By Louis Cahill
Buying a fly line doesn’t have to be a leap of faith.
For many anglers, fly lines and their characteristics are a huge mystery. They know that different fly lines cast differently and that some suit their needs or casting styles better than others but they have no idea why. What’s worse, when it’s time to buy a new line they aren’t able to make an informed choice. They just go to the fly shop and ask for the best line. Thank God for knowledgable fly shop guys, but do you really want to rely on someone else’s guess at what you will like?
If this sounds like you, I have good news. There is an easy way to get a sense of how a fly line will cast before you ever take it out of the package, and with a little experience you can quickly choose the line that’s right for the way you fish.
Fly lines have become really complicated in the last five years or so. Specialty lines have multiplied like rabbits and line companies have created lines to match every species, water condition and casting style. If you’re confused, you’re not alone. Fortunately, almost every manufacturer publishes line diagrams which show you, in detail, the taper of each line. If you know how to read the diagram, you’ll know how the line will cast.
There are three basic types of line tapers. Weight forward, double taper and triangle taper. Looking at the diagram, it’s pretty clear how they get their names. The double taper line is a very traditional style of line which has a long level belly and a symmetrical taper on each end. Weight forward lines shift the weight to the front of the line and were developed to match modern fast action carbon fiber rods. Triangle tapers are a kind of hybrid of the two.
Think of the diagram as a picture of the fly line in profile with the thickness of the line exaggerated. The thickness of the line indicates two things. Where the weight is and the relative stiffness of the line. Where the line is thicker, it will be heavier. Different line materials have different stiffness, but within a given fly line, the line will be stiffer where it is thicker. Knowing where the weight is in the line will tell you how it loads the rod and the stiffness, as well as the weight, will tell you how it presents the fly.
Anatomy of a Fly Line
To understand the information the diagram gives you, first you have to understand the different parts of the fly line and how they affect the line’s performance. Most modern fly lines have five parts. From front to back they are the tip, front taper, belly, rear taper and running line. Each one performs a specific function and its weight and length determine how the line casts.
The tip is the final word in fly presentation. The longer and lighter the tip, the more delicate the presentation. A long light tip will work to your advantage when making soft dry fly presentations on a spring creek. A shorter, more aggressive tip with more weight will have the power to turn over heavy streamers and nymph rigs.
The Front Taper
The front taper dissipates the energy of the line during the presentation. Even more than the tip, the design of the front taper dictates how much energy is delivered to the leader and what kind of presentations the line will naturally make. A short front taper is called “aggressive” and delivers a lot of power to the leader. It’s great for turning over heavy flies and straightening leaders out in the wind but will tend to slap the fly down on the water. A longer front taper is called “technical” and will make more delicate presentations, but may require very good casting in high wind or with heavy flies.
The belly of the line is designed to load the fly rod. It carries the bulk of the fly line’s weight and is designed to match specific rod weights. It also determines how heavy a fly the line will carry. A longer belly will load the rod more gradually and allow the caster to carry more line in the air during false casting. It will also roll cast and Spey cast more easily. A short, fat belly will load the rod quickly for short casts and shoot line aggressively.
The Rear Taper
The rear taper is the transition from the belly to the running line. It is the last part of the line which is controllable during casting. A long rear taper offers the caster some control over the line when carrying a lot of line during false casting. A short rear taper offers the caster a quick transition to the running line, allowing them to shoot line more easily.
The Head and Shooting Line
It’s worth mentioning that the front part of the line, (the tip, front taper, belly and rear taper) are often collectively referred to as the “head.” The running line may also be called “shooting line.” These terms come from Spey line designs but are often used in reference to single hand lines.
Some Specific Examples
The RIO InTouch LT
The LT is a delicate presentation trout line. You can see from the diagram that it has a long 8 foot tip. A 20 foot front taper and a short belly. Clearly a very technical line for light presentations.
The RIO Gold
A great all around trout line, the Gold has a much more aggressive taper. No tip to speak of and short 5 1/2 foot front taper. A 22 1/2 foot belly is backed up by a long rear taper. Notice that the head length is the same as the LT but the weight is shifted forward, delivering more power to the leader, loading the rod faster and making it easier to shoot line.
The Scientific Anglers Titan
The Airflo 40+ Sniper
The Sniper is a true shooting head design. The short heavy belly and front taper coupled with a virtually nonexistent rear taper will shoot line like a cannon. There’s a reason this line has an extra 20 feet of running line.
The Airflo Tropical Punch
My personal favorite saltwater line, the Tropical Punch combines an aggressive belly and short front taper with an extra long rear taper. This line will punch into the wind but still gives you the line control you need to carry line on a long, precise presentation.
Having the ability to match a special purpose fly line to the type of fishing you do can really improve your performance as an angler. Hopefully this will help you understand how fly lines work and help you make more informed choices when purchasing your next fly line. It may even help you understand the lines you already have.Louis Cahill Gink & Gasoline www.ginkandgasoline.com email@example.com Sign Up For Our Weekly Newsletter!