AFTMA fly line standards - problems?
- whay we now have a new AFFTA standard

fly lines for spey casting

AFTM – A Fictitious Tangled Mess? (written in 2003 prior to the proposed new standards)

I asked a few line manufacturers to comment on my thoughts about line standards suitable for double handed rods, hoping for a common thread, something that might find agreement to make life easier for us. Here is what I got!

Rio Products – comments from Simon Gawesworth

In an ideal fly line world, all fly lines would have a standard rating, with a single number representing which rod the line is designed to work best with.  However, the problem lies in the different perceptions that anglers have of how their rod should load and how much line each caster likes to keep outside the rod. On the Rio web site there is a list of 'recommended' Rio lines for certain Spey rods. There are two ratings, one based on what good casters can use and those that don't like the rod to feel too soft. The other rating, the 'B' rating, is for casters that like a fuller flexing action, or beginners who need to 'feel' the rod load better. Our object is to sell lines and if the 'A' rating says 8/9/10, most anglers are happy to put that on a #9 rod - because it says '9'. Likewise, with the 'B' rating, the line would be a 9/10/11, but it still says '9'. Of course, you could still have the rating as a single number, the 'A' would be #9 and the 'B' would be #10, but isn't that more confusing and more likely to get people buying the wrong line because it says #9? At least with the multiple designations, they usually ask the advice of somebody, and that is good for the industry.

When Jim Vincent designed the lines in the first place, he wanted to take into account the different casting styles that are around. For example, the Scandinavian shooting head type caster uses only around 450 grains on a #9 rod. Their style utilises short casting strokes and short head lengths and they particularly want lighter grain weights in a line. Goran Andersson makes a point of saying how easy the Scandinavian style of casting is because of the lesser grain weights needed to cast - that is why he says he invented the underhand cast. For more conventional casters that like a mid length line and a medium stroke length, a greater line weight is needed, more like 550 or 600 grains for a #9 rod, and for those casters that like the really long head lines, even more is needed to carry those longer head lengths – up to 1300 grains, depending on head length and line design.

If you had a standard line size to grain weight, you would loose these variables in line manufacturing and, I think, be more in the dark ages. I think the modern Spey line concept is as good a system as you can have, when you have different grain weights for the same line rating.

I would say that the rod manufacturers should standardize their ratings. Maybe you are saying that in the article, but with rods being rated #6-9, for example, that is more confusing than the fly lines.

Jim Vincent says that one of the main reasons there are more than one designation in the Rio Spey lines is that with the interchangeable tip lines, you chop and change the tips constantly. The WindCutter, for example, is designed so that you can take out the middle section and attach the front tip to the body, thus creating a line that is a couple of line sizes lighter. Alternatively, you can put on a longer front tip than 15' and make it heavier. This range of line weights is designed to illustrate the versatility of the line.

Snowbee ( UK) – comments from Bob Wellard

Choosing the right line weight from a range of three weights 7/8/9, 8/9/10, etc is not easy and, in its current format, is pretty much left to guess work as well as a lot of trial and error for the average caster. We believe that our new system will catch on and maybe even revolutionise fly line ratings and we will not be using the AFTM system because it is flawed when using anything other than a double taper line.

Snobee are currently working on a revised system of line ratings for a new range of Spey lines, making the choice of line more to do with line form and less to do with the current AFTM system, which in our opinion is a much simplified process. Thus the lines will be made with either a 51 foot head or a 62 foot head but both versions will be available in three sizes #9, #10 and #11.

 Cortland – comments from Leon Chandler

I am certain that 2-handed rods were not considered when the AFTMA Fly Line Standards were adopted in 1962. Through the years, there have been several feeble attempts to modify the AFTMA Standards to allow for aerialising more than the 30 feet measured length on which the Standards are based. Fortunately, wiser heads have prevailed and no modifications have been seriously considered. Changing to accommodate the aerialisation of 40, 50, 60 feet would be a nightmare for the fly line manufacturers in the world. While the AFTMA Standards may not be the perfect system, they have withstood the test of time for more than 40 years - and beginning in 1962, resulted in accomplishing some order to the chaotic situation we had previously with the old "letter" designations based on diameter.

