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Fly Fishing Fly Lines and Backing

History of Fly Lines

The first actual written references to fly lines appeared in the early 1600s, so it is fair to assume they had been around for a while before then. They were made from twisted and braided horse hair and pretty much even thickness, rudimentary Double Taper types. By the early 1800s, silk strands were mixed with the horse hair and presumably oiled as a first attempt at getting some to float.

During the 19th Century, oil-finished silk had largely replaced horse hair and they had acquired improved ‘tapered’ ends as far as the then technology allowed.

Towards the end of that century, the first ‘Weight Forward’ profiles had also become available. Finer quality silk lines persisted right up to the 1930’s, but it wasn’t until 1949, when ‘PVC’ appeared that a good potential coating over a separate core became possible.

In the 50’s and 60’s, Dacron became a reliable core and with the advances in PVC there was literally a revolution in fly line production and variety.

In this present day, the very latest improvements in materials and manufacturing technology allow fly lines, profiles tapers and densities to be made for practically every location, depth, conditions and species.


AFTM # Line Weight Rating System

This is basically a numbering system developed by the American Fishing Tackle Manufacturer’s Association (hence AFTM) to attempt to match the ‘weight’ of the first 30ft or so of a specific fly line to a suitable fly rod such that the matching line would be heavy enough to ‘load’ the spring/leverage of the rod in order to make an efficient cast.

The result is that all fly lines have an AFTM # Number between about #2 and #12. Example #6.

All fly rods similarly have an AFTM # No. stamped on the rod which is the manufacturer’s intention that this rod will need, say, an AFTM #6 Fly Line to make the rod cast efficiently.

It is only a guide. It is much misunderstood, but if it wasn’t there your casting and temper would definitely be worse than even you could imagine!

We suggest you always purchase fly lines of the same AFTM # No as your fly rod.


Fly Line Profiles

There are essentially 3 Types or Profiles of fly lines:

Double Taper Fly Lines

Some anglers mis-interpret the exact meaning of ‘double-taper’ as applied to fly lines. They do not actually taper continuously from one end to the middle, then back again to the other end. Double Taper lines are the same thickness for most of their length but at each end, (over approx. 10ft/3m), they gradually taper down to a thinner, level tip to make it easier to attach thin leaders and tippets.

Weight Forward Fly Lines

A Weight Forward (WF) fly line is essentially thicker and thus has more of its weight in the front half of the line than the back half. The thinner back half is often referred to as the ‘running line’.

The front or ‘forward’ section is usually referred to as the ‘Head’ and it too can vary in shape, tapering up from the rear running line to a thicker middle, or ‘Belly’ and then tapering down to a thinner level tip at the very front of the line, similar to that on a double taper fly line.

The actual combinations of the front and rear tapers, thickness, belly, etc., can now be varied for loads of different fishing situations, conditions and species and for specific fly rods

‘Shooting Head’ Fly Lines

Are really just the Head Sections of normal fly lines attached to very thin backing as a means to reduce the friction of the running line and thus be able to cast further. This does not always work and can result in some serious tangles!

Shooting Head Sets are available where you can purchase a length of separate, thin Running Line with factory-formed, integral Loops and which will allow you to attach a variety of Floating, Int., Sinking, etc., ‘Shooting Heads’ .

Many modern Short Head ‘Distance’ WF lines will do the job a lot easier.

Fly Line Densities

Within the two principle profiles, there are various densities of fly lines for fishing at different depths of water and locations:

FLOATING Fly Lines – are produced by extruding a high grade PVC coating onto a light density core which altogether has a combined density lower than the specific gravity of water so they float on the surface!

In the manufacturing process, the size, type and quantity of air bubbles incorporated into the PVC as it cures can be varied which will in turn vary the degree of ‘floatability’ of the line.

INTERMEDIATE Fly Lines – are intended to Sink but fairly slowly. They are also composed of PVC coatings on a separate core but some form of ‘heavier’ particles or higher density PVC is incorporated into the coating to make the line slightly heavier than the S.G of water so these lines sink at pre-determined rates measured in Inches Per Second or ‘IPS’ or ‘Type 2’.

Intermediate Lines generally sink at rates from say 1 inch per sec 1IPS – 3IPS.

By ‘counting’ the seconds down, an angler can thus gauge approx.. how deep the line sinks and thus ascertain the depth where the fish are holding at that time..

SINKING Fly Lines – are made in the same way as Intermediates but simply contain heavier particles or higher density PVC and so Sink at a quicker rate to get down to deeper fish.

Typical Sink Rates are in the range 3IPS – 5IPS.

FAST SINKING Fly Lines – are as they imply and in the approx. rates of 6IPS – 9IPS.

They are actually sometimes thinner than their Intermediate and Sinking counterparts as they may be made with Tungsten or similar very high density materials which do not rely on extra bulk to achieve faster sink rates. (Note - Some of these FS lines are not much thicker than ‘wire’ and you need to take care that the excessive pressure and friction during casting isn’t damaging your rod rings).

SINK TIP Fly Lines – are one of the more recent innovations where line manufacturing technology has allowed a Sinking Density Coating to be seamlessly bonded to the front section whilst a Floating Line is being extruded. Most of the line will thus Float and be easily cast and controlled, but the Sinking Tip just sinks below the surface to where the fish may be.

The length of this Tip can vary from say 3ft to 15ft, so too can the Colour as well as the Sink Rate. These lines are highly versatile, and hugely popular for ‘nymphing’ fish just below the surface.


Backing Line for Fly Fishing

Fly line backing is installed on a fly reel before your actual fly line, which is then attached to the backing and then wound onto your reel. There are TWO particular reasons for using Backing:

1. The spools of many fly reels had, and many still do, a fairly small diameter ‘spindle’ and if you were to wind a fly line onto such a small diameter, the actual fly line can acquire some tight ‘memory’ coiling which can prevent the line from laying out nice and straight when it is cast.

The addition of backing line increases the effective diameter, so when the fly line is attached and wound on, it is not so tightly coiled and so less likely to suffer from ‘memory’ coils.

2. If you are fortunate enough to hook a large fish, it could be powerful enough to simply head off and take ALL your (30yd) fly line before you have chance to slow it down or stop it.

So, the additional length of another 50-100yds or more of Backing Line literally gives you a fighting chance to play the fish properly until it is to hand!

The modern designs of Mid and Larger Arbour Reels have much larger diameter spindles and centres which effectively reduces the above coiling tendency and thus the need for lots of backing.

What Sort of Backing?

If you are fishing in ‘small’ locations such as streams, small rivers and smaller lakes, etc., where there are few ‘snags’, there will be no real need for loads of nor high-tech backing and so any good, rot-proof backing will do. It is essentially there to pad out your spools.

Lureflash Twisted Terylene Backing is super value and Rot-Proof.

Lureflash Braided Mono Backing is hollow and can also be used to make leader loops.

Leeda Profil Braided Backing on 100m spools is also woven and a very good choice.

If you are fishing for larger, more aggressive, more toothy species, and/or where there are more snags such as rocks, coral, etc., then a good amount of high quality, thin diameter, abrasive resistant backing is the order of the day. Wychwood Truefly Backing is a good quality braided Dacron.

Ron Thompson Energiser Braided Dacron Backing is also an excellent choice.

So too is Scierra Braided Dacron.