Cold vs. Warm

Fly lines that perform well in coldwater fisheries may not fare well in tropical climates. Take your favorite striped bass line on your bonefish trip to the Caribbean and you’ll likely find it quickly turns limp and gummy in the heat, making it much more difficult to cast.

In general, fly lines suited to warm climates are made with stiffer cores and harder coatings. Such specialty lines nearly always identify themselves by name–Tropic Plus, Bermuda Triangle, Flats Taper, to name only a few. These lines don’t really come into their own until you turn up the heat and they limber up a bit. I’ve yet to fish a tropical line that performs well in the colder waters of the Northeast—even in the dead of summer.

Line Weight

Line weight is arguably the most controversial aspect of fly fishing equipment—and also the most confusing.

Fly lines are rated by weight according to specifications set in 1961 by the now-defunct American Fishing Tackle Manufacturers Association (AFTMA). A fly line is rated according to the weight, in grains, of the first 30 feet of fly line, minus the level tip. (Table 1 shows the weight ranges for the most common saltwater fly lines.) So, for example, you can see that an 8-weight line should weigh between 202 and 218 grains in its first 30 feet. Where the confusion occurs is that few fly lines are exactly 30 feet long. In fact, there’s no consistency in head length from one manufacturer to the next–which means there’s no consistency regarding the entire weight package. An 8-weight line could conceivably weigh anything greater than 202 grains.

Line Weight (AFTMA Rating) Weight Range in Grains
7 177-193
8 202-218
9 230-250
10 270-290
11 318-342
12 368-392

Some fly line manufacturers have begun to include in their specifications the weight, in grains, of the entire head. This is a much more useful piece of information than the AFTMA rating; for if you know what grain weight works well with your particular rod, you can approximate this with any fly line you purchase (provided you know the head weight in grains), regardless of the length of the head.

Head Length

As with line weights, there is no consistency within the industry regarding the head lengths of various fly lines. Heads may be as short as 20 feet (as on some integrated shooting heads) or they may exceed 60 feet as in some specialty tapers.

fly lines, selecting a fly line, fly line tapers, fly fishing, fly fishing magazine, line reviewsIt’s been my experience that few fly anglers know the head length of any of their fly lines, but this is perhaps the most important piece of information you can possess. Regarding head length, let me offer this piece of advice: Never use a fly line unless you can false cast the entire head comfortably. If you cannot, you will not be able to make the line achieve its distance potential. If you cannot carry the entire head comfortably, I strongly suggest you choose a line with a shorter head.

The longest fly line head I fish with is 43 feet. Frankly, it takes a fairly accomplished caster to make this fly line cast to its potential, and I see no reason for the head of a fishing fly line to be longer than this. At a casting seminar I conducted recently, a student showed up with a fly line whose head measured 62 feet. If the student had been able to handle a fly line with a 62-foot head he would not have needed to attend my seminar. If you take the average caster and hand him a fly line with a 62-foot head, you have, in effect, handed him a single-tapered line.


fly lines, selecting a fly line, fly line tapers, fly fishing, fly fishing magazine, line reviewsFly line color runs the gamut, from clear (as with some floaters and intermediates), to drab (purportedly for stealth), to bold, including fluorescent chartreuse and orange. The heads of most fast-sinking fly lines are dark in color, usually brown. Whether fly line color matters to the fish is hotly debated, even among top guides. Having caught my share of trout using orange fly lines, I’m of the mind that the fish don’t care. I prefer a line I can see easily both on the water and in the air–orange being my first choice.


To make a long cast with any weight-forward fly line you need to have the entire head of the fly line, along with a couple to a few feet of running line, outside the rod tip before you make your delivery. This is why it’s so important to choose a line whose head you can handle comfortably. For if you try to deliver your long cast with any of the head section still inside the rod tip your delivery will, to some extent, be impeded.

After you stop the rod on your delivery and your loop forms, you’ll release the running line that’s trapped in your line hand. The momentum of the unrolling head will pull a number of yards of running line with it, allowing you to make your long cast. (To see a video demonstration of this, visit my website, the URL to which is in the byline at the end of the article.)

The amount of running line between the rod tip and the end of the rear taper is called overhang. If you try to overhang too much running line, your cast will fall apart, as you’re requiring a very thin line to turn over a very thick head section. It’s simply an inefficient transfer of energy. (This is more pronounced with shooting heads than it is with conventional weight-forward lines–but the same holds true for both.) As a rule of thumb, two or three feet of overhang should be ideal to make your long cast.


master the cast - fly casting - george robertsBio: A fly casting instructor for nearly 25 years, George Roberts produced the first video fly casting program devoted exclusively to salt water: Saltwater Fly Casting: 10 Steps to Distance and Power. He’s also the author of Master the Cast: Fly Casting in Seven Lessons (McGraw-Hill, 2002). For more information on fly casting and fly angling you can visit George’s website: www.masterthecast.com


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