With no more than routine oversimplification, fly fishing lines can be divided into four categories:
4. Full Sinking
A quick and probably inaccurate count from Scientific Anglers, Cortland, and Rio catalogs (the three 'biggies') shows a minimum of 75 different, named floating lines for myriad fresh- and saltwater fishing situations. As indicated by the name, floating lines, well, float; i.e., NONE of the fly line is supposed to sink below the water's surface. Used for dries, wets, and nymphs, floating lines will allow you to cover 80%-90% of flyfishing situations.
The reason for the rather outstanding number of variations? Some are for specialty situations such as large flies (bass bugs and streamers aren't very aerodynamic) or high winds. But, primarily, the differences can be found in the tapers and how they're designed to work with a specific type of rod; e.g., modern, faster action graphites, Spey rods, or the more traditional, moderate-slow actioned graphite/fiberglass/bamboo rods (see The Cortland 444 Classic: It's A Peach ).
Sink-tip fly lines are just what they sound like. The first few feet of line (usually the first 7' - 20' depending on the maker and the application) are designed to sink while the remainder of the fly line floats. These lines are particularly useful for streamer or nymph fishing in flowing water where the currents are strong enough to make it difficult for you to sink your flies or control your drift with a floating line; getting the fly down and keeping it at the level you suspect the fish are holding in. They are also applicable to, though not as heavily used for, stillwater situations such as shallow lakes or small ponds.
Shooting lines are, primarily, for distance casting. A heavily weighted and/or aggressively tapered length (typically about 30 feet) of fly line, referred to as the "head," is attached to a "running" or "shooting" line made of either a small diameter fly line or heavy monofilament. This smaller diameter shooting line provides far less friction and weight resistance than a standard fly line and, therefore, allows the heavy "head" to pull it a greater distance in the cast. Such lines can be either floating or sinking in design.
Finally, there are the full sinking lines. As the nomenclature suggests, the intent is for the full length of the fly line to sink below the surface. In standard spincast fishing, the weight of the lure and/or the splitshot/sinker keep the bait, spinner, whatever below the surface. In flyfishing, weighted nymphs and streamers are sometimes heavy enough to pull the leader/tippet below the surface; maybe even the first few feet of fly line. Rarely, however, are they heavy enough to allow the angler to keep the fly in a specific "zone."
What do I mean by zone? It is an axiom in flyfishing that trout (not to mention most other species of fish) feed below the surface "90%" of the time. (That number varies depending on who you ask and to when/where you are referring. But, the standard response is 90% to drive home the point that MOST fish feeding activity occurs below the surface.) The issue becomes WHERE below the surface??!!
An in-depth analysis on why, where, and when to flyfish the "zones" is beyond the context of this review. Complexities such as location, conditions, type of fish, time of year, whether the fisherman is holding his mouth correctly, what the fish and the fisherman had for breakfast, et al. are just too numerous to delineate here. Suffice to say, that if you are interested in such a tutorial, the single, most prominent fly angler vis a vis stillwater is Denny Rickards. His website - http://www.flyfishingstillwaters.com/index.asp - links you to his books and classes on the subject. (Particular notice should be given to his book, Fly Fishing Stillwaters For Trophy Trout, $34.95 plus shipping.)
For stream fishing, it would be hard to point to a SINGLE source. Two good primers, however, would be the legendary Dave Whitlock's book entitled Dave Whitlock's Guide to Aquatic Trout Foods; available through his website - (http://www.davewhitlock.com/ ) - Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, or a plethora of fly shops for a suggested retail of $22.95 in paperback. This is a relatively easy to understand lesson in flyfishing entomology and how to match it through fly selection and technique; i.e., bugs and where you, not to mention the fish, will find them.
