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Selecting a Fly Line

In order to obtain the best from your fly fishing tackle it is important to ensure that the rod and line are well balanced, and that they both suit your casting style and purpose. Whilst it is possible to get away with mismatched tackle, you will not enjoy your sport to the full unless you can cast comfortably and with ease.

It has to be said that effectively casting a fly rod is an art, and it is surprising that so few people bother to invest in a few lessons from a certified professional instructor. A few hours and less than £100 can put you on the right road to a good casting technique that will last you a lifetime.

Part of any casting instructor’s course will include the selection of matching rods and lines, and it is these areas that we will cover in this advice sheet.

Let’s start with a little history.

 

Fly lines are usually rated on the AFTMA (American Fishing Tackle Manufacturers’ Association) scale. That is why they use the letters AFTM.

When the scale was being developed the developers cut off the short forward taper of a fly line (the piece you tie the leader too), then measured 30 feet and cut the line at that point. They did this because in their view a decent fly caster could aerialise 30 feet of fly line. (Remember that both rods and lines were far different over 30 years ago to what they are today.) This provides us with the first important point:

• The AFTM rating is developed on the principle of aerialising 30 feet of fly line.

The developers then formulated a table rated in grains that gave a designated AFTM number to the weight of the first 30 feet of any fly line minus the forward taper. This provides us with the second important point:

• The AFTM rating applies to all fly lines whether they are floating, intermediate or fast sinking.

The major fly line manufacturers were pleased to adopt the AFTM system, which was far simpler than their current system which was based on length of tapers and diameters of line. Therefore the majority of fly line manufacturers today use the AFTM system. They manufacture lines to comply with the necessary parameters.

The fly rod manufacturers were also pleased to adopt the AFTM system, but here we come across a problem. There is no way to rate the power of a fly rod on the AFTM system. We have to rely on the experience of the manufacturers to describe the AFTM rating of their rods both honestly and accurately. However, it is quite possible for one person to rate a rod as AFTM 7 whilst an equally experienced person may well rate it as AFTM 8. All they are telling you is that a particular rod is suited to aerialising 30 feet of an AFTM 7 or 8 fly line. So here is important point three:

• You should always try a fly rod before you buy it to make sure that in your hands its power and / or action is suitable for the AFTM rating of the lines that you intend to use.

 


Most of us buy a fly rod, and then select the lines we intend to use with it. Perhaps this is the wrong way of doing things, but it has been that way for many years.

So we have our rod, and we now have to select the correct lines, so let’s take a hypothetical rod to work with.

Our rod is a ten foot carbon rod that the manufacturer tells us is rated AFTM 6 / 7. We can use this rod for bank fishing when it is not too windy, we can also use it for boat fishing, and particularly for loch style fishing, so it is in effect a bit of an all-round rod, which is a pretty good starting point.

We need a floating line, an intermediate line, a standard sinking line and a fast sinking line, so we have to make quite a large financial investment. It is therefore necessary to get things about right.

All of our fishing will be on still waters, and we will need to cast a decent distance. Presentation is not as important as it is on a chalk stream. We will therefore select weight forward (WF) lines. Here are important points four and five:

• Double Taper (DT) lines are well balanced. They are thick in the middle and thin at either end. When one end wears, the line can be reversed. They present flies very well, but their casting distance is restricted by their configuration.

• You can aerialise a long length of a Double Taper line because it is thick in the middle and can handle being bent backwards and forwards through the tip guide of the rod.


It is no coincidence that the weight forward section of a standard WF fly line is 30 feet long! It is 30 feet long because it is only the weight forward section of a WF line that should be aerialised. It corresponds with the AFTM rating system. Here are important points six and seven:

• Weight Forward (WF) fly lines will cast farther than DT lines because they have the heavier portion of the line at the front, but they will not present a fly so well.

• You should only aerialise the weight forward section of a WF fly line. The thin running line is not designed to withstand the pressures of being false cast through the rod guides AND IT WILL CRACK!

If a WF line cracks on the running line it proves that you are aerialising too much line. Manufacturers may well construe this as miss-use and can refuse to replace a line under warranty.

So, it appears that we have a choice regarding the selection of our fly lines; we can use DT lines which will provide better presentation at the expense of distance, or we can us WF lines that will give us distance over presentation. For our purposes WF lines will be the more suitable selection.

