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Selecting a Fly Line
Information taken from the Fly Fishing Shop

In the sport of Fly Fishing, the line is a very important component in the delivery system that propels the fly to the fish. It will also play a large part in whether the fish actually takes the fly or not. Often it is a key factor in whether the fish will be landed or lost. By definition the line also determines whether a person is "fly fishing" or doing some other kind of fishing. In the case of "fly fishing", the line provides the weight that loads the rod and extends that kinetic energy to the target. In that way, a lure that is too lightweight to generate enough energy is taken along for the ride. A fly line can be an elongated float or an elongated sinker. It can also be any color including clear.

The key parts that determine the performance of a fly line are:

Every line can be dissected into two parts: Core and Coating. It's the modification of these parts that allow fly lines to be designed with specific performance characteristics -- castability, shootability, and durability -- to meet the demands of most fly fishing situations.

A typical commercial fly line that you can purchase today falls in the length range of 80 feet-90feet. This length, in combination with your fly line backing, will cover you in any situation you find yourself. There are some specialty lines on the market over 100 feet, but they are geared more towards distance casting situations.


The Core

It's the core of the fly line that determines its tensile strength, as well as how much it stretches. It also helps determine how stiff the line will be.

Strength -- all line cores are built to be much stronger than the heaviest tippets that are likely to be used with them.

For example: a 2 or 3 weight line will normally break at about 20 lbs.; a heavy saltwater line core may test over 40lbs. Stretch -- it's important that a fly line core have the right amount of stretch. Not enough stretch and the line may develop 'memory' problems. Too much stretch and the fly line becomes 'mushy' and difficult to control.

Stiffness -- the core also plays an important part in the stiffness of the line. Lines intended for tropical fishing are designed to withstand high heat extremes and maintain their inherent stiffness. Lines developed for use in more temperate climates are made with cores that are less stiff, reducing the problem of line memory that occurs when stiff lines meet cool conditions.

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The Coating

How a line coating is formulated, and how it is applied to the line's core, determines the rest of the line's performance characteristics. One of the most basic and important functions of the line coating is to provide the casting weight needed to load the fly rod. Precise weight standards are set by the fishing tackle industry; the right amount of coating must be applied to each line in order to meet this standard.

Coating It is primarily the density of the line's coating that determines whether the line will float or sink. Floating lines have special micro balloons mixed into their coatings that allow for accurate control of line density. Lines that are lighter than water will float. But if too many micro balloons are added, the thicker diameter of the line will make it more wind resistant, making it harder to cast. The optimum density is one that strikes a balance between the floatability and castability of the line. Newer floating fly lines also employ hydrophobic agents to make their coating water-resistant. These lines actually repel water, making them float higher than other lines of the same density.

Conversely, sinking lines incorporate a high-density material into their coatings to make them heavier than water. Although very expensive, powered tungsten is most often used because it is denser and more environmentally friendly than lead. By precisely controlling the formulation of how much metal powder is added to the fly line coating, sink rates from as little as 1.25 inches per second to as much as 10 inches per second can be achieved.

Fly line coatings also contain the pigments, which determine the visibility of the fly line to both the angler and the fish.

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The fly line's shape or taper determines how energy is transmitted and dissipated during casting. By varying the lengths and diameters of the various parts of the line, specific performance attributes can be accentuated.

The parts of the taper are:

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Taper Types

When choosing a line for the fishing that you plan to do, there are several taper options to consider: Level (L), Weight Forward (WF), Double Taper (DT), Shooting Taper (ST). Specialty Tapers are variations of Weight Forward and Double Tapers. Weight Forward configurations are most popular for a variety of reasons and have more variations. Lets look at the performance you'll get from each option.

Level (L)

With no taper design at all, this line has in most situations, very low performance characteristics. It transfers energy very erratically and is hard to control while casting. The best function of level lines is in the form of fine diameter Shooting Lines or in inexpensive sinking lines to be cut up for tips for custom lines.

