Begin Saltwater Fly Fishing - Part 2: Fly Lines

Saltwater fly fishing is becoming increasingly popular these days. Its allure is in its simplicity, and an increasing number of anglers are expanding their repertoire of skills and giving it a go. In this series of articles, we will be helping you get into "swiffing" (saltwater fly fishing) by discussing everything you need for a successful days fishing in UK waters. In part 1, we discussed saltwater fly rods. In this part, we discuss saltwater fly lines and explain concepts such as 'line density,' 'weight forward,' line weights and identification.

So now you understand everything you need to know about Saltwater fly rods, it’s now time to choose a fly line – which may seem weird if you are a shore angler who is used to fine braids or mono. A Saltwater fly line, in contrast, is short, very thick and tapered to distribute the ‘weight’ of the line along its length and to give it particular casting characteristics. Ultimately, it is the weight of the fly line, in conjunction with your casting stroke, which bends the rod and propels the fly.

Hardy Coastal Flats Series Fly Line
The fly line is attached to backing - usually, braid - which sits on the Saltwater fly reel. Fly lines may seem expensive for what they are, but let go of your preconceptions for a moment. This isn’t just 30-40 yards of high-tech string, but a precision-engineered product, as vital as the rod itself. Indeed, think of it as an extension of the fly rod. It’s also very strong, so there’s no fear of breaking it while playing a fish.

The best advice is not to scrimp on your fly line. A good one can make your swiffing (saltwater fly fishing) a whole lot easier, and if properly looked after, it should last you many years. At the business end of the fly line, a short length (usually 9-14ft) of clear tapered nylon or fluorocarbon leader is attached, terminating in the fly itself.

Airflo Polyfuse XT 40+ Sniper
As discussed in part 1, if you have a #8 saltwater fly rod, you will need a #8 line to go with it. However, beyond the weight, there are a few more decisions to make about the line. When you look at the labelling you will find some additional information. First, there are some letters in front of the weight, ‘WF’ for example. This describes the general taper pattern of the line and stands for ‘Weight Forward’. This line has the weight concentrated towards the front (or ‘head’), which helps to load the rod more quickly without having to aerialise too much of it during casting.

Secondly, the ‘belly’ is the middle section of the line, and the thinner diameter back-end of a WF is called the ‘running line’. Another type to watch out for is a DT, which stands for ‘Double Taper’. Here we find an even taper on both ends, effectively making it reversible. However, for swiffing, it is predominantly WF lines that you need to give you that all-important cast-ability.

Guideline Coastal Fast Intermediate Fly Line
Most fly lines, not all, are manufactured with a core of braided nylon.  The core is then coated with PVC, or in some cases, Polyurethane which has been treated with various substances to deliver the appropriate buoyancy.

What depth to fish at?
So, we’ve got so far as ‘WF8, but there’s more. Fly lines come in different densities too, which basically controls their buoyancy. As in any lure fishing, you need to be able to deliver your imitation to wherever the fish are in the water column.  Lures usually come in different weights which allow them to sink to the appropriate depth.

In contrast, saltwater flies will incorporate a little weight (or buoyancy) to help them get to where you want them, but it is principally the fly line that does that. The basic types are Floating, Intermediate, Sink-tip, and Sinking. Floating and Sinking is obvious, although Sinking goes further, with gradings according to their speed of descent. These gradings are in inches-per-second of sink rate, such as di5, di7, allowing you to count down to the depth you want to fish.

Using A Stripping Basket
Intermediate lines offer neutral buoyancy and ‘hang’ in the water below the surface, in reality, sinking very slowly. Sink tips are a combination, usually having a floating head but with an end section (often clear) that is intermediate/sinking. The letters at the end of the line code correspond to its density, so F for floating, S for sinking, I for intermediate, and F/I or F/S for a sink-tip.

For most shallow water UK shore swiffing, a floating or intermediate fly line is sufficient, and certainly best for Mullet and Bass. As time goes on you may well add to your collection to give you more versatility, allowing you to cover those deep, clear rock marks as well.  Your chosen venues will dictate what is most suitable.The colour of fly lines vary from clear (usually intermediate lines) to Day-Glo greens, oranges and yellows. This is more to help you see the line when fishing and casting, and indeed where swiffing is concerned, you don’t need to fear a bright colour.

Saltwater Fly Fishing From Rocks
If you are serious about saltwater fly fishing, and want to protect your fly line from getting damaged or snagged, then a stripping basket or line tray is a very useful piece of kit. The tide can carry loose coils of line away which can be inconvenient when playing a fish. When using a sinking line, a stripping basket will keep your line above water allowing you to cast and shoot line without obstruction.

FutureFly Coastal Line Basket
So to conclude, your best bet is to start with a saltwater-classed WF8F. Saltwater-classed? Well yes...partly this is tuned for buoyancy, and partly it’s a specific type of taper at the front end to be able to cope with heavier flies. Avoid ‘warm water’ or ‘tropical’ lines, which are for hot climates.

In part 3 we will be discussing fly reels, and other essentials for saltwater fly fishing.

If you would like some more advice about getting into saltwater fly fishing and choosing the right gear etc, don't hesitate to give us a call on 0141 212 8880.  Alternatively, you can visit us instore at Glasgow Angling Centre, or Edinburgh Angling Centre if you are through in the East.

This article was brought to you in association with Sea Angler Magazine.