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Untangling the mystery of fly lines, an often misunderstood piece of tackle



By Patrick Straub EBS Fishing Columnist

DTX, Sharkwave, Perception, Wonderline, HD Power. No, these are not the names of accessories to add horsepower to a souped-up Camaro. These are models of popular fly lines. They will not help you cruise the strip on a Friday night, but choosing the right fly line can ensure you gain more enjoyment from your fishing outing.

Over my angling lifetime, fly lines have evolved along with other tackle. Similar to graphite fly rods, fly lines have come a long way from the days of braided horse hair in the 1700s to silk gut in the early 20th century to today’s uber-engineered malleable soft plastics. As a kid chasing 10-inch trout on Sourdough Creek, I never would have guessed better angling has evolved through plastics. Here’s some help to make the most out of the science behind better fly lines.

Take care of your fly line. This should be obvious. However, I guide dozens of anglers a year and I’ve often been astounded by how dirty their lines have become. Aside from wading boots and waders, a fly line endures the highest level of wear and tear. From being stepped on to drug through sand and sediment, even the most expensive fly lines fall victim to abuse and neglect. Taking a few minutes to clean your line at the end of the day will ensure that your line will last.

Weight forward or double taper? Fly lines come in a variety of styles and a basic understanding of these tapers is essential. A taper describes the construction of the fly line. Most anglers fishing for trout in our local waters should choose a weight-forward fly line, which features a heavier front portion. This allows the line to match better with most of today’s stiffer and faster action fly rods.

Double taper fly lines have two equally weighted sections at the front and back of the fly line. Double taper fly lines are more true to their line weight and can also be “flipped”: when one end becomes dirty you can reverse it and fish the other end.

Shooting heads, Skagit heads and Spey lines. Beyond weight-forward and double taper, there are myriads of special tapers and constructions out there related to the type of fishing you’re doing. If you plan to Spey cast—in hopes of steelhead or salmon, or perhaps casting for trout—considerable time must be spent to learn the components of the set-up. Spey casting two-handed rods is a skill in and of itself, and learning the lines necessary for the angling situation you may find yourself in is akin to matching the hatch with selective trout.

Saltwater means stiffness and durability. For anglers venturing to a bonefish flat, tarpon chase or permit hunt: Do not travel 3,000 miles to have it all unravel in the last 60 feet. Fly lines designed for fishing saltwater flats are stiffer, which means they hold up better in a casting loop in warm water and high air temperatures. Their extra coating also makes them less conducive to corrosion from abrasive saltwater.

Know your fly rod. Matching a line weight to your rod used to be simple—a 5-weight fly line matched with a 5-weight fly rod. But as fly rods become lighter and faster and fly lines become thinner yet more durable, it’s important you know the action of your fly rod. Many modern fly lines cast best with a fly line weight that is one notch above the rod.

Confidence in angling goes a long way. Finally, confidence in your rod and fly line working well together can result in tangible success. Whether you choose a fly line with a catchy name like Sharkskin or Wonderline, a little education can go a long way to lengthen your catch…and the life of your fly line.

Pat Straub is the author of six books, including “The Frugal Fly Fisher,” “Montana On The Fly” and ”Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing.” He and his wife own Gallatin River Guides in Big Sky.

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