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…
Table of Contents
- Who Makes the Best Fly Line? – The Short Answer
- Choosing a Floating Line for Fly Fishing – Key Considerations
- TOP 7 Best Floating Fly Lines for 2023
- Complete Guide to Floating Fly Lines
- Fly Line FAQ
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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.
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.
This is absolutely the first stop on my list.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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:
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.
What was I going to say?
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.
Coils on the water, bad. Straight line, good.
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 2023
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.
- 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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:
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?
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!