What's the best fly line? Illustrated Pros and Cons Guide

Updated: Jan 7



What’s the best fly line? With so many lines on the market, it can be tough to determine which one is best. Instead of buying different lines as a process of trial and error, we've created this guide to help you select the fly line that best fits your situation.


In this article we’ll cover:

We will also give our thoughts as to:

In order to determine which fly line might be best for your situation, it's important to give a quick overview of how a fly line works.


How does a fly line work?

To cast a fly line effectively, enough energy must be created to lift and keep the line off the ground/water on the backcast, and enough to bring the line forward to it's target. Before it reaches it's target on the forward cast, some/all of the energy needs to dissipate to allow for a delicate landing on the water.

Tapered Fly Lines:

A tapered fly line is one that has gradual increases or decreases of weight and diameter in its various sections.


Fly lines need to create energy on the back cast, as well as release energy during the forward cast. Instead of a line that's uniform throughout its entire length, this energy transfer is made easier when certain sections of the fly line are different weights and diameters.

Before diving into the difference types of tapers and their pros and cons, we need to know what the various sections of a fly line are called.


Sections of a tapered fly line

  • Running line: The lightest/thinnest section of line that connects to the reel

  • Back taper: The tapered transition section between the running line and belly

  • Body or "Belly": The heaviest and widest section of the line

  • Front taper: The tapered section between the belly and the tip that allows energy to release on the forward cast

  • Tip: The front section that attaches to the leader

Weight Forward and Double Taper


Fly lines can be broadly categorized into two distinct designs: weight forward and double taper.

Weight forward fly lines:

Weight forward fly lines are constructed with one end of the line larger and heavier than the other.

Weight Forward Fly Line Sections


Double Taper Fly Lines:

Double taper fly lines are constructed symmetrically, with each end of the line weighted and tapered identical to the other half.


Double Taper Fly Line Sections

Weight Forward vs Double Taper for Trout?


There are more people willing to give you their opinion about this than there are trout streams in the lower 48. Here's a secret: Any advantage in performance that a weight forward or a double taper fly line has is nonexistent until at least 35 feet of line is out. This is because the difference between the two does not come into play until the running line (back section of a weight forward line) is off the reel, which for most lines is at least 35-45 feet.


Since the vast majority of trout are caught at closer than 35 feet away, we can say the differences between how various fly lines perform is rarely based upon whether it's a weight forward or double taper.

What determines how a fly line will perform?


The largest determinants in how a fly line performs are:

  • Weight

  • Diameter

  • Taper design

When deciding which fly line is best for a given style of trout fishing, we need to understand how differences in in the line's various sections in its first 35-45 feet impact its performance. Remember, casting a fly line involves creating enough energy on the back cast to keep the line off the water, and enough energy released on the forward cast to allow the fly to land softly on the water.

How do different sections of the fly line impact how it will perform


*We’re only looking at the "front half" of the fly line since it's the only portion that comes into play in the vast majority of trout fishing situations.


Back Taper Section:

  • When false casting with a large amount of fly line in the air, a longer smoother transitioning back taper provides more control.

Long Smooth Back Taper
  • A short abrupt back taper can make shooting out line on the forward cast easier.

Short Abrupt Back Taper

Belly Section:

  • A long slender belly section allows the rod to load slower and handle more line in the air during false casts.

Long Slender Belly Section
  • A short stout belly section loads the rod quickly for shorter casts, and increases the amount of line that an angler can shoot out on the forward cast.

Short Stout Belly Section

Front Taper:

  • A long gradual front taper causes more energy to escape, which allows for a more delicate presentation. *Note: This style of taper is also referred to as a triangle taper.

Triangle Taper: Long gradual front taper
  • A shorter abrupt front taper works well for casting in windy conditions and when casting larger dry flies, but tends to land the fly more aggressively on the water.

Short Abrupt Front Taper

Different fly line taper pros and cons


Each make and model of fly line has has differences in the mass, length, and taper of each of its sections. These specific differences determine how the fly line will perform and which fly fishing situations the line is best suited for.


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Best All purpose fly line


RIO Gold:

This is one of the best all purpose fly lines. Because of it's "generic" taper, we'll use it as a baseline to look at the differences of other taper designs.

Rio Gold Fly Line

As you may notice, this taper appears almost "symmetrical". There're no dramatic taper changes or exceedingly long or short sections.

Pro: It's this uniform design that allows for predictable energy transfer throughout the line and makes it a great choice for all purpose fly fishing.


Con: With this being a "generically" tapered fly line, it doesn't shine above others that have been customized for specific situations.


Click below to see pricing on Amazon:

Best Fly Line for Short Casts


SA Amplitude Creek Trout

SA Amplitude Creek Trout Fly Line

This fly line has a short front taper and a shorter/heavier belly and rear taper section.


Pro: The short belly and heavier rear taper create more mass and weight in the front of the line (first 30 feet), which helps create and maintain significant energy on the forward cast allowing for the line to load and shoot at short distances.


Con: The energy created by the heavier belly and rear taper dissipates somewhat with the shorter front taper, but if the forward cast is overpowered, there's often too much energy transferred to the leader and fly, which causes the line and leader to "crash" on the water instead of landing with a delicate presentation.


Click below to see pricing on Amazon:


Best Fly Line for Delicate Presentations


RIO Trout LT

RIO Trout LT Fly Line

This fly line has a smooth, gradually decreasing taper throughout its entire head section (first 47 feet).


Pro: The taper design allows for a smooth dissipation of energy throughout the forward cast. By the time the line is rolled out, very little energy is left, allowing the line and leader to land delicately on the water's surface.