Our hypothetical rod is rated at AFTM (#) 7/8 by the manufacturer, but why are there two numbers? Think yourself lucky! Thirty years ago when carbon fibre fly rods made their appearance in the UK, manufacturers treated it as a wonder material. We saw rods rated AFTM 4-9. Today some manufacturers restrict their rod rating to just one number.

Let’s think of our fly lines again.


Double Taper Lines

We can aerialise as much of a DT line as we like because:

1. It is well balanced.
2. The thicker line will not crack under the strain.

So we have no restriction, and can aerialise over 30 feet of line if we want to and if we are capable of doing it.

If we aerialise over 30 feet of line, the weight of that line increases pro rata with the length, so we will eventually get to the stage where we aerialise so much line that we will overload the rod. So we come to important points eight and nine:

• If you buy a Double Taper (DT) line, select the lower of the two AFTM numbers on your rod. This will allow you to aerialise more line.

• It will also help you to lift longer lengths of floating line off the water to recast to a moving fish.



Weight Forward Lines

We are restricted to aerialising the weight forward section of the line only because:
1. The line is unbalanced and will collapse if over aerialised.
2. The thin running line will not stand up to abuse.

So we have a restriction on the length of line we can aerialise regardless of our skill.

As we are limited to aerialising the first 30 feet of a weight forward line, and should not do more, we must make sure that our line is heavy enough to make the rod work sufficiently to cast the line. So we come to important points 10 and 11:

• If you buy a Weight Forward (WF) line, select the higher of the two AFTM numbers on your rod. This will ensure that your line is heavy enough to work the rod when the correct length of line is aerialised.

• You should restrict lifting a WF floating line off the water until the weight forward section is within the tip guide of the rod.


Advanced Fly Lines

So there you have the theory and practice of selecting the correct fly lines. But we hear you say, “What about long belly lines and shooting heads?”

Long belly WF lines can be aerialised for the length of their weight forward section, which is commonly more than 30 feet. However the extra length is not usually significant and we would suggest that you continue to select the higher of the two AFTM numbers.

Shooting heads are critical. There is no margin for error with a shooting head. Treat it as a radical WF line. You cannot aerialise the thin running line; in fact it is almost impossible. If you buy a shooting head select the higher of the two AFTM numbers; in fact you might even select a line one rating higher than the higher number on your rod. In our case you might select AFTM 9.

The best way to ensure that your shooting head is balanced to your rod is as follows:

Find a friend who wants to make a shooting head with the same properties as yours. Buy a Double Taper line of the correct specification:

• Sinking rate.
• AFTM number equal to the higher number on your rod.


Cut the line in half, so you both have identical line sections with a taper at one end. Go into a field and put the half line through the rod guides with the taper out of the top of the rod. False cast in your usual way, gradually extending the fly line through the rod tip until you feel that the rod and line are working perfectly together. (You will still have some fly line in your hand). False cast forward without letting go of the fly line and lay the rod and line on the grass. Now cut the fly line about a foot inside the top of the rod. Attach your shooting head backing, and you now have a shooting head that is perfectly matched not only to your rod, but also to your style of casting.

Here are the important points again:

• The AFTM rating is developed on the principle of aerialising 30 feet of fly line.

• The AFTM rating applies to all fly lines whether they are floating, intermediate or fast sinking.

• You should always try a fly rod before you buy it to make sure that in your hands its power and / or action is suitable for the AFTM rating of the lines that you intend to use.

• Double Taper (DT) lines are well balanced. They are thick in the middle and thin at either end. When one end wears, the line can be reversed. They present flies very well, but their casting distance is restricted by their configuration.

• You can aerialise a long length of a Double Taper line because it is thick in the middle and can handle being bent backwards and forwards through the tip guide of the rod.

• Weight Forward (WF) fly lines will cast farther than DT lines because they have the heavier portion of the line at the front, but they will not present a fly so well.

• You should only aerialise the weight forward section of a WF fly line. The thin running line is not designed to withstand the pressures of being false cast through the rod guides AND IT WILL CRACK!

• If you buy a Double Taper (DT) line, select the lower of the two AFTM numbers on your rod. This will allow you to aerialise more line.

• It will also help you to lift longer lengths of floating line off the water to recast to a moving fish.

• If you buy a Weight Forward (WF) line, select the higher of the two AFTM numbers on your rod. This will ensure that your line is heavy enough to work the rod when the correct length of line is aerialised.

• You should restrict lifting a WF floating line off the water until the weight forward section is within the tip guide of the rod.

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