I’ve been fly fishing for more than 30 years and in that time I’ve purchased and tested dozens of different fly lines. For this buyer’s guide, I researched over a hundred fly lines and compared them side-by-side to bring you the best fly lines available in 2023.
When picking out a fly line, you shouldn’t go cheap. You may be able to get away with a cheaper rod and a budget reel, but your fly line allows you to present flies delicately, cast further, and get your flies out to where the fish are.
Here Are The Best Fly Lines in 2023:
- Best Fly Line Overall: RIO Gold Elite
- Best Fly Line Runner-Up: Scientific Anglers Frequency
- Best Floating Fly Line: RIO Gold Elite
- Best Sinking Fly Line: Orvis Clearwater Sinking Line
- Best Sinking Tip Fly Line: RIO Big Nasty Sink Tip
- Best Saltwater Fly Line: RIO Mainstream Saltwater
- Best Weight Forward Fly Line: RIO Perception Elite WF
- Best Double Taper Fly Line: Cortland 444 DT
- Best Shooting Taper Fly Line: Scientific Angler ST
- Best Level Taper Fly Line: Tankara LT
- Best Overweight Fly Line: Orvis Clearwater
- Balance Your Setup: Best Fly Line By Weight
- What To Look For in Fly Line: Buyer’s Guide
Other Things You’ll Learn:
- Balance Your Setup: Best Fly Line By Weight
- What To Look For in Fly Line: Buyer’s Guide
- Who Makes The Best Fly Lines? Best Fly Line Brands
- How To Spool Your Fly Line: Fly Line Set-Up
Below I’ll go over 10 different fly lines to suit your fly fishing needs. On top of that, I’ll also go over some features of different lines, what they can best be used for, and my personal opinion of what makes a good line.
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10 Best Fly Lines in 2023
Now that you know why you need a great fly line, you can start shopping for fly line for your particular setup. Whether you’re casting small nymphs or heading out on the sea and throwing large Bunny Leeches, you’ll find the perfect fly fishing line on this list.
1. Rio Gold Elite WF Floating
(Best Fly Line Overall)
- Taper: Weight forward
- Available weights: 4-8
The Rio InTouch Gold WF Floating is my favorite fly line and I’ve been using it for years. It is a premier fly line that’s strong enough to last fishing season after fishing season while also allowing you to make more accurate casts and drifts.
It’s lasted me more than 2 fishing seasons and still going strong. It’s my favorite line and it shoots nice and smooth out of the guides of my fly rods. This is why it’s the best fly line overall. Value for money, durability, and the feel of this line when it casts.
Rio also has the Rio Gold Premier Fly Line which is one step down from the Elite. What sets the Elite apart from the other fly lines by Rio is the slick cast coating. This is likely what makes the line feel so good when it shoots through the guides, but also Rio says it helps with the longevity of the line.
There are a lot of floating lines on this list, but the RIO Gold is my favorite floating line because it’s never sunk on me once (as some of my cheaper lines have done after a week or two).
It has a special taper that gives it a great loop at long distances. The line also features a lack of stretch so that you can focus on subtle takes from stingy trout and other fish.
Match this line to your rod and reel when you’re throwing any kind of surface flies or shallow running nymphs and streamers.
2. Scientific Anglers Frequency (Runner-Up Best Fly Line)
- Taper: Weight forward
- Available weights: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
I just picked up my second weight of SA Frequency fly line and I still think it’s a great fly line for the price.
If you’re looking for one of the best floating fly lines but $100 is a little too steep, then the Scientific Anglers Frequency Floating Line is a solid choice. Coming in at half the price of Rio, the SA floating line is perfect for your dry and nymph setup.
The taper is weight forward, but the company calls it a versatile taper. It’s slightly different but similar to a WF. It has a versatile mid-length head, which is great for throwing small dries and gives great line control.
I just love the way this fly line casts in my rod. It was a close call if this was going to make my number one spot, but I think the new Gold Elite by Rio squeaked it out based on that special coating it has.
