Switching Fly Lines When Fly Fishing

Picture the scenario: you are standing on the bank of your favourite Trout stillwater, fishing with what you believe is the right fly line for the job - in this case a weight forward floating fly line - but there are a couple of guys fishing either side of you catching fish. You kindly ask what they are catching them on and they happily share this information. 'A Diawl Bach mate,' replies the gentleman to your right, 'about 4ft down.' Confused and frustrated, you realise that you actually have the same fly on your leader as the guys at either side of you, however, being the highly perceptive fly fisherman that you are, you further notice that your contemporaries don’t have a long, bright green or orange fly line in front of them. They are fishing a sinking line. In that moment you realise that you only have one fly line handy, the weight forward floater because you believed that was the only line you would ever need.

This is an all too common scenario, particularly with beginner fly fishermen. As you start out, you are told you only need a 9.6ft for a #7 fly rod, so you go out a buy a fly rod at this recommended length and a nice weight forward 7 fly line. This is perfectly suitable when you are learning to cast and fish for Trout but as you develop as a fly angler, you realise that having minimal kit is restricting. Conditions change, fish behaviour can be unpredictable, there may not be any visible fly activity or there may be conditions unique to the particular water you are fishing. In reality there are a multitude of variables you need to contend with but if you have a range of fly lines at your disposal, you can significantly increase your chances.

Advantages of Having Multiple Fly Lines

The solution is to have a selection of fly lines available so you can adapt to the conditions you are presented with when you arrive at your venue. Additionally, if you do your homework by researching the water you are fishing, find out what the top patterns are, how deep the water is, ask the fishery manager some questions prior to your visit and prepare accordingly, you can increase your chances. This approach alone can make the difference between a blank day and a successful one. Therefore in terms of fly lines, having a floating fly line, an intermediate fly line, a Di3 or 4 sinking fly line and a sink tip fly line will give you many options when you need to adapt your tactics to the conditions in hand.

When to Switch Fly Lines

Having a selection of fly lines is one thing however being able to 'assess' the water will determine which fly line you will ultimately choose. Typically when you arrive at your chosen venue, and you have done your homework, the first line you might pull out is an intermediate fly line because the fishery manager suggested that if the wind strength increases, the Trout like to cruise about a couple of feet below the surface scooping up black buzzers. So you follow this advice: you set up your fly rod, attach your fly reel and swap the floating line that was on the reel with your spare spool containing the intermediate. Lastly you attach your fly leader and fly - a black emerger as recommended by the fishery manager. You cast a nice long line, the leader turns over nicely and with it being an intermediate line, it slowly slips below the wave at around 1- 2 inches per second. You start your retrieve, a slow figure of eight with intermittent twitches to simulate the fly's natural behaviour and to stimulate a Trout to take. Suddenly after about 20 seconds of retrieving you feel a sudden pull in the line as it quickly straightens out and the lined shoots through your fingers – fish on!

 'The fishery manager was right,' you think to yourself and you are rewarded with a lovely 3lb Trout in great condition. As you safely return the fish to the water and continue to fish, suddenly the wind drops and fish start head and tailing on the surface of the water feeding on buzzers trapped in the surface film. Your knowledge and experience kicks in and you realise it's time to swap the intermediate fly line back to your floating fly line because it's turned into a classic CDC situation. So you make the necessary change and swap lines, change your fly fishing leader for a long knotless tapered job – which you de-grease - and attach a Fulling Mill Palomino Black CDC. Again, after one cast – BAM!  A Trout comes up and gently sips your black CDC off the surface and you quickly respond with a calm, controlled lift of your fly rod. Fish on, again! At the back of you mind you are thinking 'Im so glad I invested in a a few lines.'

Switching Fly Lines Infographic

Granted, these are just two typical scenarios: a bit of a wave and a flat calm but having the right lines gives you the ability to adapt and get your fly into the right position, either just under the surface or right on the surface. Ultimately though, not all Trout waters are the same. Sometimes you may find yourself trying loads of different flies and you may have swapped your fly line a few times and still no fish to show for it; sometimes fish are just out-with your casting range; you may be fishing from a boat into the margins with a Sink Tip Fly Line, or from a dam wall with a Di7 fly line; fish may be pre-occupied with a specific fly species and regardless of how many times you present your fly in the right position, you just can't entice them. It's your knowledge and experience, coupled with the right fly fishing equipment, which increases the probability of having what you define as a successful day.

It's not always about just the Fly Lines

The challenge is when you've followed all the advice, you're carrying all the essential fly lines, you've read the water and have the right flies at your disposal however this proves fruitless. This situation requires a little imagination with your fly fishing gear and a great question to ask yourself is 'what if.' 'What if I add a polyleader to my floating fly line,' or 'what if I put a suspender buzzer on the point and a very slim size 16 buzzer on a dropper 4 feet from the point fly?' It's thinking outside the box and stumbling upon a specific tactic or rig which may prove to be successful when ultimately you've matched the hatch or followed everything by the book. The Trout have probably seen it all before therefore presenting them with something completely novel and inventive can make the difference.

Therefore let's revisit our opening scenario, but this time you are prepared: you have a range of fly lines, load of flies, spools of fluorocarbon tippet of varying breaking strains and a little imagination. You switch from floating fly line to a sinker and fish the same fly, a Diawl Bach, and you catch a couple of fish. But after fifteen or so minutes the takes dry up and your fellow anglers are facing the same situation because you've not noticed any fly rods bending for a while. However this time you are more perceptive: 'is it possible the takes are drying up because the fish are sick of seeing Diawl Bachs,' you ask yourself?  Another possibility: 'could the fish be spooked by the constant fishing pressure?' Ultimately you decide to move to the opposite bank and fish a sink tip fly line with a single Pheasant Tail Fly. The result? You are looking across at the opposite bank where the anglers have chosen to stay and continue using the same tactics, but now they are looking across and seeing your fly rod bent over 4 or five times. Why? You are thinking outside the box!

It's so easy to be complacent and falsely believe in, too much, what others are using and not willing to break free from your comfort zone. Yes the tried and tested tactics work up to a point but what happens then? How are you going to adapt and start catching again? Don't be afraid to experiment because you may just stumble upon a technique that's unique but highly successful, and having the right fly lines at your disposal gives you that flexibility. Tight Lines.