TOP 7 Best Floating Fly Fishing Lines – Tried & Tested for 2022

Getting into fly fishing can be expensive, so you want the most bang for your buck.

floating fly line will cover you for 90% of your fly fishing, and since you will be using it a lot, you’ll want the best you can get your hands on.

Today I’ll show you how to choose the best floating fly lines out there, offer some practical tips and even share what I use myself.

Let’s cast out…

Who Makes the Best Fly Line? – The Short Answer

Generally, both Rio and Cortland are well established as market leaders in making high-quality fly fishing lines. They’ve been around for years, and anglers swear by them. They are the ‘premium’ choice used by experienced anglers. However, it’s features you should focus on more than brand.

The good news is that plenty of ‘new’ entrants to the market will provide a practically identical experience in terms of performance and features.

Below you’ll find a quick run down of the things you should be looking for when choosing the best fly line.

two men fly fishing in river

Choosing a Floating Line for Fly Fishing – Key Considerations

Let’s get straight into it. Sure, you can choose the best fly line brands and spend fortunes, or you can make a detailed list of all the great things in the ‘premium’ models and find like-for-like, but for much cheaper.

So, what’s it to be hot-shot?

Here’s a list of the typical things I look out for when choosing a good floating line for fly fishing.

Line Size

This is absolutely the first stop on my list.

Why?

You must match the line size, or ‘weight’ if you prefer, to your rod. You could have the best fly line known to man, but if it doesn’t fit your rod, it won’t cast well (or at all, in extreme cases).

Want an easy way to work out which line fits which rod?

Just look at the blank above the handle. It will tell you what the manufacturer has deemed the perfect casting weight.

close-up fly fishing rod and reel with fly box in background

Color

Some will say color boils down to personal preference.

Do you know what I think?

The brighter, the better!

Bright fly fishing line has all of the following advantages:

  • It makes it easy to see on the water, so you know what your line and the current is doing.
  • Bite detection is easier to spot.
  • I can easily find it in my fly fishing bag.
  • It’s easier to see damage (although that normally means a new fly fishing line).
  • It’s great for low light conditions.

Don’t worry about the color putting the fish off. That’s why you have a fly fishing leader.

Weight Distribution and Taper

Fly line is unique for a few reasons. One of which is that it varies in thickness.

This is commonly called ‘taper’.

There are a few tapers out there, and we can get all bogged down in detail (yawn).

But what you really want to know is this…

Which taper is the best for floating fly fishing lines?

In general, your best bet is to go for a weight-forward taper.

Why?

Well, the advantages of weight-forward taper are as follows:

  • It’s easy to cast.
  • It works with most sizes of flies.
  • It’s easy to source.
  • You can cast further.

fisherman standing in shallow water and holding up fly rod

Breaking Strain

Unlike regular fishing lines, you won’t need to worry about breaking strain for fly fishing lines. It normally has a breaking strain well above 50lbs.

If you catch a trout of this size, let me know where you caught it (I promise I definitely won’t tell).

Leader Attachments

Some people place great store in finding a floating fly fishing line with a dedicated leader loop.

Some people don’t know how to tie knots.

It all boils down to personal preference.

Me?

I don’t like a leader loop and instead will use a small piece of fluorocarbon spliced into the end.

Here’s a quick video showing you how to do it.

It’s called a ‘nail knot,’ and it will take you about 30 seconds to learn:

Finish

What you want in a fly line, more than anything else is for it to feel good when casting and retrieving it.

And let me tell you this…

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve dropped hundreds of dollars on a ‘premium’ branded fly fishing line, only to be disappointed.

Avoid floating lines with a rubbery exterior (this is standard for the truly ‘bargain basement’ floating fishing lines).

Look for lines with mention of frictionless coating. You are golden if you get one with a ‘powdery’ finish.

Memory

What was I going to say?

I forget…

Oh, that’s right… Memory.

What is fly line memory?

Fly line memory is the term to describe how the fly line will inherently settle after it has been stored for a given length of time.

In the simplest possible terms…

You want as little memory as possible.

Any good floating line will stay arrow straight, even if it’s been on the reel a few weeks. Conversely, you’ll find that cheaper, poorer-quality fly fishing lines have a bigger memory.

Same difference.

Coils on the water, bad. Straight line, good.

Remember this.

Alright, so…

Bearing in mind all of the above, here’s a run-down of the best floating lines for fly fishing on the market. I’ve given all of these a go, and here is my unbiased run-down and review of each.

TOP 7 Best Floating Fly Lines for 2022

Rio Premier Rio Gold Slick Cast Fly Line

Remember right at the beginning of this article when I said Rio produces some of the best floating fly lines on the planet.

Yeah, I wasn’t kidding.

Listen, you’ll pay for the privilege, but you could consider this your ‘forever line’ in fly fishing.

