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In choosing a line it should be remembered that nylon is lighter than silk and handles more easily. It does not slap down on the water as hard and it dries more quickly. This latter item is important because there is nothing worse than trying to cast a waterlogged line.
A fly line is named according to the way it is tapered-that is, the way it varies from thick to thin diameters. In most commercial lines the heaviest midsection or belly diameter in ordinary use is A. B diameter is lighter than A, then C, and so on down the alphabet to just about the lightest belly used in fly fishing, an E. Generally speaking, the lighter the line, the harder it is to cast, though that doesn't mean that the heaviest is necessarily the best for all kinds of casting. Tapers are woven into lines in order to meet varying needs.
The amateur angler nearly always encounters an expert who completely befuddles him with talk of "calibrations" and "thousandths" and so on, in describing the construction of lines. But this kind of knowledge adds very little to fishing, and throughout this book I will use the commercial letter descriptions of lines, and with these letters plus the knowledge of what they mean in the placement of weight in the line, anyone can go into a tackle store and order the line he needs for the fishing he plans to do.
For instance, a double-tapered HDH fly line, which fits the average 8-foot, 4-ounce rod, is so tapered to give I) sufficient weight in the D section for casting in the atmosphere of the average trout stream; 2) sufficient light H taper in the forward section to fall lightly on the water and so not to frighten fish; 3) sufficient light H taper back of the D section to allow for easy shooting.
Again, for bigger rods such as those used in salt water fly fishing or for throwing big, wind-resistant bass bugs or large streamers, a forward taper is needed. These lines, also frequently called torpedo taper, teardrop taper or bug taper, are listed as HCF, GBF, and GAF. A G2AE can be ordered specially from most line companies and is a good line for casting where there is a lot of wind, the heavy bulk being easier to get out in such situations. But it is too heavy a line for most fishing, and the GAF will get the angler through most situations that call for a torpedo taper.
Tierra del Fuego is probably the windiest place I've ever fished. On my first trip down there I found my friends Bebe Anchorena and Jorge Donovan both using I0-foot, slow action rods equipped with light HCH lines. They would get the wind in back of them and then roll cast their flies out, and could really get them out, too, long casts into the Rio Grande, some as much as go feet.
But they were limited to one direction-downwind. They were casting almost directly downstream and not reaching the deep run across from them, about 6o feet away.
"Why don't you cast straight across?" I asked. "Hit that run and work your streamers across it."
"We can't reach it," said Bebe. "The wind blows our lines back and down from it." They were two of the best roll casters I have ever seen, and I knew that if they had the right equipment, even the howling gale on the Rio Grande wouldn't faze them. My outfit was ready by that time, a 9-foot rod weighing 6 ounces and equipped with a GAF line, and a I2-foot long leader with a 30-pound test butt section next to the line, tapered to a 6-pound test tippet. (See LEADERS)
"Try this," I said, shoving it into Jorge's hands. "And see what a difference this heavier line makes."
Jorge made his cast, using the double haul to get speed and bringing the rod tip down hard, almost to the water, on the forward cast.
The line shot out there like an arrow, across current in spite of the wind, and when it hit, a nice trout took it.
Not only in such unusual circumstances, but in all cases the matching of line and rod is all important. Not long ago I was fishing a trout stream and had just delivered a cast when another angler who had come quietly up to watch, spoke out.
"How did you do that?" he asked. "You hardly seemed to try and look where it went. I almost break my wrist trying, and I get 30 feet."
I looked at his outfit. He had a 9 1/2-foot rod that must have weighed at least 634 ounces, and on his reel he had a level E fly line.
"No wonder you can't cast," I said. "That rod needs a GAF line. It would even handle a big G2AE. You're using a rod powerful enough to throw big bugs in a heavy wind and the line belongs on a rod weighing not more than 3 to 3I ounces. Try mine," I invited.
He put out 40 feet after a couple of attempts. Then, getting the feel of it, he cast the fly a good 55 feet.
"Boy! I could really cast if I had an outfit like that," he grinned. "I bet it cost plenty of dough."
"No," I said. "It's just an average outfit in the middle price range. But it's matched up right. That's an HDH line on an 8foot, 4-ounce rod. The whole thing-rod, line and leader-cost about $35.00."
I let him use my outfit for a while. His casting became better, smoother, and pretty soon he caught a fish. First thing he did when he went home, I bet, was to get himself a matched outfit. Mismatched outfits are the chief reason that many potential fly fishermen get discouraged.
I should add that a glass rod will often handle a heavier line than a bamboo rod of the same length. And in either glass or bamboo, a stiff-action rod needs a heavy line to bring out the action.
In the case of forward tapers, it should be noted that for trade reasons some manufacturers leave from six to eight feet of level line on the end of the forward taper and this level section must be cut off to the point where the taper narrows down to the level line-else the level line will fold up at the end of the forward cast. It just won't have enough punch to turn over the end of the line and leader.
