We’ve all experienced it. You put a new line on your favorite fly rod and, just like that, your cast falls apart. It’s not you, necessarily. It’s the line. Pairing the right line to the setup is key. Pairing the right line to the conditions – also key. Let’s talk saltwater fly lines.
It might seem like a no-brainer, but the fly line is arguably the most important part of the system. Without the line, it’s just not fly fishing (sorry, Nome). Recently, fly line manufacturers have inundated the market with all kinds of saltwater fly lines. Ask yourself, does it really matter that I fish that bonefish line for tarpon? Is there really a difference in those two lines or is it the same line repackaged? It can be confusing to say the least. Here’s our beginner’s guide for choosing the right line for saltwater fishing.
The fly line, simply put, is a tapered plastic coating covering a core material. Yet, it’s so much more. It’s the key ingredient that transfers the energy from the rod to the fly. Unlike conventional fishing where the lure is the weight, our flies many times weigh little to nothing - thus the need for the weighted line.
The plastic coating and core vary depending on the goal and are important considerations when choosing the right line. Where and when you will be fishing is also an important factor. Fishing the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula in summer, for example, requires a hard-coated, stiffer core fly line to hold up in the heat. Chasing stripers in Nantucket requires a line designed for cold water with a more flexible core so the line doesn’t kink and coil. Both are saltwater fishing under extremely different conditions and require different lines.
Once you’ve decided where and when, then the taper of the line should also play a major role. A long taper is better when a more delicate presentation is required - think bonefish flats fishing. A shorter, more abrupt taper is better for pushing the fly through wind - think oceanside Keys tarpon fishing. A shorter head length is better for short quick casts, whereas a longer head length makes presenting flies farther away easier with more accuracy.
And, as if that isn’t enough to consider already, lines can come with textured and smooth finishes. It seems that you either love the textured line or you hate it. Some people love the swooshing noise it makes when they cast, and some don’t. The textured pattern reduces friction as it slides through the guides. Picking up your backcast is easier because there’s less surface contact and the line shoots farther with less effort. All great thoughts behind the textured coating. Personally, I’m not a fan of the textured line for one reason. The texture tears up my fingers something fierce and, especially in saltwater, it is literally like “pouring salt in an open wound.”
A few additional thoughts:
If you’re one of the anglers who likes to over-line your rods, take into consideration that this may not be the best practice with saltwater lines. Some lines, like the Tarpon Quickshooter for instance, are heavier for their line weight, so they are already over-lined.
Nowadays, most fly lines come with loops on both sides for easy attachment. Do NOT cut the loops off. They work amazingly well for almost all fishing situations. In addition, It’s been my experience that floating fly lines float better and last longer if you don’t cut off the loop.
Choosing a floating, intermediate or sinking line for saltwater really depends on the fishing situation. In general, when fishing on the flats or sight fishing, I choose a floating line because I can easily follow the line down to the fly and know where my fly is at all times in relation to the fish. When targeting fish in open water or when blind casting, I tend to choose an intermediate or sinking line since the surface movement of the water will not affect the fly as much and I’m not targeting an individual fish. These lines also allow me to use unweighted and lightly weighted flies at a deeper depth.
When I’m on the tarpon flats in the Keys, where fish seem to appear out of nowhere and I have seconds to make a cast, a line like the Tarpon Quickshooter, which is a heavier line with a short head, is my go-to. If I’m targeting Tarpon in Tabasco, where the wind is non-existent, a less aggressively tapered fly line like the Amplitude Grand Slam is much easier to cast.
I love the fact that almost all of the higher end fly lines are multi-colored. I have a very difficult time understanding what 60 feet of line looks like and the change in color gives me a visual reference point.
If you’re used to casting a short headed, aggressively tapered fly line, switching to a longer headed fly line will take some getting used to and vice-versa. Don’t let the bow of your guide’s boat be the first time you cast your set up.
Read the box. The back of the box will tell you about the line.
In closing, a smart man once told me, go to the best college you can afford. It’s the same with fly lines. Once all the above is taken into consideration, purchase the best line you can afford.
In fly lines it matters. All lines are not created equal.