Remember those awesome days when we went spinfishing? Things were so easy then. Snag your lure? Just cut the line and start again. Lose to much line, and $10.00 later you were back in business. Oh my, how things have changed! A River Runs Through It never mentioned fly lines can cost over $100.00! Not in the brochure!
And look how many fly lines are out there! Pike Tapers, Grand and Trout and MPX. We’ve gone from one size fits all to seemingly no one line can be effective. Add the amazing technological advances in fly rod design since AFTMA (American Fly Tackle Manufacturers Association) codified fly lines in the 60’s, and now you seem to have an unsolvable puzzle in front of you. But you have to solve it, mostly because you can’t remember if the fly line on your reel started as tan or orange, and it has so many cracks it looks like a zebra. After 5 minutes, it might as well be a sink tip. Something’s gotta give.
Because you can’t mend a sinking line. Sure, a reach cast or other aerial mend, but once it hits the water, it’s no longer mendable. And since mending is the most important thing you can do to be effective with insect imitations on the surface and below, you need your line to float, and float well. The higher a line floats on the water, the easier it is to mend. Less disturbance, more distance in your mend- high floating is the better way to go.
That’s one of the features you get in the top quality fly lines, very high floating. Technology has hit fly line manufacture as well, and the new lines float like corks. Many of the tapers are designed to enhance mending, and all of a sudden you’re back in control of your fly again. The newer fly lines are also designed to go further with the same effort, and some are textured to provide even more distance.
As you decide what you need from your fly line, decide if distance is really that important in your trout fishing. If your throwing streamers, it can be critical, and well worth pursuing. But since the average 9’ fly rod can’t mend beyond 37-40’, distance may not be as important to the insect imitating angler. If you can cast further than you can mend, distance may not be your number one consideration. Here’s a grumpy aside. If you can only throw 30’ with your old line, don’t expect a new line to go 70’. At that point, it might not be the arrow, it might be the archer. Just saying.
When it comes to the weight of your fly line, unless your very sure about what you’re doing, stick to the manufacturer’s recommended line weight. That still leaves some wiggle room, because some lines weigh a half size more than prescribed by AFTMA.
For the nerds, fly lines are sized in this way. Only the first 30’ is weighed, and a 3wt should be 100 grains. 4wt-120 gr. 5wt- 140 gr. 6wt-160 gr. 7wt- 185 gr. 8wt-210 gr. 9wt- 240 gr 10wt- 280 gr. From a modern perspective, many casters reach way beyond 30’, so when you have more than 30’ out, you are, in a sense, overloading the rod. Some fly rod manufacturers are asking for an overhaul to the system in place, but so far it hasn’t happened. So we go with what we got.
Back to choosing your fly line. If you’re happy with your rod, get a standard weight fly line. If you bought a fast rod and like it, don’t put a heavier line on it, as it will slow it down. If you bought a soft rod and like it, don’t put a heavier line on as it will change the action. But say you have a rod and you don’t truly like how it casts. Now is the time to fiddle with the line weight. If it’s too stiff, go up a half size in lines, or maybe even a whole line size. If the rod is a noodle, go down a half or whole size. You’ll find the rod may work a whole lot better than it did with a different weight loading it.
Let’s go back to distance. It you’re always into the running line, then a half weight heavier might be a bit much for your rod. If you’re a small stream angler, or consistently throw less than 30’, consider going to the half weight heavier line. Because rods are designed to have 30” of line out, the heavier line will compensate for the shorter line length. The rod loads faster, and short casts are now a lot easier. The additional weight also helps with mending, as it loads the rod tip and gives a better feel when shifting the line. Many small stream anglers will go up an entire line weight to get the rod to load with 20’ or less line extending from the tip top.
When you go to choose a fly line, price may well be a concern. While the more expensive lines may be more durable, they are not twice as durable, which is how they might be priced. Again, ask yourself what the fly lines main purpose is. If you’re a distance caster, get the best line you can afford- it will maximize your distance. Texture will also increase your distance dramatically. The more expensive lines have emollients impregnated in them, designed to ooze out slowly. These also help for distance, as well as easing cleaning. And for Pete’s sake, get a fly line cleaning pad and use it! A dirty line doesn’t shoot as well, doesn’t float as well and is just not as effective. Stick it in your vest pocket and at the end of the day, pull your line through it. Too easy not to do!
As you look at price points of lines, and their names, think back to the advertising you saw in magazines and online 15 years ago. The “mid” priced lines now were the top of the line 15 years ago. They worked just fine then, and they’ll work just fine now. Just fine isn’t the same as spectacular. But saving $40 is not to be sneezed at either! The new lines will seriously out perform the older lines, and if you’re looking to gain any edge you can, the new lines will help your mending and presentation. The tapers are more advanced, and they allow an angler to do more on the water.
You still have the zebra line, and you have a decision in front of you. Is there any way to stretch the life of that line out for a little bit as you contemplate your next move? Sure. Clean it as best you can with soap and water. Use mild scrubby pressure to remove grime. What, are you going to ruin it? It’s already done, so get the dirt off. Then coat the tip with 5-6 coats of Armorall or 1 coat of Mucilin. It’s a replasticizer, and will give the line a little coating and a bit of waterproofing. Let each coat dry completely before putting on the next one. It’s going to take a little time and effort. Its not forever, maybe 16 hours. But the Armorall is something while you decide what the next move is, or as a stop gap till pay day. But the piper will need to be paid, and soon. We’ll tell you what we tell all the zebra line people. When you put the new line on, remember how well it performs. Remember how easy it is to cast and mend. And next time, don’t wait so long to get a new line. Your fishing will improve, and that’s why we’re out there on the water, for the best fly fishing experience possible!