How to Choose the Right Fly Line

The fly line is much more than simply a connection to your quarry. It represents the principle difference between fly fishing and conventional fishing. It’s easiest to understand the role of a fly line by looking at how the mechanics of conventional fishing and fly fishing differ. Conventional fishing rods are designed to flex by the weight of a lure or lead weight. Fly fishing rods are designed to flex by the weight of the fly line. In a sense, a fishing rod is a like a spring ready to be compressed or “loaded” to store energy. With conventional rods, it is the weight of that lure that loads the rod or compresses the spring. Since the weight of a tiny fly doesn’t have enough mass to bend and load a fly rod, it becomes the job of the fly line. When choosing the right line, it’s important to consider the weight designation, taper, and whether you need a floating, full sinking, or sink tip style line.

Choosing the Right Fly Line

Once you have determined what kind of fish you would like to fish for, and have a good idea of where you would like to go, than you're ready to buy some gear. Start with the fly line and match the rest of your equipment to the weight designation of the line.


Rod / Line Weight

Water Type

Fish Size

Small Trout

Pan Fish

3wt - 4wt

Small Creeks


6" to 12"

Medium Trout

Pan Fish

4wt - 6wt

Medium Creeks


Ponds & Lakes


10" - 18"

Large Trout


5wt - 8wt

Med - Lg Rivers

Med - Lg Lakes

16" - 20+"

Summer Steelhead


7wt - 8wt

Spey Med - Lg Rivers

Med - Lg Lakes

20" - 30+"

Winter Steelhead


8wt - 9wt

Med - Lg Rivers


10 lbs - 20 lbs

SW Bone Fish


Red Fish



Blue Fish

8wt - 10wt

SW Flats



8 lbs - 20 lbs

SW Tarpon





10wt - 14wt


20lbs - 150 lbs



Spey (Two-handed Rods)


6lbs - 20lbs

For example, perhaps you're like a lot anglers looking to get started in fly fishing for trout. As you can see from the chart at the top, a 5wt line will work in wide range of applications. It's considered the most versatile line weight. When you are a newbie one outfit won't do it all, it's important to get the most versatility for the money. Meaning the more types of fish you can target with one rod, the better.

Understanding the Floating Variety

For instance, based on the chart, we can see a 5-weight setup will work in lakes and rivers, and for nearly all sizes of trout and pan fish. Therefore you know that you'll need a 5-weight line to get started. There are many types of fly lines but your first purchase should be of the floating variety. Many types of fly lines are designed to sink. They are for more advanced applications. You'll need to have a good understanding of the floating line and it's uses before moving on. Keep in mind that just because it floats, that doesn't mean that you always have to fish floating flies. There are plenty of ways to fish flies deeply with a floating fly line. They are also the easiest to cast and will give you the best opportunity to learn quickly.

Choosing High Quality Line is important

There is nothing more frustrating than a floating line that just will not float. A higher quality line will be easier to cast, float higher on the water, and last much longer than inexpensive ones. Spending a little less on the reel and a little more on the line is a good idea when you're starting out. At this stage in your fly fishing career, it may look like fly lines are basically all the same. This is not the case. More expensive lines are manufactured with better materials, which mean they'll last much longer than cheaper ones. If you only plan on fishing a few times a year than that may not be an issue for you.

The Taper of the Line

The taper of the line refers to its diameter. Unlike normal fishing line, which has a uniform diameter throughout its length, fly lines may be thicker in one portion and thinner in another. There are typically two main types of tapers. The most popular by far is called weight forward (WF). This just means that the diameter of the line is thicker near the tip. Having the bulk of the line near the forward portion makes the line much easier to cast than if it was the same diameter throughout. The other is called a double taper (DT). This means the diameter of the line is thinner at the tip. Double tapered lines work well in more specialized applications. For new anglers, a weight forward line should be your first purchase 99% of the time.

Floating lines are available in a multitude of colors. Unless you are fishing to particularly spooky fish, where you would want a drab colored line to avoid scaring them, most any color will work. Just be sure that you can easily see it.


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