Are line weights correct?
Some say the AFTM fly line scale is becoming worthless, but is that down to manufacturers or consumers? Our experts guide you through this minefield
Clearing the confusion around line ratings. They’re not always correct it seems
WE expect certain grey areas when it comes to fishing. Matching the hatch? No worries: all part of the challenge. Matching your rod to the correct f ly line, on the other hand – no-one wants a guessing game at that stage. We want to be kitted out and heading for the water. And on the face of it, that’s exactly how it should be. Match the weight number on your rod to the weight number on that brand new f ly line you’re holding in the tackle store, and surely you’re all set? In a perfect world, yes. Not in this one. Devised by the then American Federation of Tackle Manufacturers (AFTM) in 1962, the AFTM rating system ascribes a number to a f ly line, depending on its weight; 1 denoting the lightest and 12 the heaviest (normally used for saltwater fishing). For most freshwater f ly anglers, sizes 4 to 8 cover most scenarios, from streams to reser voirs. Only when rod and line numbers match, goes the rule of thumb, do the line’s weight and rod’s power fuse properly, in an eff icient cast. Too light, and line struggles to escape the guides; too heav y, and it could stress and damage the rod. The devil, however, is in the details.
Finding RIO Grand line being advertised as “a full line size heavier than the industr y standard”, one poster at Fly Fishing Forums (w w w.f ly fishing.co.uk) wondered if line ratings are nowadays written in shifting sands, a concern only reinforced when you consider the likes of Hardy’s Compact Rocket lines (“slightly over weighted”) or Scientific Anglers’ Frequency Boost line (“half line-size heav y”). By the time you’ve added in countless sink-tips and snappy marketing blurb, ‘what ty pe of line do I need?’ begins to look as open-ended a question as, ‘how long’s a piece of string…?’ Some sceptics maintain that the confusion plays into manufacturers’ hands, with anglers seduced into buying several lines, either to make doubly sure they have one that suits their rod, or simply to keep up with the Joneses. Match angler Rob Edmunds, however, feels that the industr y is being criticised simply for responding to customers’ demand for more choice and also to skill deficiencies among less-experienced anglers. “The AFTM scale is based on the weight of the f ly line’s f irst 30 feet, the leng th that needs to be aerialised to load the rod correctly,” he explains, “but tackle companies know that the average angler is not a great caster and can’t hold 30 feet of f ly line airborne or double-haul, so consequently never generates sufficient line speed to load the rod correctly. “The simple answer is making the line heavier by half or one full line size, while still calling it 7 w t, for example. This means the angler now only needs, say, 20 feet of line outside the tip ring to load the rod correctly. “The reason you get so many different tapers, meanwhile, is because they are designed to do ver y different things. Over the last 10 years, for example, there has been a grow th in predator f ly-fishing, involving bulk y f lies that call for a short, blunt taper. You need different lines for different applications.” We asked Rob and several other leading anglers to comment on the state of the f ly line market and how the novice might negotiate it. While all agreed that the area is a minefield (“Each AFTM line rating covers a small range of weights,” 2009 World Champion Iain Barr reminded us, “so one manufacturer’s 7wt may not be the same as another’s 7 w t.”) there is a way through it for the non-tackle geeks among us. Tr y-before-you-by is obviously king but for the ty pical beginner/improver, matching rod and line weights is a fallacy, says Rob Edmunds: the ideal is an over-matched line. “I’d advise a novice just to buy a standard weight-forward or ‘WF’ line and ignore any thing specialist - ‘Bug Taper’, ‘Extreme taper’ etc - until he’s experienced enough to know what he needs in that respect,” he says. “Then go up one line size from what it says on your rod. ‘Over-lining’ the rod like that will make a huge difference to your casting.” Our columnist Peter Cockwill only partially agrees. “If highly-qualif ied technical people, often champion casters, have designed a tool to handle a 7wt line then how come ‘Joe Angler’ knows more and says that it should work best with an 8wt line?” he asks. “That said, there’s little need to go beyond a basic weight-forward line of the correct rating, as casting standards generally aren’t great. Only those who work at their casting can appreciate the many different lines.” Iain Barr, meanwhile, would take Edmunds’ argument a notch further. “If a complete beginner, always go up two line ratings; one if an intermediate angler,” he says. “The rod loads quicker with quicker line speed and you cast further, requiring fewer false casts. More time on the water for your f lies and less wear on your arm. “Retailers are too quick to match the line and rod AFTM weights. They should instead assess their customers’ casting ability and identif y what’s right for them based on that.”