Rigging Your Reel Right: Fishing Line Selection for Best Results

Last updated on June 28th, 2021

different types of fishing line for reels

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Success is found in the details. People who become great pay attention to the minor aspects of a situation and are often able to separate themselves from the rest of the crowd as a result. Anglers understand this mindset. They know how picky fish are and the importance of offering the most realistic presentation possible.

While it all sounds simple enough, in theory, accomplishing a perfect presentation is a challenge. The first step is choosing the proper rod and reel for your adventure. This is easy enough.

The second step is choosing the correct fishing line rigging. This is where fishing companies can confuse us. They continually develop and sell the different line that’s supposed to be exactly what’s necessary but concise user guidance is often lacking.

It’s not easy knowing the ideal setup, but there are a few steps that you can take to create a great rig. The most important thing to remember is balance. You need to have the proper balance to achieve the smoothest casting and best performance whether it is for a fly, spin or baitcasting setup.

This is where selecting the correct fishing line becomes crucial. This post will give you a better understanding of fishing line – the various available options, their intended use, what to choose for your application and other valuable tips.

Let’s get started with the fly reel…

Fly Reel Setup

For fly rods, the proper line weight is most often listed above the handle on the rod. Don’t deviate too far from these weights. For example, don’t put a 7-weight line on a 5-weight rod and reel.

Never go more than one weight size up or down, otherwise casting will feel difficult and you won’t be as accurate as you would like. Depending on the flow of the river, you may need to adjust size a bit, but not to an extreme level.

Fly Fishing Line Weight

Fly lines range from size 1 to 15. The higher the number, the heavier the line weight. Like I mentioned earlier, your rod and reel will offer details on what weight of line you should use, though sometimes you have to dig to find the information. Make sure to read the labels or instructions.

Also, the species of fish you plan to target will influence your line selection. For example, if you’re targeting trout or panfish, any size between one and seven is going to be perfect. Any sort of bass or pike would be catchable between 7 and 9. Saltwater and larger freshwater fish need a 8 to 15-weight line to be used.

4 Types of Fly Line Taper

The taper is extremely important. There are four types of line taper that you might find necessary for your excursions. Line taper is what allows you to gain distance on your cast.

Weight Forward (WF) – This is the first and perhaps most common taper you’ll find. Weight Forward line is likely placed on most of the beginning fly rod setups. These lines are chosen for a reason!

If you are a beginner, use Weight Forward. For one, it allows for diversity. You are able to use it for dry fly fishing, deep water fishing and everything else in between. It’s not the best type of line for any specific type of fishing, but it will do the trick for most of them.

The initial 30′ of the line is heavier than what follows due to the tapered front end. The rest is going to be the running line.

The major benefit of Weight Forward line is its ability in wind. For one, you’ll be able to get a large amount of line out due to the heavy tip. This gives you the chance to be more precise with your casting and not worry about the wind forcing you to miss your intended spot on the water.

Bass Bug/Saltwater (BBT) Taper – The second most common of type of line/taper. This is a similar type of line to the weight-forward design. However, the heavy tip is not as long as the one on the weight forward line. This shorter and heavier tip is perfect for handling the heavier flies you need to use to catch large fresh and saltwater fish.

Double Taper (DT) – The third type of line taper, the double taper line is used by more experienced fly anglers. It allows for great accuracy and precision casting. The middle of the line is going to be the thickest. The beginning and the end of it are going to be tapered.

While some may think this is a strange design, it helps anglers save money – and time. If you wear out one end of the line, you can flip it over and use the other end without losing any time.

Due to the fact that the line is highly tapered, it’s more difficult to use in extreme conditions. If the flow is heavy or the wind is whipping, don’t expect much power from your DT. It’s great for small creeks or rivers that you’d like to finesse your way around.

Shooting Taper – This last line is the best line for extreme conditions. The first few feet are thicker in hopes of getting the line out of the reel as quickly as possible. If you need to tackle some serious water on a difficult weather day, the shooting line is going to be your best bet. It’ll take some getting used to, but it’s nice to have a massive amount of power in your reel.

fly fishing line types

4 Types of Fly Line Density

Next, you’ll need to choose the density of your line. The density is what is going to affect your buoyancy. The buoyancy of your line should depend on the fish you’re targeting. Similar to line taper, there are four options of density that you can choose.

Floating Line – The name gives away its ability. Floating lines are going to be the most versatile type of line you can find. While it’s necessary to use for dry flies, it can also be used for nymphs and streamers. It takes quite a long time for it to reach the bottom, but it works for any fish only a few feet below the surface.

On top of the versatility, these lines are easy to cast as well as handle. It’s the perfect option for any person looking to start a life in fly fishing.

Sinking Line – The second type of option is, again, pretty self-descriptive. These are a great choice for deep, fast-moving water. Plus, if you’re trying your hand in a lake, you’ll need the sinking line to get to the proper depths.

Sinking lines are the best choice for salmon or steelhead fishing. If you need to hover near the bottom, use a sinking tip. They can be a bit more difficult to cast because of their weight, but they accomplish what you need. Depending on the company you purchase from, they may include a roman numeral after the abbreviation to show how many inches per second the line will sink.

If you need to stay at a constant depth, go ahead and use the sinking tip. These can be a bit frustrating to work with because of how often you may get snagged. Be careful to keep enough tension on your line to help it off any snags it might find.

