Of Rods and Reels

Choosing a Fly Line

In fly-fishing, as in any other type of fishing, you get what you pay for when it comes to fly lines. When you pay $5 or $6 for a fly line, you get about $5 or $6 worth of performance. On the other hand, when you pay substantially more for a line made by reputable, proven manufacturers like Scientific Anglers, Fenwick, Wulff, Orvis, L.L. Bean, and Teeny, you get a line you know you can trust, one that will perform as it was meant to perform. Don't ever skimp on a fly line.

The best line to start with is a weight-forward floating line because it is so versatile. If you will be fishing moving streams and rivers, buy a double-taper floating line. As you learn more about the art of fly-fishing and get into more specific situations, you will need to get other lines. For instance, when fishing fairly well below the surface of still waters, a slow-sinking line is used. If you are in a situation where you have to get the line down faster, like in a moving river, a faster sink rate is required. If you are casting heavy flies into the wind, you may want to opt for a shooting head. When you want the fly to sink but most of the fly line to remain on the surface, like in many salmon and trout fishing situations on rivers and streams, you will want a sink-tip. And when fishing in bright sun and hot temperatures, you could benefit from using a line that is ultraviolet resistant; UV light breaks down the PVC coating on standard fly lines.

When beginning to fly-fish, first consider the species of fish you expect to spend the most time chasing, but remember that tuned angling skills make it possible to catch very big fish on comparatively light fly-fishing tackle. In the Florida Keys, you will be after bonefish, barracuda, tarpon, permit, cobia, and dolphin, among many other species. You will need a 10- to 13-weight for average tarpon and bigger barracuda (an 8- or 9-weight for smaller"ditch" tarpon), but a 6- to 9-weight will suffice for the others, generally speaking. If you intend to pursue blue-gill in farm ponds or small trout in tight streams, use a wispy 1- to 4-weight. Bass and bigger trout anglers find cause for fly rods in the 5- to 7-weight. Inshore fly-fishing for spotted sea-trout, red drum, striped bass, and bluefish sees a 7- to 9-weight on deck. Northern pike and muskie insist upon an 8- to 10-weight.

Right about now you must realize that if you intend to catch many or perhaps even all of these species of fish, you are going to spend some money gearing up. But that's part of the fun, even if it takes years to get there.


Backing is the emergency line separating the fly reel's arbor from the fly line itself. Normally made of Dacron, it fills the reel's spool and gives the fly-fisher plenty (well, usually) of extra line to fight a fish on.


The leader is what separates the fly line from the fly. It allows the fly to act more naturally, doesn't scare nervous fish as easily as a fly line can, and helps to prevent the fly from striking the water so hard that the fish runs off (although in some fishing situations you want the fly to hit hard). Most leaders are made of nylon monofilament; they can come pre-packaged and knotless, or you can construct your own with assorted sections of monofilament of various tensile strengths. They come in many lengths, and today you can find specialty leaders to use for specific situations, like with a wet fly (special wet fly leaders sink along with the fly), toothy fish, or what have you. Most leaders run from 6-15 feet, but in some instances, as when fishing sinking lines in murky or oily water, you may need only a 3-foot leader.

Tippet is a section of special leader added to the end of the leader where you will be tying your fly. It is used to add delicacy or strength to the whole system, depending on what you are fishing for.

Leaders and tippets are rated by an "X" code with a corresponding number. The lower the X number, the thicker the tippet's diameter. The diameter of the leader and/or tippet can be crucial in presentation of the fly. Check the package for the tensile strength.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »