Overlining Your Fly Rod: Pros & Cons to Higher Line Weight

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Overlining a fly rod means using a line that is one size heavier than the rod size.

So, for example, putting a 6 weight fly line on a five weight trout rod (see here for our pick of this year’s trout rods).

The main purpose of overlining a fly rod is to help the rod load with a small amount of line on the water – ie in situations where you are doing a lot of short casting.

So for fly fishing tree lined streams and small creeks, overlining can be a real advantage and help you to punch out tight loops with only a rod length or two of line out from the rod tip.

Advantages of overlining your fly rod

There are quite a few pluses to overlining your fly rod in certain fly fishing situations. We’ve summarised the main advantages below.

  • As discussed, your rod will load quicker making it easy to perform short casts with ease
  • Fewer false casts. Because the rod loads quicker, you may be able to get away with a single false cast
  • Better for roll casting in situations where they backcast is blocked
  • Able to cast tighter loops with a short line; higher accuracy
  • Overlining a fast action rod by a line weight or two makes a good high-wind outfit
The author with a large brown trout caught on the Sage XP five weight with six weight line

Disadvantages of overlining your fly rod

While you have a real advantage in close overlining your rod, the distances start to become apparent when you are casting a bit longer – say three rod lengths or more. The extra line weight starts to take its toll on the rod’s performance.

  • Your rod will be overloaded on long casts making it difficult to aerialise the whole fly line
  • Long casts have less punch and are less accurate
  • Presentations are less delicate – it’s harder to land dry flies softly with the heavier fly line
  • Doesn’t work for all rod types. Don’t over line bamboo rods and glass rods are not

Deciding whether or not to go one line weight over

The first thing to consider when deciding not to go a line weight above your fly rod’s rating is the type of rod it is. Overlining doesn’t suit all fly rods. Going up a line weight should only be contemplated with fast and medium-fast rods only. If you use a medium action rod, don’t bother using a heavier line.

Bamboo and fibreglass rods are good for delicate casting, but don’t cope with over lining and will be overloaded by going beyond the recommended line weight. You won’t get the snappy feel you get with fast action graphite rods that are overlined and the wind advantages with these fiberglass rods and bamboo fly rods.

But if you fish a Sage One or similar fast-action style rod, it will cope well with going one or even two beyond the fly line weight recommended and give you an outfit that’s well suited to short casts and casting in heavy winds.

Other considerations on using heavier fly lines

The Airflo Superflo Elite is a dry fly orientated line that can be used to overline a rod

Fly Line Weights aren’t an exact science

The other thing to be aware of when over lining, is that not all fly lines are created equal in terms of weight. Manufacturers make lines with quite different amounts of weight in the final 30 feet of the line (essentially the taper). Here below you can see the American Fly Fishing Trade Association stands for classifying line weights. As you can see they give a range in either grams or grains (an alternate weight measure). So a five weight line in one make or model can actually fall within the weight range (in grams or grains) as a six weight in another make or model.

Official line weights and manufacturers’ data provide guidance for overlining

Taking the line I use for trout fishing as an example, the Airflo Superflo Elite (WF) in a six weight.

The AFFTA standard says this should have 152 to 168 grains in the final 30 feet. The Superflo Elite clocks in at 165 grains, within this range, in the six weight. This makes sense as modern fly lines tend to be at the higher end of the range.

The Superflo Elite is aimed at being an all-round line – enough power to punch out a tight line, but also land dry flies with delicacy.

I use a Sage XP five weight rod with this line in a six weight rather than the five weight line- so overlined by one. This works well as the XP is a medium fast rod and most of my fishing is in rivers and streams with casts of between one and three rod lengths. This combo really hits the sweet spot of the rod and the line in this distance range.

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Airflo’s Superflo Exceed is a heavier line aimed at turning over line with larger flies or heavy wind. In the six weight, it has 186 grains in the final 30 feet of line, so above the standard for a six weight and right in the middle of the range for a seven weight line.

So, if you were to overline by one line weight with the Superflo Exceed, you really almost over lining by two line weights and you’re likely to overwhelm your rod tip.

So just as you have to consider the characteristics of fly rods when over lining, you also have to pay close attention to the statistics of individual fly lines.

Another example is the Scientific Anglers Anadronymph Amplitude line (see video review below). I use this line with a 10ft Sage lake rod for fishing larger waterways. Even though the Sage is a fast ation rod, I don’t overline it for two reasons:

The Anadronymph is already overlined on its specifications and it has an aggressive taper that packs the weight in the front section of the line. This is to help turn over larger flies and handle wind.

I use this as my lake rod and I am often casting close to the whole fly line, so if I over lined the rod performance would suffer at these longer distances. Performance for short casting is good too courtesy of the line’s aggressive taper.

Fly Casting

It’s important when overlining to maintain good fly fishing casting style. The heavier weight line will be easier to load, but don’t slip into bad habits. Take up slack from the fly line before you cast so your rod tip is almost touching the water. The rod will properly load then and this helps your casting stroke and will result in a better forward cast. Combined with the heavier line, the better rod loading properties will allow you to shoot line with just one false cast.

Final thoughts on over lining

So if you are thinking of over lining your rod, here is the right process to follow

Is your rod fiberglass or bamboo? If yes, don’t bother – stick to the weight line recommended. Fly fishers with graphite rods, read on.

Is your rod medium fast or fast action? If no, don’t both changing line sizes – it won’t handle the extra weight.

If yes, select the line you want to use on it and look up the actual weight (in grams) or grain weight of the final 30 feet of line. This will be on the packaging of the line manufacturers websites.

If the grain weight sits within the range specified by the AFFTA, then it is suitable for overlining. If the line is already effectively a heavy line (outside of the AFFTA specs) then it is a poor choice for overlining and consider another line or using that heavy line in the recommended weight – ie the line weight that matches the rod as the line is already over lined to an extent.

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Photo of author
Rick Wallace is a passionate angler and fly fisher whose work has appeared in fishing publications including FlyLife. He's appeared in fishing movies, founded a successful fishing site and spends every spare moment on the water.
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