Here’s why I loved using it.

First off, the finish.

This line comes out of the eyes as smooth as silk. It’s practically frictionless. It added a few yards to my cast and had zero memory, straight out of the box.

The front-biased weighting means that whether you are casting long or short, it will load the rod. It also works with larger and smaller flies (rod weight permitting, of course). As a useful additional feature, I got my casts lazer accurate, often landing my fly right on the trout’s nose.

Oh, and get this…

While I’m not too choosy on color, I like what Rio has done here. The line is two-toned!

No, it isn’t to match your nail varnish…

The color change denotes the perfect range to pick your line off the water for optimal casting. It’s actually a really clever system.

Overall if you’ve got the money to spend, this is about as good as it gets.

Pros

  • Amazing finish.
  • Low memory fly line.
  • Available in several weights.

Cons

  • It isn’t wallet-friendly.

Takeaway

There’s a reason Rio sits pretty at the top, and this fly line is proof. This fly line sits well at the top of the pack for excellent castability, superb handling, and pinpoint accuracy.

Scientific Anglers Air Cel Floating Lines

Scientific anglers are rapidly becoming one of the best fly fishing brands out there. They aren’t quite as big as Orvis, but they don’t tend to charge the same premium sums either (however, as you will see, there is an exception to every rule).

Here’s the deal.

I really like the look of this fly line.

First off, it is very reasonably priced.

But it isn’t all about the money… It performs really well too. The air cel coating is really slick, giving you a great feel and casting distance. Throw in a decent weight-forward taper, and you’ve got one of the best floating fly lines for trout fishing on the market.

This is a great all-rounder and would be perfect for most fishing styles, from nymphing and medium dries all the way through to the odd streamer when the fish aren’t up and about.

Pros

  • Really great value.
  • Easy to see bright yellow color.
  • Easy to cast.

Cons

  • The line may feel a little on the light side for some.

Takeaway

Nothing fancy, just a fly line that works. It floats, has a decent taper, and is relatively easy to cast. For the money, what more could you want?

RIO Products Mainstream Trout Fly Line

Rio is the leader of the pack when it comes to making high-quality fishing lines. When talking about value for money, they also seem to be leading the way. You can pick one of these premium branded lines up for around the same price as some budget offerings.

Here is why they are great.

First off, the coating on the line is super slick. You only have to try a cheap fly line to be able to tell the difference.

One area where Rio fly lines stand out is the memory. Or should I say the lack of it? Straight, kink-free lines cast and sit much better than their cheaper counterparts. You’ll be hard-pressed to find something nearly the same quality for this price.

The tapered head is slightly thicker and shorter than standard. This gives improved casting characteristics.

And then there are the looks.

The line is a kind of green chartreuse color, so if you aren’t looking for anything too outlandish or bright, it could be ideal.

Pros

  • A premium branded product without the price tag.
  • Excellent performance in casting.
  • Pretty much memory free.

Cons

  • Either this is cheap, or their other lines are overpriced… I don’t know which!

Takeaway

Normally when you say “Rio fly line” to most anglers, they will grimace and put their hand on their wallet. However, I can’t get over how good a deal this is.

If you aren’t sure about Rio’s premium fly lines, give this a go and decide whether you see an improvement (hint: you will).

Cortland 444 Floating Fly Line

Now here is a little bit of a blast from the past. Cortland used to be the fly line specialist when I was learning to fly fish.

Then…

Orvis and Rio came and knocked them off their perch. Some anglers still swear that Cortland’s 444 series of lines are the only way to go… I want to agree.

If you are looking for one of the best fly lines of all time, then you are in the right place. This isn’t premium as such, but it performs like it.

I love the Cortland line because it feels a lot softer than many modern lines. It is seriously supple and bendy.

And here’s the thing.

It offers pretty much everything that you want in a floating fly fishing line. It sits really high in the water, casts like a dream, and is pretty tough stuff too!

This line comes in #5wt, with weight-forward taper, making it pretty much ideal for an all-purpose fly fishing rod.

Pros

  • An old classic and still a trusted favorite.
  • I love the peach color, its easy to see in low light.
  • Slippy coating for ease of casting.

Cons

  • A small part of me wonders why they still aren’t leading the game if they were the best?
  • It doesn’t come with a leader loop.

Takeaway

The saying goes, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’… Cortland seems to have followed this mantra. This is a no-nonsense, mid-priced line that performs exceptionally well. Cortland has got form and practice. You can trust this one.

Orvis Hydros Trout Fly Line

Orvis Hydros Trout Fly Line

The second I saw the cool packaging, I knew this would be just a little special.

Orvis has gone slightly different from their contemporaries and has made the weight forward taper much more gradual.

Why?

