One of the hardest decisions to make when fly-fishing is selecting an appropriate fly line. With the ever-growing available options, it is easy to get overwhelmed. A common question I receive from novice fly-anglers is “What color fly line do I need?”
In most fly-fishing applications, the color of the line does not matter. If a cast is presented appropriately, the fish will only see your leader. Occasionally when fishing for species with exceptional eyesight, you will need to adjust the length of your leader and possibly the color of your line.
Although fly line color is not very important, it is important to adjust your approach to spooky fish. Below I will review how to better feed spooky fish, when it makes sense to change fly-line color, and the times where seeing your fly-line is actually beneficial. Knowing each of these aspects will help you to become a better angler.
How to adjust for line shy species
A well-placed cast should allow the fish to only see your leader, and not the fly-line itself. Since an average fly-fishing leader is 9ft long, it is unlikely the fish will see the line. This should only happen if you cast the fly-line onto the fish. This is referred to as “Lining the fish.”
Certain species will feed more by sight than smell. This will often be the case for predatory fish that reside in clear water. These species include native trout, bonefish, permit, and tarpon. When targeting these fish, it is common to have to make adjustments to avoid being seen.
The importance of the leader
Your first line of defense against wary fish is the size and length of your leader. If fish are spooking off when you make a cast or are not reacting to your fly, it is time to adjust your leader.
Longer leaders tend to be more difficult to cast. When possible, I will always try to reduce the diameter of tippet before adjusting the length. Using fluorocarbon material for your tippet will also help. This is less visible in the water than fluorocarbon. Sometimes you will need to reduce the diameter of the leader to an uncomfortable breaking strength. If you fight the fish correctly, you will be surprised at the size of fish you can land on minimal line strength.
If the fish continues to spook when making a cast, then it is time to lengthen your leader. A good starting point will be lengthening your leader to 12ft, and possibly up to 15ft.
For an in depth review of leaders and species formulas, refer to What Size Leader for Saltwater Fly Fishing?
Fly lines for spooky fish
Some fish have seen it all, and will require even more measures be taken to feed. For example, the Florida Keys has become a world-renowned fly-fishing destination for tarpon and permit. During the tarpon migration season of April through July, a boat can be seen fishing every available flat. With this amount of pressure, the fish have become accustomed to be being casted at. They know what is and is not real.
In these situations, a clear fly-line will be beneficial in addition to your leader. The clear line will help make your cast completely undetected and provide some leeway for errant casts. If you were fishing for tarpon in clear water or hunting permit, I would highly recommend the use of clear line.
Downsides of using clear line
There are some downsides to using a clear line however. Clear fly lines tend to retain more memory and often coil when using them in subtropical climates. This is likely due to being made of PVC products. I personally have not had good success when using them in cold environments. Additionally, I find that clear lines tend to sink a little more than standard floating lines.
When fishing in clear tropical water, I would highly recommend the Cortland Tarpon Taper Clear fly line. If you are freshwater fly fisherman looking for a clear trout line, I would recommend the AIRFLO RIDGE TACTICAL CLEAR FLY LINE.
When fly line color doesn’t matter
In most situations, the color of the fly line does not matter. That being said, I will always try to avoid using highly visible line colors such as neons or bright orange. Just to be safe, it is best to stick to dull colors such as blues, greys, and greens. Your leader should do the work of disguising your line.
What if I fish in dirty water?
The majority of fly-fishing in the United States, will be done in water that is tannic or even dirty. When fishing in these regions, it is unlikely the fish will see your fly line.
In these cases, a shorter leader can be used along with a colored fly line. It becomes more important to have a fly line that pairs well with your rod and allows you to make accurate casts. Since the fish have limited visibility in these environments, you will need to place the fly closer to the fish, ensuring it will be discovered.
Fishing for aggressive species
Depending the type of fish you are targeting, some will not be line shy at all. Species such as jacks, stripers, albacore, and cobia feed extremely aggressive. Additionally, they are not afraid of you or the boat when feeding.
In these situations, the color of fly-line does not matter at all regardless of water clarity. If these species are feeding on bait schools, it is unlikely that anything in their path is refused.
Are there times you want your line to be visible?
Having a visible fly line can also be beneficial. This is especially true for new fly-fishermen or when employing certain techniques.
When first learning how to fly-fish, one of the biggest obstacles is learning where your fly is relative to the fish. Being able to see the fly-line will help give you frame of reference while you are learning how to read the fish and drifts.
Can two tone colored lines help your casting?
As a novice caster, learning the mechanics of how to load the rod while casting is a struggle. The tendency is to try to carry more line than is practical while making a cast.
Fly manufacturers have developed two-tone colored lines that help identify the head of the line. The head of the line is where the fly-line tapers to a thicker diameter. The thicker diameter of the line allows the fly-line to shoot further due to its heavier weight.
What is a shooting head in fly fishing?
The head of the fly-line is also referred to as the “Shooting head.” A shooting head of a fly line can come in different lengths. Typically, the shorter the shooting head, the better the line is at making quick shorter casts.
If you are fishing a longer shooting head, it will require more time to shoot the line. However, you will achieve greater distance. The long, thinner diameter part of the line that is attached to your backing is called the “Running line.”
When starting a cast or picking up the line off the water, it is best to have no more than the shooting head outside of the rod tip. This will allow the rod to load quicker and keep your cast from falling apart. When trying to start a cast by picking up the running line, the weight of the shooting head will make it difficult to keep the line in the air.
If you are a new fly-caster, I would strongly recommend the use of a two-toned fly line while you are learning the mechanics of a cast.
Will seeing the fly-line help me catch fish?
Knowing where your fly is in relation to the fish and will help you better feed the fish. When making longer casts or fishing dirty water, it is difficult to see your fly in the water. In these cases, being able to see your fly-line will give you a frame of reference for where your fly is located.
Additionally seeing the fly-line will allow you to understand what role currents or wind are playing on the drift of the fly. As you become a more experience fly-angler, you will learn to see the fly better or have a better feel for where your fly is.
Some techniques also have advantages when seeing the line. For example, when nymph fishing in deeper water with smaller flies, being able to see your fly-line can give you an indication of a strike. If your line begins to move down or against the current, you will know you have received a strike. In this situation, the fish is feeding below the water, and is unlikely to see your fly-line on the surface.
Although there are situations where special attention should be paid to line color, the majority of the time it does not matter. When selecting a colored fly line, it is best to choose dull colors to avoid drawing too much attention.
f you are new to fly-fishing, selecting a two-tone colored line will help you learn the mechanics of the cast. Using a clear line in certain fisheries will increase your chances of hooking spooky fish. However, adjustments to leader length and size can be just as effective.