I want to tell you a story about a student of mine who came to the Blue Mountains with a mate for a casting lesson - they were off to New Zealand in a few months. He was a bear of a man and I taught him about delicacy and smoothness, that muscle was counter-productive to good fly casting. After 2 hours they were casting smoothly with good clean loops. The words I left them with were “Don’t forget to practice”.
I got a call from him a few months later. “Peter my casting has gone to shit, I don’t know what’s wrong, I’m going to New Zealand next week, I’ve been practicing and practising and its just got worse and worse”. He worked at Parramatta and the next day I went down to catch up with him during his lunch break.
He had a good rod and I asked to see his casting. It was just terrible, he was muscling it with loops spraying all over the place and the line going no-where. It should not have been that bad and I asked to have a cast with the set up he was using. It was awful. He’d been practicing alright, but on the road, on the gravel, and on the grass, and the line was shot to bits, it simply would not slip through the guides. I pulled out a rigged rod and line I’d bought down with me and we managed to restore his casting stroke to something effective.
It was an extremely salutary lesson on how badly a damaged fly line can affect our casting stroke. There’s lots of talk about keeping fly lines clean and polished so they float nicely, in my experience most ignore it, but the impact of a dirty or rough line on casting is rarely considered.
The makeup of fly lines
A line picks up dirt, especially if we use it in the park, (still a great thing to do by the way) but also just in everyday fishing. It loses its “slipperyness” through the guides, it won’t shoot, and then we have trouble extending our cast so we repeatedly false cast. Then we begin to work harder, and in doing this we throw tailing loops, or we open up our casting arc, which in turn means we move the tip of the rod in a more domed path, which widens the loop, kills momentum, which in turn means we’ll probably be hitting the water/dirt/gravel/grass/bushes etc. on the back cast. This just makes the job even harder and wears the line out even quicker.
A dirty line is also going to abrade the rod guides, this will in turn wear out the fly line, and this becomes a nasty circle of wear and tear. Also because the line won’t slide through the guides we end up like my student, with an excessively forceful casting stroke that becomes our learned (default) stroke, which is good business for instructors such as myself, because I get paid to fix it, but its not so good for your state of mind and your fishing time.
So how do we prevent this from happening? It really is a case of “an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure.” Keeping your fly lines cleaned and polished is such a simple solution, but so few do it. As every casting day that I host gets warmed up, we spend time cleaning lines, because a clean slick line is vital to good, easy, effortless, smooth, casting.
A fly line has been designed and manufactured for casting, and using the latest in CAD soft-wear and machinery, complex specialized tapers can be constructed out of plastic compounds built around a core. This core provides the actual strength in a fly line and it can vary from 15lbs to 70lbs, depending upon the line weight and the design purpose. In spite of its thick diameter the actual coating adds no strength to the line, (perhaps 300 grams). Even if the coating of the fly line is damaged, and the core exposed, it loses no strength, provided the core is intact.
This coating begins as a thick, but liquid paste. Depending on what the final fishing application of the line might be, this paste has various compounds added to it, including colouring. The actual plastic used in the coating has a fairly neutral density with a specific gravity of 1.2, so it sinks slowly. To make a fly line float, hollow, buoyant micro spheres are added to the plastic, the more of these, the higher the line floats, and the fatter the line is. To create a sinking line, tungsten powder is added to the plastic, and this can be added in varying amounts at various points in the line to change the density and the sink rate along the length of the line.
Plasticisers are added to the brew to keep the plastic flexible, to prevent it from hardening, losing flexibility and therefore cracking. Because plastic breaks down in the sunlight, UV protectors are added, and to keep it slick through the guides there are lubricants that leach out of the plastic to the surface, and some lines have hydrophobic (water repelling) compounds added to the plastic. So the finishing of a premium fly line is a complex brew of materials and taper design, it’s not just a length of plastic string (although it also that).
Assuming it’s meant to float, a high floating line is much nicer to fish with than a line that sits low in the water. High floating lines pick up much easier off the water, which means they also mend a lot easier. And a clean and dressed line is a high floating line.
Cleaning your fly lines
To avoid damaging any of the additives in a fly line avoid using hard detergents, use a mild soap, warm water, and a soft cloth to wash it. After washing I dry off my fly lines by running them through kitchen paper, which is also mildly abrasive, and this is not a bad thing. Specialised glass cleaning cloths are excellent, and of course tissues paper is fine – just avoid tissues with aloe vera in them.
Even just washing, and wiping dry is better than nothing and is all you need to do to sinking lines, but once a floater is washed you should apply one of the many line dressings sold specifically for this purpose. Put it on, let it sit for anything from 5 minutes to overnight, then buff it off, like polishing a car - wax on wax off.
So there are many good reasons to maintain your fly lines, but from my perspective a clean, lubricated line is just much nicer and far more effective to cast and to fish with. A clean line slides through the guides and responds through the rod while we’re casting and it responds a lot better on the water.