How To Choose The Right Fly Line (Part 1)

Deciding on your next fly line can be a complicated and daunting process. Lines can be labeled as WF5F, 200gr, coldwater, tropical, aggressive, presentation tapered, floating, sinking, overweighted, freshwater, or saltwater, and that's just a few. It's confusing. In my opinion, it is actually the most confusing aspect of gear-related fly fishing information. Additionally, just because you have, say, a 5wt rod, that doesn't mean any WF5F fly line will match up well with your rod or fishing situation(s). Unfortunately, there is not one fly line that will do everything perfectly. So, how do we make good decisions on fly lines without buying 10 of them and personally testing them all out on the water before we purchase?

This is #1 in a multiple part series. In this article I will cover the main ideas behind fly line design and its intended application.

How Do We "Match" a Fly Line?

Matching up a fly line to a fly rod is a combination of a few factors. The big questions you should be asking yourself are:

  • What is the "action" of the fly rod that I want to use this line on? - fast/medium/slow/etc.
  • What type of caster are you? Are you just learning to cast? Are you more experienced? Do you double haul? Need a line for better roll casting or maybe short casts with a dry fly?
  • Where are you fishing? River, pond, ocean, from a boat, from shore?
  • What flies are you fishing/what techniques do you want to accomplish? Are you looking for a dry fly specific line, do you want a line to help you cast streamers better, do you need a line to help you accurately cast shrimp flies to schools of tailing bonefish, do you want a line to quickly get you down in that spring hole on your favorite trout pond?

There are certainly a lot of factors to consider, but once you have established these above variables and situations, you have now essentially narrowed down your search considerably. You will find that there is absolutely a noticeable difference in how various lines behave, so additionally you will find that there is likely a good match for you and your fishing needs.

Comparing Tapers + Grain Weight

The single most significant factor that dictates most differences in fly lines and their application is their taper and grain weight. These, when applied in various ways, can change a dry fly line to a streamer line, or a nymphing/indicator line to a stillwater line. The questions/variables that are mentioned about can, for the most part, be answered with taper and weight. Here are some examples:

Premier Rio Gold

Click HERE for more info on Rio Gold

Premier Rio Gold Fly Line TaperRio Gold has been an "industry" standard fly line for quite sometime. For anglers looking for a fly line that matches up well with most freshwater fly rods, Rio Gold has a taper that helps it be a great "all-arounder" option. It has a longer head (47") which is fairly linear and shares an extended rear taper. This design allows Rio Gold to hold its shape and help you control the line more confidently during longer casts. The front taper is a good balance between a presentation minded line and one that will load quickly at short range. It's one of those lines that doesn't do anything perfectly, but does a lot of things well.

Scientific Anglers Amplitude Smooth Creek Trout

Click HERE for more info on the SA Amplitude Smooth Creek Trout

Scientific Anglers Amplitude Smooth Creek Trout Fly Line

The Scientific Anglers Amplitude Smooth Creek Trout is solely designed to throw dry flies in small rivers/creeks. You can see how the front taper is an extension of the belly which are both slowly progressing to a thinner diameter. This gives a great ability to "present" flies on the water without much disruption (spooking fish). Plus you will see that the overall head of this line is shorter than the Rio Gold. This allows the angler to load the line/rod at very short distances (how most casts are in small creeks). The downside is that the Creek Trout does not do well at casting longer distances accurately or handling heavier flies like weighted streamers or indicator rigs. 

Rio InTouch Big Nasty

Click HERE for more info on the Rio InTouch Big Nasty

Rio InTouch Big Nasty Fly Line

Totally opposite to the SA Creek Trout, the Rio InTouch Big Nasty is designed to cast the largest and heaviest of streamers. You can clearly see that quite a bit of weight is pushed to the very front of the line. The front taper looks dramatically different than any dry fly or presentation specific line. The longer head length allows for control of longer casts, and the exaggerated front taper helps to carry and turnover those heavy articulated or bulky flies. The downside to the Big Nasty is that it would not be a great dry fly line. The reason for this is the aggressive front tape which would make it hard to delicately present a fly on the surface.

Grain Weight?

All of the above lines are weighted differently. At WF5F, the full head weight of Rio Gold WF5F is 208gr (not just the first 30'), Rio Big Nasty is 202gr, and the SA Creek Trout is 160gr. If you take this weight and shift/move it around in various ways along the head, you will see how application of weight in a fly line makes a big difference. You could have almost the same weight line (like the Rio Gold and Big Nasty) but when you apply the weight in different ways, it dramatically changes how the line behaves and casts! Additionally, this means that you could take one WF5F line and it would not cast well with your rod at all, but then another WF5F line would match up really well. So keep in mind those above "questions" before deciding on a line. 

How To Choose The Right Fly Line

The Difference(s) Between Freshwater and Saltwater Fly Lines

These characteristics explained above are applicable for both freshwater and saltwater fly lines. For instance, the taper of some freshwater and saltwater lines can be very similar as their intended techniques can require an almost identical approach. 

Airflo Bonefish

Click HERE for more info on the Airflo Bonefish

Airflo Bonefish Fly Line

You can see that the taper/head for the Airflo Bonefish is almost identical to that of the Rio Gold. Being an all-around trout line, Rio Gold can be a good line for presenting dry flies. In very much a similar way, the Airflo Bonefish fly line is made to help you present flies to bonefish. The techniques to presenting a dry fly to a wary trout is essentially the same to that of leading a (school of) bonefish with your shrimp pattern. You want to be able to softly and accurately land that fly in the most natural way possible. A fly line which has its weight evenly distributed along the head allows for a softer/more natural presentation. This is not necessarily the case with a line like the Rio Big Nasty which is designed to throw streamers. 

Rio Coastal Quickshooter

Click HERE for more info on the Rio Coastal Quickshooter

Rio Coastal Quickshooter Fly Line

On the other hand, a line like the Rio Coastal Quickshooter which is another saltwater line, is created with a very different idea in mind. Not only is the Coastal Quickshooter overweighted (more on that in the next article) but the head is shorter (than the Airflo Bonefish). This condenses the weight of the line/head to a smaller area which loads rods quicker and helps to carry large streamers into the wind. You can also see that the front taper is shorter. This design of the Coastal Quickshooter would not be recommenced as a sight-fishing/presentation line as it would not allow the angler to accurately and subtly get that fly to the fish. When accuracy and presentation is not needed, (such as blind casting off of beaches, ledges, or a boat) but you are tossing big flies into the wind, trying to eliminate false casting, and getting as much line out as possible with minimal effort, this is where a line like the Rio Coastal Quickshooter is advantageous. 

Now What?

Now that we have covered the basics of how lines are designed for various applications, we can start to figure out how these apply to our fishing. In the next article, I will detail how to take these variables and make them fit for youAs mentioned previously, not every WF5F line is going to match up well with your 5wt rod or you as an angler/caster. So with the next article I will also talk about how us as individual casters can make a difference in what line works well for you and your fly rod. 


Josh (All Points):

Hi Kirby! Thanks for reading the article. I am doing well and hope the same for you!

Nov 29, 2020

Kirby Kramer:

Hi Josh. Very helpful and informative article. Looking forward to part #2. Hope all is well. This has to be a tough time to be running a small business.

Nov 29, 2020

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