information at: Equipment Overview