Why Do Some Fly Lines Load a Rod Faster than Others?
There is often so much emphasis placed on casting distance, but does that really matter very often?
Ok, your new $900 rod can cast the whole line without breaking much of a sweat, but how often do you fish at extreme distances? For many folks, the answer is rarely or perhaps never. I'm in the same boat. For most of the fishing I've done in my life so far, a healthy chunk of the action has occurred within about 30 feet. Having a good short game in fly fishing is often essential, but if your rod and line aren't matched quite right, it can hamper those important shorter casts.
Rod action is one thing to consider and can affect performance—especially at short range. Extra-fast and fast action rods can be awesome for banging out the longest bombs and casting overweight rigs, but if matched with a line not specifically designed for those sticks, rod load and feel can suffer at shorter distances—sometimes quite a bit. A softer rod such as a moderate-fast action will always offer improved load and feel on those short to modest presentations. However, the rod is just one piece of the tackle puzzle.
Many specialized fly lines are made to improve rod loading which can really help performance of faster-action rods. If you're going to be doing a lot of short work with a rod like this, line choice is even more important for the best performance. Can these lines still cast far? Of course, but they'll load a rod quicker and more efficiently with less line out than a typical standard-style fly line.
Lines that will load a rod faster and more easily will have.....
More Weight- Fly lines are typically measured for weight (in grains) in the first 30-feet. For example, the first 30-feet of a standard 5-weight fly line would fall between 134–146 grains with an ideal weight of 140-grains. This is fine for many fly rods, but faster rods load better at shorter ranges with heavier lines. The proliferation of fast and extra-fast fly rods these days is exactly why so many fly lines are now built heavier than industry specs. A 5-weight line geared towards faster rods might have a 30-foot weight that's actually equal to 6-weight industry specifications.....or even higher! It's safe to say that these industry guidelines are often loosely followed nowadays.
Another way to achieve more weight is through up-lining. This simply means choosing a line that's a size heavier than your rod is made for. So, if you have a 5-weight rod, you'd pick a 6-weight line. Since some fly lines are already built heavier as mentioned, up-lining might not even be necessary. But, if using lines that adhere to or at least closely follow industry weight guidelines, up-lining can be a very worthy trick. Bumping up one line size will give you that extra weight you need to help load the rod asap.
Head/Taper Design- The head length/taper also impacts how fast a line loads the rod. A more standard fly line will have a longer head, often somewhere in the 40-foot range. These are good all-around lines that perform smoothly, but the grain weight in the head is spread out over a large area. With its 47-foot head length, the RIO Gold series (shown below) is a good example in this category.
Picture from RIO Products
A line that's made to load a rod faster will have a shorter, more aggressive head, often with additional weight built-in towards the very front. This helps load a rod quicker because there's more available weight to cast with less line out. For example, the WF5F RIO Gold line above has a 30-foot head weight of 146-grains, while the more aggressive WF5F RIO Grand line below has a 30-foot head weight of 160-grains. That extra weight up front in the Grand line coupled with the more aggressive tapering will help load a fast rod quicker. There are certainly lines out there with even more drastic differences in design and weighting!
Picture from RIO Products
Whether a floating or sinking variety is selected, a fly line that loads your rod properly will increase feel, accuracy, and overall casting efficiency. Lines with shorter, heavier head designs will also aid in delivering larger flies and cutting through wind, too, but they'll give up some delicacy. Learning about the designs of various fly lines will help you make the very best decision for your rod and situation, so shop smart!
A sampling of fly lines made to load rods quickly....