3. Orvis Clearwater Sinking (Best Sinking Fly Line)
- Taper: WF
- Available weights: 5, 6, 7, 8
The Orvis Clearwater Sinking Line is rated with a 1.25 IPS. It’s one of the best sinking lines for just about any body of water, but it works best in deep rivers and lakes.
It sinks at the perfect speed for both rivers and lakes, making it super versatile, which is why I think it’s the best sinking fly line.
It also features a front welded loop for quick and easy leader change-outs.
For only $50, this is a great deal. You’re getting a solid line that has little memory and will get your fly down to the strike zone. Throw sinking streamers or other wet flies and have full confidence they’ll get where they need.
This is a great setup for someone who’s looking to get into using a sinking tip or a full sinking line. It sinks at a pace that’s not too fast or slow and allows the angler to fully control the line.
4. Rio InTouch Big Nasty Sink Tip
(Best Sink Tip Fly Line)
- Taper: WF
- Available weights: 5-10
The Rio InTouch Big Nasty Sink Tip line features an extra-low stretch to help increase the performance of the line. This also helps with the casting body of the line. Most sink tip lines tend to have a kick on the end, but this one doesn’t.
That’s what won it the spot as the best sink tip fly line on this list.
There’s a strong front taper that will allow you to easily cast streamers. It’s perfect for the angler who enjoys throwing large streamers to catch big and feisty brown and rainbow trout. This is one of the best sink tip lines.
5. Rio Mainstream Saltwater
(Best Saltwater Fly Line)
- Taper: WF
- Available weights: 8-10
The Rio Mainstream Saltwater Fly Line is an all-purpose saltwater fly line. If you only have one reel and enjoy chasing all different types of saltwater fish, then this is the line that you need to have tied onto your reel.
It’s ideal for temperate to tropical conditions, because it has a hard tropical coating on the line. This won’t harden in warm weather. It’s perfect for throwing big and heavy flies that will turn over in the wind.
It’s overall versatility and the fact that I’ve fished this line for multiple seasons without so much as a crack in the coating, means it tops this list as the best saltwater fly line on the market.
6. Rio Perception Elite WF
(Best Weight-Forward Fly Line)
- Taper: WF
- Available weights: 3-9
We’ve been testing out the Rio Perception Elite WF fly line for over a year and we love it. Danny, one of our team anglers, has been using it as his primary trout line and it’s a real workhorse on the river.
When you buy a weight forward line, you want it to shoot out of your rod but still land delicately on the water and present the fly well. The Rio Perception Elite does it better than the rest, which is why it’s our favorite WF fly line.
This line has basically no line memory and shoots out of the rod tip like a rocket, while still offering excellent control. Rio has long been one of the top fly line producers and this is easily one of their best offerings.
7. Cortland 444
(Best Double-Taper Fly Line)
- Taper: Double taper
- Available weights: 3-9
The Cortland 444 DT is regarded as one of the easiest handling lines on the market. On top of this, it’ll also remain supple and moveable in even the coldest of waters. The 444 also has a bright peach coloring, making it highly visible.
I’ve had a few Cortland lines over the years and they make a great product. You can rely on their floating lines to float and their sinking lines to sink. I’m not crazy about their leaders and tippets, but they do make a good line.
With its pre-welded loop, you’ll be able to easily tie on different leaders. No longer do you have to sit and fumble around with difficult knots. Undo the handshake knot between fly line and leader, and you’re ready to tie on a fresh one.
I’m not crazy about double-taper (DT) fly line, but when I do use it, I prefer the Cortland 444 because it’s a great value. It’s the cost and the ease of casting (even for beginners to DT line) that make this my favorite Double Taper fly line available today.
8. Scientific Anglers ST
(Best Shooting Tip Fly Line)
- Taper: ST
- Available weights: 6-10
If you’re looking to make long casts in order to give even longer presentations to fish, then the Scientific Anglers Shooting Taper is for you. Strip in streamers across huge swaths of water and entice fish to your fly.
