In our humble opinion, there is no more underrated piece of fly fishing gear than the fly line. Sure, a brand spanking new fly rod or a shiny new reel can scratch the gear itch a little bit more immediately, but the fly line is king when it comes to getting it done on the water. Why? Well, the fly line loads the fly rod that allows the angler to deliver the fly to the target. You can't drive a vehicle without power...and you can't cast a fly rod without a fly line (minus those pesky euro-nymphers and their extra-long euro leaders).
With the beginning of the traditional season here, it's important that we, as anglers, evaluate the state of our equipment to ensure that we're setting ourselves up for success on the water. We need to make sure our fly boxes are full, our reels are in working order, and our fly lines are ready for primetime action. Like all gear, fly lines, wear out, and worn-out fly lines will greatly impact your ability to present a fly to a likely lie or a rising trout. You need to rely on your fly line to do all the things well - roll cast consistently, mend effectively, unfurl smoothly, land softly, and cut through the wind with ease. From our perspective, presentation is key and if you want to catch fish this season - you better be optimized in the fly line department.
In the name of that optimization, we're going to talk about a couple of signs that you should consider when evaluating the condition of your current fly line.
First and foremost, we should note that fly lines don't have an expiration date, per se. You don't have to replace your fly lines after X number of years or even X number of uses. Fly lines experience wear and tear at different rates. How often you use them, what conditions you fish in, how you handle the fly line while fishing, and how often you maintain and clean your fly line - all play a role in how long a respective fly line will last.
The first sign you should look for is noticeable cracks in the fly line (especially in the first 40 feet). Cracks create friction. Friction prevents a fly line from shooting. Fly lines are designed to have minimal friction as they pass through the guides of a fly rod. The more cracks...the more friction. The more friction - the harder it is for you to produce adequate line speed and the more effort will be required to get your fly to the target.
Additionally, those cracks expose the core of the fly line to the water. That core can become saturated and this will cause the fly line to sink. That leads us to our next point...
If you're fishing a sinking or intermediate line, this tip does not apply. However, if you're fishing a floating line, as a general rule, you want the entirety of the fly line to float. When the tip isn't floating, it can really put a cramp in your style. Firstly, if you're fishing dry flies, that sinking tip will start to drag your dry fly across the surface of the water and may even completely submerge your dry fly and transform your dry fly into a wet fly...which as a general rule isn't desirable.
If you're fishing nymphs, a sinking floating section will make it more difficult to apply an effective hookset. The sinking section will experience more drag as you try to pull it through the water and you'll be noticeably late on any strike.
A sinking floating line is definitely a sign that a new fly line is in order.
Most modern fly lines have a small welded loop at their terminal end. This welded loop allows us to attach our tapered leader to the end of the fly line with ease. When that welded loop becomes nicked/cracked or starts to fail it can do two things.
(1) The nick/crack can create abrasions in the end of the leader which can lead to the leader breaking off when tension is applied (i.e. fighting a fish).
(2) A crack near the junction of the welded loop can negatively impact the accurate delivery of your fly to its intended destination. Fly lines and leaders are tapered for a reason. To smoothly transfer energy from the fly rod to the flies themselves and a crack can create an unwanted hinge of sorts that can cause an increase in inaccuracy when casting.
Now, it is 100 percent possible for Trouts or yourself to clip the loop off and create a new welded loop, but every time a new welded loop is put in place, you are eating into the forward taper of the fly line and eventually the fly line will lose it's intended taper and decreased performance will become ever-present.
We hope this helps you get ready for your next trip to the water. If you have any additional questions about fly lines or anything fly fishing, feel free to drop by either locations - Denver & Frisco, give us a shout at 877.464.0034, live chat with us on our website, or shoot us an email.