As the springtime temperatures climb, anglers also begin to move up to the hollows and highlands in pursuit of mountain trout. Whether it be brook trout in the east or wild cutthroats in the west, the species that occupy high gradient small streams are a favorite quarry of fly fishers.
The nature of mountain creek fly fishing generally demands specific gear. Articles preparing anglers for these situations usually focus on equipment like rods, footwear, and packs. All three of these pieces are vital. In a remote location, a pack is a way to carry gear but also survive. A footwear choice is as much about hiking as it is wading. And rods have to have the right length to fit under canopies while still assisting in making decent presentations to trout.
A piece of gear that is often overlooked for a situation that is exemplified by short casts is fly line. For better or worse, the culture and industry is somewhat preoccupied by the ability to cast long distances. Lines are designed with more grains than traditional weight designations and with tapers that enable hundred-foot casts. The nature of mountain creek angling doesn’t fit that mold.
But that doesn’t mean that fly line doesn’t matter in these situations. Arguably much more important than even the reel, line selection can do a lot to help or hinder anglers fishing small waters. Here are four reasons to consider shopping for a quality fly line – even on your three weight setup.
Small Rods Rods are definitely the most glamorous piece of gear in fly fishing. But a rod is only as good as the hand wielding it. Moreover, the weighted line is the muscular system that gets the skeleton of the rod moving. Most anglers do choose shorter rods for their ability to move through thick brush and cast into rhododendron tunnels. Additionally, lighter weights that make sport of smaller fish often result in delicate graphite, fiberglass, or bamboo. Rods around seven feet are fully capable of making great casts, but may be more dependent upon the line choice than a nine-foot five-weight would be. The right line can make a little rod come alive, while the wrong one can make casting a burden.
Short Casts Inasmuch as fly fishers desiring a long cast can benefit from tapers formulated to propel long lengths of line, anglers that are making ten to twenty foot casts at maximum can find lines that meet those needs. There are a number of lines today that have been designed for short, precise casts. Bellies that are closer to the tip allow for loading the rod with only a few feet of line protruding from the tip. Traditional tapers generally have narrow, light heads that are as long as most small stream casts. Moving that weight towards the front of the line means that the angler is actually engaging in fly casting, not just flipping a leader and fly. Shorter bellies overall also make the 20 to 30-foot casts much more natural and comfortable endeavors.
Durability Most fly fishing takes place in environments with rocks, logs, and other obstructions. Smaller, shallower streams magnify these line-snagging obstacles. Even the most durable fly lines are merely PVC coatings over a mono or nylon core. A single thorn, sharp boulder, or iced-over riffle can ruin a line. That being said some lines are heartier than others. When it comes to materials, you often get what you pay for. While lubricants, textures, and colors have their place, objective reviews on durability should sought out. More than in larger waters, mountain streams beat up fly lines. Cracked and kinked lines are practically useless, so tough fly line is necessary.
High Floating Dry flies are unequivocally used by more fly fishers on high-gradient streams than any other type of pattern. Obviously having a high floating line that reliably stays on the surface all day matters in that common situation. Yet even when nymphs or streamers are in play, a floating line is helpful for line control and casting. With few exceptions, the depths than an angler may plumb in a mountain creek can be reached by simply sinking the whole leader. Having a line that rides high allows for easier mending and pick-ups. Again, the resilience of fly line to taking on water for whatever reason is often directly connected to the quality of the materials and the resulting price.
Selecting a line for small streams isn’t limited to the mountains. Spring creeks, while very different from tumbling freestone rivers, often don’t call for 70-foot casts. So many premier trout streams on the east coast and even more rivers off the beaten path out west call for a line that has been designed for short presentations in close surroundings.
Even if you are making short casts, don’t sell yourself short by compromising with cheap line. “Whatever I find lying around” is acceptable, but it isn’t optimal. With care, quality fly line can last a long time and make fishing mountain streams a much more efficient and effective experience.