Updated: Jun 3, 2021
How often should I change my fly line?
Most fly lines need to be replaced after 100 to 250 uses. This is the point at which enough wear and tear has developed to significantly decrease their performance. The primary factors that determine how long a fly line will last are:
Quality of the fly line
How well it’s cared for
Type of fly fishing situations the line is used in
Just like tires, lightbulbs, and luffas, fly lines will eventually need to be replaced in order to achieve maximum performance. That being said, there are things you can do to make them last longer.
In this article, we will discuss:
Click here to read our article about our favorite fly lines
How to tell when it’s time to replace a fly line:
There are four signs that indicate it's time to replace your fly line:
Noticeable cracks in the line
Wear and tear on the loop at the tip of the line
Reduction in line shooting smoothness when casting
Line sinking instead of floating
1. Noticeable cracks in last 30-50 feet of the fly line itself
This is usually the first visible sign that it’s time to start looking for a new fly line. Fly lines have a “coating” around the line itself that becomes cracked due to everyday use and/or improper care.
2. Too much wear on the loop or knot at the front tip of the line
Some fly line’s have a loop at the tip that’s used to attach the leader to. When this loop becomes cracked, it can create abrasions in the end of the leader, which in turn can cause the leader to break off when fighting fish.
Depending upon the length of the line’s tip (the skinniest section at the front end of the fly line), it may be possible to clip this loop/knot off and retie a new one using a perfection loop. If this is the case, it can only be done once or twice before the balance of the fly line is thrown off and will need to be replaced.
3. Feeling a reduction in how well the line shoots when casting
This usually happens after cracks in the line have already become visible. It can get to a point that’s easily noticeable and can cause the tendency to “overpower” the cast, thus losing a significant amount of accuracy.
Note: This can also indicate you just need to clean your line instead of replacing it. So before giving up on your current line, give it a good cleaning. If after that your line still isn't shooting out smoothly, it’s time to look at replacing it.
Our favorite fly line cleaning kit is one from Loon Outdoors. Its coating has UV blocker built into it, and it comes with a sheepskin cleaning pad inserted into a wooden block to help with the application process. Click the image below for current Amazon pricing.
4. The floating tip section doesn't float anymore
If it’s a floating line, one thing you might notice before the cracks become apparent is a reduction in how well it floats. This is especially true in the tip section that connects the line to the leader. This is caused by tiny scrapes or cuts in the line’s coating that allow the line to become waterlogged.
What damages a fly line?
Damage to a fly line is most commonly caused by:
Exposure to UV light for extended periods of time
Coming in contact with bug spray/sunscreen/hand sanitizer
Abrasions from rocks, sand, and brush
Remaining wound around the reel for too long
Casting on hard or rough surfaces
Leaving your real filled with fly line in the bed of your truck or anywhere outside in direct sunlight can create overexposure to UV rays, causing the plastic coating of the fly line to erode/weaken. This in and of itself may not cause cracks in the coating, but it will significantly increase the likelihood of them developing.
Bug Spray/sunscreen/hand sanitizer
While important for a comfortable fly fishing experience, the chemicals contained in these can damage the coating of the line, causing it to break down and increase the likelihood of developing cracks. I’ve found it best practice to apply the spray/lotion AFTER I’ve rigged up my rod, making sure I’m standing a good distance from the line to avoid “friendly fire”. I then try to avoid hand contact with the line/leader if at all possible, until I’ve washed them off the best I can in the stream.
Striping line through brush/rocks/sand
This often causes scrapes and cuts they can and will grow over time.
Leaving it wound up (such as on a small spool) for long periods at a time (over a month)
This causes line memory and can create weak spots in the line where there is too much “curl”.
Casting on Hard/Rough surfaces
It’s never a bad idea to practice casting, but doing so on the driveway or even on dry grass can damage a fly line. I’ve found the best surface to practice on (other than water of course) is wet grass. I’ll use a garden hose to wet the grass down but not so much that it makes the yard muddy. It doesn't take much, about 2-3 minutes of spraying should do it.
