Fly Line Blues
I don't care much what line I fish as long as it works.
Once in a while I need a new line - not a new line as in go-out-and-buy-one, but more like I need a different line than the one, which I have been using for a while. My friends will attest to that I'm one or both of two things when it comes to lines:
- Quite conservative, fishing with the same setup for long periods.
- Quite indiscriminate, fishing with almost any line on any rod (within reason, of course).
But sometimes I need a line for a new rod.
Just like when I was trying to locate a line for my Dave Lewis 6-piece 3-weight, which I bought a few years ago. It has been casting the lines, which I usually use for my Partridge split cane rod, but during my stay in Florida a few years back, I bought a nice little Pfleuger Medalist reel that I want to use on this rod, and that has been empty ever since. I also recently acquired a Hardy Marksman reel, and both need to be set up with lines.
So now is the time to dive into those lines.
The paradox of my boxes
Most people would probably consider my system of storing fly lines a paradox, and thinking of it right now, I have to agree.
I have one box that holds all the lines, nicely coiled up in large loops, but not really in any particular order. I remember what most of them are on color, taper, feel and some sixth fly fisher sense of fly lines.
The other box is what makes the paradox: it's all the boxes that these fly lines came in... 80% of them empty!
So in other words: I have a mayhem of mixed fly lines in one box, and well ordered rows of mainly empty boxes with labels, weights and colors in another. Not really the perfect way of keeping control of my fly lines, I admit.
But I like my lines to be coiled up in large, loose coils rather than spooled on the small spools they come on, so I'm probably going to keep my system. The empty boxes are kind of a mnemonic support system, which helps me remember what I have.
On top of the full lines, I have a large bunch of shooting heads, most of which were cut from inexpensive Double Taper lines, and I recently bought a whole batch of inexpensive so called mill end lines, which were never marked or boxed, but just delivered coiled up in clear plastic bags.
Boxed and unboxed
But finding a line for my 3-weight is still a chore, and while browsing through all the lines and boxes to get order out of chaos, I decided to do something radical: label all lines with its proper taper, line weight and maybe even make.
While some lines easily finds its right shelf, it more difficult with others. A Double Taper line colored ivory and a box saying Hardy 4 weight DT Ivory is a match easily made. But a sink tip line of unknown origin with no matching case is not easy to estimate with regards to line weight.
So to get just a bit of overview, I started a sorting process into three piles:
1) Known lines with boxes.
2) Known lines without boxes.
3) Unknown lines.
The fist two ones were no match. Many of the second category are shooting heads, where weight and length can be measured. These have no line class as such, but are used according to exactly length and weight. Each rod works best with a certain length/weight. Other category 2 lines are special lines with colors or color combinations that I remember.
Separating different densities is usually fairly easy too.
I discern them on feel and color. Most my floaters are white, yellow, orange, tan and even light green or olive, while the intermediate lines are darker - typically blue and green. The sinkers are brown or black and the sink tips are usually two colored. I also own a few clear lines, some warm water lines and other specialty lines. I can recognize most of them with little hesitation.
Sort, weigh, sigh
The last category is the one I concentrate on. They are lines in all classes and tapers it seems, and I start by sorting the according to estimated line weight. I can easily spot a 9 weight and a 3-4 weight, but a 6 and a 7...? Not really. I have two ways of placing them: weighing or casting.
I have a small electronic scale that I use almost exclusively for lines, and by weighing the belly of known lines and comparing to the unknown ones, I can place the unknown ones within a line class or two. In most cases that is good enough for me, but if I need a precise value, I simply mount the line on a rod and cast it on a lawn. In the end I have most of my lines categorized, and now it's labeling time! Or at least it ought to be...
As I said I usually keep my lines in large coils. I wind them up on an old winder originally used for knitting yarn. You can get some authorized line winders, but my wooden yarn winder works fine. Once wound up in large coils, I use wire bag clips or pipe cleaners to keep them in order. Four clips on each line keeps it under control. If I was really smart, I'd dig out a whole lot of manila tags and mark each line with it's weight, density and taper.
