Turrall Top Tips: How to get the best from your Fly Line

Turrall Top Tips: How to get the best from your Fly Line

Your fly line is one of the most important pieces of fly fishing equipment, so taking care of it should be a part of every fly angler’s maintenance regimen. If you don’t want to buy a new line every season, taking time out to maintain and clean your line after every use will help towards maintaining the optimal working condition and extend the life of your line. This will not only improve the life of the line but increase performance too.  Everyone fishes in different conditions and environments, so use your best judgment to determine how often you should be cleaning or replacing your fly line.

How to get the best from your Cortland Fly Line

Here are a few pointers to keep your line in optimum condition:

  • Always clean the fly line with a conditioner after every fishing trip
  • Always stretch your fly line before you use it.
  • Always examine your fly rod rings for cracks.
  • Always match your rods AFTMA to the correct line AFTMA
  • Always store your fly lines in loose coils
  • Always store your fly lines away from strong heat & light (including leaving in cars)

How do I clean my fly line?

Cleaning your fly line is very important especially when fishing in saltwater. Simply pull the line off your reel into a clean bucket or tub of freshwater. Put roughly 1oz or more of Cortland’s Pro Line Cleaner solution onto a clean rag or towel. Firmly squeeze the towel with Pro Line Cleaner around the line and slowly pull line through the towel. You should be able to see dirt or discoloured streaks on the towel when finished.

Common line issues which may indicate it is time to replace your line:

  • Line cracking especially in the first 40’.
  • Line memory/Stretching of the line.
  • Welded loop issues.
  • Floating tip no longer floats.
  • Rough or lumpy feel to the fly line.
  • Cuts and abrasions along the length of the line.
  • Damage caused by exposure to UV light of excesses in temperature.

Remember failing to maintain your line may also invalidate any warranty claims.

Below we look at some of these issues and how to avoid them.

Line Cracking

Most fly line has an outer PVC coating over an inner core. With age, and after repeated use, that coating can dry out and become brittle. The appearance of small radial cracks in the finished coating are the first visual clue that a line is nearing the end of its useful life. Such cracks occur because the plasticizers in the finished formulation have moved. Put simply, plasticizers are the liquids that hold solids together and provide the suppleness that is so important in fly line performance.

Once cracks appear and water gets in, further deterioration can be quick. The chemical process of movement (or migration) can be accelerated if the surface of the line is exposed to some chemical substances (found in most brands of insect repellent, suntan lotion and petrol, for example). Excessive heat, or prolonged exposure to direct sunlight can also have a detrimental effect. If you need to use liquid insect repellents, be especially careful about handling your line with repellent residue on the palms of your hands. Top tip - use the back of your hands to spread repellent to the neck and face.

Keep your floating fly line clean as microscopic particles of dirt and debris will adhere to its surface, adding weight that may eventually overcome the line’s natural buoyancy. Since it has a thinner coating of the buoyant finishing material than the larger diameter body, the tip of a tapered line will begin sinking first. This tells you it should be cleaned. Even if you think your line is clean it is impossible to determine if the line has picked up particles in even the cleanest of streams and rivers.  By following a good maintenance regime and avoiding bad fishing habits, and if you store the line thoughtfully, a fly line could last for many seasons.

Never ever leave a line-filled fly reel on the dashboard or rear ledge of a car parked in the hot sun. Heat build-up can literally cook the line and start internal plasticizer migration. Visible cracks may not occur right away, but the damage will have been done.

Regularly check you rod guides for wear. Sharp or rough areas on the rings will scuff or cut the surface of a fly line. The line guard area of the reel gets more wear from stripping offline than do the guides. A sharp projection on the reel line guard can slice and ruin a line.

Some fishermen use the "hand twist" retrieve. But this can place an unusual amount of stress on that portion of the line that is handled. Gradually, the part of the line continually squeezed and stretched will break down.

Cracks in the fly line cause two things. First, they create friction which prevents the line from smooth and accurate casting. Second, water seeps in through the cracks and causes the front of the line to sink (if it’s a floating line). If the floating-tip section no longer floats. While some lines can be treated so they’ll float again, once any floating line starts to sink, its days are numbered.

On top of regular cleanings, here are some more things you can do to extend the life of your fly line:

  • Don’t step on it.
  • If fishing saltwater, use a stripping basket and keep the line off the sand as much as possible.
  • Try not to strip your line through vegetation or woody debris.
  • Avoid wind knots and tight coils. They create weak spots.
  • Don’t let your line contact bug sprays, sunblock, or other materials harmful to plastics.

