Fishing the Fall, What You Should Know About Sinking Fly Lines

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By Garner Reid

A good portion of my fly fishing involves throwing some sort of a sinking fly line.

Realistically, half of my time on the water involves streamers and sinking lines at least for some part of the day. If I am not out on the water guiding for streamer-eating fish like stripers, I’m in the fly shop talking about them.

I have come to the realization that there is some mystery for most anglers when it comes to choosing which sinking fly line will suit their needs. The selection of sinking lines on the market today is as vast as the waters where we chase our quarry. Today fly anglers can effectively target fish at any level in the water column, given the right combination of rod, fly line, and fly pattern.

When chasing large predatory fish like bass, stripers and big brown trout in moving water you have to get down deeper than floating lines allow. With all of the options and versatility, it is easy to get confused. I have put together some thoughts to help you choose the right line configuration to effectively get into fish.

Fly Weight vs Sink Rate of line

After several seasons experimenting with different types of sinking lines and various streamers, I have found a number of variables which I can control to have a productive day on the water. A big factor in my success has been dialing in the correct weight for the fly with the sink rate of the line.

For most fishing conditions, my primary concern is the fly being weighted properly. It must get down into the fish’s area of awareness and achieve the proper motion to entice an eat. The task of a sinking fly line is to get your fly into that strike zone quickly and keep it there.

I look for a sinking fly line to compliment the characteristics of the streamers I fish. They must fish effectively over a wide range of environments. It’s easy to get carried away with the thought that a heavier line is always better. The problems with a line that’s too heavy can snowball quickly. Loss of presentation quality, poor castability, and a rapidly depleting streamer box due to snags are all common symptoms of fishing too heavy.

Of course it’s possible to fish a line that is too light. It’s less of a problem in most scenarios, due to the fact that there are more practical ways to get a fly deep. Such as adding weight to your rig or by changing your presentation. It just makes sense to keep gravity on your side rather than fight it. Lately, I have been experimenting with different leader lengths and different weights of flies and the ways to weight them to achieve more action.

Next time you are at the vise consider tying your streamers in an assortment of different weights. Wrap more lead on the shank, try keel weighting, or simply tie in a heavier or lighter dumbbell eye than you normally would. The possibilities are endless. Streamer fishing is so subjective and that is why I love it. You will be surprised at how versatile your fishing can be with an intermediate tip line when you simply adjust your leader length and the weight of your fly.

Selecting the proper line

The first thing that I look for is the sink rate of the fly line. The sink rate I use is determined by how deep I am trying to get the fly. For most of the rivers I fish, I typically prefer lines in the intermediate to 250 grain range with sink rates between 1 1/2 to 6 inches per second. Lines somewhere within those sink rates allow me to cover most of the water column throughout the river methodically with varying retrieval rates.

I also prefer lines that don’t require a lot of false casting. Sinking lines and false casting typically don’t mix too well. When I’m pounding the bank with streamers I want to present the fly, strip it in, pick up and put the fly back in the zone as quickly as possible. I have become a big fan of RIO’s Outbound series of lines for their ability to load a rod quickly and to turn over the large wind resistant streamers bass and stripers like to eat. Remembering to open your loops when casting sinking lines will help you tremendously

Now, the idea here is to not get too weighed down when it comes to selecting the right sink line. We are fortunate that fly line manufactures offer us so many different sinking lines. Each one certainly has practical applications for varying environments and species, luckily the line designers and manufactures do a pretty good job categorizing which lines may be best suited for your fishing needs. It still might take some experimentation on your part to find the ‘perfect’ line for your needs but I guarantee the right line for you is out there.

Garner Reid
Gink & Gasoline
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10 thoughts on “Fishing the Fall, What You Should Know About Sinking Fly Lines

  1. Pingback: Fishing the Fall, What You Should Know About Sinking Fly Lines -

  2. I always found Outbound hit the water with more noise than I liked, maybe it was just the size or two I tried.. but Much prefered Streamer Express for bank robbing…

    • It depends what we’re fishing for.

      What might be a detriment for trout can easily be a positive for bass, pike and musky.

      For the most part, I want a musky fly to hit the water like it got shoved off a ten story building.

  3. It’s important to understand the difference between sink rate and grain weight. My favorite bonefish line weighs 225 grains in the first 30′ but sinks at zero inches per second…

    The point is manufacturers vary grain weights independent of density, so grain weight alone can’t be used to specify a sink rate.

    • I’ve always been confused by this as well, referring to a line by its grains means just about nothing… Grains has no affect on the sink rate. it is the density of the tungsten material. E.g. Mow tips, 10′ T11 is 110 grains, but the floating version at 10′ is also 110 grains.

  4. “I typically prefer lines in the intermediate to 250 grain range with sink rates between 1 1/2 to 6 inches per second.”

    This confuses density with mass. Intermediate is a sink rate — about 1.25 to 1.5 fps according to most manufacturers. That’s density and that’s about what your line does on/in the water. 250 grain is mass — about an 8wt line — and that’s about what your line does in the air. An 8wt line can float or sink slowly or sink quickly. An intermediate line may be a 3wt or may a 12wt.

    One thing an intermediate line can’t do is sink a 6 fps.

  5. The sinking fly line is excellent for nymph and streamer fishing. The floating fly line is perfect for dry fly fishing. Nothing beats the thrill of a fish rising to your perfectly placed fly. The innovative Weight Forward (WF) taper and Double Taper (DT) makes it easier to cast in winding conditions and when the fish are feeding a distance away. Nice Blog, keep posting.

  6. Grain weight has nothing to do with sink rate. Grain weight is the mass of the line. You can buy an 800 grain floating skagit head just like you can make a 500 ton ship float.

    Grain weight should help you dial in the appropriate rod to use. It should not be used to dial in sink rate.

    Countless times I’ve seen people bring 300 grain sinking lines into the boat to throw on their 6 weight thinking they’ll be sinking deeper and getting in the zone faster. Yes, 300 grains of tungsten sinks faster than 200, but not that much. More important, the 300 grain line casts like shit on a 6 weight. A 10wt standard fly line is only 280 grains! Even if you prefer overlining your 6wt, you’d never overline it 4 sizes.

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