But usually I don't.
I put the lines in bags, ordered by "theme" - two hand lines, coastal shooting heads, light rod trout lines, pike lines etc. Each bag contains 2-3-4-5 lines depending, and makes up a set, which I can grab when traveling or rigging up for a certain type of fishing.
I have been through this cycle many times, and even though all common sense tells me that I ought to be more systematic, it has worked fine. I not really sensitive when it comes to the nominal class of a line. I mount it on a suitable rod and fish it.
During a recent iteration, I did something drastic: I trashed all the empty boxes. I convinced myself that it was irrational to store empty boxes just for the sake of remembering what lines I own. Since I never use the boxes for storage, I thought that I might as well just loose them. I could have cut off bits telling what the lines were and saved them, but I honestly don't think I'd look at them anyway.
So the only boxes I have left now are the ones with brand spanking new lines in them. No empty boxes.
So, did I find a line for my Dave Lewis rod? Yes, of course. Several actually. And I didn't even need to weigh or cast to decide. I found the old Hardy DT 4, which I have used before but packed away. I love fishing DT lines on light rods, and during a recent BC trip I had a chance to cast it, and I was really pleased.
A perfect combination.
I also have a Scientific Anglers Ultra 3 WF line for a 4 weight rod, but even though my rod is rated for a 3-4 weight, I usually prefer a light WF-line for such a delicate rod. I do love the old SA-lines though, and I'm almost sure it will work fine.
I just bought a Hardy Marksman reel for a 3-4 weight line, and I think I'll try rigging the SA-line on that and give it a go.
I mentioned the mill end lines in the article, and for those who like me are not concerned with brands, it's a great alternative. I have bought some lines in classes that I rarely use at a price, which is a far cry from the crazy prices charged for big brand lines.
I find fly lines way too expensive for my taste and wallet. Like fly rods they seem to to be priced based on what crazy fly anglers will pay more than what they cost to produce. I know that good fly lines are high tech products, but still... 100 US$ for a fly line is painful more than sensible.
The British online shop Mularkeys had some no-brand lines, which cost as little as 5 and 6 UK£ for a line or about 8-10 US$ for one whole fly line! Mularkeys has unfortunately closed, since this was written, but mill end and no-brand lines can often be found at low prices in fly- and fishing shops.
I and my friends have bought quite a few of these lines, and sure they aren't Sharkskin, Ultra Slick or Perfect Shooter or whatever fancy names for neat technologies the big brands offer, but they are very nice lines at a great price. And according to my knowledge the number of factories that manufacture fly lines is very limited, so even though you get second grade lines, they are most likely brand name lines anyway. Some are a bit short, some uneven and some have really strange colors. But at the price paid you can afford a miss now and then--not that we have ever had one.
I have bought some lines that I rarely use, and all have been well worth the money. If you want to make shooting heads from DT lines, it doesn't get cheaper than this. Since you can cut a line into two heads, it's 5 bucks and a bit of work for a whole shooting head. Beat that!
Any line as long as it's 5-6-7
As it was said about the Ford T: any color as long as it's black. I say something similar about lines: Any line as long as it's a 5-7 weight.
Most of my day-to-day reels are set up with lines, which I know I'll use. Most will work fine for me on any rod between 5- and 7-weight, and although that might sound a bit crazy, adjusting style and stroke will do wonders for almost any combination. Most modern rods have a surprisingly wide span of casting weights, and especially midweight rods in the 6-weight range are mostly able to handle fairly heavy lines. You can also cast a lighter line although it requires more work in the form of higher casting speed and maybe a longer line to load the rod. A too light line on a heavy rod can be very frustrating since a light line can have a hard time loading a stiff or heavy rod.
Of course I have other lines. My Dave Lewis 3 weight or my Partridge Split cane 4-weight need light lines, and my two hand salmon rods are all better off with lines in the 8-10 and even 12 weight range.