Saltwater Fly Fishing In The United Kingdom

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UKSWFF Floating Line Test

We asked several line manufacturers to supply a selection of their line that they thought were suitable for saltwater fly fishing in UK waters. They happily obliged and as we test more lines we'll add them to the review below so you can see the direct comparisons.

Due to UK waters usually being a bit on the chilly side, the lines had to perform well in temperatures that would see Brass monkeys wearing extra underwear. So we contacted various manufacturers and asked for the lines they thought would suit the job. I also included the lines I personally use for my own SW fly fishing.

The lines that were tested are as follows.
Cortland 444SL (8 weight)
Masterline Powerhead (7 weight)
Vision Extreme distance (pre changes, see below) (7 weight)
Rio Accelerator X (8 weight)
Rio Accelerator (8 weight) (late arrival)
Rio Steelhead and Atlantic Salmon. (7 weight)

The lines were rated for all round user friendliness, suitability for purpose, Memory, casting ability, fishing ability, distance, ease of casting, feel, smoothness (so they don't wear your skin off when stripping all day) and a whole host of other criteria in an effort to find the best all round line for fishing in the UK salty stuff.

So, Ignoring the marketing for a moment, and the incessant drive for more and more specialist lines we needed a benchmark to work from and for comparison to. This took shape in my own 444SL line that, having tried lots of lines, became my standard SW fly line, especially the ghost tip version.

So how did they compare?

Length.

The 444SL is one of the longer lines on the market at 32 meters and this is one of the reasons I choose to use it. If you cast a long way and have a fish take immediately, I don't really want to be striking that fish using the backing, mainly because I like the skin on my fingers. So how do they compare?
Line Length
444SL 32 meters
Masterline Powerhead 35 meters
Vision Extreme Distance 35 meters (now 30 meters)
Rio Accelerator X 30.5 meters
Rio Accelerator 30.5 meters
Rio Steelhead and Atlantic Salmon 33.5 meters

Tapers.
The lines can be split into two camps. The long belies and the short bellies. The Vision Extreme distance had a short head and a thin running line so they are designed so that a minimal amount is aerialised and then a lot is shot. The others are long bellies and designed so a lot is aerialised and a little (relatively) shot.

Looking at the lines this becomes quite clear from the taper profiles.

Line Taper description Head Length
444SL Long belly WF 14.8 meters
Masterline Powerhead. (Same taper as 444SL wind taper) Very long belly WF with stepped front taper 14 meters (seems longer)
Vision Extreme Distance Short head with long front taper and thin running line 12 meters
Rio Accelerator Long belly with stepped front taper 14.6 meters
Rio Accelerator X Long belly with stepped front taper 14.6 meters
Rio Steelhead and Atlantic Salmon Very long belly WF with very short front taper. (bullet taper) 20.3 meters


Weights
The First 10 yards of each line were weighed and the results noted. The weights of each are below and the equivalent real AFTMA rating is in brackets

LineWeight of 10 yardsWeight of whole head
Cortland 444SL #814 grams (8 weight)22 grams (11 weight)
Masterline Powerhead#7 14 grams (8 weight)22 grams (11 weight)
Vision Extreme Distance #712 grams (7 weight)18 grams (10 weight)
Rio Accelerator X #8 14 grams (8 weight)22 grams (11 weight)
Rio Accelerator #814 grams (8 weight) 22 grams (11 weight)
Rio Steelhead and Atlantic Salmon #712 grams (7 weight)26 grams (13 weight)


Memory
Next it was time to spool the lines up and check for memory. This was done before and after a stretch. On the day of testing it was cold and windy and this would emphasise the memory in the lines should it be present.
This was given a rating between 1 and 10. 1 being a spring and 10 being memory free. It noted that some of the lines are stiff by nature to aid shooting and this was left and this is the separate suppleness score. These were rated from one to 10. 1 being like a stick. 10 like a piece of braid.

LineBefore stretchingAfter stretchingSuppleness
Cortland 444SL5/108/105
Masterline Powerhead5/105/105
Vision Extreme Distance8/10 10/108
Rio Accelerator8/109/108
Rio Accelerator X4/107/104
Rio Steelhead and Atlantic Salmon (S and AS)7/109/108

Casting.
So now we get to the important bit. How they cast.
Going back to the increasing specialisation of fly lines for a moment and their move away from the standard WF design (such as the peach 444 and the Rio Classic), the more specialised you make a fly line the more limited to that use it becomes. The Classic WF design is perfectly suitable for all kinds of fishing and there in lies its strength. It will handle 99% of the conditions we fish in admirably but may suffer in the one particular area where than specialist line excels (big flies into the wind, shooting distances, long roll casts, etc). However, the specialist line may excel and be easier to use in these situations (only by about 10-20%) but it will suffer because of its specialised nature for everything else. The further we move away from the standard WF profile, the more the line lacks all round usability.

