Fast Action Fly Rods And The Fly Lines That make Us Love Them

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Louis Cahill

Selecting the right fly line for your fast action fly rod isn’t as easy as it used to be.

I have found myself having this conversation with three different anglers this week. That’s generally a good sign that it’s time to write something on the topic. There’s plenty to write on the topic of choosing a fly line. Fly lines have become increasingly specialized and more numerous. You can buy a line for any species of fish alive, for any style of fishing, for specific destinations, and now Winston has started selling lines specifically for their rods. A strategy I’d be shocked to not see adopted by other companies.

The decision is further complicated by the action of today’s fast action rods. Some of these modern hotrods can be pretty finicky about the lines they throw. The exact fly line which works for you and your fly rod is best determined by trial and error, but I’m going to try to eliminate some of the variables and get you started in the right direction.

2 Kinds of fast.

When it comes to fast action fly rods, it’s important to understand what makes your rod fast. The term “fast” refers to the recovery rate of the rod. That’s the time it takes for the rod to return to straight from a flexed position. The less time it takes to recover from the flex, the faster the action.

Traditionally, “fast” has meant “stiff”. The way rod designers have made fly rods faster has been to throw graphite at the problem, adding material to make a stiffer rod. These rods became so stiff that many anglers struggled to load them. Line manufacturers responded by making heavier fly lines. Before long, experienced anglers started to realize that they were putting 6-weight lines on their 5-weight rods and started to ask, “why are we calling this a 5-weight, anyway?”

A fair question, and as more anglers grumbled about it, rod companies started to respond by making fly rods with more accessible actions. A new type of fast action rod started to emerge. These rods had fast recovery rates, not because they were stiff but because they were light. Lighter weight rods recover more quickly because there is less inertia developed by the weight of material and hardware. These rods are easily overloaded with the heavy lines developed for stiffer rods.

New developments in graphite technology in the last two years has made these lightweight, fast action rods even faster and more accessible. These rods — think of the Scott Meridian, Sage X, G Loomis Asquith and Orvis H2 — are capable of delivering high line speed with a buttery smooth action. They are great fishing tools and capable of very technical casting with lighter, longer belly lines.

Where to start choosing a line.

Neither of these styles of rod are wrong. The stiffer and heavier rods still perform best in the wind and are great fish fighting tools. Lighter, more technical rods and lines make beautifully delicate presentations. When you choose a fly rod and line, you should consider the kind of fishing you plan to do and decide which qualities you will need.

If you have a rod which is very stiff, start out by trying one of the several overweighted fly lines on the market. Every manufacturer has them available. If you have a lightweight, ultra-high modulus rod, start with a longer belly, true line-weight line.

Above all else, it’s important to find the rod and line combination that works for you. It doesn’t do you any good to get out on the water with the rod I like, or your buddy, or the guy at the shop. Most fly shops have a box full of parking lot line they will let you try out. Find one you don’t have to fight with. A line and rod combination that feels as effortless as possible. that’s the setup you’re looking for. Some guys like to drive a Porsche and some guys like a Cadillac. Neither one is wrong.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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4 thoughts on “Fast Action Fly Rods And The Fly Lines That make Us Love Them

  1. VERY well done description! I think a lot of anglers in the fly fishing community, even very skilled anglers, don’t realize this change in “fast”… probably because they are on the water and not internet nerds like myself.

  2. I would also add that too many people get hung up on line names. Just because Bonefish Quickshooter says bonefish doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t make a great bass/striper floating line. Many of the tapers out there are great for lots of things other than just a specific species/style of fishing.

  3. Excellent article!

    I would add that when you’re testing lines, it helps to use your own rod, or one very similar, and then test the line at lots of different distances. I read recently (wonder where…) that while the hero 80′ casts are great, we catch most of our fish within 20′ or so. So, it makes sense to me to test at 20′, 30′, 40′, etc.

    I think it also makes sense to try several different styles – roll, puddle, what ever you use on the streams you’ll be fishing with the new line.

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