This helps pick the line up off the water when casting and gives you more stable loops in the forward cast.

Sounds fancy.

The line has a sort of dry feel to it. Orvis calls this AST slickness which apparently repels water and dirt, keeping your fly line fresh for longer.

Here’s something great.

The line is two-tone in color. This acts as a visual indicator as to when you’ve got enough line in to start a new cast and allows you to judge casting distance more accurately.

And as a final neat feature…

The Orvis Hydros fly line features two welded loops. One attaches to your backing, the other to your leader. It’s easy to set up and wind on, saving time and effort.

Pros

  • This is one of the best feeling lines on my list.
  • It casts well and feels really smooth on the rod.
  • I love the two-tone color.

Cons

  • The price is pretty high.

Takeaway

Is it expensive? Yes. Is it worth that much more? Maybe. I can feel the difference, but this one might be wasted on a beginner.

Scientific Anglers Amplitude Infinity Fly Line

Remember, a little while back, I said that scientific anglers don’t charge huge amounts for fishing gear.

I guess I was wrong.

This line is pretty… Pretty expensive!

But is it worth the cost?

Well, I think, yes, it definitely is. Here’s why.

As with the Orvis line, this too features AST patented slick technology to keep the line fresh and dry (sounds like Huggies diapers). Scientific anglers claim that this is the perfect single line for all fly fishing.

Meaning?

That, using this one line, you’ll be able to throw out a huge streamer with it but also be able to delicately present tiny dry flies – a bold claim. But one that is likely accurate. This line casts like a dream.

One cool feature is that the tip section has been made really buoyant. As a result, your flies will sit high and proud, exactly what you want in a floating line.

And there’s more…

Here’s something even more interesting. Scientific anglers have made each line slightly heavier than is traditional. So, a #4wt line is actually more like a #4.5wt. This gives increased casting distance and better line turnover and really allows you to load up your rod.

Pros

  • The best casting fly line out there.
  • Non-stick AST coating.
  • Suitable for all styles of fly.

Cons

  • Again, just the price. Apart from that, it is pretty perfect.

Takeaway

This line is proof that sometimes spending a few dollars more gets you the best. I can’t really fault it, and it is evident that a lot of thought has gone into this line. Ok, so it might hurt your wallet, but you’ll be using it for years.

Airflo SuperFlo Xceed Fly Line

Ah, good old Airflo.

For as long as I can remember, Airflo has been the brand for those who want something a little cheaper but still want to gain the vast majority of the features in the better fly lines.

This is a case in point.

It shares lots of features with the higher-end floating fly lines.

Such as?

Two-tone colors for starters, offering optimum casting and ease of picking the line up off the water.

One thing that was standout amazing for me was the finish and feel. Had I performed a blind ‘casting test’ I’d have been hard-pressed to tell you whether this was Rio or not.

Simply…

It feels great.

With a substantial weight forward taper, you’ll have no problem throwing out both small gnats and larger streamers. This is amazing value for the money and will work as one of the best all-around fly fishing lines, regardless of venue.

Pros

  • Great price point.
  • Really easy to cast.
  • Nice two-tone finish.

Cons

  • A little limited in the weights available.
  • For not much extra, you could consider a more premium line.

Takeaway

For a mid-range fly line, this far exceeds its price point in terms of performance. Are there better fly fishing lines out there? Of course. But, dollar for dollar, this is a worthy investment that would suit a beginner or intermediate fisherman, no problem.

Complete Guide to Floating Fly Lines

Should I use Floating or Sinking Fly Line?

You’ll find that most fly fishermen will opt for a floating line over a sinking line. Floating lines offer much more versatility because you can fish above and below the surface. With sinking lines, you are limited to sub-surface fishing only.

There are plenty of other reasons to choose a floating line.

Such as?

  • Floating lines are easier to cast.
  • Floating lines last longer (as they don’t come into contact with bottom features).
  • Floating lines can be used with lighter rods (sinking lines are only available in weight #4 and upward).
  • Fishing lines that float tend to be lighter than their sinking counterparts.

fly fishing rod on wooden table

What Color Fly Line is Best?

As a general rule, you’ll find that most anglers prefer to use brighter colored fly fishing lines. They are easy to see, it’s easier to detect bites with sub-surface flies, and finally, it makes it easier overall to observe what your fly line is doing (both on the water and in the cast).

You’ll find that the latest’ trend’ is for two-tone lines. These bi-color fly fishing lines are actually really useful.

Why?

In good fly fishing lines, the color will change when it is optimum to start your next cast. By doing so, you should find that you can cast out with fewer false casts and might even gain a little more distance.

What’s a false cast?

Watch this and find out.

What Does Weight Forward Fly Line Mean?

Weight forward fly line refers to the thickness and weighting bias. Generally, it means that the line is thicker the closer you get to your fly and leader. The line gets thinner the closer you get to the backing on the reel.