Anyway, I started off with the 444SL, followed by the Vision Extreme Distance, The Rio accelerator X and the standard Accelerator and finally the Rio S and AS. The Standard accelerator arrived late and has been worked into the test below.
Here's how it went...

Ease of casting.
If you are an absolute beginner (and I mean just having picked up a fly rod) the Vision Extreme Distance is the easiest line to cast. You only have to aerialise 12 meters of line before shooting and due to the thin running line it flies a very ling way. Next was the 444SL due to its slick coating (more on this later) so when shot, even with the head still in the rod, it still shoots well. Finally we have the Powerhead and the Rio accelerators. There was no more that 20% between them all but that's how the differences feel. A beginner may struggle to get some of the longer heads out of the rods before shooting but the slickness of all of these lines will see them shoot well.

Intermediate and Advanced casting.
This changed things a lot. The caster who can aerialise a lot of line and has good loop shape will see the differences between the lines in a totally different way. When casting, there are various traits in a fly line that make it do different things in the air (of course, that's why there are so many tapers and designs) The higher the line's AFTMA rating the more pronounced the difference in tapers is. Let's run through a few. OK, for casting big flies we require a fairly thick front to the line. This is required so enough energy transfer can be made to turn over the big flies. This doesn't necessarily mean *all* the weight has to be at the front! Next the tapers affect the rate at which the loop unfurls in the air and the shorter and thicker the taper the more positive the turnover will be. This applies to back tapers as well as front tapers. If you make the back taper of the fly line too short you get a kick at the back of the head just like a short taper at the front kicks.

I'm used to casting the Cortland 444SL and find it a very nice line to use. The tapers are just right, not too extreme and this makes it an even better all round line that the WF classic design because the longer head allows the line to be roll cast longer distances without the detracting from the overall performance. So the 444SL is excellent. Nice smooth predictable loops with no kick and smooth energy transfer for even the biggest flies.
Next is the Powerhead (made by Cortland). This is a very nice progressive taper that again doesn't hold any surprises. It has fabulous turn over even if you happen to mess up the cast. It's an excellent long distance roll casting line (more below). Again, this is a two tone line with the head being red and the running line being yellow (this should have been reversed in my opinion). Unfortunately, the yellow running line has an affinity for the dye in the red head and this gets transferred to the running line quite easily when the line is on the reel. Not good. The running line on this line is quite thick and it's surprising how far this line can be cast despite this. The thick running line makes it very easy to overhang the head on this line if required and unusually the colour change for the head is at the *top* of the rear taper and not the bottom where it should be for perfect release. The line roll cast and overhead cast perfectly with an extra 3 meters of the yellow out because this was still on the rear taper of the line.

Then came the Vision Extreme (made by Cortland). I have the previous version of this line which has a *very* thin running line. This is excellent for aerialising the head and then just letting go for very long casts. This has been chanced on the later lines due to people standing on the thin version and the line snapping. This is a shame because this line was excellent. It also flies in the face of convention because running lines of this thickness usually make the lines impossible to overhang. However, with this line it is very easy to overhang the head if required. Strange, but true. This could be because the head has a very nice back taper that allows nice smooth energy transfer. The new thicker running line version has a special section for hauling on so you get the timing right for release. A good idea. This is basically a point and shoot line that can be cast a very long way just by getting the head out of the tip and letting go.

