Picking the Perfect Fly Line for All Types of Fishing
By Tyler Banker
The spring is upon up, and although it doesn’t quite feel that way here in Colorado, soon enough, all of our rivers and reservoirs will be alive with bugs, fish, and of course, anglers. By now, I’m sure you’re planning your first trip of the Spring or Summer and gearing up with new flies, fresh spools of tippet, and all the other essentials to get out on the water! One critical part of everyone’s fly fishing gear that tends to get overlooked more often than not is your fly line.
First and foremost, having a line that is still floating is critical to making your day on the water productive, but past that having a line with the appropriate taper for the style of fishing you are doing, or the body of water you’re fishing will make you that much more effective on the river. Here we will take a little dive into the differences between the types and tapers of fly lines on the market and hopefully make it easy for you to pick your next line.
Types & Tapers
The world of fly line today offers anglers the most diverse selection of different kinds of lines ever available, making it easy for any angler to find a line that will be perfect to suit their needs. Let’s start by talking about the first question I, or anyone in the fly shop, will ask. “Do you want a floating line or a sinking line?” The answer for most trout anglers fishing rivers and creeks is almost always floating. We all love fishing dry flies, and in order to do so, you’ll need a line that floats. This is not to say that all you can do with these floating lines are dry fly fish. This line will also work for all your nymph fishing in the river and some light streamer fishing. For this reason, most anglers you see on the water with you are fishing a floating line, as this is the best option for general-purpose trout fishing in most scenarios. If you are looking for a ‘do-it-all’ line, a floater is your best choice.
Once we move past the option of floating line, things get a little more complicated as there are quite a few options available for sinking lines. To simplify this a little, you have full sink lines meaning that the whole line from front to back is weighted and will sink. Some full sink lines are made to all sink at the same rate, so if the front sinks at 5ips (inches per second) then the back of the line also sinks at 5ips.
You also have sinking lines built with 2 or more different sink rates like Scientific Anglers Triple Density sinking lines. So, for example, the front of the line sinks at 5ips, the middle of the line sinks at 3ips, and the rear of the line sinks at 1ips. Lines like this can be very useful to anglers who fish lakes and reservoirs with deep structures and need a straight connection to their fly.
The third and final sinking line option we will discuss is sink-tip or streamer tip, which are lines with a weighted section on the very front of the line followed by a floating running line. You will find tip sections that vary from 5 feet to 50 feet, and how long of a sinking section you need will come down to where you are going to be fishing this line. Shorter sink tips are better for anglers looking to fish streamers in rivers or shallow lakes, whereas the longer sink tip lines are better for big reservoirs and deeper water.
Finding the Perfect Fly Line Takes Time
Now it is important to mention that this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sinking lines. There are many options out there so you can dial into exactly the part of the water column you are looking to target. We are partial to the Scientific Anglers Sonar series of lines because of the wide variety they offer but there are plenty of great options out there. Finding the perfect sinking line for your needs may take some time on the water and some research on your own or in the fly shop, but we are always here to help.
Now that you have decided whether you need a floating line or a sinking line, the next step is to pick the taper that will best fit your needs. Without using a bunch of fancy jargon, the taper of your line is the shape, how heavy it is, and where that weight is distributed throughout the line. Most fly lines on the market today are Weight Forward meaning that the weight is in the front part of the line or the head. The length of the head of the line and where the weight is distributed throughout the head is the big change you will see as you look through different tapers of lines.
Our 4 Favorite Fly Lines from RIO
To try and simplify this a little more, we will look at our 4 favorite tapers from Rio to showcase the differences in shape and length of head. Pictured below are Rio’s Gold, Perception, and Technical Trout tapers, and as you can see, there are some significant differences between them.
