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Fly Fishing Lines Explained – A Guide for the Beginner

The Fly Fishing Line is a lot thicker than traditional monofilament fishing line. To get your fly out into the water in an attractive gentle method takes practice and some skill.

These can be learned but the fly fishing line is critical to the cast, get it wrong and you may as well not bother fishing at all.

A bad cast will collapse and crash onto the water surface spooking any fish that are in close proximity, this is not a good thing as once spooked it’s very hard to get them back.

Fly Fishing Lines Explained

There are many variations of fly line however the options we will be concerned with here are weight, density, taper and color. So let’s delve deeper and get fly fishing lines explained to us.

Fly Fishing Line Weight

AFTM or the Association of Fishing Tackle Manufacturers came up with a standard to measure all fly fishing tackle including the line ratings.

This scale means if you buy a seven weight line from any manufacturer it will fit any seven weight rod and reel from any other manufacturers…cool right! That being said there are always exceptions to the rule but we will not concern ourselves with this now.

The line rating is worked out on the first 10 yards of line or 30ft which is about what you would use to load the rod to make a cast on the old traditional lines.

Loading the rod means flex it enough to perform a cast. Your rod needs a certain amount of weight outside the tip ring to allow it to throw a line. As the line rating number gets higher the line weight gets higher and will require a larger stiffer rod to cast it properly.

As a beginner, we have been working on the 9ft 5 AFTM rated setup.

Fly Fishing Line Density

The three main densities of fly fishing line are full floating, intermediate and sinking. There is another bag full of variations to this with floating and sink tips and intermediate and sink tips.

A whole array of sinking speeds are also available, a one inch per second slow sink to seven to nine inches per second fast sinking and a well-equipped fly fisherman will have an array of these lines with him at all times to suit the conditions as they change.

This we will leave to another post and in the interest in keeping things simple I would recommend starting with a floating line as other sinking lines require more effort to move them up through the water column in preparation to cast.

Fly Fishing Line Taper

Again there are three main tapers to fly fishing line, double taper, weight-forward taper and shooting head. Double taper is useful on small rivers for roll casting and roll casting on boats when distance is not an issue.

These are very good for accurate casting and a favorite for dry fly fishermen. Weight forward is basically the weight of the line pushed toward the front taper of the fly line meaning more weight at the front and so is easier to cast, not as accurately but still very good.

The remaining line or running line is thinner and runs easily through the rod rings making for smooth long casts.The fly fishing line - line tapers

The shooting head is the weight forward line squeezed even further to the front and in so you can load the rod very quickly and shoot the running line out through the rod rings making for very long casts.

This line would not be very accurate but in the hands of an advanced angler can be a good tool on large waterways.

Each has its merits but for the purpose of learning, I would go for a weight forward line.

Fly Fishing Line Color

Lastly, there is the color which has as many variations as there are lines and is down to personal taste however as a guide bright colors are usually floating lines where neutral colors are for intermediate and dark colors are for sinkers.

Of all the items that make up a beginner’s fly fishing kit I would recommend spending the most on the fly line depending on your budget. A decent fly line can be had for about £40-£50 or $45-$65 dollars.

There are loads of cheaper options but I would try and stay away from budget lines. Generally speaking, a better quality fly line will be supple, smooth and flow through the rod rings with ease. It will also load the rod better and form loops easier and so enhance the casting experience.

In my opinion spending, a bit more on the line will greatly assist your ease of learning how to cast. Buying a cheap line that kinks easily and doesn’t load correctly will only frustrate you and could put you off learning how to fly fish altogether.

There are some good quality budget lines available but you would need to be an average fly caster to get the use from them. If you are going to be spending most of your time on stony banks then budget lines can prove to be a good economic option as you will inevitably stand on your line as you move about causing it damage.

There are ways of avoiding this like using a line tray or using your fingers to manage the line and keep it off the ground but these are tricks and tips that you will pick up after you master the basic cast.

Some of the brands I have used and would recommend are Cortland, Airflo, Rio, Orvis and Scientific Anglers.


So for the beginning to learn how to fly fish, you would want a full floating weight forward number seven fly line which will be noted with the following designation WF5F. As a comparison, a double tapered six intermediate would be DTI6 or DT6I depending on the manufacturer. So there you have it fly fishing lines explained in their various states.


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