Why is it manufactured in this way?

Well…

Unlike conventional fishing lines, fly line is slightly different. This is because aside from the fly, there is no weight whatsoever to propel the fly on the cast. The answer is to use a line with weight placed in strategic points.

Otherwise known as… A taper.

With the vast majority of lines, you’ll find that the weight will be focused towards the top or ‘front’ of the line. This is the end that is nearest the fly. The head of the line is thicker. The body is thinner. It gradually tapers down, and with good fly lines, you’ll actually struggle to see it.

The name for this kind of taper is called weight forward.

Here are some of the advantages:

  • It’s easier to cast.
  • It is easier to pick up off the water.
  • It is good for a wider range of flies.

A weight-forward line is a perfect choice for beginners for all of the above reasons.

man fly fishing for trout and salmon in autumn river

What Size Fly Line Do I Need?

The only thing that dictates what size fly line you need is your rod rating. The number printed on the side of the rod is the weight of the fly line you will need. This is decided by manufacturers who will test the rod curve with many different lines, giving an optimum.

The rod weight is decided by the type of venue you intend to fish. Here’s a quick guide showing the general differences:

  • #1-3wt fly line: This fly line is best suited to small streams and still waters. You’ll be casting small flies and catching fish smaller than a few pounds.
  • #4-7wt fly line: This is your best choice for a range of fishing, the optimum being #5wt. This will allow you to fish in small ponds and streams and to ‘punch above your weight’ in bigger waters and with bigger fish.
  • #8-12wt fly line: This is heavy-duty stuff, designed for big, hard-fighting fish, such as salmon. It also makes the ideal weight of line to be used in saltwater. The rods that these lines are paired with tend to be quite large.

Floating Line Price – How Much Should I Pay?

Normally you’ll find that the more expensive lines are of a higher quality. You can be reasonably assured of quality and performance by purchasing a fly fishing line from a ‘big name’. However, you can expect diminishing returns as you go up in price point.

Meaning?

A line that costs three times as much as a ‘budget’ line won’t catch three times as many fish or cast three times as far.

I advise you to aim for the upper bracket of whatever you can afford and try and keep a lookout for shared features with the more expensive brands. Buy the best floating fly line you can afford, and then it should be a while before you need to replace it.

fisherman wearing fishing vest and using rod fly fishing in river

Fly Line FAQ

Got questions about floating fly line?

Relax, it’s what I am here for. Here are the things I get asked all the time.

What’s the best floating fly line for a beginner?

For the money, the RIO Products Mainstream Trout Fly Line is a pretty great choice for beginners. You get the security of a trusted brand, along with excellent performance. All of this comes in a budget-friendly package.

There are more expensive lines out there, but for a beginner looking to get set up for the first time, I think this represents an excellent compromise between value and performance.

What is fly line ‘backing’?

Fly line ‘backing’ is a braided cord used to ‘pad out’ the fly reel before attaching the main fly fishing line. The backing is extremely strong, and increasing the reel arbor’s circumference prevents excessive memory. It also allows you to cast to the very end of your fly line!

Rarely you will ever see the backing, so don’t feel the need to blow hundreds of dollars. The cheap stuff works just as well as the ‘top end’ brands.

When should I replace floating fly line?

Any time you spot damage on your line, you should consider replacing it. Any cracks, scuffs, stretch marks, or fraying indicate that a fishing line may have reached the end of its life. At best, it will affect your casting distance. At worst, it could lose you the fish of a lifetime!

Are expensive fly lines worth it?

Expensive fly lines are worth it. If you’ve started using a significantly cheaper line, the difference will be night and day. There are plenty of reasons why it pays to invest in a good quality floating fly fishing line. You might want to consider the following:

  • Expensive lines tend to last longer.
  • Premium fly fishing lines are easier to cast.
  • Generally, better quality lines have less memory.
  • Top-end fly lines feel better and are easier to use.

How do I know if my fly line is floating or sinking?

The simplest way to tell whether a fly line is floating or sinking is to check the label on the box. If the last letter in the description is an “F,” this is a floating line. If it is “S,” it is a sinking fly fishing line. The way fly lines are labeled has a set convention.

Here’s what it looks like:

“WF5-F”

The above means that the line is a weight forward line (WF), the weight rating is 5, and it is a floating line (as I just described above).

Based on the above, what do you think WF8S means?

Summary

There’s certainly more to fly line than meets the eye. It’s all a little technical. Hopefully, my guide has given you a much better picture of identifying the best floating fly lines.

Get the best you can afford and look for one or two key features, and you’ll be fine!

What’s the most outrageous line color you’ve fished with?

Let me know in the comments. I might even tell you where I bought a bright pink one!

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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