It also works well for fly line casting competitions. The long casts you’ll be able to make and the power behind it will also help in windy conditions.
When you buy a shooting tip fly line, you want that line to blast out of your rod tip in a super tight loop and gently land on the water as far ahead of you as possible.
When it comes to shooting tip lines, Scientific Anglers never ceases to impress me and their Scientific Anglers ST is the best shooting tip line on the market in my opinion.
9. Tenkara USA Level Line
(Best Level Taper Fly Line)
- Taper: Level
- Available weights: 2-4
The Tenkara USA Level Line is a fine fly line for throwing streamers or other flies, and you don’t need to worry too much about making a big splash when they land. That being said, it can still be difficult to control.
As far as all of my lines for my Tenkara rod go, and actually all of the level lines that I’ve used and tested over the years, the Tenkara USA offers the best castability and value for money.
If you’re not an expert fly caster or using a Tenkara style rod, then it’s best to stick to any other type of fly line. If you’re really strapped for cash, then you could make this work.
10. Orvis Clearwater WF Line (Best Over-Weighted Fly Line)
- Taper: WF
- Available weights: 5-9
The Orvis Clearwater WF Line is built a half-size heavy in order to help load the rod fully. Since the head of this line is so compact, you get a great turnover and you can land your fly accurately and with ease.
The Clearwater WF line also has integrated slickness, allowing for clear and easy motion through the guides. The braided multifilament core allows you to fish in just about any circumstances.
Not a lot of lines on the market are meant to be over-weighted on your rod.
In fact, I’m pretty sure the Orvis Clearwater is the only one I own that actually says it’s meant to be on a lower rod weight, so that’s why it won my spot as the best line to be over-weighted on your rod.
Best Fly Line by Weight
Generally, if a fly line is good, it’ll be good in any weight that you purchase it in, but for some reason, certain weights of certain lines sometimes feel a lot better to cast than others.
That’s why I’ve also broken up each of the the lines by weight, and I even included specific buyer’s guides for each fly line weight. You can check out each line listed below.
Best 3wt Fly Line
Not surprisingly, the best 3wt fly line is the Orvis Clearwater. It made the list twice above (for sinking and WF), and it’s also our top 3 weight fly line available. There’s just a good feel when you’re casting the WF-3 with smaller rods.
Best 4wt Fly Line
The Orvis Hydros Trout WF Fly Line is the top 4wt fly line — it’s able to handle any great trout fishing you do. You’ll be able to toss multi-nymph rigs, dry flies and even larger streamers with this line. The 4-weight Hydros lines make it super to mend even with a light 4-weight setup, which is why I like it best for my 4wt.
After hooking this line up to your 4-weight fly reel and 4-weight fly rod setup, you’ll be ready to go after surprisingly large trout, while still having that delicate cast capability from the lighter rod.
Best 5wt Fly Line
The Orvis Hydros WF5 Nymph is the best 5wt fly line. It’s perfect for handling heavy nymphing rigs and streamers. You’ll easily be able to turn over multi-rigger flies on your leader with this line as well. The belly is long and smooth, which helps manage the line on the water.
Spool a 5-weight line on your 5wt fly reel and 5wt fly rod and you’ve put together what is widely regarded as the most versatile fly fishing setup you can have. Anglers agree that if you’re only going to have one weight for fly fishing, the 5wt is likely the way to go.
If the 5 weight is the most versatile setup, then it’s worth spending the money on this amazing fly line.
Best 6wt Fly Line
If you won’t be saltwater fishing, then you can stick with the regular Orvis Hydros HD WF6F line in this class. But, if you have a craving for big sea game, go for the saltwater line.
Perhaps not as versatile as the 5-weight, as it’s getting large enough to overpower smaller trout, a 6 weight fly reel and 6wt rod are firmly getting into the scope of saltwater fly fishing. You can even land smaller bonefish on this weight, as well as larger trout, salmon and bass.
