The Global FlyFisher - A Good Place to go for Online Fly Fishing and Fly Tying
First published November 24th 2002 - More than 10 years ago
My fly line doesn't understand me! And I don't understand it...
I will start by setting some terms straight. The following discussion will refer to the different parts of the fly line by these names, and the different parts can be seen on the accompanying drawing.
Fly lines come in two basic shapes:
I will illustrate the terms with a simple WF line.
Line tip: the front part of the line, equally thin over its length, where the leaders is attached
A typical WF line has a short tip of a few inches, long tapers, maybe 3-6 feet (1-2 metres) and the head is mostly around 30 feet or 10 metres. The rest of the line up to about 90 to 100 feet or about 30 metres consists of the thin running line. A DT line has no running line, but is one long belly with an identical taper and tip in each end.
Let's look at the tapers first. As already mentioned, these vary, but there are some common types. The effect of the different tapers is often discussed - even by experts - but it all sums up somewhat as follows:
Double Taper: a straight line with a tip in both ends is a typical presentation line, which is well suited for fine arcs and delicate casts. The line excels in line control, like when doing roll casts, mending etc. The DT line is used for dry fly fishing, but is not uncommon on two hand salmon rods used for casting types such as spey casts.
Weight Forward: an ordinary line with a belly is the universal line that combines longer casts with an acceptable presentation. The casting weight is gathered in the front end of the line, which pulls the thinner and considerably lighter running line, yielding longer casts over delicacy.
Casting tapers: a weight forward taper specifically designed for longer casts. The rear taper is longer than on a basic WF line thus concentrating the weight even closer to the tip. Casting length is increased, again sacrificing a little delicacy. These lines are sometimes referred to as Distance Tapers (Scientific Anglers) or QuickShooter tapers (Rio).
Wind tapers: has been tapered to be suitable for casting under windy conditions with a short belly and a very long rear taper, producing a hammer like weight distribution, appropriate for fighting a wind. Product names include Wind Taper, Salt Water Taper, WF Performance (Guideline) and others. Rio's wind taper is called Delta Taper, referring to a triangle, but reversed in comparison to the later mentioned triangle taper.
Compound tapers: refers to tapers built from more than one transition. Compound tapers have three or more lengths of equally thick line parted by each their taper. The most common compound tapers are different variations of the wind taper having two or more rear tapers.
Triangle tapers: in this case the front taper is long and will produce a very smooth transfer of power through the line to the leader. This generates an extra delicate presentation. Some very long triangle tapers are utilised for two hand rods and underhand and spey casts.
Long belly: these lines have extra long bellies, but are in other respects much alike the WF lines. Sometimes they have a longer rear taper. This has an effect when these lines are used on two hand rods, which is the main purpose of this type of line. A long belly line will act much as a DT line while you work it out, but still be able to shoot line in the cast.
Short belly: this line has a short belly and concentrates the weight in the absolute front of the line - often with a short and steep rear taper. These lines will give a good casting power but without the hammer effect of the wind tapers. They are specifically designed for heavier fishing with larger flies and are often referred to as Bass Taper, Muskie Taper or Pike Taper.
Shooting Taper is also referred to as a Shooting Head. This line is just the belly part of the fly line with no running line attached. The running line is a separate line, which can be chosen freely by the angler. Shooting heads are chosen for effortless casting, distance and more flexible combination of belly and running line. Many anglers produce their own shooting heads.
Weight and density
The weight and density of the fly line is as important as its shape when it comes to determining its casting and fishing abilities. They might seem to be two sides of the same, but are not.
Density: the density determines the line's ability to float - or not to: its sinking rate if it is more dense than water. We usually talk about floating lines and different grades of sinking lines, ranging from neutral over intermediate to sinking and fast sinking.
The floaters are not just floating, even though you might think so. Some lines actually float higher than others, which influences the way the line lifts off the water and how thick the line is, hence heavily influencing its aerodynamical character. Thin lines are attractive because of their decreased wind resistance, but thinner means denser to attain the same weight per foot, and because of that the thin lines will not float as well.