How to make fly line last longer:
A typical fly line lasts for 100-250 uses before needing replaced, but by cleaning it regularly, stretching the memory out of it often, and removing wind knots, you can significantly increase the life of a fly line.
Cleaning a fly line regularly is the number one way to make it last longer.
How often you should clean your fly line:
Fly lines should be cleaned after every 5-10 uses. They should be cleaned immediately if they've been fished or dropped in moss or aquatic vegetation, or if they've gathered mud or sand.
*NOTE: Sand can destroy not only fly lines, but also fly reels. If you’re line does happen to get any sand on it, clean the line BEFORE reeling it in. This can be done by:
Making sure the line is wet
Grabbing a corner of your shirt
Gripping it tightly around the line while reeling it in.
This will create a dirty spot on your shirt, but beats the heck out of replacing a fly reel.
* If you’ve dropped your reel in mud/sand, take the rod (butt side down), and swiftly dip it up and down in the water several times before using your hand to SLOWLY pull out 30-40 feet of line. Make sure the line you’re pulling out is landing in the water, not on the dirt or mud it was just in. Then go through steps 1-3 as mentioned above to reel the line back in.
“Stretch” it out often
To remove “memory” from a line that’s been tightly wound up for too long (over a month), it needs to be stretched out. This can be done by holding it with your arms apart and pulling on it in opposite directions. Start at the tip of the line and work your way down in 2-3 foot sections until you reach the fly line’s backing.
Check for wind knots
We typically think of wind knots developing in the leader and tippet, but they can also show up in a fly line. When you see one, immediately try to unknot it. The longer a knot stays in the line, the more likely it is to create a weak spot. With most wind knots, the unknotting process isn’t successful and a new line will most likely need to be purchased.
3 Reasons why it's important to have a properly functioning fly line
1. Properly functioning fly lines float better
When dry fly fishing, it's imperative that your fly line floats as well as possible. A sinking line (especially in the tip section) can pull your line/leader/fly underwater, as well as create unwanted drag in your presentation.
2. They cast smoother and more accurately
The cracks in a worn out fly line creates friction. A fly line is designed to be smooth so it can shoot through the guides of a fly rod and this friction impedes its ability to do so.
3. They gather less debris
Moss and aquatic vegetation easily get stuck to a cracked fly line due to its increased friction. Just like a cotton ball would stick easier to the rough side of sandpaper than it would to the smooth side.
A fly line that floats well and casts smoothly is essential. A fly line that can no longer do this needs to be replaced, which is typically after 100-250 uses. However, by cleaning it often, keeping it stretched out, and avoiding situations that could damage it, the lifespan of a fly line can be significantly increased.
Do I need to replace my backing each time I replace my fly line?
Unless you regularly land fish that take you into the backing, there's no benefit to
changing the backing each time you replace your fly line.
Does treating a fly line with dressing repair it?
Treating a fly line with dressing does not repair the line. It improves performance by reducing friction and allowing the line to slide through the guides more easily. Fly line dressing should be applied after the line has been properly cleaned, and works great for lines that aren't to the point of needing to be replaced.
Adding fly line dressing to line that's cracked won't repair it, but it may increase the fly line's life temporarily. Once the fly line has enough wear and tear, the dressing will no longer be effective and the line will need to be replaced.
Our favorite fly line cleaning kit is from Loon Outdoors. Its coating has UV blocker built-in, and it comes with a sheepskin cleaning pad inserted into a wooden block to help with application. Click the image below for current Amazon pricing.
Do double taper fly lines last longer than weight forward lines do?
The diameter transition on each end of a double tapered fly line allows the angler to use either end to fish with. When it's time for one end to be replaced, the line can be removed from the reel and put back on with the worn out tip attached to the backing.
The diameter transition of a weight forward line only occurs on one end of the fly line. When this end is due for replacement, there isn't the option of flipping it around like there is with the double tapered line.
Since each end of the double tapered fly line can be used, all things being equal, it will last twice as long as a weight forward line.
Do I need to dry off my fly line after each trip
Fly lines do not need to be dried off before reeling them in. However, it’s best to let the line and reel air out in an unenclosed area before putting them away in “storage” for an extended period of time.
Click here to read our article about our favorite fly lines.
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