Fly FishingFly Fishing Gear

Fly Fishing Lines

Fly Fishing Lines

Learn how to select fly fishing line that will catch most fish. Get expert info on basic gear rules, fly line care, and more in this section. Selecting the right fly fishing lines will help you get to where the fish are. Learn how to choose the right fly lines for your fishing needs.

Select The Best Fly Fishing Line

In spin fishing, the weight of the lure being cast pulls the monofilament line off the reel. In fly fishing, the weight of the fly fishing line being cast – i.e., the main line attached to the fly line backing – carries the fly to the fish. The fly fishing line you cast and the way you cast it creates the "presentation" of the fly. To successfully catch fish, you must present your fly in the water column the way the fish expect to see their prey. Having the right fly lines among your fly fishing equipment make that possible.

By Shape and Construction

These features determine how the fly fishing line delivers the fly. In fly fishing, you want to deliver the fly where and how the fish expect to see their prey. To do that, you must choose fly lines with the proper length, weight, taper, color, specific gravity and coating for the types of fish you wish to target.

By Length and Weight

Fly fishing line weight is distributed throughout its length - from 90 to 105 feet or more - but its weight designation (1- through 15-weight) is determined by the weight of the front 30 feet of the fly line. Use your rod and reel as a guide to match the fly lines accordingly. For example, a 5-weight fly fishing line is an appropriate match for a 4/5/6 fly reel mounted on 5-weight fly rod.

By Tapers

The way fly lines shoot, turn over a heavy fly, present a small fly delicately, or cast efficiently at long or short distances is through the taper design. The fly line's taper (its outside dimension) is designed by varying the thickness of the line coating. Notice the way a fly line is described – tip, front taper, belly, rear taper, head and running line. All these elements can be varied to change the casting performance of the line. Fly fishing lines are broken into five design categories: the seldom-used level (L), the highly popular weight-forward (WF), double-taper (DT), shooting-taper (ST), and specialty tapers. The fly lines you will use the most are weight-forward, double-taper and specialty.

Image courtesy of Flyshop NZ.

By Color

Unlike clear-colored monofilament fly fishing leader line, main fly fishing line comes in a myriad of colors. Some anglers prefer brightly colored fly fishing line to see where their line is both in the air and on the water. Others prefer fly lines that blend in with whatever background they are fishing. Fish see colors, they reason, so why spook them with colors they are not used to seeing? On the other hand, seeing an unusual object in the water may steer fish toward your fly as they seek to avoid it. You will want to keep a variety of colors in your tackle box to be able to decide what color fly line works best for you based on what’s biting.

By Coating

Fly fishing lines are constructed of a core, an inner layer and an outer layer coating (usually polyvinylchloride). The taper design is achieved by varying the thickness of the outer layer. These basic elements are varied to make form follow function. For instance, fly lines float because they are designed with tiny air bubbles in the surface coating. If instead the manufacturer adds lead or tungsten to the fly line's coating, the line will sink. Manufacturers distinguish these designs by marking fly lines with an (F) for floating line and an (S) for sinking line.

Image courtesy of Flyshop NZ.

Sinking Fly Lines

Since more than 90 percent of a fish's feeding occurs beneath the surface, you need fly lines that get your fly underwater, sometimes slowly and at other times very fast.

Full-sinking fly fishing line is best suited for fishing in still waters and are designed to get flies down to the level where the fish are feeding. The key to using them successfully is to match the sink rate of the fly line to the fishing conditions.

Fly lines that sink uniformly (evenly) or head first are the best fly lines to use for fishing lakes and ponds, because they provide better strike detection. Some sinking fly lines tend to belly in the middle because they do not sink uniformly. The belly creates a sensory disconnect between the angler and the fish, so the angler fails to detect the strikes before the fish can reject the fly. Uniform-sinking fly fishing lines provide a straight-line connection to the fly, allowing you to detect a high percentage of strikes and catch more fish.


Sinking-tips (best used in moving water) are sinking portions of fly fishing line (usually 8 to 15 feet) connected to the front of floating lines. They are excellent for shallow and deep nymphing, for mending fly line to create a drag-free float, and for turning over and sinking very large streamers in river-bank and pool fishing.

Fly Fishing Line Care Tips

  • Wash your fly fishing lines in mild soap and water and wiped dry or cleaned with a line cleaner after use, because they accumulate dirt and algae on their surface, making casting difficult and floating fly lines sink.
  • After cleaning, allow the fly line to dry in the shade (ultraviolet light from the sun destroys the chemicals in a line), or wipe the line dry and dress it with lubricant provided by the manufacturer or with Armor-All. Some newer fly fishing lines require less dressing because they have lubricants in the line coating that gradually weep toward the surface.
  • When you are not fishing the fly line, detach the fly and wind the line onto the reel until your next trip. Long storage on a reel can create reel-coils in the fly line, but to remove the coils you just need to stretch or cast the line. At the end of the season clean your fly lines thoroughly and wind them back onto their original line spools.
  • Always keep your fly lines stored out of direct sunlight. The sun's ultraviolet rays and high heat can cause the coating chemicals on the fly line to deteriorate quickly. With proper care your fly fishing lines should last from three to five years under normal use.