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Simplifying Fly Lines
by Capt. Jim Freda
Shore Catch Guide Service

midst the myriad of complexities that the beginner will encounter when entering into the sport of saltwater fly fishing the term simplicity can sometimes be lost. Faced with the challenge of which rod to buy, which reel do I need, and what flies do I use, one can easily become overwhelmed and frustrated with the abundance of products that have flooded the market.

The quality of the rod and reel that you purchase is going to be directly related to the price that you pay. It's a good idea to purchase a rod and reel that comes with a lifetime unconditional warranty. In other words if you break it the manufacturer will repair or replace the equipment with no questions asked. For this type of service you will be making an investment which will definitely put a kink in your budget. But it is worth it.

With this investment made the beginner can feel confident that he or she is headed in the right direction for shooting a line into the suds. But what line? You will quickly find out that the number of fly lines that are available are equal in number to the rods and reels you had to choose from. In this article I will focus on several selections of fly lines that I recommend as a guideline for the beginner to choose from. These selections are a good starting point too simplify matters and are favored by our guide service and other professional guides in the sport.

A good starting point for the beginner fly fisher is to understand some of the characteristics and terminology associated with fly lines. A full length fly line will range from 90 to 110 feet and will come in various weights, shapes, colors, densities and coatings. The weight of the fly line most commonly used for saltwater applications will be designated with a number ranging from #7-#12. These numbers actually translate into the amount of grams that the fly line actually weighs in its first thirty feet or so. Your fly line weight in most cases should match the corresponding weight number of your fly rod.

To side track for a moment about rods consider the following. If the majority of your fly fishing is going to be on the ocean side then a ten weight rod is what you will want to purchase. If you are going to fish mostly the quieter waters of back bays, sounds, or flats; I would recommend an eight or nine weight rod.

If you are going to purchase only one rod and are not sure which one to get, go with the ten weight. These are the reasons. The size of the fish that you will be targeting and hooking into from the surf, particularly in the fall, will be consistently larger than what you will find on the backside. This will necessitate the need to throw larger flies up to seven inches or so that a ten-weight rod will handle best. You can still use the ten-weight on the backside and have fun with it. Some may say it is over kill but I would opt to be better prepared for when the big fish are around. This way I am not putting myself at a disadvantage with a lighter rod. Other reasons for opting for the ten weight in my mind are: 1)the ability to throw heavier lines, 2)it's easier to punch a fly through the wind, 3)more power and leverage can be generated, thereby giving you the ability to subdue a fish more quickly so as not to play it to exhaustion, and 4)if you plan to go offshore to chase some fish like alligator blues or chum some cow bass on structure you will be better prepared. Back to fly lines.

The density of the fly line or more technically referred to as its specific gravity will determine whether the line will float, sink slowly, or sink quickly. Simply put, if the line is constructed so that its specific gravity is less than saltwater, it will float. If its specific gravity is greater than saltwater it will sink. The terms a beginner should be concerned with are floating, intermediate, or sinking line, respectively.

The shape of the fly line is referred to as its taper. When one compares casting a plug or lure from a spinning rod to casting a fly the concept of tapering comes into play. When one casts a lure it is the weight of the lure that will pull the mono off of the spinning reel. In fly fishing one does not cast the fly but rather one will cast the line.

The different tapers that are available will vary the fly line's diameter over a specific length. There are four basic taper designs. The level (L) taper fly line has the same diameter from end to end. The double taper (DT) fly line has the largest diameter in the center section of the line with both ends tapering down to a smaller diameter. The weight forward (WF) fly line has the largest line diameter at its casting end with a tapering down to a smaller diameter. The shooting taper (ST) more commonly referred to as a shooting head is a short line approximately thirty to forty feet in length with a large diameter that is followed by a small diameter running line. This running or shooting line's diameter is of a smaller diameter than a conventional fly line. The fly line's taper is associated with the way energy is transferred from the rod to the line thereby effecting your overall casting performance. To put it simply, different tapers bring about different casting results.

Fly line colors will vary depending on the manufacturer. If the water you are fishing is crystal clear you may what to consider purchasing a fly line that is clear. Or if keen eyed albies are your target. There are several on the market today. Color is not that much of a factor when the water is turbid.

Lastly, you have the fly line's coating. The coating of a fly line is something the beginner doesn't need to be concerned with because the manufacturer has done that for you. The coating of a fly line will also effect its performance. In today's manufacturing of fly lines high tech polymer coatings have arrived on the scene. These coatings are super smooth, non-cracking, contain ultraviolet inhibitors, and are highly water resistant. The coatings also increase the sensitivity of the fly line and reduce the line's memory to prevent tangles when casting. They also contribute to the overall weight of the fly line thereby helping to load the rod.

At this point you now need to determine if you are going to purchase a traditional full length fly line or a shooting head-running line system. If you choose a traditional fly line the line of choice for you will be a weight forward (WF) intermediate sinking line This line will sink at the rate of 1.5 to 2.0 inches per second. The thicker forward diameter of the line of approximately forty feet will help the beginner to load the rod easily to achieve maximum distance and accuracy. Many fly line manufactures now produce a weight forward line designed with the beginner in mind. The taper of these lines has a shorter fat section in the beginning of the line to make casting easier. This enables the beginner to have less line out before shooting the cast. It also eliminates the need to do a lot of false casting.

