Understanding Fly Line Tapers: A Complete Expert Guide

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Fly line tapers explained feature image

The world of fly line can be challenging to understand even for experienced fly anglers. Modern fly lines have taken significant steps forward in their technology, so there are a numerous different lines and tapers that all serve a specific purpose. A strong knowledge of these tapers can help you land more fish and fish in a more effective way.

What is a tapered fly line?

A tapered fly line is a line that increases or decreases in its size and diameter. The different sizes provide anglers with a different feel and power depending on what fish you want to target and weight you choose.

There are two primary tapers that you’ll find on a market: weight forward fly line and double taper fly line.

What does a Fly Line do?

Fly line is attached to the backing on your reel. Fly line loads on the rod and it caries your fly as you’re casting. The purpose of it is to transfer the power from the rod and move it to your fly so you can present it properly.

What are the Sections of a Tapered fly line?

Fly Line Taper Diagram 2
The five sections of a fly line explained

There are five primary sections of a tapered fly line: running line, back taper, body/belly, front taper and the tip.

All of these sections serve a specific purpose and work together to get your fly exactly where you want it to go. Fly casting is made easy thanks to this design.

What determines how a Fly line will Perform?

The three things that determine how a fly line will perform are weight, length of front taper and head length.

Weight

The weight of the fly line determines how large of a fly that you can use. If you’re throwing streamers, you need a heavier line. If you’re throwing dries and nymphs, you’ll find that weight doesn’t impact your presentations of these as much as you would think.

Taper Length

The length of your front taper impacts how your fly is delivered. For example, if you have a short front taper, then you’ll find that it’s better for larger flies. You’re able to easily cast them and turn the leader over.

If you have a longer front taper that is more progressive, then it’s perfect for smaller flies like dries and nymphs. You’re able to delicately present all of the patterns you throw.

Head Length

Finally, you’ll find that the head length impacts your overall setup. The length of the head Impacts how much line is released when you’re false casting. It also plays a role in how you’re able to place your flies while they’re on the water.

The longer the head, the more accuracy and control you’ll have on your overall setup.

Shorter heads are best for shorter casts that don’t require all sorts of false casting.

What impact do the Sections of a Fly Line Have?

Fly Line Tapers Explained 2
Tapers govern how the line will cast

The sections of fly line play an important role in how the line performs. Depending on the size and length of each section, you’ll find that different fly lines perform better in certain waters and fishing scenarios.

Running Line

The running line is the part of your fly line that connects to the backing on your reel. Generally, you’ll find that it’s about half of your fly line. Most fly lines are around 90′ long, so 40 to 45 feet of your line will be the running line.

Often, you may not ever reach your running line. It’s the last part of the line that you’ll use, so if you’re fishing in tighter conditions, you may not get to your running line.

If you’re making long casts and fighting large fish, you’ll get into the running line quite a bit.

Generally, you’ll find that the running line section of your fly line doesn’t have as much of an impact on how the line performs overall.

Back Taper Section

The back or rear taper is the connecting point between the running line and the belly. It transfers the energy from one section to the other.

If you have a shorter back taper, then you’ll notice that shooting line out is an easier and more smooth process. These are a great option if you’re throwing streamers and need to cover a decent amount of water.

If you have a longer back taper, then you’ll have far more control. A longer back taper makes for a great dry fly line. The longer the back taper, the smoother the cast and more control you have.

Again, if you’re making shorter casts, you may never get to the back taper, but when fishing larger bodies of water, you’ll regularly handle it.

Belly Section

On all fly lines, the belly section is the heaviest and widest part of the line. The size of this is the determining factor of how much power and energy the line creates. Even if you are casting an extremely light fly, the belly of the line makes it possible to make longer casts.

If you have a long belly, then the rod is going to load a bit slower, so you’ll have to deal with a bit more line on your false casts. However, you do have more control as a result. Throwing nymphs and dries with this line is your best bet.

If you have a shorter belly, then it’s likely heavier and you are able to shoot out quite a bit of line on your forward cast. A short belly is good to use if you need to cover quite a bit of water. You can throw all types of flies with a shorter bellied line.

