Turrall Top Tips: A Rough Guide to Fly Lines

Turrall Top Tips: A Rough Guide to Fly Lines

Selecting the right fly line for your style of fishing is not always as straightforward as it seems. The right choice, however, could make all the difference between a greatsession and a dry net. Here are a selection of golden rules, tips and recommendations to literally set you off on the right lines…

Ok, so they are not quite as sexy as rods, reels or the latest artificial flies, but your fly line itself is among the most important bits of fly fishing gear. These days there are more types than ever, which gives the angler great choice but can be a tad confusing. So where should you start? This month’s article presents a simple guide to clear up some of the most common questions, including which lines to use and how much you should expect to spend.

Which weight class of line should I start with?

In simple terms, fly lines get thicker and heavier the higher the number. Obviously you will need to match fly lines to your rod and reel- and as a good general rule a six or seven weight is ideal for general stillwater trout fishing. For fishing streams and rivers, or dry flies, a four or five weight would be more suitable, as wild fish or those feeding at the surface tend to be more spooky and a lighter line makes less disturbance as it lands. Of course, at the extremes, you could also pack a two weight for a tiny stream, or perhaps a nine or ten for a shot at big predators. These are more expert fields, however, requiring more specialised fly lines.

TIP: Some rods have a “between” rating for lines, say “6/7” or “4/5”. Using the higher of the recommended line ratings will tend to “load” the rod better and be easier to cast, particularly for shorter deliveries.

Floating fly lines

First up, floating fly lines are the standard choice of most anglers. Some regulars never use much else, which is fine if, for example, you only fish local, relatively shallow stillwaters. The “floater” is also the main choice for small rivers. These are often brightly coloured, which helps you pick out the line on the surface and spot bites.

In general terms, you may not need much else for smaller stillwaters, where the depths never get very great. Should you want to fish deeper, you can do so with a longer leader or a heavier fly, too, much of the time.


For the newcomer or angler on a budget, the Fairplay Floating Line offers great reliability for under £30 from world  leading fly line company Cortland.

Weight forward (WF) or Double Taper (DT) line?

You will also find that these fly lines come in two main categories. What’s the difference? Well, weight forward lines tend to have a bigger taper towards the front and are the most common option. These are the easiest to cast and the best choice for the beginner or regular fly angler. 

Double taper lines tend to have a gentler gradient, but have a thicker profile at each end of the line, meaning that they can be reversed after a certain time, to extend the life of your fly line. They are especially popular with river anglers and those regularly casting shorter, lighter lines.

TIP: Apply a little line management! It’s amazing how badly some anglers treat their fly lines, which are easily stepped on or made dirty! Where possible try to avoid this scenario by dropping your line down onto soft grass- or the head of your landing net. It’s also worth cleaning your lines periodically in warm water- but avoid using detergents that can degrease floating lines and make them prone to sinking.

Intermediate Fly Lines

Intermediate fly lines will cut through a ripple nicely and keep your flies slightly deeper, should the fish be further down on the day. 

Ok, so in an ideal world, we could always count on fish rising or cruising within reach. But what happens when they are lying just a bit deeper, or that floating line isn’t so effective? Slow sinkers or “intermediate” fly lines are the answer. These have several advantages. Besides getting flies down deeper, they also get beneath any surface ripple for greater control on windy days. Furthermore, they will allow you to keep your wet flies and lures the right depth better than the floater. Why? Well, even if you let your offerings sink right down on a floating line, the act of retrieving will tend to pull them back towards the surface.

TIP: How many fly lines do I really need?! Competition anglers can carry a huge range of fly lines, but most of us will survive with far fewer. If you had to pick just three however, the best idea would be a floater, an intermediate and a fast sinker. With those three, you can cover just about any common depth or scenario. “Cassette” style reels with extra spools are a good idea for anyone who likes to carry more than one different option and change quickly. 

Sinking fly lines

Turrall’s Gary Pearson has this reservoir fish on a bitterly cold day. A sinking line and a buoyant fly were the successful combination.

Although they’re not always needed, sinking lines can be indispensable for deeper waters and low lying fish that you struggle to reach with other lines. You’ll find them in “Di” ratings, from “Di-3” right down to a Cortland’s “Di-9” –one of the fastest sinking fly lines ever made! This number simply refers to the sink rate in inches per second. By and large, these dense lines are thinner and not quite as nice to cast as floaters. They do a good job of cutting through wind though and will quickly get your flies down in the water column. In particular, anyone who regularly fishes a water with depths of well over 12ft (4m) will find a fast sinker very handy. On even the worst days, from bank or boat, a rapid sinker along with a short leader and Booby patterns is a deadly combination.

TIP: No thanks for the “memory” With use and abuse, or indeed fly line sitting on reel for long periods, you might find that coils form and the line can get tangled (anglers call these warps in the line “memory”). It’s a good idea to spend five minutes giving your line some TLC before you fish. Carefully stretching it between the fingers, especially the final yards, will help remove some of the “memory”.  You might also want to treat the final few feet of a floating line with a smear of Mucilin- this will help it float crisply and show bites better.

Specialist fly lines

Before we wrap up our brief look at fly lines, it’s also worth mentioning some common variants and special lines that crop up. For example, some lines straddle the gaps between classes and can be very useful indeed. “Midge tip” style lines combine a floating main section with a clear sinking tip, for example- brilliant for getting down a little to the fish or countering breezy waters without going for a full intermediate or sinker.

Lines such as the “Ghost Tip” neatly fill the gaps between line classes. For other branches of fly fishing, different weapons entirely are sometimes required. That’s another story altogether- for example, much heavier lines are specifically aimed at throwing streamers and other big flies for pike and predatory fish, while others are aimed at saltwater use or extremes of climate and the extra strains these bring.

How much should I spend on a fly line?

Fly lines from basic to best in show (above L to R): The amazing value Fairplay, at under £30, followed by the incredibly popular 444 Range and Cortland’s Competition Series.

Before we go into all kinds of specialist lines, one key aspect is how much you might want to spend on a fly line. The short answer to this is that it depends on your experience level. The often cited advice to worry less about the reel and invest in a quality line still rings true for most of us- but you needn’t spend an arm and a leg to get a really excellent line these days.

BASIC LINES: For those who are beginners or improving fly anglers, or simply working to a tighter budget, you needn’t head straight for the mill ends or bargain bin. It’s possible to get a decent line without breaking the bank. You won’t get a specialist or extreme distance line, but the likes of the Fairplay Range from Cortland allows you to put out a very tidy cast for under £30.

MID RANGE & HIGHER QUALITY LINES: For fly anglers who can already cast a reasonable distance and are looking to add a yard or two to their cast, it is well worth spending in the region of £50 to £70 on a fly line. This is good value for several seasons of use- and that extra quality is worth every penny. In this respect, ranges like our 444 selection cast beautifully and provide specialist options, too, such as super fast sinking performance you won’t find at the budget end. 

EXPERT & SPECIALIST LINES: Last but not least, we also have those lines at the top end of the market or filling a very specific niche. If you want to squeeze every last inch from your casting ability, for example, or tackle saltwater fish with brute power, fly lines go right up to and over £90. Again, it might seem steep- but if you are in a big competition or attached to a giant permit or tarpon, the investment is well worth it!

Check out all our Premium Cortland Fly Line for more.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.