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Fly Fishing Line Types

There are hundreds of fly lines to choose from. Not just “weights” of lines, but also different densities, tapers and sink rates. Choosing a fly fishing line can be one of the hardest things for beginners.

There is such an over saturation of lines on the market, that it can make choosing one seem impossible. The good news is that you can get by with one or two lines in most situations. As a beginner fly angler, picking a regular weight forward floating line is often the best choice.

The most common fly line types are floating, intermediate, sink tips and full sink. When building out your fly rod quiver, you’ll probably want a variety of lines depending on the species you’re targeting.

This article will cover the different types of fly fishing lines, and what they are used for. Depending on which species you’re targeting, you’ll want to select the best line for the job. Even though most of us fish for trout here in Colorado, you may live near an ocean or a lake with entirely different species.

Floating Fly Lines

These are the most common lines available, especially for trout fisherman. Often between 80-110 feet, the entire line floats on the surface of the water.

You can fish dry flies, hopper droppers, nymph rigs, and even streamers with a floating line. They work well in places you don’t have to get your flies super deep. However, if you pair a floating line with a long leader – you can nymph some really deep holes.

For most beginner fly anglers, floating lines are the best choice. They will get the job done for trout, as well as warm water species and lake fishing.

For trout applications, a 4, 5 or 6 weight floating line is usually best. For bass and larger fish, you may want to go with a 7 or an 8 weight floating line.

Most floating lines are “Weight Forward“, which means the bulkiest part of the line is at the front. These work great for most anglers. It loads fly rods well and allows for easy casting and mending.

You can still get “Double Taper” fly lines which are tapered at both ends of the fly line. These are basically two fly lines in one – when one side wears out, you can just switch it around without having to buy a new line. Double tapers are more old school, but many anglers still like to use them.

Sink Tip Fly Lines

These lines mostly float, but the front end sinks below the surface. The actual sink tip varies from 8 feet up to 30 feet or so. Depending on which body of water you’re fishing, you’ll opt for a shorter or longer tip.

One of my favorite ways to fish sink tip fly lines is with streamers. For trout fishing with streamers, I like about 15 feet of sink tip. This will drop the streamer into the trouts zone faster. You can fish streamers with a floating line, but you’ll often have to add split shot to get the fly down faster.

Another great way to fish sink tips is on lakes. When the fish in the lake are holding deeper, a sink tip can put the fly in their zone. For lake fishing, I like a 20-30 foot sink tip.

In terms of “sink rates”, there are many to choose from. You can fish an “intermediate” tip which sinks about 1-3 inches per second, depending on the model. You can then go for types 5, 6 and 7 – which sink at 5 inches per second, 6 inches per second, and 7 inches per second. It can take some time to figure out sink rates, but that is just part of the fun.

Full Sink Fly Lines

These lines are for anglers in lakes and oceans that need their flies to get down in a hurry. If you know the water you’re fishing is deep, and the fish are really far down – go with a full sinking line.

These lines have lots of tungsten in them which allows them to sink quickly. Pictured above is a type 6 Rio line which sinks at 6 inches per second. I use this line for pike fishing at one of my local lakes.

With full sinking lines, there is often no taper at all. The entire line is thin and level, so it can cut through the water quickly. This allows the angler to achieve maximum depth without much effort.

If you want a full sinking line that isn’t as heavy, you can opt for an intermediate full sink. Often sinking at 1-2 inches per second, these lines are a great way to fish mid water column in lakes. They can also be really good for saltwater fly fishing.

As far as sinking lines go, there are endless combinations. From intermediate to full fast sinking lines – as well as triple density lines that start as intermediates and end with tungsten at the tip. You can really go down the rabbit hole with these lines. However, I find that a type 6 full sinking line is my most used lake line.

A Note On Grain Weights

When selecting a fly line, you should choose the correct grain weight for your rod weight. Fly lines have an amount of grains per foot, which is referred to as the grain weight. This weight is meant to be paired with your rod weight.

By matching the rod and line this way, casting will be much easier and enjoyable. If you have too much or too little grain weight, it can make casting very tiresome and hard.

Most fly line manufacturers will make it easy by putting the rod weight on the fly line box. Have a 7 weight rod? Simply grab a 7 weight line! However, if the box only specifies the grain weight, then simply refer to a grain weight chart to make the match.

Faster action rods can handle more grain weight since they’re stiffer. This is called “overloading” the rod, and can be a good way to flex the rod deeper. Slower action rods typically require less grain weight, since they bend really easily.