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. Some good points and suggestions Garner. There’s a lot to consider when it comes to picking out an appropriate sinking line. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all of the options that are out there. Head length, weight, and tapers play a big role in how well you will be able to effectively fish your streamers to your target fish. Don’t be afraid to bust out a heavier rod for these applications either. For me, throwing a sinking line with an articulated streamer on an 8WT rod is easier than that same setup on a 6WT rod.

  2. How timely because i just put a sinking tip line on my 10wt yesterday. I learned about using sinking tips streamer fishing in Montana. Here in FL hardly anybody uses sinking lines, tips or leaders. I have found them vey effective in the colder months down here for catching blues, and getting down deeper for trouts.. But I had to order it because the shops that I frequent in Florida don’t carry a large assortment.

  3. Try throwing a sinking line and your favorite trout streamer for tarpon. They don’t sip it, they crush it and you will never be ready for it. Watch your fingers.

  4. Sinking systems I like.

    From lake shore: Floating or midge tip line with weighted flies. Sink-tip lines for steep shores.

    From lake watercraft: Clear 1.5 sink line for shallows and weedy areas. 3 to 4 sink line for outside of weedbeds, streamers etc.. Deep 7 line for 12-30 feet deep presentations, steep banks and booby fishing.

    Rivers: Floating line for water to 5 feet deep w/weighted fly and/or leader. Deeper trenches I use a 10-24 foot sink-tip.

  5. It’s important to not confuse sink rate and grain weight. They have nothing in common – you can have a 250 grain floating line, intermediate line, and fast sinking line. It’s the ‘Type’ (ex, Type VI) that tells the sink rate, or rather the density/specific gravity. Yes, a 350 Type VI line will sink faster than a 250 Type VI but by no means does it justify putting a 350 on your 6wt.

    The grain simply tells you the weight of the line, not the density. When choosing the appropriate grain weight, refer to the AFTMA standards.

    • TimmyP, you are exactly right. The grain weight of the fly line is meant for the angler to use to determine what line will fit their fly rod the best. Thanks for pointing this out!

  6. When fishing with streamers I always prefer the heavier rod. When fishing for bass, all I you really need is a intermediate clear tip. By adjusting your leader length and material you are able to fish streamers in most columns, while also being able to fish top water. An intermediate line will make a Boogle Bug pop like is suppose to!

  7. TimmyP makes an excellent point that maybe should have been covered in the article. Eg. a 6 wt. line manufactured for single hand rods will be much lighter (grain wt.) than a 6 wt. manufactured for double-hand rods (lots of streamer fishers use small DH), a.k.a. Switch rods, for streamer fishing and it is very important to know the difference. Simon Gawesworth covers this well in “Making Sense of Switch Rods and Lines” on the Rio web site. This is a great reference, even for devot SH rod users. “Making Sense of Spey Rods and Lines goes into even more detail. Both excellent references for those who may be having trouble with an underloaded or over-loaded rod/line.

  8. Also, when Spey casting for steelhead, be prepared to switch out your sinking lines based on the portion of water you’re fishing. Deeper water.. heavier lines. Shallow water… lighter lines. You have to find the fish. They aren’t going to try to find you!

  9. When throwing big streamers ditch the long leaders long leaders mean less control when dredging the lower parts of the water column when you find the right sink rate you have a better chance of keeping your fly in the zone…!

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