We then come on to the new Rio Accelerator designed as their replacement for the (absolutely fantastic and sorely missed) Longcast lines. The thinking on this one is that by putting the weight at the back of the head this delays turn over so the head flies further before unfurling extending the shoot (the opposite of the Precision taper in fact) Sadly, there's not a lot of use for the X version in the UK as it is designed for warm waters (27 to 38 degrees C and we don't really get close to that in the UK. In fact, we have more chance of icebergs!) The standard green version faired a lot better. Upon casting it, it was a great line that had positive turnover. Another great roll casting line. However, like a lot of the stepped Rio lines it has a propensity to wrinkle on the top leg of the loop once the loop point passes the step in the taper. This is inherent in quite a few of Rio's lines and is due to the abrupt change of direction in the front of the loop when casting tight loops. Once the loop is opened up the problem disappears. It was also good to see that this line didn't have the other problem some of Rio lines suffer from and that is a kick at the back of the rear taper when overhanging the lines. Some of the Rio lines have too short a rear taper for the weight at the back of the head and this can unbalance the loop. The rear taper on this line is only 50 cm longer than that of the Bonefish line that suffers from this so maybe it starts at about the 3 meter mark. The Lumalux 8 weight with bullet taper was especially bad for this. It seems to be an idiosyncrasy of a short rear taper and a lot of weight at the back of the head.

Finally we come to the Rio Steelhead and Atlantic Salmon line. This is an extremely long bellied weight forward line and is fantastic at long distance roll casting having the same characteristics of a DT line up to about 20 meters. The only downfall of this line (and technically it's not because it's a design feature) is the bullet taper up front. Again, it's just too extreme. It's an excellent line for really large flies and if this is all you cast then this line is fantastic for this. But if you happen to want a small fly the turnover is a little too positive and the tip kicks. Adding a really long and really fat tapered leader helps but it doesn't cure it. This is definitely not a line for mullet. For 5" flies it's a struggle to find a better roll casting line.

Roll casting

The Standard 444SL is excellent at roll casting even when up to a meter off the back of the rear taper. It will turn over very well.

However, the stepped profile of the Powerhead makes this even better again. Unfortunately, Cortland decided to make the coating on the 444SL wind taper equivalent to 800 grade sandpaper so the great taper is let down by the rough surface. So this is the only line where this excellent taper is available in a useable form. Why the 444SL Wind taper isn't the same beautiful, smooth coating of the 444SL I have no idea why.
The Powerhead can effortlessly handle roll casting well up to 4 or even 5 meters past the end of the red section of the line.

The Vision Extreme distance struggles over 12 meters but comes into its own when Switch casting (unlike the Precision line which fails miserably at that too). It is possible to shoot 10 meters in the cast with ease.

Both the Accelerator standard and X are great roll casting lines due to the long front taper.They can handle anything up to 16 meters and still give good turnover.

And there's not a lot that needs to be said for the longest head on test. With the Rio S & AS roll casts of up to 20 meters were possible. Mending in a rip tide when fishing dead drift would also be also excellent.

Slickness.
All of the lines were slick in a way but the 444SL was by far the slickest. Slickness is not just about shooting performance, it's also about wearing grooves in your sea water softened fingers after a full day of stripping. The Powerhead was also a slick line but for some reason felt sticky when drawn through the fingers. It probably just needed some line treatment. The Vision was also good. The Rio Accelerator X and standard Accelerator were different from each other and the X was slightly rougher than the standard. Neither of the lines had the rough surface that plagues the Rio Bonefish line and that can shred fingers in less than a day. The Rio S&AS line was also very smooth.

Summary.

The test was designed to find the best all round fly line for UK SWFFing, the one that would handle the most situations with the best score in each category.

And the Winner is…. The Standard 444SL Line. By quite a margin. It does everything well, has no casting draw backs is slick, shoots very well, carries any sized fly, and does what it says on the tin. As the best all round cold SW fly line its still at the top of the tree.

It becomes a little trickier for the next place because of the different head designs but it would have to go to the Vision Extreme Distance line. A great all round performer with the possibility of casting a long way very easily. Only let down by its long range roll casting ability. It's a line to aerialise a little and shoot a lot.

With equal third place come the two Rio lines. The very short front taper of the S & AS line lost it points on being a little too keen to turn over but if *Big* flies are your bag then this is no longer a negative. The accelerator only loses marks due to its slightly less slick surface than the 444 SL line. The Standard Accelerator would be the line to go for as it is a lot more supple than the X version.

In 5th place is the Powerhead which suffers from memory and colour transfer. Neither good qualities in a line. This loses it a lot of points for what could be the best front taper in the test.


The final results (at the moment)
1st Cortland 444SL
2nd Vision Extreme Distance
3rd Rio Accelerator/Rio Salmon and Atlantic Salmon
5th Masterline Powerhead

                   See you in the Forum

Tight loops.

Carl

Carl Hutchinson

 

Carl Hutchinson is a qualified instructor with the FFFE and FFFUSA and runs saltwater fly fishing Mullet with www.corporateflyfishing.com 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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