Con: Due to the limited weight and mass at the front of the line, it's difficult to create enough energy to make an effective cast at shorter ranges (less than 15 feet).


Click below to see pricing on Amazon:

Best Fly Line for Bamboo Rods


Cortland Classic 444 Peach

With its long heavy body and front taper, this fly line allows for the "slow" loading that goes hand in hand with a bamboo fly rod.


Pro: The long belly provides plenty of mass to make a slow back cast without the fly falling in the water behind the angler. The longer tip section allows much of the energy created to dissipate before it reaches the leader, allowing for a more delicate presentation.


Con: Although this line appears to have most of its weight toward its front section, at shorter ranges (15-20 feet) , much of the mass is still on the reel, making it hard to effectively load and cast at less than 20 feet.


Click below to pricing on Amazon:

Best Fly Line for Windy Conditions


SA Mastery Infinity

This fly line has a long increasing taper from the running line all the way to its shorter front taper (45 feet).


Pro: With the majority of this line's mass and weight in the front end of its belly, it increases speed and power throughout the forward cast until it hits the front taper. This speed and power allow for enough energy to punch through the wind without sacrificing casting accuracy.


Con: The energy created by the increasing taper design has little time to dissipate as it reaches the short front taper. This makes it extremely difficult to deliver a delicate presentation.


Click below to see pricing on Amazon:

Summary of a taper's impact on fly lines


Running Line

This is the end of the fly line that's attaches to the reel, (often 50% or more) of the overall length of the line. If the entire fly line were unspooled, it would be the last section to come out. Because there's usually 40-50 feet of other sections of the fly line that are cast out previous to the running line, this section seldom leaves the reel when dry fly fishing.

  • While an essential component, the running line has minimal impact on a line's performance when dry fly fishing at short to mid range distances.


Back Taper:

The back taper provides a segment of energy transfer between the running line and the belly of the fly line. Similar to the running line, other than for very long casts, it seldom comes off the reel when dry fly fishing.

  • When false casting with a large amount of fly line in the air, a longer smoother transitioning back taper provides more control.

  • A short abrupt back taper can make shooting out line on the forward cast easier.

Belly of the fly line:

The belly is the heaviest section of the fly line. The weight of the belly determines how much energy and power it can create. It's the section that makes it possible to cast the line itself instead of relying on the weight of a fly.

  • A long slender belly section allows the rod to load and unload slower, and handle more line in the air during false casts.

  • A short stout belly section loads the rod quickly for shorter casts, and increases the amount of line that an angler can shoot out on the forward cast.

Front Taper:

The front taper is the transition section between the line's belly and its tip. It's during this transition that the energy used to cast the line "escapes". This reduction in energy allows the tip section to lay out smoothly on the forward cast instead of violently bouncing back towards the caster. The design of the front taper governs the amount of energy that's passed along to the tip section and eventually the leader.

  • A long gradual front taper causes more energy to escape, which allows for a more delicate presentation.

  • A shorter abrupt front taper works well for casting in windy conditions and when casting larger dry flies, but tends to land the fly more aggressively on the water.

Tip:

The very end section of the fly line that the leader is attached to. Some modern fly lines have a loop built into the end of this section to make it easier to secure the leader to. The purpose of the tip is to "release" the remaining power and energy that's been created in the fly line from the cast.

  • The thinner and longer the tip section is, the more energy it will release at the end of the cast, causing a more delicate presentation. However, if the tip is too long and skinny, it will have a hard time turning over larger dry flies.

  • A shorter thicker tip section will maintain more of its energy and allow for more power to turn over larger flies, but often the delicacy of the line landing on the water is compromised.

FAQ's


How is a fly line different from spin casting?


One of the key benefits fly fishing has over spin fishing is the ability to accurately cast lightweight flies. In order to cast any type of fishing line, energy must be created to make the line move. When fly fishing, the energy required to move the line is created by using the weight of the line itself, while in spin fishing it's created by using the weight of the lure and or split shot. A second benefit to fly fishing is the ability to make delicate presentations. This is achieved by allowing the energy created on the back cast to dissipate as the line unrolls on the forward cast.


The biggest difference in fly fishing and spin fishing is: Casting in fly fishing involves casting the line instead of casting the fly.


What is a fly line made of?


Fly lines are made up of two components:

The core :

This is the inner portion of the line that provides its strength, as well as it's foundation to which the outer coating is applied to. This is usually made up of hundreds of nylon or dacron strands that are braided together to form a sort of "rope". (Some companies have started using other materials, but the vast majority use nylon or dacron. (Regardless of the material used, the core still serves the same function.). The core of the fly line ins't visible unless part of the out coating has been removed.


The coating:

The coating is applied to the core of the fly line to create the outer portion that's visible. The coating is made from various types of PVC, vinyl, polyurethane and/or other plastics. This portion of the fly line determines the weight, thickness, and taper of the line. In the floating lines used for dry fly fishing, tiny air bubbles are typically incorporated into the coating to assist in floatation.


How are the different sections of the fly line involved in the cast


The Back Cast: The cast is started by picking line up off the water and casting it behind the angler. Because the belly of the fly line is the heaviest section, it's weight will determine how much power/energy can be created on the backcast. A long slender belly section allows the rod to load slower and handle more line in the air during false casts. A heavier and thicker belly section creates more power and energy on the back cast.


The Forward Cast: After the line has unrolled behind the angler, it’s then brought forward to begin the forward cast. As the loop unrolls, the energy that was created starts to dissipate throughout the front taper and tip. The longer and thinner the front taper and tip section are, the more energy that will be released, allowing for a more delicate presentation.


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