Best 7wt Fly Line
The Rio Mainstream Saltwater is a great 7wt fly line. I’m sticking with saltwater lines again in the 7-weight category, and the Rio Mainstream Saltwater is a great all-around fly line. The line is pretty easy to turn over, so it’s a good beginner saltwater fly line.
Best 8wt Fly Line
Another decent all-around line, the Rio Gold WF8F is a versatile WF 8 weight that’s excellent in any weight. It turns over a bit better than many other lines I’ve tested at larger weights.
The 8-weight fly rod and 8wt reel is a great setup for high winds, massive flies, quick casts, chasing boats, and big fish. You can expect this weight to handle pretty much anything you can throw at it, and it can throw just about anything.
Things To Consider When Choosing a Fly Line
If you’re not using the proper fly line, then you’re not going to be catching as many fish as you should. Here are a few things to look for when choosing the your next fly line.
What is the Purpose of Fly Line?
First of all, why does the right fly fishing line matter?
Unlike using a spinning reel or a bait caster, which uses the weight of the lure to cast, the fly line is what propels the fly. So, if you’re using the incorrect type of fly line, then you won’t be able to cast very well.
This is why it’s important to have the proper type of line on your reel. If you’re throwing a dry fly on a sink tip, then you’d better hope the fish are aggressive that day because that fly will be dragged under by the line very quickly.
Basic Types of Fly Line
There are three basic types of fly lines: floating, fast-sinking, intermediate sink, and sink tip. Most anglers have these on their reels. Each one has its own unique purpose that will give you the best chance to catch fish.
Floating Fly Line
This one is arguably the most popular fly line used. Luckily, the names of fly lines are usually pretty straightforward. So when you see “floating fly line,” it means it does just that.
Floating line is used as a catch-all. You can nymph with it or throw dries and even streamers. However, when you’re throwing subsurface flies, they’ll only go as deep as the leader will allow. This is the ideal line for throwing dries.
You might be considering saving some money on your next floating fly line and while there are some great budget options out there, be careful. The cheapest, poorest-quality floating lines simply don’t float. Trust me. I’ve had it happen plenty of times.
I’ve purchased a few last-minute cheap floating lines in my day and there’s nothing more annoying than watching it sink to the bottom of the river after a couple of days of fishing. This will ruin your presentation, and it will ruin your trip because you simply won’t catch fish on a dry fly with a line that sinks!
Fast-Sinking Fly Line
Just like floating line, this name is straightforward. The fly line will fully submerge and the tip will quickly sink into the water first, but the entire line will continue to sink when it hits the water. There are several different types that all sink at different rates of speed.
There are sinking lines for fishing in deep lakes, and when you need to get your fly down quickly, then you’ll need a fast sinking line. Most of the time you’ll be using streamers or wet flies with this type of line.
Sinking Tip Line
Again, this is a straightforward name. Instead of having the entire line sink, the tip of the fly line will sink while the body of the fly line will float. This is advantageous because if you’re wading, the body of the line won’t get caught on the river bottom while you’re casting.
With a sink tip, you’ll be able to fish similarly to when you have a full sinking line. You’ll primarily be using nymphs, streamers, and anything else that will be subsurface.
Intermediate Sink Fly Line
This is a fly line that sinks at an even rate throughout the entire line. Unlike the Fast-Sinking tip where the tip sinks faster, or the sinking tip line where the line floats except for the tip, the intermediate sinks at an even rate throughout the line.
Types of Fly Line Taper
A fly line taper is an adjustment made by the fly line company to the fly line. This means they make certain spots thicker or thinner. This is to help with control as well as casting distance. Below, I’ll go over these 4 different tapers.
Weight Forward Taper (WF)
This is considered to be the standard taper for most trout and freshwater fishing. This is a line that contains additional weight in the first 10 yards of the fly line. The remainder of the line is even.
