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Casting Tip of the Month - Choosing Line Weights

courtesy Atlanta Fly Fishing School

Question: I have a rod that is dual rated in line weight. It’s a 4/5 weight and I’ve heard opposing opinions from friends and fly shops. Should I use the line weight heavier or lighter? What is your opinion of the right line for this rod?


The safe bet on a single rated rod is to use the line weight recommended by the rod manufacturer. This should provide you with the best all round performance of your rod’s capabilities. Even with single rated rods you’ll hear of anglers “up lining” (using a line weight heavier) or “down lining” (using a line weight lighter) because some anglers do not want the best all-round performance. With dual rated rods you have a choice in line weight, and the rational for choosing the lighter or heavier line is simple. First, let’s look at how lines are rated for weight. Prior to the 1940’s most lines were braided silk with enameled (water proof) coatings. With the advent of new materials like nylon (lighter) and Dacron (heavier) the AFTMA (Association of Fishing Tackle Manufacturers) has standardized the designation of line weights based on the weight in grains of the first 30’ of your line, minus any short, level tip section. Today rods are designed to be a certain line weight so they will load with approximately 30’ of that weight line beyond the rod tip. I recommend you choose your line weight based on the average distance you will be casting. If the majority of your fishing is done in small mountain streams with casts of 30’ or less, I would recommend the heavier line to get your rod to load more fully with less than a full 30’ of line out of the tip. Conversely, if most of your fishing is done on big rivers or open water lakes and ponds with long casts, I would recommend the lighter line choice to carry more line in the air without overloading your rod. Other reasons for deviating from the manufacture’s recommendations are varied. The most prevalent reason today is the surge toward FAST action rods. Some manufactures in an effort to “push the envelope” on FAST have built rods that would better cast a line weight heavier in all but the testosterone driven distance casting contests. In my opinion we are at the peak of a rising tide. We have the technology to make even faster rods, but they will become increasingly more difficult for the average angler to cast. I would even suggest that all but the wind driven salt water angler and the big river salmon angler will be back to casting slower rods in the next few years. Why not? They cast just as well, if not better, in small streams, can present a fly more delicately, and are a lot more fun to play a fish on. I still enjoy slow rods with a noodeley bend that makes a 12-inch Rainbow feel like a Whale.

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