Saltwater Fly Fishing In The United Kingdom

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†Fly Line tapers - The Mysteries explained

It is now possible to by a fly line for just about any situation you can think of and then probably a few more you hadn't. There are a huge number of options out there to choose from and hopefully the following article will help lead you through this minefield of information (and sometimes mis-information!)

OK, first of all we have two basic tapers. The Weight Forward and the Double Taper.
The diagram below gives the general outline of each line type.

First of all, lets get some Urban Myths out of the way. A Double taper is not better at delicate presentation than a WF line - It's actuallyworse! Delicate presentation comes from a long front taper. Generally your common or garden DT line actually has a shorter front taper than the respective Weight forward line! Lets take the Cortland 444 as an example. From the Cortland Website we can see that the DT7 floater has the following configuration:

Front Tip 6"
Front Taper 8'
Belly 73'
Rear taper 8'

Whereas the "Rocket" Weight Forward taper has the following:

Front Tip 6"
Front Taper 10'
Belly 22'
Rear taper 6'

So the Weight forward line has a 2 foot longer front taper for more delicate presentation.
This is a trend you will generally find across the board. There are exceptions (aren't there always?) The Rio Classic DT line has a slightly longer taper than the WF Classic but then one only needs to look at some of the other lines in the Riorange to quickly find many WF lines that have a longer front taper.

Next one. If it says #5 on the rod it means #5 on the rod. It doesn't mean a WF5 and a DT6 or a DT5 and a WF6. A 5 weight line weighs the same regardless if it is a DF or a WF at the AFTMA mark (which is 10 yards of line minus the level tip). Even if we start to extend line past this point, Most WF lines have a head of between 12 and 14 meters so you are not going to notice any difference whatsoever in weight until you are holding up around 18 meters of line (and there aren't that many people out there who fish like this on a regular basis).
So if it says #5 or #8 on a rod, it means the same for WF or DT. But then this is sugestive too. The Line is the standard in all of this (unless you have a line that is "outside of the AFTMA system"! More below.) if you happen to think a rod feels better with a different weight line that thats *Your* rod rating. Ther are no rules ouyt there that stop you using a WF6 line on your #5 rod if it feels better *to you*.

Lines that are "outside of the AFTMA system" are a nonsense. Whats' the poiint of having a line that doesn't fit into the system that governs the whole thing? What this basically means is, rods have got stiffer and stiffer and so a beginner may struggle to load (bend) one using the correct line weight. So what they do is give you a 9 weight rod with a #7 rating (because Stiff is Sexy) and then give you a 9 weight line rates as a #7 to bend the thing which is "outside the AFTMA system". Who's kiding who? Just use a softer rod.

Next lets look at general tapers. If we take an average WF line, it will be perfectly able to cope with 99.9% of the tasks required of it during use. It's a general, all-purpose line. Now this is a very handy line to own if you happen to fish in the real world where situations and conditions are constantly changing. However, if you are a fair weather fisherman, you may want to trade in some of the performance features of a general WF line that deal with wind etc and go for something that is exactly suited to the fair weather you tend to fish in more often than not. Alternatively, it may always be windy where you fish so you may want to trade in some of the delicate presentation features of the line for some better suited to casting in a gale.

Here we can choose a line from a vast array of types that are commonly called Wind tapers. Unfortuntely, there are actually two types of Wind taper. The Elongated stepped variety and the really short "positive turnover" variety. Both of which are exactly opposite each other in terms of taper design! How confusing is that?
Below we can see the difference..

Now these work on two completely different principles. If you are a good caster, you'll find that the Stepped Wind taper works well for you. If you aren't, you'll struggle with it and will be better off with the Steep Front taper line, especially when using big flies.
We can see this difference quite clearly in the Rio Bonefish (which is similar to the Windcutter taper) and Tropical Clouser lines, These lines have the exact opposite taper from each other yet are supposed to do the same thing. The advanced caster will get on with the Former and the intermediate caster will get on with the latter.
Rio are not the only ones doing this. Cortland and many others also have tapers that are at either end of the spectrum. The reason for this is that they work with different Physics principles.if you have a good style and hard stop, the Stepped taper design aids your casting style. If you have a less efficient style the Steep front taper design will aid your casting.

Lets look at a range of lines and their tapers, from one extreme to another. Below we can see a range of lines that have radically different profiles.

These lines can all be cast by anyone with a fly rod but their design is meant to highlight particular attributes to help you in certain situations.

