One thing that has gotten really complicated in fly fishing is the fly line. It can drive a man to drinks trying to decipher all the differences. That reminds me I need a drink, but back to the subject at hand. One area that has been especially confusing is the choice of lines for two handed rods. These rods are often called spey rods which is a slang term applied because they are used primarily for executing spey casts, but that’s another story for another post. Those who are new to spey casting or thinking of giving it a try, often are overwhelmed with the different choices and terminology. It is my intention to clarify things a bit for those new to this really cool way to fish. There are three categories of spey lines with a variety of new hybrids being introduced at a rapid pace. The following information is what I have learned in the last several years of studying and learning this new genre of fly fishing. Since I am too lazy to take the time to provide a list of my sources and the fact that I’m not even sure where some of this information was acquired I ask the reader to indulge me. Any corrections would be welcome as long as they are done in the spirit of good sportsmanship and don’t bore the hell out of me with a bunch of Latin bull shit. In case you haven’t figured it out yet I’m a keep it simple kind of guy that doesn’t get to philosophical until at least the fourth or fifth drink and it helps if there is a campfire present. Now that I have made the appropriate disclaimer to protect me from those smarter than me who might find fault in my words of wisdom I will get back to the bull sh… ahh, subject at hand.
The primary difference between the three categories is the length of the line with the weight of the line remaining constant. The first spey lines were double taper lines used on two handed rods on the Spey River in Scotland, thus the name spey casting and hence the spey rod/lines. Then someone, probably several someone’s most likely Scotsmen, started hacking up different lines and splicing together the various lengths, weights, and tappers to achieve the best casting dynamics for their particular rod and style of casting. Much like the marksman and big game hunters do when they reload their own ammunition for their particular gun and style of shooting. The right load for the gun as the right load for the rod. This practice of using two handed rods gained popularity and spread to other lands. One of these was Scandinavia and the another was the
. The lines designed by the Scots are known as long bellied traditional lines. I interpret the term traditional as meaning first and not necessarily better, that is my opinion and the reader should take it as such. Then the Scandinavian’s got into the practice of hacking and redesigning lines that better met their needs. The lines they came up with became known as Scandinavian style lines later shortened to Scandi lines. Then some guys in the Pacific Northwest United States on the United States Skagit River made their contribution to the spey line foray giving us the Skagit line (pronounced Ska-jit). So what is the difference and which line should I use, you ask.
The traditional long bellied line is typically a one piece line with the head of the line encompassing the belly, front taper, and rear taper the head being roughly four times the length of the rod. For example on a fourteen foot rod the head would be fifty to sixty feet long. This head would be followed by a length of shooting line and its weight would vary. What weight you choose depends on the action of the rod being used. Being the longest of the spey lines it is the most difficult to learn to cast and requires the greatest amount of room behind the caster to accommodate the larger “D” loop needed to properly load the rod. The line is not typically stripped-in between casts and this gives the benefit of maximizing the time the fly spends being presented to the fish. In theory this will maximize the number of fish caught in a given length of time spent fishing. Another benefit, to winter anglers, is that the rod guides remain drier and therefore decreases icing of the guides.
Scandi lines are designed as interchangeable heads that are connected to a running line with a loop to loop connection. These heads are shorter than the heads of traditional long bellied lines of the same weight thus being larger in diameter. A typical Scandi line will be three times the length of the rod with the weight staying constant. For example an eleven foot rod will use a head length of thirty to forty feet. Scandi lines are used as shooting lines and are stripped-in between casts and are shot out on the forward cast allowing casts of the same length requiring less room behind the angler due to the smaller “D” loop required to properly load the rod. The Scandi line allows an angler to fish smaller rivers with brushy banks and to change head length/weight using the same running line. This allows the angler to use one reel spool rather than separate spools to change line length/weight for different rods or conditions such as needing sinking or floating lines. They also are easier to cast especially if larger flies are used and/or when wind is an issue. With these lines you must strip-in line between casts therefore the fly spends less time being presented to fish. Also the wow factor is less as the loops in the line are smaller and less sexy so to speak.
To take it to the next level there are the
Skagit lines. These are also a shooting head design that is connected not only to a running line but also to a tip. Do not make the mistake, as I did, of thinking that a poly or Ferrel leader constitutes a tip. A poly or ferrel leader could be attached to the tip or a standard tapered leader may be used as is the case with all spey lines. Skagit line heads are shorter than Traditional or Scandi spey line heads typically being twice the length of the rod with the weight remaining the same. The tip should be included in the length, but no weight of the line. For example an eleven foot rod would use a Skagit head including tip of 20 to 30 feet with an even greater diameter than the Scandi lines. Skagit lines being the shortest spey lines are the easiest to cast and accommodate the largest fly size and the tightest casting environments since they require the smallest “D” loop to load a rod. They will also cast better in more extreme winds. I use the Skagit line on my home water the Missouri River in when the wind is at its worst. The Montana Skagit line allows the angler to change from a floating tip to a super fast sinking tip, and everything in between, to accommodate a variety of water speeds and depths. It must be stripped-in between casts and is the least sexy of the spey lines to use. The loop is not as pretty as the Traditional or the Scandi line.
You need to decide what line to use based on the rod you use, the conditions you will be fishing in, and your personal desires. I use a Traditional long bellied line on big rivers and in extreme cold weather. I get the most satisfaction and enjoyment from fishing longer bellied Traditional lines because they have a greater wow factor with their big sexy loops. Most of the time I use Scandi lines on my home waters here in
because they accommodate the size of rivers and the flies I like to swing. The wind is always a factor here in Montana Montana so I keep a few Skagit lines on hand for those days when it is more of an issue then usual. The best way to choose the right line is to seek recommendations from manufacturers and fly shops then try some demo lines. Head Hunters fly shop in has a good selection of lines they are happy to let you try so you can find the proper line in the best weight for your rod and casting style. I highly recommend them as they truly go out of their way to make sure you are satisfied and achieve your own personal desires from your fishing experience whatever your needs are. While on the Craig, MT if you see an old bearded guy smoking a cigar with a drink in his hand, say hi. The drink will be bourbon and the guy will be me. Missouri