The other would be Kelly Galloup's DVD Streamer Flies for Trophy Trout (available at Amazon.com for $34.95) or the book Modern Streamers for Trophy Trout: New Techniques, Tactics, and Patterns by Bob Linsenmen and Kelly Galloup (hardback $34.95, paperback $21.95 MSRP - also available at Amazon.com [paperback currently priced at $14.27]). Owner of the Slide Inn along the Madison River in Montana (see http://www.slideinn.com/index.htm ), Galloup is a noted fly tyer. What is particularly relevant is that he has a passion for fishing unweighted or lightly weighted streamers (an example of which is his "Zoo Cougar"), on flowing water, with full sinking lines.
The basic theory behind a full sinking fly line is that it allows the fly to be presented, for the longest possible time, in a specific "zone" or depth range. To accomplish this, Scientific Anglers (SA) has introduced their "Uniform Sink Line" - currently named their Mastery Series Uniform Sink Plus (+). Produced for freshwater fishing, the Uniform Sink lines are designed so that, according to their catalog, the tips "have a slightly higher density than the belly, which causes the tip and belly to sink at a uniform rate. This eliminates belly sag and creats more direct contact between rod and fly for easier strike detection."
With a core of "braided multifilament nylon (5 and 6 weights on Types IV and V have single-strand monofilament cores)" and a coating of "specially formulated PVC integrated with powdered tungsten or high-density glass beads," the SA Uniform Sink Plus Lines come in five "sink rates." In fact, it is the "sink rate" which guides your line selection depending on the "zone" you intend fishing.
A pdf formatted "Information Bulletin" with some of the technical specifications on these lines can be found on the company's website by clicking the link found on this page - http://www.3m.com/us/home_leisure/scianglers/full_sinking_lines_ms-fresh.jhtml#uniformsinkplus
Unfortunately, their explanation of the sink rates is not as complete as it once was. So, let me give you a feel for these five categories based on the older, Uniform Sink lines. I'm pretty sure the specs are pretty much the same, although the colors have changed; my older Type II 5 wt. and Type IV 8 wt. are olive with a slightly different shading in the first 30' so that the angler is aware of how much line is still out the top guide, whereas the newer versions are blue and midnight in coloration.
Again, some simplification is going to be necessary lest we stray into a complicated table of type (sink rate), line weight, tip length, sink belly (front & rear), rear taper, and running line...
The five sink rates or "Types" are designated by the Roman Numerals I, II, III, IV, and V. Thus, what you have are the Type I (sometimes referred to as "Intermediate"), Type II, Type III, Type IV, and Type V Uniform Sink lines. Categorization into a Type is based on the line's sink rate, measured in "inches per second" or "ips." The range of sink rates for a Type I to a Type V is 1.5-6.0 ips.
Based on this information, your selection of a "Type" is dependent on how deep (which zone) you wish to fish. Typically, such a line is used while 'stripping' - this is the action you impart to the fly while retrieving the line to cast. So, the "zone" is where the fly will be most consistently available to the fish during the retrieve. How you get to that depth is through the "countdown." When you cast and the line settles on the water, you begin to count; one Mississippi, two Mississippi or one big fish, two BIG fish or whatever works for you to keep track of the seconds. The length of the countdown is dependent on the Type of Sinking line you've chosen for the depth you wish to fish.
Each Type of Sinking Line has an "optimal" performance range. To provide you with some guidance, here's a "table" based on the old charts...
Line..... Sink Rate..... Optimal Depth
Type I ..... 1.50-2.25 ips ..... 1-2 feet
Type II ..... 1.75-2.95 ips ..... 2-4 feet
Type III ..... 2.50-3.50 ips ..... 3-7 feet
Type IV ..... 4.0-5.0 ips ..... 10-18 feet
Type V ..... 4.50-6.0 ips ..... 12-20 feet
When shopping, whether in person, over the phone, or online, if you do not know which Type you want, far too many frequently you won't be introduced to the sink rate based on "inches per second." Most salesmen and many catalogs will simply express the rates as follows: Type I = slow/very slow; Type II = Medium/Fast; Type III = Fast/Extra Fast; Type IV = Very Fast/Super Fast; Type V = Fastest/Ultra Fast. This is why it is VERY important that YOU understand what depth level you want to fish and clarify things based on the table just presented.