Scientific Anglers – comments from Bruce Ritchards

This is a troublesome issue. The real answer to the problem is for the industry to establish weight standards for Spey lines, there are none now. Using the AFTMA standards for single hand lines doesn't work as most of the spey lines available have long front tapers which make the lines very light at 30 ft., but very heavy at longer lengths. Using currently available DT lines as a standard is OK, but again, front tapers vary greatly which will have a big impact on belly diameters, and hence weight, at longer lengths. I have spent some time, with others help, developing weight standards for Spey lines and believe that there is a good, workable solution to the problem that addresses both lines with long and short heads. The problem now is getting everyone to agree to adopt it. AFTTA (Amer. Fly Tackle Trade Assoc.) is really the group that has to push it, for one manufacturer to try would surely receive resistance from some competing manufacturers. Scientific Anglers has a weight standard for Spey lines that doesn't necessarily agree with others, but works for the majority of users. Until there is industry accepted Spey line standards there will continue to be confusion. Even when standards are in place there will be disagreement related to differing rod designs, casting styles, etc., but at least there would be one constant, line weight, to base upon. We use dual line weights on our lines, but I wish they were single. Dual or triple rating is very confusing and should be eliminated, I agree, but won't happen without standards. The real problem is that there must be someone to champion the change with AFTTA. I used to be on the AFTTA Board and made initial attempts at standardising Spey lines, line sink rates, and slightly modifying the current system to better address heavy lines with short heads. When I left the board a couple years ago the impetus was lost apparently. As Spey fishing becomes more popular there should be more pressure to have line standards. I'm ready to help when this pressure reaches AFTTA.

Summing up

 I take some comfort from the manufacturers comments, at least they recognise the problem. But if you are not confused by the present situation, maybe you didn't’t read some of these responses correctly! FF&FT would be delighted to hear about your experiences (good or bad) concerning weights of fly lines and the AFTM system, especially for double handed rods and to hear your suggestions for improvements. We will present responses to the manufacturers on your behalf with the request that they listen to their customers. From my experience as an instructor selecting fly lines causes individuals more grief than any other item of tackle and so I keep a large variety at hand for customers use.

From the angler’s point of view, in addition to wasted expenditure on a line that is unsuitable, there are fishing practicalities to be considered. For a given amount of thrust a large boat moves slower than a small boat and for a given amount of current a thick floating line fishes slower than a thinner floating line because it has more drag, more resistance to movement in the river and so it fishes more slowly. Additionally and most importantly if you are fishing with small flies in a small river or in low flow conditions when you need to get movement a thick or heavy floating line will reduce your chances of success because it will not balance the flies or the leader and it will cause more disturbance, it is clumsy. Given the choice of fishing too heavy or too light I prefer to fish a lighter line because it is more subtle, it drifts easier in slack currents and even on the biggest rivers there are places when a short cast at my side will be much more profitable than a huge cast to the other bank. Why waste effort on a 1% chance of hooking a fish at the other side whilst ignoring a 10% chance of success on your own side? It is always better to fish half the river correctly than all of it wrong! This is never more true than in summertime when low, warm water demand application of all the angler’s skills if success is to be achieved. Fishing tackle is like any other tool, selecting that most suited for the job makes it easiest. It’s a pity that the choice of fly lines more baffling than needs be at present.

Meantime the best way to ensure satisfaction is for you to try the combination of rod and line for yourself, if it balances and fishes nicely it is correct regard less of the number on the box.

AFTM page 1

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Copyright 2007 Alastair Gowans AAPGAI and FFF Master and THCI, APGAI. All rights reserved.