The neutral lines equal water in density, while the sinking are more dense. And sinking is not only a question of using a denser material. Because the thick belly part is heavier per foot, it will sink faster than the lighter tip. This has urged some producers to make density compensated lines, where the tip becomes gradually denser to fight its slow sinking tendency. The classical sink tip line is basically an overcompensated line of this type.
Core and coating
Core: this is most often made from braided nylon, where many hundred thin nylon strands form a braided tube. The tube shape is used by many for creating loops directly on the line after having removed the coating. You see other types of cores, amongst these the monofilament, which is popular for the clear lines due to its own transparency. Some lines utilize a braid of finer mono lines, which form a hollow tube, but of a somewhat rougher character than the normal braid.
Coating: this is the main material of the line - what you see and what you touch. It also forms the major body of the line and determines its taper and thickness as well as its final density.
The techniques are many from small air bubbles to air chambers for floating lines to different kinds of minerals and metals to make the line sink.
Several factors influence the stiffness of the line: the material, the age of the line and the temperature of the surrounding media - both in the air and in the water.
You might think that as soft a line as possible would be the best thing in order to obtain delicate presentation, nice arcs and easy handling, but that is not the case. A soft line has a soft surface, and a soft surface sticks to the guides and yields a poor shooting ability. The soft line will also sag between the guides and further add to the friction.
That could lead to the belief that a stiffer and smoother line was better, but again there will be disadvantages. It will be harder to cast, unwilling to form proper arcs and unwilling change its shape in the cast. Apart from that the stiffer line will have more memory and keep its shape - usually curled from the reel - over time. And the smoothness could prevent you from getting a proper grip on the line.
In other words: a compromise between the two is the right choice.
The material is chosen to be fairly limp, but still have enough stamina to stay straight between the eyes and have a surface that is pleasing to handle, yet smooth enough to shoot well. Further smoothness is often obtained through a surface coating or treatment.
During the last few years the market has seen a new type of lines that are specifically targeted at fishing at certain temperatures. Many a flyfisher has been taken by surprise by a line, which during the summer was an absolute beauty, but on a cold winters day is like a piece of haywire - dead and impossible to cast. The low temperatures have simply made the material stiff.
Because of this, we now see more and more cold water and warm water lines on the market, all suited for fishing under special weather conditions. A few manufacturers have so called all weather lines. Most of these are meant for temperate climate fishing: normal and cold weather, and not as suited for tropical fishing as the special lines for hot weather.
Most lines loose limpness and smoothness over the years. Materials deteriorate and the coating gets worn and dirty. This adds further to the inherent memory of the materials in the line and results in a line that becomes curly and stiff and hard to straighten.
Most fly fishers will nod in recognition to the picture of a line, curled up on the water like a clock spring. Especially after having pulled the line off the reel for the first time after an extended period of storing, like during a whole winter.
Some lines have very little of this memory while others have to be stretched into a proper shape every time they are pulled off the reel. Some will maintain their curled shape no matter how much you stretch. Their coating might be made from a material with a very good memory or they might be so old, that the softeners in the coating have disappeared or lost their softening capabilities.
Fly line care
Drag the line through a cloth soaked in line cleaner or just dunk it in a kitchen sink with lukewarm water and some mild detergent. Wipe it with a clean cloth and viola! Your line is almost as new.
You might consider wiping it lightly over with one of the many line dressings on the market. Be careful with vinyl treatment products such as Armorall. It will work well on some lines, but most lines need to be treated with a substance based on silicone, and the wrong liquid can course a lot of damage to the line. Read the manufacturer's instructions and consider buying the treatment particularly made for the line. Lines are expensive, and there is no need to ruin them while trying to make them better.
When you have the line off the reel, do not neglect to stretch it. The ideal stretch is to hang the line from a ledge and have a weight of 2-3 lbs. pull it. This will enable the line to untwist and stretch at the same time.
Most lines become as new after such a treatment.