It should only be common sense that not all rod weights will work well with each Type of Sinking Line. Scientific Anglers simply states on their website that the Uniform Sink Plus lines are available in 5 wt. - 10 wt. At least I couldn't readily find a good, one-stop chart like those you can find in their paper catalogs. But, as near as I can discern from retail catalogs, the following lines are available in these respective line weights...
Type I ...... 6-8 ...... ?
Type II ...... 5-7 ...... Blue
Type III ...... 5-9 ...... Midnight
Type IV ...... 5-9 ...... Midnight
Type V ...... 5-10 ...... Midnight
Many who use a Type I or Intermediate, full sinking line tend toward Scientific Anglers' "Stillwater" Line. Once again, it is a full sinking line with a 1.25-2.0 ips sink rate. It is a clear line resembling heavy monofilament. In other words, at the 1 - 2 foot depth that a Type I is usually fished at, the clear fly line looks much less intimidating to the fish than a solid, dark color. With both the Uniform Sink Plus and the Stillwater lines currently retailing for $59.95, the latter also has the advantage of being available in lighter line weights than the Uniform Sink Plus lines; being made in 3 wt. - 9 wt. I personally own the Stillwater Line in a 3 wt., 5 wt., and 6 wt. configuration; using them on heavily fished, catch & release lakes with sizable fish who hold their Ph.D.'s in Fisherman Consternation.
I own a Type II Uniform Sink line in 5 wt. and a Type IV Uniform Sink line in 8 wt. I've never used either for moving water; employing them specifically for stillwater (lakes, ponds/tanks, reservoirs). My usual method with the Type II is to flop into a float tube, cast and slowly feed out (using the pull of the water in lieu of a lot of false casts) about 35' - 50' of line; i.e., enough so that the nymph or streamer is beyond the heaviest of the underwater "wake" created by my finning the float tube around. Yep. You got it. The flyfishing version of trolling. (I've caught the largest trout I've ever landed on a fly rod using the Type II Uniform Sink line in this manner. I won't share the place or the fly and I won't regale you with the fight, but it was on 6X (3 lb.) tippet and the rainbow would have made a steelhead or salmon fisherman anxious to get a "hero" photograph.)
I mainly employ my Type IV 8 wt. for bass fishing in large, deep reservoirs. This allows me to work just over the structure bass tend to hang in or around. (For deep water, large trout fishing in big lakes, I now tend more toward a Type VI, full sink, shooting head on the same 8 wt.).
Diverse and entrenched are the arguments regarding the efficacy of different rod actions when using full sinking fly lines. Frankly, I've never found a fast action rod to be a necessity for how I employ my sinking lines. (The 3 wt., the 5 wt. Stillwater and Uniform Sink, and the 8 wt. Type IV Uniform Sink and Type VI shooting head, full sink are ALL fished on Scott Pwrply/G-series rods; see Traditional Class.)
The one thing you need to remember, however, is that whether you use a fast or a moderate action rod, NEVER try to pick up the line to recast without first stripping most of it in. Unlike a floating line, where you are picking line up OFF the water, no matter what rod weight or rod action, the deeper the line, the more difficult it will be for the rod to "pick the line" up OUT of the water. This is why the hook set when using a full sinking line is usually done with the "line hand" while stripping rather than raising the rod tip; although the Type I & II lines in 5 wt. and above can often be used with a combination of strip and lifting the rod tip - just don't try to "RRRRIIIIIIPPPPPPP" the line out of the water. It don't work so good and is hard on the rod.
Similar lines, with varying weight/Type combinations, are available from both Cortland and Rio. However, the Scientific Anglers Uniform Sink Plus and Stillwater lines cover the broadest spectrum and are the most ubiquitously available from a single company.
Well, I think that about covers it. Ain't nothin' left to do but Get Down and Get Funky...uh...Get Fishing.
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