This heavier section provides extra weight, which makes casting easier and allows you to cast farther as well. This is especially helpful on windy days. The weight allows files to turn over easier and gives them a better presentation.
Double Taper (DT)
This is considered another great fly line for trout. The first 15 feet of the line gradually widens, the next 60 feet are even, and the last 15 gradually widen. So both ends can be used.
This is to help give the fly a delicate presentation. It’s great for throwing flies to brook trout or other fish that could be spooked by a large splash of a fly. These aren’t ideal for windy conditions, though.
Level Taper (LT)
This line has no taper to it, meaning it has the same width and weight throughout the entries of the reel. Because they have no weight to them, these are very difficult types of line to master and use.
It floats well and is cheaper than all other lines, but that’s about where the positives stop. Overall, unless you have a need to use this line, it’s best to avoid it and spend the extra money on WF or DT.
Shooting Taper (ST)
The first 20 feet of this line is weighted heavily. The remaining is even throughout. It’s used in situations where you want to get the fly out as far as possible and then strip it back in.
It’s best for streamers in environments where you have a lot of room to cast and want to cover a lot of water. Primarily, it’s used in casting tournaments, though, to see how far someone can cast.
Fly Line Weight
Just like your rod or reel, your fly line has a weight as well. Matching your line to those other two pieces of equipment will ensure you have a balanced rig and will be casting as efficiently as possible.
However, there is some wiggle room. If you have a 5 wt rod and a 5/6 reel, then you could get away with using a line that weighs 4/5/6 without too much difference.
Anything larger than that and you just won’t be fishing as well as you could. For trout, you’ll usually be using line size 4, 5, or 6. Bass will be 6, 7, 8, or 9. Any other fish larger than these will be an 8 or above.
Length of Fly Line
Most fly lines come in spools of 100 feet. If you’re coming from the spin fishing world, then this might seem really small, considering you’re used to buying spools with hundreds of yards on them.
With your backing and leader, you’ll actually have around 200 feet of line on your reel. Most of the time you won’t be making casts over 50 feet anyway. Fly fishing is more about presentation than distance.
Your fly line will also last longer than the typical monofilament. So, while you may change out your line once or twice a year on your spinning reel, you won’t need to do that for several years of a fly reel.
Important Features of a Good Fly Line
There’s a lot to think about when you’re looking at different types of fly line. On top of that, they each have their own individual features that can make it even more confusing.
Here are a few of the most important features that you should be thinking about before you go and buy a line on your own.
An interesting feature you should be thinking about is which color you want. Some anglers enjoy matching their fly line color to the backing and reel. While it’s something that won’t directly improve your fishing, it can be fun to stare at and know your rig looks good.
Now, fly line color does actually serve an important purpose.
So, what color fly line is best? If you use a sinking line, then you want a mute or dark color, something that won’t grab attention and startle a fish. However, a nice bright line can be great if you want to use it to help show strikes on a subsurface fly.
Sinking lines are measured in inches per second (IPS). If you’re fishing a deep lake or river and you need to get your fly down quickly, look for something with high IPS.
If you want a slower sink, then look for one that is lower. The IPS will play to your advantage, so make sure you have the proper sink for the proper time.
End Connector Loops
If your fly line doesn’t have an end connector loop to help you quickly tie on your leader, then you should take it down to the nearest fly shop and have one welded on.
Having a loop allows for quick and easy leader transitions throughout the day. Use a handshake knot connection between the leader and fly line and you’ll be able to switch out quickly and easily all day.
Many new floating fly lines have a coating around them. This will push water away from the line, making it float higher and be more stable. It’s perfect for drifting dries through tougher water.
The coating can also improve casting. It pushes away dirt and debris and allows the slickening agent in the line to shine. This way the line easily slides through the guides and won’t hang up.
My Favorite Fly Line Brands
If none of the lines above fit your needs, then don’t worry. Below I’ll list a few other brands as well as the ones above to show you some of the best fly line brands on the market.
