Know Your Lines

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Photos by Louis Cahill

John Byron, AKA The Bonefish Beginner

“Lines are very difficult to learn.”– Benedict Cumberbatch

“It’s nice when someone knows their lines.”– Ed Norton

“Because I don’t know my lines, I really don’t know what I’m doing.”– Christopher Walken

Who knew these guys fished the flats? 

Well okay, maybe they’re talking about something else. But if the topic were saltwater fly fishing, they’d be saying something very wise.

The starting point, the big decision point in selecting gear for the salt chuck is the size category of the outfit. Eleven- or twelve weights for tarpon and GTs. Nine or ten for permit. Seven-weight through nine for bonefish — maybe even a six-weight if it’s super calm or you want to show off. 

And then, having selected the perfect flyrod in the most desirable weight and a truly magnificent reel to complement it, typically the last step is to buy some random flyline the same size as the number on the rod butt. Apply keen selection criteria like it’s cheap or I like the color or the sales guy talked me into it and you’re ready to go.

Right?   Wrong.

Yes, rod and reel are significant, but I’ve come to believe that the right flyline is even more important: 

  • Short shots at bonefish, heavy winds, big flies for big fish? You want a line that’s got its weight up front, one that loads the rod quickly and punches the fly out there. A Rio Quickshooter or Airflo Tropical Punch. 
  • Spooky spooky fish, long casts, calm winds? You want a line that will carry the cast and not collapse on you when you’re working beyond the punch point of those front-loaded lines. Average/moderate/medium lines from Scientific Angler or Orvis or any of the rest of reputable line makers who offer special lines for the salt. 
  • For all lines — the front-end-loaders, the lighter-longer classic fly lines, and everything in between — the ultimate description lies in the line profile, worth studying and understanding for all the lines you might buy. 

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  • Fishing the tropics, you need a tropical line, one with enough stiffness that it’s not an overcooked noodle in the sunshine. Stripers and albies? A cold-water line with enough flexibility to be castable even when it’s downright chilly. 
  • Check the line coating too. Some lines sing going through the guides and you’ll either like that or not. Some cast farther for being super slick. Some just feel better than others. What matters is what suits you.
  • Colors too: can you see the line on the water? White and light blue are hi-viz. International orange even more so. But will it spook the fish? That’s one more thing to decide. 
  • And then there’s the question of over-lining. Eight-weight outfit? Boy does that nine-weight line sure cast easy. But it might land with a bigger splash too. Of course, the line makers are already on your side, many saltwater flylines already heavier than their weight class. 
  • To sum it up, you’ve many things to think about selecting a fly line. Some combinations will definitely work better for you than others. 
  • Key words: for you. Where do you fish, what for, what likely conditions, how good’s your casting, do you want to hedge bets with more than one line or seek the perfect compromise? 

It’s worth noting that the whole concept of line weight is an anachronism tied to the 1960s, far simpler times for fly gear. Flyline weight comes from a translation table that defines a narrow range of measured line weights in grains or grams for the first thirty feet of fly line. 

But weight number is not what counts out on the flats. No, it’s the weight of line you have out of the rod tip that determines the load the rod feels and in turn gives you the cast you want for the conditions you have.

Somewhere in this mad collection of line numbers and names and taper profiles is the right line for you and the fishing you do most often. And on either side of that perfect line are the other mostly perfect ones that allow you to adapt to the wider range of wind, distance, fly size, and spookiness you’re likely to encounter on the flats. 

How to find that perfect line or perfect set of fly lines? Two ways: 

  • If you’re in range of a good fly shop (and there are great ones all over the country), ask if you can do some practice casting with different lines to see what feels right and acts well for your casting style and expected fishing conditions. Helps a lot if the rod your testing on pretty much matches what you have. Easier still if the line test happens when you’re buying a rod. And you’ll have expert advice.
  • The other method, the simple, dumb, expensive method, is to buy a bunch of different flylines and over time experiment and learn-by-doing, casting the various combinations and permutations of lines and flyrods until you finally settle in on what suits you and the fishing you do. 

Either way, your flyline really matters, as much as the rod you’re using and more than the reel. 

How well the flyline you’re casting matches the rod you’re using, your casting style, and the conditions you’re facing is a vital element of success on the flats. Like our three heroes above, you need to know your lines.

John Byron, a retired submarine captain, has been fly fishing since he was ten. He’s got a lot of flylines. 

Gink & Gasoline
www.ginkandgasoline.com
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4 thoughts on “Know Your Lines

  1. “How well the fly line you’re casting matches the rod you’re using is a vital element of success on the flats.”

    Truer words were never written. Last year on Andros I debuted my brand new $975 SALT 8wt. with a line I was told by the man-rep was ideal for the Bahamas. Turned out to be a complete PoS and totally wrong for the rod and the conditions.

    But …….. how again are we supposed to find the ideal line? “Buy a buncha lines and practice with them!!!” At $100-a-pop! And practice where? In the street? So we beat the s**t out of the product before fishing it!

    What my Dad used to call, “Almost ……… a good idea!”

    You would think a line manufacturers #1 goal-by-a-landslide would be success for their anglers. Right? So why then haven’t companies like RIO, SA, and Cortland done this exact research? And published it, for example, on YOUTUBE? Simple enough. Just take the Top 5 rod manufacturer’s top-of-the-line and mid-level 8, 9, and 10+ wt. rods and pay some of the world’s great casters like Steve Rajek, Cpt. Bou Bosso (Silver Kings), Andy Mills, or Bob “The Sniper” Mead to match-up rods w/lines for the four most common fly fishing scenarios: trout, bonefish, steelhead, and tarpon; and for the two most common levels of fly fishers — Intermediate and Advanced. BOOM! Done. No more guess work.

    Until you’ve f****d-up a week of bonefishing at $1,000-a-day, you’ll never fully appreciate how absolutely critical is the right line for your rod, and the conditions in which you’re fishing.

  2. Hi
    If you contact RIO they will reply with the answers you are after, they are brilliant and have been to these areas so that is how they can help for us average punters with the right lines for the fish and the places.

    When travelling to exotic locations I contact the lodge to get the right information from them before hand. Most have packing lists.

    Fortunately I have a great tackle shops even on the other side of the world and they are spot on with info. I have contacted this site as well and Louise put me in contact with people

    There is much info out there to read, contact tackle shops in the area you are going to.
    Read and research,practice before you go.
    Judith

  3. I was in the fly shop business at least 40 years, setting up hundreds of outfits for clients. A rod is nothing but a tool.that bends when put under load. If the rod does bend enough to throw X distance then more load is needed. Rods can be loaded a few ways.The weight of the line and casting. A experienced caster can be bend or load the rod even with a line several lines lighter. Your job as a caster is to bend the rod x amount to cast x distance. Most casters are not honest about their casting ability The higher level caster deflect or bend the rod more because of better technique.The standard 8wt bonefish line from SA is about 210gr. The standard 8wt. bonefish line from RIO is about 225 grs. You need to cast both to find what works best for you. You may even have to up size to a 9 wt to load your rod..Finding the right line for your rod and casting ability is time well spent. I wade fish most of the time so I use a so called standard taper, which is longer. This allows me to carry more line in the air for more accuracy.

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