How to choose a fly line

After your rod, the fly line is the most important piece of gear you'll ever buy. Here are some tips on how to buy your first fly line.

How to choose a fly line
© Fly and Lure
How to choose a fly line
Picture copyright © Fly and Lure
How to choose a fly line
Beginners Estimated reading time 6 - 10 minutes

Is fly line choice important?

Aside from your rod, the fly line you choose will make the single biggest difference to your fishing. The right or wrong fly line can totally change the way your rod feels, how easy it is to cast and how your flies are presented.

While fly lines have massively improved in quality in recent years, the old advice of investing in a higher quality fly line does still stand. The phrase "buy cheap, buy twice" often applies to fly lines. Choose a good fly line and it should cast well, be free of coils and lie straight on the water and last a couple of seasons before it needs to be replaced.

It's sensible to buy a good quality fly line instead of a cheap one.

Is it difficult to choose a fly line?

It can be tricky to get it right first time. The fly line you choose needs to match the type of fishing you'll do at your usual waters, it needs to suit your rod and it needs to be a good match for your casting style and preferences. There are a bewildering array of different types of fly line on the market and many of them feel very different to cast, with the behaviour varying from rod to rod, too. It can be a bit of a minefield.

Different fly lines can feel very different to cast.

What are the first things I should look for?

The two main things to consider are line weight and density. The line weight determines whether the rod will be a good match for casting on your rod, while the density determines whether the fly line floats or sinks and if it does sink, how fast it sinks.

You need to buy a line of the right line weight and density.

How do I know what line weight to choose?

Fly line weights are measured on something called the AFTM scale. This scale gives a line weight rating, such as #5 or #6, to each fly line depending on the weight of the first 30 feet of the fly line. The higher the number, the heavier the fly line. Fly rod manufacturers will give a matching line weight rating to their rods, so picking a #6 fly line (or a "six weight" as it's known) and matching it to a #6 fly rod should give you a combination which works well together.

While this usually works, it's become somewhat complicated in recent years with the advent of fly lines rated at #6 (or whatever) which are technically really a #6.5 or a #7 and much faster, stiffer rods that don't bend so easily with standard weight lines. Being a little overweight makes them load or bend faster fly rods better, which some fly fishers prefer - especially beginners. However, not everyone likes this "over-lined" feel, so it's worth checking whether the line is true-to-weight before you buy.

If you're not sure what fly rod and line weight suits your kind of fishing, check out How to choose a fly rod.

If you have a #6 fly rod, choose a #6 line to match it.

What density fly line do I need?

In the UK, 95% of the time fly fishers will use a floating fly line. At most still waters, you could comfortably use a floating fly line all year round and still catch plenty of fish. In addition to a floating fly line, you may also want to buy an intermediate fly line too, as this helps you fish a little deeper or pull lures a little more quickly than a floater. However, if you're buying your first line, I'd recommend just getting a good floating fly line.

95% of fly fishing in the UK is done with a floating fly line.

Will I need a sinking fly line?

Initially, it's fairly unlikely that you'll need a sinking fly line. Indeed, on smaller and medium-sized still waters they are hardly ever needed. You might want to invest in one if you fish larger reservoirs or deeper lakes, but if you're new to fly fishing you're probably best waiting a while before getting one. They can be a bit of a handful to cast.

Delay buying a sinking fly line until you're more experienced.

What fly lines do you recommend for beginners?

There are loads of great fly lines on the market. Our top pick for the beginner to fly fishing would be the Barrio Mallard floating fly line. This is based on a classic weight forward profile and casts smoothly and easily on most rods. It's ideal for fishing anything from small nymphs and dries to smaller lures, which should cover most stillwater trout fishing. It's a decent quality line but isn't actually that expensive - less than £30 including delivery.

The Barrio Mallard floating line is great for beginners to fly fishing.

Is it essential to use a fly line weight that matches the rod?

No, the line weight marked on the rod is just a guide and many lines aren't true to their claimed weight anyway. In recent years, fly rods have got stiffer and faster, so fly line makers have been making their lines heavier to help them bend or load. This can be useful for novices, though you could also just "overline" the rod by stepping up a line weight if you find you can't feel it.

Similarly, if you've got a really soft, bendy rod and want a stiffer action, you can "underline" the rod by using one that's a line weight lower than recommended. For the vast majority of people, a standard line that's fairly true-to-weight is the best option, though overlining can be handy for juniors, in particular, when they first start off.

For most people, a #6 line on a #6 rod is ideal, but juniors might benefit from going up a line weight when getting used to casting.

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