Now, for the most important component of the fly-fishing setup, besides the fly, the fly line. Fly lines are very ‘personal’ because you can become attached to a fly line. This statement may sound odd but I have a perfect example of this. My brother, Dale (The Bulldog), has had this old sink-tip line for about 15 years...yup...15 years! The line is all cracked and faded but he continues to use this line successfully, mainly because he knows exactly how fast it sinks, what retrieve works best with the line, and he has confidence using the line. One day, while Dale was out fishing me 3 to 1, on the Bow River, I decided to check his ‘favourite’ line carefully. What I discovered, other than the fact the line was badly worn, was that the sink-tip section was much shorter and heavier than mine. Most sink-tips come in 12 to 24 foot sections and vary in sink rates...his was cut EXACTLY to 10 feet and HEAVY (looked like tungsten with no fly line coating). I tried to match his line but just couldn’t...it just had that ‘special’ wear to it. Dale has tried new lines on the Bow River but they just don’t work like that old line, therefore he continues to out-fish everyone with his old, cracked line.
Special Note: It was during these Bow River outings that I gave Dale the nickname, The Bulldog. Dale would start at the head of the run (as always) and it didn’t matter how many of us were fishing the run...he would bulldoze (wade) right in front of people, hooking fish after fish, with not a care in the world...’The Bulldog’ was born.
Let’s start by discussing the two main fly lines tapers. Fly lines will, generally, come with either a Double Taper or Weight Forward taper. Double tapered lines have a uniform taper on both ends to the center of the line, which allows you to use either end of the line as the tip. Weight Forward lines have most of the bulk or weight in the front 30-40 feet of the line, which allows for easier and longer casts. Weight forward’s are the most popular, so we will focus on them.
The three line types we will talk about are Dry (floating), Sink-tip, and Wet (Full Sink). Fly lines have a standard naming system that you should be familiar with when buying. The following are some examples of what you will see.
- DT4F: Double Taper, 4 weight, Floating (Dry line)
- WF6F: Weight Forward, 6 weight, Floating
- WF8I: Weight Forward, 8 weight, Intermediate Sink
- WF6S6: Weight Forward, 6 weight, Full Sink (Type 6)
- WF6F/S4: Weight Forward, 6 weight, Floating with Type 4 Sink-tip
Always try to match the line weight with the rod weight. Some people believe in ‘loading’ the rod, which means putting a heavier line on a lighter rod (e.g. 6 weight line on a 5 weight rod). This could produce a longer cast by loading the rod better and I do this when using stiff, high modulus graphite rods.
Everyone seems to start with a dry line. This statement may be bold but true. I started with a dry line and so did all of my friends and I am sure 95% of you reading this, started with a dry line. If you are only going to have one line then it should be a dry line. You can fish the majority of lakes, rivers, and tropical destinations with a dry line, and be successful. I use a dry line when fishing dry fly hatches on rivers and lakes, indicator fishing on rivers and lakes, and when tropical fishing for Bonefish, Permit, and Tarpon.
Sink-Tip Lines can be a great addition to your fly fishing arsenal. They don’t cast as easily as a dry line but can be very effective when fishing river runs and lakes. I use my various sink-tips when fishing all my favourite river runs for trout, salmon and steelhead, and just off the shoals when fishing caddis and mayfly nymphs in lakes.
There are different sink rates that apply to both sink-tip and full sinking lines and they are as follows (IPS = Inches per Second):
- Type 1 or I – Intermediate Sink: Very slow sink rate (1-1.5 IPS)
- Type 2 – Slow sink rate of 2 IPS
- Type 3 – Medium sink rate of 3 IPS
- Type 4 – Medium fast sink rate of 4 IPS
- Type 5 – Fast sink rate of 5 IPS
- Type 6 – Very fast sink rate of 6 IPS
- Special super fast sinks - > 6 IPS
Some manufactures have multi-tip systems, which include various sink tips: Dry, Intermediate, Type 3, and Type 6. These systems are great for beginners and I highly recommend them if you want to have an assortment of tips.
Wet/Full Sink Lines
Wet Lines or Full Sink Lines can be tough to cast and a nightmare to retrieve but overall a ‘must have’ line. When the fish are deep or you have to fish ‘booby flies’, a full sinking line can turn a bad day into a great day. Wet lines use the same system as above (See Sink-tips) when defining the sink rates. Type 1’s are slow, Type 6’s are fast and there are even special super fast, full sink lines for fishing ‘Boobies’.
The newest wet lines, the density compensated lines, sink at a constant rate so that the line doesn’t belly. This allows the fly to look more natural in the water during retrieval. If you plan to fish lakes and/or deep rivers, then a full sinking line is a must.
If you can afford two lines they should be a dry and a full sinking line (type 6 preferred). Sink-tip lines are great to have but you will not need them starting out. If you can afford them all, well great, go for it! The more lines you have, the better you will be able to handle each fishing situation and condition. I hope this article has answered some questions on lines and will help you get setup for this upcoming fishing season.