Understanding Fly Line Memory

Line memory is a problem for two reasons: when the line travels through the rod guides during casting, it doesn’t travel in a straight line, and the rubbing of the coils against the guides introduces unwanted friction that means you have to work harder to get line out. This limits your ability to shoot line. Once the line is on the water, it won’t lie straight, so there’s unnecessary slack between you and your fly, which can make setting the hook more difficult. It’s also important to have a straightened line when you’re casting out of a boat because coiled line will tangle more.

What causes a fly line to curl up?

Several factors can cause a fly line to 'curl up'.  Some of the most common factors include:

  1. Improper storage: storing your fly line in a coiled manner for an extended period can cause it to take on that coiled shape.
  2. Temperature: extreme heat or cold can cause your fly line to become stiff and retain its curled shape.
  3. Humidity: humidity can cause your fly line to become sticky, and if it is not stored correctly, it can cause it to curl up.

Although softer lines made for use in temperate climates do have some memory, in many cases, unless the weather is unusually cold, the memory can be “fished” out of the line in the first few casts. If you don’t want to wait, or if the weather is cooler than normal, give the line a quick stretch. And in lines made for the tropics, it’s just about impossible to cast the memory out of the line.

To alleviate the memory, you need to straighten your line by stretching it.

If space is an issue, you can stretch a line strip 3-4 feet of line from the reel and stretch it between your hands. You can pull quite hard. Repeat this process until you have the amount of line you intend to cast stretched straight. Tropical lines fished in cool climates will require a vigorous stretch but will work very well once straight. If you are fishing from a boat, remember to make a clearing cast before you start fishing, the line will be stacked on the deck “upside down” after stretching and will most likely tangle if you don’t rearrange it. Most fly lines will stretch 25-30% before they break but do take care.

If space is not an issue, remove the line from the reel, uncoil it and lay it out straight on the ground. By applying a heat source (hot water or hairdryer) a section at a time. Beware not to overheat the line as this can damage the line. The line will soften.  Take this section in your hands and gently stretch it until it straightens.  Work your way down the line until you have straightened enough for your fishing needs.  Don’t try and stretch the whole line.  Test the line by casting it on the water.  If it is still not straight repeat the process again.

Welded Loop Issues

At the front end of a fly line is usually a level section simply known as the tip. Cortland lines include a welded loop at the end of the tip for attaching a leader of choice. Technology has much improved and most welded loops will remain intact for the life of the fly line. Depending on how often leaders are changed, how leaders are attached,  or even just using the line, this welded loop is usually the first part of a line to show signs of wear. 

The link below demonstrates clearly how leader loops can be attached to welded loops.  Should the knot slip, this could cause a single point of failure and the leader material starts to cut into the welded loop especially through extensive use or stretching.


Life Span

Modern lines for fly fishing have evolved exponentially over decades. But even with the space age materials used in its construction, a fly line is not indestructible. Fly Lines have a lifespan but storing them with dirt and grime will accelerate the time it takes for the line to break down.  It is also fair to say that the more a line is fished the shorter its lifespan.  For this reason it is impossible to offer a line a guaranteed lifespan.

Even if a fly line is properly cared for, the general rule of thumb is that it will need to be replaced after approximately 100-250 uses. This is an arbitrary number, of course, and highly dependent on the conditions in which it is used, and how it was maintained and stored after each use. 

See our Cortland blog on Fly Line preparation and maintenance 2 Preseason Preparation Tips for Fly Line Maintenance – H Turrall & Co Ltd.

It is sometimes misunderstood that issues with fly lines are due to faults in the manufacture of these lines where the truth is often due to the maintenance of the line which is not covered by most manufactures warranties. 

Should there be any faults or defects in the manufacture of workmanship of lines these can usually be identified during the spooling process. When using a line for the first time, slight imperfections, nicks etc can be detected as the line moves through the fingers as it is spooled.  If any defects are detected then it is important that these are reported to the point of purchase straightaway so that they can be looked into.

If the line has been fished warranties are often invalidated at that point as it is not possible to warrant the fishing conditions, environments, ongoing maintenance routines and the storage conditions of the line.  The line is then deemed to have been used for the purpose it was intended for.  Most warranties do not cover damages due to fire, theft, loss, or incidental damages resulting from use of the product.  It is, therefore, important to ensure the line is checked for defects at the first spooling. 

If you look after your fly fishing line you can expect hundreds of hours of use from it.

The above document is an amalgamation of information that is readily available on the internet and plucked from the knowledge of those in the industry. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information. However, all the information is common to all recommendations on how to care and maintain fly lines.

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