Best Fly Fishing Lines of 2020 – Tested & Reviewed

The world of fly fishing lines is a crowded one—there are hundreds of options to choose from in the trout fishing category alone. Then you have to get into line weights and types;breaking it down to the simplest matters, first, there are floating and sinking lines, then there are four basic styles of line taper.

A floating line obviously floats, and it is used for dry-fly fishing or throwing nymphs and streamers into shallow water. There are two general types of sinking line; sink-tip line, where only the tip goes down to get the fly deep, and sinking line, where the entire line sinks, making it useful for fishing in lakes and ponds.

Then, there are different sink rates for sinking line as indicated by a number from 1 to 8 that corresponds to the number of inches the line will sink per second.

Regarding line taper, weight-forward (WF) tapered line is designed with the heaviest part toward the front of the line and the tip section tapered down to provide casting precision—this is probably the most common line in use as it is the best for general casting and can be used in most of the fishing situations you will encounter.

Double-taper (DT) has identical tapers at each end and is best for short to moderate casting distances.

Shooting tip line is similar to WF line, but is only about 30 ft. long and is meant to be attached to a smaller-diameter shooting line. And lastly, integrated shooting taper line is similar to shooting tip except that the shooting line is permanently attached to the tapered head.

7 Best Fly Fishing Lines – Comparisons

A fly line is composed of a plastic covering over a core. The plastic determines line buoyancy, density, slickness, and weight, while the core gives stiffness and strength. The most common line cores are braided-multifilament, braided-monofilament, and monofilament.

The different core types affect line performance in various climate conditions as well as the line’s float and sink characteristics. There are also a lot of technologies at play in modern fly line manufacturing, including the addition of UV inhibitors and lubricants, glass micro balloons that add flotation, and powdered tungsten to create a fast-sinking line.

Decisions, Decisions

In general, a weight-forward floating line, usually marked “WFF” on the box, will be a good all-around choice. If you need to get a fly below the surface, you can always add a weight to the tippet or leader. The line weight should be matched to the rod weight designation marked on the rod. 

Of course, the rod and line setup is dependent on the type of fishing you are going to do, as well as the size of the target fish. For general trout fishing, a rod between 8 and 9 feet in length spooled with line in the 4-6 weight range will work, with 5 weight line being a happy medium.

Most of the top line manufacturers offer good variety in terms of line type and weight. For this review, the basic focus will be on the common trout fishing setup—it also works well for the occasional outing to catch bass or panfish. Let’s take a look at some of the best brands out there.

7 Best Fly Fishing Lines – Comparisons

Scientific Anglers has been an innovator in fly line technology since 1945, and they are one of the largest fly line manufacturers.

Their SharkWave GPX is a high-tech fly line that is built a half-size heavy to help load fast-action rods and increase line speed and control. This line features three different textures including Sharkskin surface technology that traps air for better flotation and reduced friction, and a smooth reference point in the handling section at the line’s 30-foot mark. The line tip has embedded micro-balloons for enhanced float. The line also has 3 color tones so it is easy to know how much line you have out on the water. Sharkwave GPX is a good all-around trout line that will work well with most rods.

The Super-Dry line from Airflois made for trout fishing in mountain rivers where you have to combine good presentation with strength.

The line features a braided nylon core and Super-Dri ridged texture on the coating to reduce friction through the guides. A standard taper with a delta profile enhances casting distance while making great presentations easy. This is a lighter-weight line that works best on soft rods for short- and mid-distance casting.

The Rio Gold is a good multi-tasking line that can do everything you might need for a day on the river.

Its taper design produces a weight distribution that loads the rod quickly, making short casts easy. At the same time, good loop stability and a long belly lets you get a lot of line in the air. The line is very slick, making for smooth, long casts and giving the line good dirt-repellent properties. The front end of the line has a welded loop, making it easy to change leaders. Another nice feature is the color change between the tip and the running line. 

Thisweight-forward fly line is one of the most versatile, affordable lines for the money. It comes in 100-foot rolls in high-visibility orange colors, and the superior dirt resistance and great price make it an excellent line for practice casting or giving instructions to new fly fishermen.

The line is the product of a partnership between Temple Fork Outfitters and leading line company Cortland, and is intended to be a perfect match for TFO rods. This line performs well in all situations—it is rated for saltwater use, and a braided nylon core gives the strength needed for heavy-duty applications.

Orvis Clearwater fly line is designed with features to help the beginning fly fisherman. It has a braided multifilament core that provides good handling and performance in a wide range of conditions.

The line is built a half-size heavy to help load the rod, and its compact head transfers more energy to the leader, making for better turnover. We found it to be a really slick line, probably because it is built with Integrated Slickness, Orvis’ patented friction-reducing additive.

A couple of features we liked were the durable welded loop and the line ID—each line has the taper, weight, and functionality printed on it. The Clear water is a great option for beginners and comes at an inviting price point.

Scientific Anglers are the originators of the modern floating fly line, and their Air Celline is proven for its durability and good float characteristics.

A braided multi filament nylon core and integrated 3M PVC coating make for a slick line that casts far. Air Cel comes in weight-forward and double-taper styles and is offered at a nice price point for the weekend fisherman. It is made to handle well in any weather condition or fishing environment and is ideal for medium-length casting on streams and ponds. 

ECO fly line is another weight-forward floating line that offers good performance in the economy price range.

We were impressed by the features this fly line has—it compares to far more expensive lines and is one of the best values for the money out there. The welded loops are cleanly done, the line slides through the rod eyes smoothly, and it looks to be durable. The braided nylon core gives low-memory performance in all weather conditions, and a long head with a shooting taper makes it easy to manage the line and increases casting distance.

If you’d like to optimize your fly fishing experience, you will need to spend some time matching fly lines and rods according to your fishing style and the conditions you may encounter. Fly fishing lines look simple, but they are actually very technical pieces of fishing gear. Many of them also cost quite a bit of money.

If you can, try out a variety of demo rod and line setups. Look for your chance at outdoor expos or special events at your local sporting goods store to learn what combination works best for you, and have fun doing it.