Generally, the following rules apply to fly line tapers.
Long front taper = gentle presentation and good turnover. Excellent for roll casting
Short front taper = very positive turnover, good for large flies.
Stepped front taper = Good into the wind for advanced casters.
Long back taper = Easy to overhang (and make long roll casts with)
Very long back taper = Designed for advanced casters to get the very most from the line.

Short back taper = Designed to be shot and not good for overhang.
Long belly = good for aerialising more line. Good for longer roll casts.
Short belly = A shooting head type line, usually has a thinner running line.

Now, we have to realise that the further we get from a standard WF design (12 meter head, 8-10 ft front and back tapers) the less all round useability we have and the more we sacrifice in this area. A Distance line might get you 10% or even 20% further but you can bank on the presentation attributes being reduced as the compromise. A presentation line might get you delicate presentation but it's going to suffer when it comes to carrying larger flies.

The first thing to do when considering your choice of a line is to determine which areas are important to you and which areas you can sacrifice to get more performace in those areas. Knowing the above you should now have a clearer understanding of just what you are giving up when considering an specialist line.

Lets say you are an intermediate caster and want a line that will be great for distance, Ok in a wind and that you will occasionally want to hold a bit more line up with. It is for use with medium size flies. You are therefore looking for a line with a reasonably short front taper, say around 8ft (fine for small and medium flies in a moderate wind). You also want a reasonable rear taper for holding line up so look for a 6-8 ft rear taper or longer) You are also looking for a relatively thin running line. So you can now head off to Google and look through all of the line specifications so see just what suits you.

Now lets say you are a relative beginner who wants a line to get a big fly out in difficult conditions holding up as little line as possible. You are looking for a steep front taper of around 6 ft, you want the weight in the head towards the front (to help with your inefficient casting style see the Wind taper part above). You want a relatively short head because you can't hold up a lot of line and you aren't really in need of a rear taper as such as you aren't going to be holding up much line. So you can now go off and find that line. However. It may be worth remembering that getting a line with a longer back taper will help enormously as you improve your casting so it may be worth buying a lien like this to help in this improvement.

Next lets consider a Mullet fisherman who is looking to cast small flies at spooky mullet in an estuary. He's looking for a line with a long front taper for delicate presentation. He's also looking for roll casting ability as the chances are there'll be running water in the estuary so he can fish Down and Across. He's looking for a line with a good rear taper in case he needs to cast that but further as the mullet move around and he's looking for a line that still has good turnover when the wind comes up. So he goes and finds this line in the specifications on the line manufacturers web sites.

We might have someone who fishes somewhere with a restricted back cast. In this case he is looking for a line with a short head because he simply cannot make a cast with a 12 meter head. So he goes and finds a really short head line with thin running line so he aerialises as little line as possible before shooting. He may also want to consider making the jump to shooting heads. But he would be wise to remember that the shorter the head, the quicker the turnover will be and the less distance he will get.

Generally, the most universal line out there is a long belly Weight Forward line. If restricted to one line for any purpose, choosing a Long belly will see maximum range of applications with minimum compromise. Something with a 14 meter head and 10 ft tapers back and front will give most all round usability. This is handy to know if you haven't got £500 lying around to buy 10 different lines.

And Beware! There are some lines out there that are so specialised they become virtually useless at anything apart from the exact task they are made for. Not only that, they are labelled in such a way as to disguide this fact. I can think of at least two lines that are so different in performance from that which the name suggests they are close to breaking the trades description act! It pays to know what the tapers do so you can suss this out for yourself.

Also, its worth ponting out that the faster the sinking line you use sinks, the less effect tapers are going to have on the line as the less difference there is between belly and tip. This is due to line density Its a lot thinner than the equivalent floater so you can't build in such a difference between belly and tip.. So the differences between different manufactuers sinking lines is far less than the floaters. Becasue of this, you may want to look at other features if sinking lines such as slickness or durability when choosing a line like this.

In all of the above situations a standard WF line will work just fine but a specialist line might just suit a particular situation a little better. They can't perform magic though and there's no substitute for learning to cast more efficiently. Remember, the fly line, rod and leader are only a tool and the more skilled person will be able to use any tool more efficiently than someone who is less skilled. 50 quid spent on a lesson will reap much greater rewards than 50 quid spent on a line

As always, if you have any questions Iím over in the Forum

Tight loops,


Carl Hutchinson

Carl Hutchinson is a qualified instructor with the FFFE and FFFUSA and runs saltwater fly fishing Mullet with He is a member of the board of the British fly Casting Club and has fished extensively in many saltwater locations and specialises in saltwater fly fishing for Salmon in Canada.





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