Making sense of the countless options for spooling up fly reels
Fly lines have a braided core covered in flexible plastic. The diameter of the plastic coating varies throughout the line, getting thicker and thinner; that is called the taper. The taper of a line significantly affects how the line moves in the air and on the water. Manufacturers can vary tapers to accentuate certain performance characteristics, and benefit certain types of fishing.
Double-taper (DT) lines start small and gradually thicken to a belly section in the middle, then taper back down (see diagram below). DT lines used to be common, but they’re now considered a bit passé. That said, a DT line remains ideal for delicate presentations at shorter distances. And when the front end of the line wears out, you can reverse it, and the never-used back end becomes a brand new line. I still run DT lines on my 3- and 5-weight outfits.
Today’s dominant taper is the weight-forward (WF) style. It has a shorter front taper, leading to a thick, short belly section, which tapers back down into a thin running line (see diagram above). This helps launch longer casts, since the heavy belly section pulls the thin running line behind it. WF lines are a must for big flies, windy conditions and long-distance scenarios. They cast so efficiently they’ve become the default for most anglers, but there’s a cost: the easier casting comes at the expense of delicacy and on-the-water handling. Many of us will accept this trade-off, however.
Most species- and tactic-specific specialty lines are created by adjustments to the standard WF shape. Line makers can, for example, dial up the power for surf fishing or create a medium-power line to help big-river anglers mend long casts. Do specialized lines make a difference? Yes, but at the margins of performance. You can never go wrong with a general-use weight-forward line. Specialty tapers are for specialists looking for a five or 10 per cent edge, often in challenging conditions.