Rio makes great lines and is one of the best fly line manufacturers going. They create a high-quality product that’s not only strong and durable but is also made with the latest technology.
This ensures you get a fly line that’ll last you several seasons. You’ll be able to cast and land the fly in those tough-to-hit spots. They’re also very versatile, and many can be utilized in several different areas.
Scientific Anglers (SA) has a great selection of fly lines. If you’re looking for something very specific, then most likely they’ll have exactly what you’re looking for. On top of this, Scientific Anglers make some of the best affordable fly line.
Many of their lines are made for trout, but you’ll also find many that work well in all other freshwater conditions, as well in salt water. There are others that are for long-distance casting or accuracy.
If there’s any company more associated with fly fishing, then I have yet to see it. Along with all the other gear you could possibly need for fly fishing, they also make a wide selection of fly lines.
Their Clearwater series has a bunch of different types of lines that are great for all levels of angler. The weight forward is the most popular.
Airflo is the other company that’s at the top with Rio. Their product is regarded as one of the best lines for fly fishing companies in the world, and it shows when you’re using it.
These specialty fly lines really do have something for everyone. No matter what you need, chances Airflo will have a line for you and probably a few others as well. It’s tough to go wrong with an Airflo line.
Spooling Fly Line onto a Reel
So, you’ve chosen your line for your favorite fly reel, it’s been delivered to your house, but now what?
Setting up a reel is easy, but it’ll take some forethought. First, you need to put backing on the reel, then the fly line, then the tippet. But, if you put too much backing on the reel, the fly line won’t fit on properly afterward.
You see, you must use all 100 feet of fly line. You cannot cut the fly line at all. So, to fill a reel properly, you must measure and cut the backing to the right length, so that the entire fly line will easily be spooled, leaving about ¼ inch between the line and the reel frame.
If you don’t put enough backing on the reel, you won’t fill the reel properly. It can throw off the balance of your setup and make it that fish take much longer to reel in.
To properly measure the backing, you should first reel the fly line onto the reel, then reel the backing in over that. Keep reeling in the backing until there’s ¼ inch between the backing and the reel frame.
When you’re done, you need to unspool both the backing and the fly line, and then re-spool it all back on in the correct order, before finishing it by tying on the leader. Check out the video above to see how this is done.
Review This Post
Table of Contents
- 10 Best Fly Lines in 2023
- 1. Rio Gold Elite WF Floating (Best Fly Line Overall)
- 2. Scientific Anglers Frequency (Runner-Up Best Fly Line)
- 3. Orvis Clearwater Sinking (Best Sinking Fly Line)
- 4. Rio InTouch Big Nasty Sink Tip (Best Sink Tip Fly Line)
- 5. Rio Mainstream Saltwater (Best Saltwater Fly Line)
- 6. Rio Perception Elite WF (Best Weight-Forward Fly Line)
- 7. Cortland 444 (Best Double-Taper Fly Line)
- 8. Scientific Anglers ST (Best Shooting Tip Fly Line)
- 9. Tenkara USA Level Line (Best Level Taper Fly Line)
- 10. Orvis Clearwater WF Line (Best Over-Weighted Fly Line)
- Fly Line
- Best Fly Line by Weight
- Things To Consider When Choosing a Fly Line
- My Favorite Fly Line Brands
- Spooling Fly Line onto a Reel
- To Summarize
Now that I’ve gone over all the different types of fly lines as well as products and features, you hopefully have a better understanding of what you should be looking for.
There’s a lot of information out there, but hopefully, this guide broke it down for you. Feel free to take all the information you need out of here and make your own notes to help you pick out your line.
Local shops are always happy to help out, and you can also pick up your line there. If not, Amazon has a great selection and you can buy whatever fly line you need. So, head on out and pick up the latest weight forward or shooting taper. A solid fly line will only help.
Some images in this post are courtesy of Shutterstock.
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