JHFFS How to: Selecting the Right Fly Line Taper
So, you’ve got your new rod, you know what line weight you need, all that’s left is to pick which style of taper you want your line to have. With so many options available from companies like Rio, Orvis, Scientific Angler, Air Flo, Cortland, Sunray, and Teeny I want to discuss the purpose behind different tapers and help you decide which line is right FOR YOU.
What is a tapered fly line?
First, let’s define the purpose of a taper in general. Before fly lines were tapered, they were simply level line. This meant that the fly line was equal in both mass and diameter from tip to tail and offered no additional benefits compared to the tapered lines we use today. With advancements in manufacturing techniques, we started seeing lines that were purpose built with tapers. These lines are aimed at giving casters an additional advantage through reshaping the line’s mass profile. Each tapered section has a specific effect on the cast and all have to work together to achieve a balanced cast. The front taper is responsible for presentation. The longer the front taper is on a line the more delicate your presentation will be. Rear tapers and the belly of your line work together to provide a balance between loop control and shootability.
Today, there is a tapered design for every situation an angler may encounter. This brings up the question “which taper is best”, and like all fly-fishing questions, does not have a definitive answer. Although it would be nice to drive around in a mobile fly shop with two rod vaults housing an arsenal of rods, most of us need a more realistic solution. The better approach would be to look at the style of fishing you prefer most and then choose a line that best fits those needs.
Now that we understand the purpose of tapered lines, let’s start with the two classic tapers on the market. The double taper (DT) and weight forward (WF) designs are what all other taper styles stem from. The image below is condensed to show how the line’s mass is tapered through its entirety. It is important to remember that this is simply a condensed image and is only meant to give you an overview of the line. To fully understand how the fly line will perform, it is necessary to look at how long the tapered sections truly measure. But before we dive into the measured effects, let’s take a look at the differences in taper profile.
Starting with the DT, we can see that its profile is as the name implies, “doubled”. The tip and tail of a DT fly line are exact mirrors of each other. If you were to cut the line in half, you would be left with two identical sections whereas, with a WF line, you would be left with a tapered section (the head) and a level section (running line). Once again, as the name implies, the WF’s line mass is shifted to the front and completes its tapered section within the first half of the fly line.
Based on your preferred style of fishing, one of these lines will be more advantageous than the other. With a WF line, the focus is on helping anglers add distance to their cast. The front head builds momentum while the lighter, thinner running line is able to smoothly shoot out after making your final casting stroke. The disadvantage of this design is that it cuts down on the amount of fishable line you may need if you want to manipulate your flies at a distance. For example, if I were in a situation that required a 70-foot cast, it would be very beneficial to have a WF line to help reach my target quickly. However, once my fly has landed, there is very little I would be able to do in terms of line management. Mending and even setting the hook has now become a much more difficult task as I am left trying to manipulate the heavy, thick head on the water with the lighter, thinner running line in my rod.
With a DT the focus is placed on providing the angler with as much fishable line as possible. The belly of a DT continues from the front taper at the tip to the rear taper at the tail. The angler now has more mass in the second half of their line allowing for better line management and manipulation at distance. The longer belly will also help roll casts turn over at greater distances. The disadvantage with this line is in reaching far targets. It will be more difficult and will take more casting strokes to reach a target at distance than it would with a WF line. To sum things up, WF lines help anglers reach distant targets quickly and easily while DT lines provide anglers with more fishable line to control drifts at a distance.
What style taper is right for you?
To best answer this question, we have to consider multiple factors. First, what species of fish are you after? Based on the type of fish you’re chasing, there is an average distance you will need to cast. For saltwater applications, you will need a WF line that can quickly shoot out to distant fast-moving fish. If you’re chasing freshwater fish, it might be more beneficial to have a DT line that will provide better loop control, mendability at distance, and a more delicate presentation.
Next, consider the style and types of flies you will be fishing with. For example, if you mainly fish streamers, you may want a WF line with an aggressive front head that will help you turn over large flies on longer casts. The disadvantages of running line are also less important since you will be retrieving your flies rather than letting them drift and you will be strip setting rather than lift setting. The running line on a WF will perform just fine with this style of retrieve and hook set.
If your focus is on fishing with nymphs or dry flies, it will be much more advantageous to have a DT line that can deliver delicate casts while providing you with more fishable line to help manage longer drifts. You may also want a DT line to help deliver frequent roll casts, especially with nymph setups.
When I fish for trout, I enjoy changing tactics throughout the season and find most of my fish within a 30-foot range. This means I rarely benefit from the use of running line on a WF. I prefer DT lines because not only can I present delicate casts but I can also roll cast easier, mend longer amounts of line, and set the hook on further drifts all thanks to the full belly of a DT. FOR ME, having the ability to control my line at distance is more important than the ease of casting my line to distance.
As a happy medium, you could also look for WF lines that have a long rear taper. The longer the rear taper is, the more control you will have at distance. Analyzing the types of fishing situations you encounter most is the best way to determine which style of line is best for you.
Now that we understand the advantages and disadvantages of DT and WF fly lines, let’s take a closer look at some specialty tapers. It is much more common to see different WF variations than it is to see DT variations. This is because most specialty lines focus on longer casts with different size flies while also providing an appropriate level of delicacy based on the target species. Let’s look at some different saltwater WF designs by Rio to get a better comparison.
The top image shows the profile and measured sections of a bonefish specific line while the bottom shows a tarpon specific line. Nothing will replace actual test casting, but by using the information provided we can get a sense of how these lines will perform.
Starting with the bonefish line, we see that it has a total head length of 49’6”. This tells us that we have a longer head tapered over a greater distance to help the caster maintain better loop control while also providing a more delicate presentation. The body remains smooth until reaching the front taper, which again, helps with loop control for smaller flies rather than focusing on turn over power for bigger flies. Finally, the front taper is 6’6”, an additional 1’6” compared to the tarpon line to again help deliver a more delicate presentation.
Looking at the Tarpon line, we see a shorter more aggressive head at 39’6”. The focus of this line is on power and the ability to turn over big flies at distance. The rear taper ramps up to a short aggressive body which measures 13’6” to help quickly punch large flies out to fast moving fish even in windy conditions. This power ramps back down as it transitions into the front body and finally the front taper which are both aimed at slowing down the casting loop for a delicate final delivery.
Even though both lines are WF designs, by understanding the purpose behind their different tapers, we can better utilize their intended capabilities. The tarpon line aims to help anglers punch out large flies in as few false casts as possible while the bonefish line is focused on providing anglers with better loop control to present smaller flies with more delicacy.
With so many different fly line tapers available for so many different applications, it makes sense why there is no definitive answer to “which fly line taper is best?”. There is only what is best for you and your needs. Whether your looking for a line that provides better loop control and mendability, or a line that’s going to punch through heavy winds and turn over flies the size of your socks, there is a tapered design to help you get the job done. By understanding the purpose behind these tapers, you are much more prepared to choose the right fly line for you.
- Double taper vs weight forward. Digital image. Luremefish. 25 January 2019, https://luremefish.com/how-to-choose-a-fly-line/.
- Bonefish Taper. Digital Image. RioProducts. NA, https://www.rioproducts.com/products/bonefish
- Tarpon Taper. Digital Image. RioProducts. NA, https://www.rioproducts.com/products/tarpon