Fly Line Considerations

The fly line choices today are mind boggling. It seems like only yesterday that it was pretty simple. You had a choice of a floating double taper or weight-forward, a full sinking or sink tip line, and various shooting heads with a running line. Now your choices have grown 10-fold. If you look at the new 2005 RIO catalog there are 26 unique choices in a broad range of sizes.

The good news is that there are some great special purpose lines which make fishing for various species under a variety of conditions a pleasure. The bad new is you have to decide what to buy and you'll spend a lot more money.


Line tapers vary to change the way a line travels through the air and delivers a fly. The taper design will also have an impact on how the line handles on the water. The parts of the line of most importance are the front taper, the belly, and the rear taper. Double tapers don't have a rear taper so the front taper is the most important part of the line.

Think about how far you normally cast, which will help determine what the length of the line's "head" should be. Look at the spec sheets that every manufacturer publishes. Ideally you want the line's head to be about as long as your average cast. This means that for most of your casting the head of the line will be in the rod, which gives you the best control. For most trout fishing, lines with heads of 35 to 40 feet are ideal.

When fishing on big water where distance casting is the rule, lines with longer heads work better if the caster's skill level permits carrying more line in the air. Lines with extra long heads behave just like double tapers at shorter distances and won't shoot well until the head clears the rod. According to RIO most casters of moderate ability will actually get more distance from a line with a moderate length head than they will from a "distance" taper line with a very long head.

After deciding head length you need to come to terms with how aggressive (dimension at the front) the taper should be. This determines delivery. Lines that deliver very delicately have front ends that are light, either due to long tapers, or small tip diameters, or both. For a line to land light, it must be light. Just having a long taper doesn't ensure delicate delivery. Lines that deliver delicately require good casting skills; they are not forgiving of big, wind-resistant loops, and don't handle bigger flies well. On the other hand, lines that deliver strongly (short front tapers and/or large tip diameter) are easier to cast, but land heavily and may scare fish.

In reality a single line for a given weight rod is just too limiting. I know its expensive but a couple of different choices to match prevailing conditions is a smart move. Think about it - one day you may be on a spring creek where very delicate casts with you're 4-weigh are required and the next your fishing large hoppers on the Madison with the same rod. Will the same line perform will for both tasks? No. Fine tuning your line to the casting task can make a big difference in your success.