I purposely do not recommend level lines because most level lines do not shoot well and because with the same diameter right to the end, usually they fall too heavily on the surface of a small or still pool. The same casts can be made better all around with a forward tapered line which will shoot better for long distance casts, handle big flies better, cast better in the wind, and allow greater delicacy on small streams and slick water. The tapered line will cost twice as much, or more, but it's worth the price.
A good line, properly cared for, should last a fly fisherman two or three years, depending on how much it is used. The life of a fly line used in the salt is much less, especially if used in boats where grease, oil and gasoline get on the line, as do sand and dirt from the bottom of the skiff. Between these hazards and such accidents as hanging up on protruding nails, getting between cracks in the floor boards, and being stepped on, fly lines in general have a very rough and exceedingly short life in the salt.
So the salt water fly fisherman is well advised to keep his skiff clean and to clear away all debris and obstructions before he starts to cast. Besides keeping his line clean for better casting, it will save him money.
Now let's take the above line specifications, one by one, and see the whyfor.
A 7 1/2-foot rod is obviously for use in small streams, for delicate dry fly work, for wet flies or for nymph fishing. In these situations the fly should drop on small pools gently and accurately. To do that, a small diameter line is needed. So the lightest commonly manufactured taper is recommended-the light H at the front for delicate presentation of leader and fly, the E section heavy enough to provide casting weight on that light rod, and the H again at the back of that, for easy shooting behind the comparatively light belly.
Incidently, the HEH, like all double tapers, has the added advantage of giving double service, in that when the forward end begins to wear, the line can simply be reversed.
It is in this field of handling light lines that the glass rod has not yet approached the bamboo. Most 7 1/2-foot glass rods are so powerful that they call for an HCH line, and some for a GBF or GAF, and an angler who drops a big-bellied line of either of those classifications on a small, still surface will scare the spots off any nearby trout. Aside from that, he will find it extremely difficult to make an accurate, lightly delivered cast. An 8-foot rod will be used for trout fishing with dry fly, wet fly or nymph or small streamer. Such a rod will weigh 4 to 41 /2 and calls for an HDH, again the economical double taper. The D section is big enough to make casts plenty far enough to take fish and a heavier line such as an HCH is too big for the delicate work needed in quiet pools. Anything lighter than an HDH, on the other hand, would be difficult to throw and would entail hard work on the part of the caster.
An 8 1/2-foot rod will be used for bass bugging, or for throwing big streamers or weighted nymphs, in which case the GBF line is ideal, the G section supplying a light enough end near the leader for good presentation, and the B providing the boring power for carrying out the big lure. If the 8 1/2-footer is being used for dry fly fishing for Atlantic salmon, or for dry fly fishing for smallmouth bass or landlocked salmon, or for big trout, then the lighter-tipped double tapered GBG is recommended in order to deliver the fly more lightly on the surface of pools. However, if the angler is limited to one line, then the GBF will do the all around job. A 9-foot rod will be used for fishing in wind, on salt water where long casts are needed, and in big rivers and lakes. A GAF line will bring out the action best, providing plenty of power for long casts and for pulling the shooting line out after it.
A 9 1/2-foot rod will also be used in salt water or on big lakes and rivers and will take either a GAF or a G2AE, according to the action of the rod. In most cases, a 9 1/2-foot bamboo rod works well with the GAF, while a glass rod of the same length requires the heavier shooting section of the G2AE.
Some manufacturers build the same type of taper with two different belly lengths. For instance, in a GAF line there will be a gradual taper of about 8 feet from the front of the line to the "belly" or A section. This belly may vary from 25 to 40 feet in the one type of line; or it may be only 12 to 18 feet in length. For ordinary fishing there are several reasons why the shorter belly is superior to the long one. Remember that it is the heavy belly section that is being thrown, and also remember that most tapers are developed by tournament casters who stand up on a platform with no obstructions behind or around them, and an assistant to feed the shooting line through the guides for them. There is no hurry-plenty of time and plenty of room. So the tournament caster uses a long belly line to get the extra weight for an extra long throw.
But the situation is entirely different on a tree-lined river or stream. The room for the backcast is limited and the angler must depend entirely on himself to get line out. With the shorter belly he can make a short backcast and then shoot the whole of the short belly, which in turn will pull the lighter back taper out for a good cast. With a longer belly it would be necessary to make several false casts to get enough line out to make the cast, and where is all that line going to go on the backcast? Up in a tree, of course, with the result that there is no forward cast. The line is not heavy enough at the front to make that short backcast and then shoot out all its additional heavy length.
Equally important is the fact that with the short belly it is possible to get off a quick cast to an oncoming fish, by making one backcast and then shooting the line.
Occasionally it will be necessary to make two false casts to get out enough belly in order to make an extra long cast, but usually, if he is in a boat the caster has the shooting line coiled in the bottom, and with rod ready and, say, 15 feet of line, plus leader from rod tip to hand, he can cast that much into the air, shoot a bit more of the line lying on the bottom, come back again, and then let the works go.
That operation takes only a few seconds and the fly is in front of that oncoming fish. And there are many fish, especially salt water species, where a split second makes the difference in getting hits.