Rio Gold is a line you have probably fished before, as it has been held as one of the best general-purpose trout tapers for more than a decade. Gold has a long head at just shy of 50 feet, making it easy for the angler to cast further, long line mends more efficiently, and control your fly for longer drifts. Rio Gold is a half-size heavy line meaning that a 5-weight line is actually 5 ½ weight. What this really means to you is that this line will complement faster action and stiffer fly rods and help you load them more efficiently while also giving you a little more pop when casting into the wind.
Rio Perception is another familiar favorite in the Rio lineup. You’ll notice this taper has a much shorter head than the Gold, making it the go-to for anglers fishing in smaller rivers or creeks. Another big change from the Gold is the shape of the very tip of the line and where the weight ends in the taper. Perception has a thinner, lighter tip making it perfect for delicate presentation with tiny nymphs and dry flies. If you are looking for a line to cast those small dry flies or hoppers to spooky fish, then Rio Perception will be your best friend!
Rio Technical Trout is my personal favorite of the bunch and has the most extended head of the 4 lines pictured. You’ll notice a similar shape to the Gold; the big difference is that Tech Trout is a true-to-size line, unlike Gold which is a half-size heavy. This taper will excel at long casts and mends just like the Gold, but being a little less aggressive in the weight category, you will still be able to get a delicate presentation similar to Rio Perception. This line is my go-to for spooky tailwater trout like those at Deckers and 11 Mile Canyon.
Now again, this is just a small portion of what’s available to anglers today, and the truth is that all 3 of the lines shown above are an excellent option for general-purpose trout fishing. Further down the rabbit hole, you’ll find tapers made specifically for fishing certain flies or water. For example, a line made to throw streamers will often have a short head with an aggressive forward heavy taper. These lines can shoot further and cast larger flies with minimal backcasting. A good option if you are in the market for a streamer line is the Rio Grand, pictured below. This line is built a whole line size heavy and, with a short, powerful head, is an excellent option for chucking meat at big predatory fish!
I won’t bore you with any more options on specialized tapers for this, that, or the other thing. Just know that if you are looking for a fly line to fill a specific niche on the water, chances are there is one out there that will do exactly what you want it to, whether that means throwing #22 dry flies as delicately as possible or slapping the water with a 12-inch pike streamer.
You Have Your Fly Line… How Do You Take Care of It?
Now that you have settled on what line will be the best option for you and you’ve got it all spooled up on your reel, there is one last thing to consider, and it’s a step that is easily forgotten… How will you take care of this fancy new fly line you just bought? Fly lines, like anything, last a lot longer and perform at lot better if they are kept clean. You don’t have to be too over the top with cleaning your lines, but it is something that we recommend you do at least once a season, more if you have a textured line. Year after year I see folks bringing their reeling into the shop to get a new fly line, and it looks like the line they have is less than a year old, and as much as I’d love to sell you a new one often, times a good cleaning can make that line float like new again! With modern fly lines, there is really no need to use fly line dressing or any kind of floating. In most cases, these have already been impregnated into the line’s coating.
As for storing your fly lines, the days of taking your line off your reel at the end of the season and spooling them around a coffee can for the winter are behind us. Modern lines have a much different core than the lines you may have grown up with, and that translates to less memory in the line. If you are going to take a break from fishing in the winter, which we don’t recommend, just make sure that you store your reels in a dry, temperature-stable environment. At the end of the winter, when you go back to check on your gear, you may find you have to give the line a good stretch but after a bit of elbow grease, it will take out any memory that may have built up over the winter.
I know this was a lot of information, and by now, hopefully, you aren’t feeling too overwhelmed. Hopefully, reading through this made picking your next fly line a little easier, and if you still have questions, as always, feel free to give us a call at either shop, and we can dive deeper still. That’s right, believe it or not, this is still just a brief look into the science that goes into these lines nowadays. If you would like to learn more about the cores and coating that make up these lines or the difference between a smooth line and a textured line, give us a call or email tylerb@minturnanglers!
We’ll see you on the water soon! Give us a call at (970) 827-9500, so we can plan your next Fly Fishing adventure. Or you can find out additional information on your next guided trip on our website.