So, you've taken your first few fly fishing classes or have spent some days on the water with a guide. Fishing with class rods or the rods a guide brings along on a trip are a great intro to the sport; they're already set up for the exact water and conditions they're meant for. You've finally caught your first fish on a fly and are hooked for life! Now it's time to get set up with your very own rod outfit, but there are a lot of options out there. Your local fly shop can get you started with the correct weight rod and lines for your local species or whatever else you'd like to target, but there are a few things you should know before diving into this first big purchase and start your collection.
Fly fishing differs from spinning tackle and bait fishing in that with gear and bait, you’re propelling the weight of the lure or bait, and the line is a weightless projectile that just follows suit. In fly fishing, the lure is on the end of a weighted line; the line itself is what manipulates the lure. The way that we pair the correct weight of a line with a rod is designated by a numerical system that is somewhat obscure; a “5-weight” rod is semi-ambiguous to a beginner. The “5” does not refer to any real weight measurement, and is only meant to help you choose the appropriate 5-weight line to match with the rod, ensuring proper balance.
The “load” of a fly rod refers to the amount in which it bends, or the “action” it has. Rods that are referred to as “slow action” typically have a deeper load, or bend further down towards the butt section of the rod. Rods that are referred to as “fast action” typically bend primarily in the tip and mid sections of the rod. You can see examples of each rod action below, with the slowest on the left and quickest on the right. Buying a fly line that will pair with the action of your rod is something to consider when shopping, either for your first fly line or just for a new one.
Another thing to consider is the type of line you’d like to fish. 20 years ago, a very popular line choice was one called a “double taper”. The double taper (notated as “DT” on the box) has a belly section in the middle of the line, with an even taper spreading from there to both ends. Think of it this way: given a 100ft long fly line, the thickest/heaviest portion will be centered at the 50ft mark, with a steady, even taper to either end going from there. This allows anglers to use the line in one direction, and once the line wears or is no longer floating or fishing well after extended use, you can turn the line over and fish the other end’s taper for the same performance it had when it was new. This type of line is still somewhat popular with lower weight rod set ups (00-4 primarily) as it allows for a soft presentation and is ideal for shorter distance casting. For longer distance casting, or for propelling larger or heavier flies than the lighter rod weights are suited for, this type of line leaves a lot to be desired.
Enter the weight forward. Weight forward lines (“WF” on the box) have different styles and sizes of taper, but the premise is the same regardless of type or manufacturer. The “weight” or belly of the line is situated towards the front of the line. If we think of the 100ft line mentioned above, this means that rather than the weight being centered at the 50ft mark, the weight is typically in the first 20-30ft of line. This does eliminate the ability to flip the line over once it’s worn, but offers many other benefits, particularly the ability to cast heavier flies, and the ability to more easily shoot line. This type of line is the easiest for the beginning fly angler to learn on, and is also the most popular option for 5-weight and above rod set ups, with special configurations available based on different types of fisheries (intermediate, sinking, and other options will be covered in a separate article). The taper profile for one of our favorite weight forward floating lines for trout, the Rio Gold (available here) is shown below:
Using a line that is not properly suited for your rod will make it harder to cast effectively and accurately. A line that is too light, in particular, will not allow the rod to bend enough to generate line speed. A line that is too heavy, in contrast, will force the bend of the rod too much and cause tailing loops and other technical issues. That said, when initially learning how to cast, a slightly heavier line can be an advantage; Rio’s Rio Grand Fly Line is a very similar taper as the Rio Gold, but a full line size heavier than the number shown on the box and is ideally suited for getting fast action rods to load quickly. This same line allows you to feel the load of the rod more distinctly, so for novice anglers is a great one to start with as it familiarizes you with the feel of fly casting.
Eventually once you have the feel of what a properly balanced line set up is like, then more technical casting will follow. Double hauling, shooting line further, and target practice are all made more simple once the foundation of a finely tuned rod, reel, and line outfit is established; something that your local fly shop is well versed in helping you tackle.
We always recommend supporting your local shop for new skills and technical know-how, but if you don’t have one nearby, click the link below for a list of women-owned fly shops in the US!