Front Taper

The front taper is where fly lines are the most different. The point of the front taper is to help transition all of the energy and power that was formed in the back cast to “escape.” Then, you’re able to lay down your fly exactly where you would like.

A longer front taper gives the energy more of a chance to escape, so you’re able to lay down your flies with a more delicate presentation. The longer tapered section is best for dry flies and nymphs.

If your front taper is shorter, then you have more power. You can make casts in inclement weather and still hit the parts of the water you want. This shorter taper is better for heavier flies because they will not hit the water as delicately as you may like.

Tip section

The tip section of your fly line is there to harness that final bit of energy that needs to escape. Depending on how you’re fishing, you may want a long and thin tip or a short and thick tip.

A long and thin tip leads to more delicacy and better control. You can let the line unfurl and lay down gently on the water.

A short and thick tip gives you the power to make long casts and turn large flies.

Weight Forward and Double Taper Fly Lines

Fly Line Taper Diagram
The two key types of fly line in profile

Weight forward and double taper fly lines are two of the more common types of fly lines that you’ll find on the market. Both have their specific purposes and will help you in different situations.

Weight forward fly lines

Weight forward fly lines are fairly standard in the world of fly fishing. Weight forward lines have more weight and thickness added to the first 10 or so yards of the line.

These lines are great for making longer casts. The weight is all towards the front, so you have the necessary power to make your casts. You can also turn over large flies with a weight forward fly line.

Double Taper Fly Lines

Double taper fly lines are great if you need a more delicate approach. They aren’t as good in windy weather conditions. The first five yards of the line gradually get wider. The middle 60 or so feet are all the same weight and width. The final five yards gradually gets thinner.

The shape of the taper is symmetrical in that the transition at the back and front occurs over the same amount of distance.

You have more control and feel with a double taper fly line.

Weight Forward vs Double Taper Fly Lines for Trout?

Both weight forward and double taper fly lines work well for trout. Depending on the type of flies you’re using and the weather conditions, each will have its place in your setup.

Choosing a Fly Line Taper for Different Situations

Fly Line Tapers Explained 1
Double taper lines are good for finesse fishing

It’s important to know where double taper and weight forward lines are most effective. They truly can make a difference in the amount of fish you’re going to catch.

Finesse dry fly fishing

If you’re finesse fishing, you’re going to want to use a double taper fly line or at the very least a “finesse” version of a weight forward line.

Either is perfect to help you fish with dry flies. You can make whatever casts you deem necessary and it can handle it.

You will notice that it won’t stand up to the wind as well as a weight forward line would, but you can still make most of the casts you would want.

Most importantly, you can control exactly how the fly lays down on the water.

Nymph Fishing

For nymphs, you also want to use a double taper fly line. Nymphs are generally smaller and need to be cast in the proper area. You’re likely wanting to pick an exact spot and create as little of a splash as possible. A double taper fly line will help you accomplish this.

Streamer Fishing

Streamer fishing is best done with a weight forward fly line. You have a shorter head and more weight up front. Your rod will load easily even if with a small amount of line out so you can launch your fly wherever you would want. You’ll only be limited by your own casting ability.

Plus, a weight forward line allows you to turn over flies in the wind.

Bass Fishing with Bulky Flies

Bass fishing with bulky flies is going to be easiest if you are able to use weight forward line. You won’t have any issue of making the cast or moving the fly around in the water.

You won’t be able to lay down your fly as gently as you would with a dry fly, but that’s okay. Bass want action and they often strike out of reaction.

Final Thoughts on Fly Line Tapers

Fly Line Tapers Explained
Understand the different tapers will you cast better and catch more fish

Once you gain an understanding of fly tapers, you’ll realize how important it is to have more than one type of fly line. Fly fishing is all about how you’re able to present your flies, so make sure you’re using the proper taper with the flies you have selected.

Remember, dry fly fishing is best done with either a double taper line or “finesse” weight-forward line. Nymph fishing and streamer fishing is easiest with weight forward line. This information is going to help you land more fish!

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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.