Weight Froward
Weight Forward (WF)

The Weight Forward design allows you to make short to long casts (20-80 feet) with normal size flies. Most anglers find that Weight Forward lines are versatile and work well over a wide range of conditions. This type of design comes in many configurations to meet specialized situations or perceived presentational improvements. Any line whether floating or sinking which has a Head and Running Line section which are seamlessly joined can be termed a Weight Forward fly line. Rocket Tapers, Bass Bug Tapers, Saltwater Tapers, Steelhead Tapers, Triangle Tapers and Teeny Tapers are all weight Forward Fly Lines.

Double Taper Double Taper (DT)

A reversible fly line with an identical taper at both ends. Easy to mend and roll cast. Most useful on moving water. This style of line is designed for short to medium casts (20-50 feet) with normal size flies. Floating lines are popular in this configuration.

Shooting Taper

Also called Shooting Head fly lines consist of two separate lines which are joined with a loop to loop junction. The front portion (or head) is the same configuration as the head (first 30') of a Weight Forward fly line. The second portion consists of a fine diameter Running Line. Its purpose is to cut friction in both the rod guides and in the water.

Triangular Taper
Triangle Taper

Designed by Lee Wulff, the Triangle Taper configuration is a continuous forward taper in the head of the line. Head length can vary from 27 to 80 feet depending on the line weight and proposed application. Many anglers believe these designs provide the most efficient transfer of casting energy over a wide range of distances. As the loop unrolls, heavier line is constantly turning over lighter line.

Teeny Taper

A radical Weight Forward fly line which was pioneered by Jim Teeny. It lacks a front taper on the fast sinking head and has a finer than normal running line similar to a shooting taper configuration. The sole purpose of this line is getting deep in the water quickly. Several manufacturers have copied this line.

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How your line behaves on the water depends on its density or line type, which affects its buoyancy With different types of line available, consider buying an extra spool when you purchase your reel. That way you can spool various types of line and switch lines to meet conditions. There are four choices, and each carries an abbreviation, included below, to identify its density:

Floating (F) lines

These do as they say they float on the water's surface Floating lines are good for beginners since they are easier to cast and handle Floating lines also are a must for dry flies, but they can also work with wet flies, nymphs and streamers that are fished several feet below the surface

Intermediate (I) lines

These are a little denser than water so they sink slowly to present a fly just below the water's surface These lines work well in shallow, weedy lakes and in choppy waters where you want your line to stay below the choppiness

Sinking (S) lines

These lines do the opposite of floating lines they sink. They are designed for deep lakes and deep, fast-flowing rivers. Some manufacturers also put a Roman numeral after the S to show how fast their line sinks in inches per second. For example, an S II line sinks about two inches per second. These lines are best for wet flies, nymphs and streamers at a constant depth. The typical sink rates are as follows but will vary depending on the fly line manufacturer (NOTE: ips = inches per second):

Floating/Sinking (F/S) lines

These combine the two characteristics the five foot to twenty foot tip or front portion sinks to present the bait while the balance of line floats on the water Manufacturers display the depth and speed that the front part of the line sinks This floating/sinking line gets your fly down while helping you maintain control, so it's good for fish such as salmon and steelhead

Line Color


If you are a beginner, select a highly visible color yellow, orange, lime green and some shades of tan These colors are easier to see on the water when you cast so you can more easily recognize and correct any casting mistakes For sinking lines, you should go with something that's less visible to fish such as brown, olive, dark green or black

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Standard Line Weights
Grain weights are for the first 30' of the line.

AFTMA (the former American Fishing Tackle Manufacturers Association- now the ASA- American Sportfishing Association) Fly Line Standards were developed to help fly fishing tackle manufacturers create a system that would match fly line weight to fly rod performance. Cortland Line Company’s Leon Chandler was instrumental in initiating and completing the project. In theory this would standardize fly tackle manufacturing across the industry and enable fly fishers to select and balance their equipment for optimum performance. The system uses the weight in grains (a very small weight measure) of the first 30 feet of fly line as a standard. The table below shows fly line weight designations and their grain weight. The system also established a tolerance level that is acceptable. (Copied from Cortland Line Company's web site).

Number DesignationStandard WeightMargin For Error

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