Saltwater Fly Line Sink Rates

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General Purpose

Herein lies an easy choice if you are looking for a floater. Look at price point, taper profile and anything else that takes your fancy. Most general-purpose head lengths fall between 35 and 45 feet. The short-headed lines tend to be punchier, long-headed lines less so, but there are plenty of happy mediums in this group. The range is generous at 30-plus choices. Temperature suitability tends towards temperate environments. They won’t act like a noodle in the sun, nor will they resemble fencing wire. Some are tropical rated. 

Remember that the floating lines’ principal applications are shallow water and top water. They may not actually represent ‘general-purpose’ in many cases. The best choice may be an intermediate line if you need to get deeper.

Intermediate Lines
Many intermediate lines are essentially general-purpose lines. They sink at a rate of between 1 (Hover lines) and 2 inches per second (IPS). Depending on current and weight of fly, the line will sink about a foot every 6–12 seconds. These are very effective because the line draws the fly through the water column at a rate that still gets bites on the drop. You can count-down these lines so you know when you’re roughly at a desired depth. They cast very well, especially into wind. Their clear or opaque coatings also make them rather stealthy. 

For many heading north, say Weipa or Hinchinbrook, an intermediate line will meet most of their flats and pelagic fishing needs. Heavy headed versions (e.g. Titan and Outbound) are also made to throw heavy flies in bigger rod weights. The primary downside of intermediate lines is that, compared to floaters, they are harder to pick up and recast quickly without stripping line in. 

Clear lines, Clear tips & Wet Tips 
Here we find some confusion creeping in. Sink tips aren’t all clear and clear tips don’t all sink. 

Full clear floating lines are made by Airflo, Monic and Cortland. They come in a range of weights from WF6 to 12, covering all bases from bream to giant trevally. They suffered from excessive memory in the past but each generation seems better. The stealth benefits of these lines cannot be understated. Many serious flats anglers in the States use them. Your leader effectively becomes a whole lot longer and stealthier. However, tracking the line in the air can prove difficult. On landing, the angler can easily lose sight of the front taper against the surface of the water, thereby losing track of where the fly is in relation to the fish. These lines can also be very slick, causing the haul to slip in the fingers at times. 

Clear tip floaters are least common and are made to provide improved stealth over a coloured floater. Like full clear lines they allow shorter leaders. They provide better tracking than full clear lines and are very versatile when fishing for shallow-water fish such as barramundi on banks and drains. You can overshoot but not spook. 

Sinking tip lines (often called wet tip or intermediate tip lines) have a floating running line with a head that is part floater, part sinking tip. These lines typically have a clear or opaque front taper or tip that sinks at the rate of an intermediate line. Depending on manufacturer, sink rate can vary from 1 to 2 IPS. The length of the sinking part of the head also varies from 10 to 15 feet. These lines have a far bigger following in Australia than in the US. They represent the best of both worlds in many ways. They are easier to pick up and recast than a full intermediate, but the sinking tip allows the fly to get below chop and wave action and get down deeper more effectively and quickly than a floating line. The tip provides stealth and also helps anchor a fly in current. Their downside is they can be trickier to use when wading very shallow waters, where the sinking tip is a hindrance.

Sinking Lines
Sinking lines come in a vast array of styles. A whole piece could be dedicated to them. Many run to saltwater sizes and grain weights but are not designated saltwater lines. There are some common misconceptions about them, for example, that a high grain count equals a faster sink rate — again, the density issue. They come in a range of sink rates, anywhere up to 10 IPS. They sink to a specific depth more quickly than an intermediate. They are often called ‘fast sinkers’ for this reason. Sinking lines are for fishing deep edges, plumbing deep snags, rock bars and reefy areas. They also get your fly underneath schooling fish quickly if larger fish wait below.

This information is an extract from the detailed article Lines in the Sand by Bill Mitchell