Intermediate Line – The intermediate lines hover right between the floating and sinking line. They’ll get to a decent depth and stay just below the surface, but they won’t go all the way to the bottom and present any issues that a sinking line may cause. These would work well in a weedy lake or fairly shallow river.

Floating/Sinking Line – The fourth and final option is the most versatile line density type. These have a loop at the end of the line that allows for fast changes of the tip so you can fish different types of water without much of a headache.

They are going to be the costliest of the bunch, but they’re the most efficient and easiest to work with. You can use sinking, floating, weight forward and intermediate tips. 

Fly Backing

Remember that all fly line needs backing. This is the line tied between the fly line and the reel spool. This is going to be found in a 20 to 30-pound test. This a thin material, but it’s going to add some more material to your reel that helps you fight those fish that choose to run.

It’s smart to tie around 75-100 yards of backing to your reel. There’s nothing worse than getting spooled and losing your fish.

 Fly Leaders

Leaders are perhaps the most important part of your reel setup. A leader is just like a normal fishing line. If you’re after spookier fish on a slow clear river, you’ll want a thin leader. It ranges from 0x to 8x with zero being the thickest and eight being the thinnest. Depending on the size of the fish you’re after and the size of the fly, adjust your leader.

Here is a handy chart to help you determine your leader size:

Fly SizesLeader Size
sizes 2 – 1/00X
sizes    4 – 81X
sizes   6 – 102X
sizes 10 – 143X
sizes 12 – 16 4X
sizes 14 – 185X
sizes 16 – 226X
sizes 18 – 247X
sizes 22 – 288X

*For trout, go ahead and use anything from 4x to 5x.

A Word on Fly Line Cost

Fly line can be a bit pricey, but it’s a necessary tool. It’ll last you numerous seasons so don’t be too shocked by the price. Brands like Scientific Angler, Orvis and Rio are all solid options.

Spin and Baitcasting Reel Setup

fishing line for spinning and baitcastil reels

Most spinning and baitcasting reels have a certain line type or test listed on the reel that the manufacturer believes will work best. These details are necessary to know in order to get the most out of your gear. While it’s possible to use other lines, they won’t help you achieve the best performance.

The first thing to know about spin and baitcasting line is there are three main types: braided, monofilament and fluorocarbon. All of these have their own benefits and drawbacks.

Braided line is going to offer you the most strength. Braided line also gives you the least amount of stretch and smallest diameter, all attributes that make it attractive to anglers. However, you’re going to lose the transparency that mono or fluoro would offer when you use braid.

It’s going to spook a more sensitive fish and make life a bit tougher at times. However, if you need to rip through heavy brush or vegetation, braid is a great choice. It’s smooth and won’t snap. You’ll have the freedom to fish anywhere you would like with it.

Monofilament line is great because of how easy it is to find and how affordable it is. It has more stretch than braid and fluoro as well as a larger diameter. You’ll gain a bit more transparency, but not as much as fluoro would offer. The serious anglers often stay away from it, but it’s an option for a beginner.

Fluorocarbon is the last of the three options. The first thing to know is that it sinks. It’s one of the most common lines used for bass angling. It offers the most variety as well as versatility. You can fish using numerous techniques and there is a fair amount of transparency that gives you the chance to target several types of fish. It is also the most expensive of the three types here.

Diameter of Line

Understanding the line diameter is another necessary step when rigging your spinning reel. The thicker the diameter, the heavier the test. The test is how many pounds it would take to snap the line.

If you’re after spooky fish like trout, you’ll want a thin line and lighter test. However, that’s not always an option depending on the size of fish you’re trying to catch. Also, a thinner line is going to allow you to cast a further distance. A thick line will cause more friction on the reel and not cast at as smooth of a rate.

Spin/Baitcasting Backing

Similar to a fly reel, you’ll need some backing line. However, you won’t need the 90 or so feet that you usually would on a fly reel. If you’re planning on using braid, you’ll need to use monofilament as backing. It’ll hug the reel tighter and you won’t use the space you would if you chose to use fluorocarbon.

Be careful that you use only 10 feet or so of backing. You don’t want to run into your knot when you’re casting. If you’re extremely particular, be sure that you can see your knot eight to 12 revolutions below the end of your cast.

Also, tape your backing to your spool. You don’t want to have any issues with your line so a small piece of electrical tape will keep everything attached. When you’re ready to attach your mainline to your backing, use a double uni knot.

Note on backing: Most of today’s spinning reels are “braid-ready”, meaning they come with an integrated non-slip textured backing. However, as an added safety measure, I recommend adding a little monofilament backing anyway.

Main Line

Your next step is to choose your main line. On spinning reels, be sure that you aren’t using too heavy of a line. They’re made for lighter lines and lighter baits.

The heavier monofilaments and fluorocarbons are going to be too bulky. They’ll jump off of your reel when you go to cast it. These will cause a major backlash that’ll likely take minutes to fix. If you need a heavy test, a braid is a better choice due to its thinner diameter.

Baitcasting reels are capable of handling heavier lines. At this point, it’s a matter of preference. What sort of line do you enjoy? Is it fluorocarbon, monofilament, or braid?

I hope this post helps to clarify some of the often unclear or confusing information we come across when it comes to understanding and choosing fishing line. Don’t let anyone fool you – the right line can make a world of difference in casting, presentation, and overall performance. It’s best to get your reel rigged properly from the start.

Tight lines and happy fishing, all…

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