Fly fishing for salmon - fly line types
- the choices explained

Fishing instructor, fly fishing tuition and fishing trips based in Scotland. Salmon and trout fishing advice, flies and articles.

Fly lines for salmon (article by Ally Gowans)

When I started fly fishing the first line that I owned was a level oiled silk "Kingfisher", an excellent quality fly line that cost much less than half of the cost of double tapered or forward tapered versions. In these days fly lines cost as much as the average person's weekly earnings and consequently were treated with great care by their proud owners. Just as well too because they needed drying after each use to prevent them quickly rotting and then they were treated with grease to make them float or simply polished if they were used for sunk line fishing. Silk lines are still available and in fact many anglers swear that they offer better presentation than any other type. When well greased their much smaller diameter, stiffness and comparatively fine tapers transfer energy beautifully to the leader and fly.

PVC compounds put an end to the era of the silk line their chief advantages being floating lines that floated without requiring any treatment and sinking lines that always sank. Being a naturally hard and brittle material, in order to make supple fly lines PVC had to be infused with other compounds to make it soft enough for a fly line. These compounds are called plasticers. To give the line its strength the PVC coating is applied to a core of woven or braided nylon. Since PVC has a higher specific gravity than water, lines can be made to float by incorporating air in the coating, usually by mixing microscopic glass bubbles into the molten PVC. To increase the density of PVC and make faster sinking lines. A variety of methods have been used including lead wire in the hollow braided core and incorporating heavy metal such as lead or tungsten in the PVC mixture. A variety of materials have since been used to produce fly lines including monofilament nylon cores and polyurethane coatings.

Making tapers with natural material such as silk required considerable hand skill, was limited by the material thicknesses and was therefore a costly business. With the new technology line profiles could be produced automatically by machines that extrude various diameters of coating onto the core, this has enabled line designers to produce specialist profiles for different purposes and brought about the vast range of lines that appear in tackle shops nowadays. Of course the more we have to choose from the more confusing that choice can be. What is the benefit of weight forward Spey line over a double taper and are multi-tip lines worth the cost? Just two of the frequently asked questions I receive.

Well the first thing to beware of is how some of these lines relate to the AFTM system, or rather they don't! This standard was originally derived for single-handed rods hence the 30 foot basis. That length has some relevance to short rods, but not for double handed rods. Nevertheless it has been retained on the justification that it provides a consistent rating system. Unofficially it is accepted that if a double-handed rod is pleasant to use with about 60 to 70 feet of line out, that is its correct rating that it is given rather than a line size which would load it at 30 feet. I guess that seems fair enough but beware, some lines are sold with descriptions like AFTM 9-11 and it doesn't take a genius to realise that any line can have only one correct rating. Usually the higher AFTM number stated is closest to the truth. Some of these lines have short heavy heads that please certain anglers like, especially beginners because using use a heavier line than strictly necessary lets them feel the rod loading during the cast.

Most of the Spey lines have extra long front tapers. For instance a standard DT line has a taper of about 10 feet whilst it is not unusual for a specialist Spey line to have a taper between 30 and 40 feet long. In the extreme case of the triangle taper the tapered portion extends over the length of the head in a number of steps, up to 80 feet in the longest case. The purpose of these longer tapers is to ensure that energy can be transferred effectively and any excess dissipated smoothly along the length of the line, a feature that is particularly helpful for roll or Spey casting. Of course long tapers are not new, they were used a century ago when single taper square plaited silk lines over 50 yards long were crafted by hand for long Spey casting with greenheart rods of 20 ft or more. Men were men in those days!

The real benefit of modern weight forward Spey lines is that longer distances can be cast more easily. Of course to achieve those distance the running line has to be shot and at the end of the cast it must be retrieved to within or close to the tip ring before starting the cast again. For most anglers the correct amount of line outside the rod for Spey casting is between three and a half and four and a half times the rod length, which for a 15 ft rod means between 52 and 67 feet of line. Accomplished casters can handle over five times the rod length and will usually choose a long belly line (70 feet or longer) that allows them to do so. On the other hand, double tapered lines cast be used without the chore of pulling in lots of line before recasting. Admittedly it is quite difficult to achieve distances longer than 35 yards with comfort using a 15 ft rod, however at lesser distances a double tapered line is simple to use and it scores higher than the weight forward types in the eyes of many anglers because can be mended easily anywhere along its length and as you probably know fly control is the essence of good fishing.

After finding that many of the proprietary lines do not fulfill their expectations more and more anglers are turning to customising their own lines. Sinking lines are especially easy to make by attaching a suitable length of an appropriate type of sinking line to a floating running line. Using the rear portion of a WF floating line as running line and cutting it where the diameters of each line are the same can make a really smooth joint. Allow a yard per foot of rod length and add a couple of extra yards for the front or casting portion before trying it out and if need be adjust the head length to suit yourself. A reasonable line to test your design can be made at little cost by using Mill Ends. They are much easier to use than full-length sinking lines. The same technique can of course by applied to lines of any density. To extend the front taper of a standard DT line add 30 feet or so of the front end taper from a line two sizes lower joining them where the diameters coincide.

Recently a several manufacturers have introduced multi-tip lines onto the market. This is an interesting concept which at first looks ugly but in practice actually works very well giving the angler a hitherto unknown versatility without having to carry lots of reels or spare spools. As an example, the conventional Rio Mid Spey floating is a line I know well and so it was with some interest that I tried out the interchangeable tip version. The acid test for these lines is the highest density trip, if they will turn that over, chances are that the rest of the system is going to work OK. Met with four feet of spate at the river I had little choice and so I used the heavy tip with a five foot leader and a fairly large tube fly. It was not a problem, the tip, leader and fly turned over nicely and I even caught a salmon in conditions more suited to spinning and when I might have used a full length type 2 or type 3 line instead. But this was easier! Each section of line is looped to the next and I have to admit feeling a little uncomfortable with the joints but do I think that the versatility is worth the difference. You can bet fairly safely that multi-tips are here to stay!

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