For a beginner choosing a full length fly line I recommend an intermediate sink line over a floating line for a couple of reasons. First, the intermediate line will sink beneath the surface making a straighter connection between you and your fly. You will be able to feel more bumps and be able to set the hook more easily. As a result you won't miss as many fish. A floating line will sit on top and will create a lot of slack in the line as the surf, waves, and currents push it around. This will make detecting strikes and hook-ups more difficult because you will not have direct contact with the fly at all times.

If you are a fisherman that feels that your line should be virtually invisible in the water to increase your cast to catch ratio than I highly recommend a weight forward line that is clear. There are several manufacturers that produce these lines. Your fly fishing pro shop will carry them. These lines have a monofilament core with a high tech, non-cracking, clear polymer coating. They are excellent lines and cast very well. Just make sure that the line you buy is designed for cold saltwater conditions. These lines will out perform all other mono core fly lines.

Your other option as a beginner is to select a shooting head-running line system. In this system the heads are interchangeable. A shooting head is designed for long casts when accuracy and control are not important. It is approximately thirty to thirty-five feet in length and attached to a smaller diameter running line that is attached to the fly reel's backing.

The beginner should select an intermediate sinking head just as if he were purchasing a conventional fly line. The shooting head is attached to the running line with a loop to loop connection. An advantage of this type of system and connection is that you can purchase floating and sinking heads and simply replace the heads quickly when the situation on the water warrants staying on top or going down deep to hook fish. In essence you can carry three different types of fly lines with you for half the cost of full length lines. This system also eliminates the need to purchase spare spools thereby saving you additional money while increasing your versatility. You can find intermediate shooting heads in clear also.

As a beginner the distance that you can cast will put you into more fish than the accuracy of your presentation. A delicate presentation is needed more in a freshwater situation than it is in the surf. The more water you cover with your fly the more you will increase your percentages of hooking up. There will be those days when the fish are just on the other side of the bar and a difficult to reach. Here is where a few extra feet can make a big difference.

Many professional guides and fly fishing pro shops will recommend overloading the rod when using floating or intermediate weight forward lines or shooting heads. What this means is to put on a fly line that is one weight heavier than the rod weight. If you have a ten-weight rod you would use an eleven-weight line. The advantage to doing this is that you will be able to load the rod more quickly, thus eliminating the number of false casts you will need to get the line out. The overloading of the rod will also allow you to cast larger flies and shoot the line with better distance into a stiff wind. If you have a fast action rod one in which the flex is in the upper third of the rod overloading will slow it down.

This line and rod compatibility is something that you will need to experiment with, as personal preferences will vary. The best thing to do is to cast the system that you will be purchasing first. Your fly fishing pro shop should have rods and reels ready for you to take outside and give it a try. You may not know exactly what you should be feeling but it is a starting point. Take your time and don't rush into buying the first thing you see.

So there you have it. It is definitely a lot to digest in one sitting but hopefully I have simplified matters by narrowing down your choices to lines and systems that work well. Get out there on the water and give it a try. Those trophies are awaiting.  End

Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Jim Freda, All Rights Reserved

Articles by Captain Jim Freda

Capt. Jim FREDAEmail Captain Jim Freda

Jim Freda is a highly respected charter captain, author, outdoor writer, seminar speaker, and photographer. His first book Fishing the New Jersey Coast, has been a best seller and received the “New Jersey Center for the Book Award” as one of the most notable NJ books. He co-authored a second book Saltwater Fishing a Tactical Approach, A Guide for Northeast Beach and Boat Fishermen, with his Shore Catch associates Capt Gene Quigley and Shell E. Caris.

Jim has weekly fishing columns that appear in the Bergen Record, NJ's second largest newspaper and the Coast Star and Ocean Star newspapers of Monmouth and Ocean Counties. Nationally, Jim is a contributing editor for Fly Fishing in Saltwaters magazine and also writes for Fly Fisherman magazine, Saltwater Sportsman, Eastern Fly Fishing, Big Game Journal, and Regionally he writes for On the Water magazine where he has is own monthly column, The Fisherman magazine and the NJ Federation of Sportsman Clubs newspaper.

As a seminar speaker Jim is featured as one of the celebrities on the Saltwater Sportsman National Seminar Series, as one of the “Stars of the Show” at the Fly Fishing Show in Somerset, NJ, the Northeast’s largest fly fishing show and is on the National Pro Seminar slate at the Toyota Saltwater Expo also in Somerset. He is also regularly featured each year at many of the local fishing clubs in the surrounding area including the State’s two largest clubs the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association and the Saltwater Anglers of Bergen County. Capt Jim has also been a guest speaker at all the Trout Unlimited Clubs in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jim has also been a special guest speaker at the Bloomberg Network in New York City.

He is a member of the National Factory Pro Team for St. Croix Rods and pro staff for Fins Fishing Line, AVET Reels, Spro, Gamakatsu, Hogy, Korkers, Costa Del Mar, Columbia Sportswear and Aquaskinz.

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