The same technique applies when wading. The line can be held in coils in the left hand, or even allowed to trail in the water behind the fisherman as he wades along.
There is a place in fishing, of course, for the long belly. It can be used when fishing from a boat where there is plenty of room around the caster, or from the shores of lakes and rivers where there are few obstructions and plenty of room for the backcast. Or when it is all a case of casting blind, with loads of time, rather than spotting moving fish. In such circumstances the longer belly certainly allows the angler to get off some long throws. A good caster, for instance, can consistently reach 85 to go feet, and a very good one as much as I00 feet. But with a GAF with a 12- or 18-foot belly it is also easy to get off casts plenty far enough to take fish. And, as a matter of fact, casts over 8o feet in length are seldom good fishing because at that distance it is difficult to see the fly or to tell the reactions of the fish to it. And when a fish does hit at that distance, the strike impulse is so slow traveling the length of all that line, that the angler often misses. By the time he feels the fish, strikes, and the strike impulse gets way out there where the fish is, the fish has often spit the fly out, or is in the act of so doing, and therefore is not well hooked.
So, while many anglers like to talk about what a long line they can throw, more importance should be attached to such things as careful approach, casting from the right position, and having complete control of line and fly, rather than to making a long and beautiful throw and as a consequence missing the strike, scaring the fish and winding up with only the memory of a fancy cast.
The essence of efficient, easy fly casting is a floating line. A dry, high-floating line makes casting easier, while a heavy, sinking one is difficult to lift or to manipulate and often means missed strikes and badly disturbed pools. So lines should be greased before each use-even those lines which the manufacturer states do not need to be greased. And the grease should be applied just before fishing, or it will sink into the line and lose its effect. To grease a line the night before the next day's fishing is wasted effort.
So important is a well-greased, dry line that I carry two extra reels with me if I expect to be out all day. When one line becomes heavy and starts to sink, I take that reel off and substitute one of the spares.
Many a beginner has asked me why I grease the line, then apparently wipe the grease all off again.
"I put the dressing, or grease, on to make the line float," I tell them. "Then I rub it off so the line won't sink." Confusing? No, it's literally true. The right amount of grease will make the line float, but an excess gets from line to rod guides, becomes dirty, works back onto the line, the dirt picks up water thus making the line heavy, and the line sinks. To avoid this vicious circle, the line should be greased by dipping the first two fingers lightly into the dressing, then working the line between fingers and thumb to spread the dressing on the line. The line can be pulled through the fingers in strips about two feet at a time, and it is wise to grease as much of the line as is likely to be in the water during casts. When this length has been greased, then take a clean cloth and run the line through it, as it is reeled in. This removes all superfluous grease.
Many manufacturers claim that their lines don't need dressing and some supply a cleaning paste to wipe the line with, claiming that all the fisherman need do is keep the line clean and it will float for a long time. But I grease them all and get a better job from the line for doing so.
Lately some manufacturers have come out with a sinking fly line designed to get the fly down deep. These new lines do sink and at times when the fish are lying deep will undoubtedly get you down. But to me this isn't fly fishing, and it seems to me that the manufacturers are reversing the path they have followed for years-to produce a buoyant line that will help the angler to deliver gentle casts on still surfaces, help him pick up line noiselessly so as not to scare fish, allow him to make a quick strike, to impart better action to his underwater fly, whether it be streamer, wet fly or nymph, and to float a dry fly as freely as a natural.
I am also one of those who believe that color in a fly line is more important to the fisherman than to the fish. Trout, bass or bonefish, to name a few, will hit flies served up on the end of the line whether it is amber, green, camouflaged, or what have you, as long as the leader is long and has a fine tippet. But a light color does help the angler in that he can spot the end of his line in the water and know where the end of the line lies, which helps in finding and handling the fly, particularly allowing him to know just when to pick up neatly and cleanly and quietly so as not to disturb nearby fish. A fly line of a solid color down to within a few feet of the end, and then the balance in amber color, or any other light shade readily picked up by the eye, would be of great help to flymen.
Little care is required to preserve a fly line and keep it in good condition, but since fly lines are fairly expensive, it's well worth while to follow a few simple rules. The line should be kept clean of grit or other dirt which may be picked up when fishing along beaches, in rivers, or from the bottom of a skiff. After use, a fly line should always be thoroughly dried by stripping it off the reel and dropping it loosely, coil by coil, on a couch or large chair, never on a floor where it would pick up dust or where someone might step on it and crack the finish. Allow it to dry overnight, then reel it up and put it away in a clean place until the next use.
New lines, or, lines which have been stored on the reel for a long time, should be stretched to take out the kinks before being used for casting. Have a friend hold the end of the line and stand still, while you walk away, unreeling the line until the entire length is out. Then pull back on it until all the stretch is out. Pull back several times, then rewind the line on the reel.
If the line is being stored for a whole winter, or such a long period, it is advisable to take it off the reel and coil it loosely, in loops at least a foot in circumference, then tie it-again loosely-with several pieces of cord and lay it flat in a drawer. This will avoid tight loops when it is put back on the reel.