Floating Line Test
asked several line manufacturers to supply a selection of their line that they
thought were suitable for saltwater fly fishing in UK waters. They happily obliged
and as we test more lines we'll add them to the review below so you can see the
to UK waters usually being a bit on the chilly side, the lines had to perform
well in temperatures that would see Brass monkeys wearing extra underwear. So
we contacted various manufacturers and asked for the lines they thought would
suit the job. I also included the lines I personally use for my own SW fly fishing.
lines that were tested are as follows.
Cortland 444SL (8 weight)
Powerhead (7 weight)
Vision Extreme distance (pre changes, see below) (7 weight)
Accelerator X (8 weight)
Rio Accelerator (8 weight) (late arrival)
and Atlantic Salmon. (7 weight)
lines were rated for all round user friendliness, suitability for purpose, Memory,
casting ability, fishing ability, distance, ease of casting, feel, smoothness
(so they don't wear your skin off when stripping all day) and a whole host of
other criteria in an effort to find the best all round line for fishing in the
UK salty stuff.
Ignoring the marketing for a moment, and the incessant drive for more and more
specialist lines we needed a benchmark to work from and for comparison to. This
took shape in my own 444SL line that, having tried lots of lines, became my standard
SW fly line, especially the ghost tip version.
how did they compare?
444SL is one of the longer lines on the market at 32 meters and this is one of
the reasons I choose to use it. If you cast a long way and have a fish take immediately,
I don't really want to be striking that fish using the backing, mainly because
I like the skin on my fingers. So how do they compare?
Masterline Powerhead 35 meters
Vision Extreme Distance 35 meters
(now 30 meters)
Rio Accelerator X 30.5 meters
Rio Accelerator 30.5 meters
Steelhead and Atlantic Salmon 33.5 meters
lines can be split into two camps. The long belies and the short bellies. The
Vision Extreme distance had a short head and a thin running line so they are designed
so that a minimal amount is aerialised and then a lot is shot. The others are
long bellies and designed so a lot is aerialised and a little (relatively) shot.
at the lines this becomes quite clear from the taper profiles.
Taper description Head Length
444SL Long belly WF 14.8 meters
Powerhead. (Same taper as 444SL wind taper) Very long belly WF with stepped front
taper 14 meters (seems longer)
Vision Extreme Distance Short head with long
front taper and thin running line 12 meters
Rio Accelerator Long belly with
stepped front taper 14.6 meters
Rio Accelerator X Long belly with stepped front
taper 14.6 meters
Rio Steelhead and Atlantic Salmon Very long belly WF with
very short front taper. (bullet taper) 20.3 meters
First 10 yards of each line were weighed and the results noted. The weights of
each are below and the equivalent real AFTMA rating is in brackets
of 10 yards||Weight
of whole head|
grams (8 weight)||22
grams (11 weight)|
grams (8 weight)||22
grams (11 weight)|
Extreme Distance #7||12
grams (7 weight)||18
grams (10 weight)|
Accelerator X #8 ||14
grams (8 weight)||22
grams (11 weight)|
grams (8 weight) ||22
grams (11 weight)|
Steelhead and Atlantic Salmon #7||12
grams (7 weight)||26
grams (13 weight)|
it was time to spool the lines up and check for memory. This was done before and
after a stretch. On the day of testing it was cold and windy and this would emphasise
the memory in the lines should it be present.
This was given a rating between
1 and 10. 1 being a spring and 10 being memory free. It noted that some of the
lines are stiff by nature to aid shooting and this was left and this is the separate
suppleness score. These were rated from one to 10. 1 being like a stick. 10 like
a piece of braid.
Steelhead and Atlantic Salmon (S and AS)||7/10||9/10||8|
now we get to the important bit. How they cast.
Going back to the increasing
specialisation of fly lines for a moment and their move away from the standard
WF design (such as the peach 444 and the Rio Classic), the more specialised you
make a fly line the more limited to that use it becomes. The Classic WF design
is perfectly suitable for all kinds of fishing and there in lies its strength.
It will handle 99% of the conditions we fish in admirably but may suffer in the
one particular area where than specialist line excels (big flies into the wind,
shooting distances, long roll casts, etc). However, the specialist line may excel
and be easier to use in these situations (only by about 10-20%) but it will suffer
because of its specialised nature for everything else. The further we move away
from the standard WF profile, the more the line lacks all round usability.
I started off with the 444SL, followed by the Vision Extreme Distance, The Rio
accelerator X and the standard Accelerator and finally the Rio S and AS. The Standard
accelerator arrived late and has been worked into the test below.
If you are an absolute beginner (and I mean just having picked
up a fly rod) the Vision Extreme Distance is the easiest line to cast. You only
have to aerialise 12 meters of line before shooting and due to the thin running
line it flies a very ling way. Next was the 444SL due to its slick coating (more
on this later) so when shot, even with the head still in the rod, it still shoots
well. Finally we have the Powerhead and the Rio accelerators. There was no more
that 20% between them all but that's how the differences feel. A beginner may
struggle to get some of the longer heads out of the rods before shooting but the
slickness of all of these lines will see them shoot well.
and Advanced casting.
This changed things a lot. The caster who can aerialise
a lot of line and has good loop shape will see the differences between the lines
in a totally different way. When casting, there are various traits in a fly line
that make it do different things in the air (of course, that's why there are so
many tapers and designs) The higher the line's AFTMA rating the more pronounced
the difference in tapers is. Let's run through a few. OK, for casting big flies
we require a fairly thick front to the line. This is required so enough energy
transfer can be made to turn over the big flies. This doesn't necessarily mean
*all* the weight has to be at the front! Next the tapers affect the rate at which
the loop unfurls in the air and the shorter and thicker the taper the more positive
the turnover will be. This applies to back tapers as well as front tapers. If
you make the back taper of the fly line too short you get a kick at the back of
the head just like a short taper at the front kicks.
used to casting the Cortland 444SL and find it a very nice line to use. The tapers
are just right, not too extreme and this makes it an even better all round line
that the WF classic design because the longer head allows the line to be roll
cast longer distances without the detracting from the overall performance. So
the 444SL is excellent. Nice smooth predictable loops with no kick and smooth
energy transfer for even the biggest flies.
Next is the Powerhead (made by
Cortland). This is a very nice progressive taper that again doesn't hold any surprises.
It has fabulous turn over even if you happen to mess up the cast. It's an excellent
long distance roll casting line (more below). Again, this is a two tone line with
the head being red and the running line being yellow (this should have been reversed
in my opinion). Unfortunately, the yellow running line has an affinity for the
dye in the red head and this gets transferred to the running line quite easily
when the line is on the reel. Not good. The running line on this line is quite
thick and it's surprising how far this line can be cast despite this. The thick
running line makes it very easy to overhang the head on this line if required
and unusually the colour change for the head is at the *top* of the rear taper
and not the bottom where it should be for perfect release. The line roll cast
and overhead cast perfectly with an extra 3 meters of the yellow out because this
was still on the rear taper of the line.
came the Vision Extreme (made by Cortland). I have the previous version of this
line which has a *very* thin running line. This is excellent for aerialising the
head and then just letting go for very long casts. This has been chanced on the
later lines due to people standing on the thin version and the line snapping.
This is a shame because this line was excellent. It also flies in the face of
convention because running lines of this thickness usually make the lines impossible
to overhang. However, with this line it is very easy to overhang the head if required.
Strange, but true. This could be because the head has a very nice back taper that
allows nice smooth energy transfer. The new thicker running line version has a
special section for hauling on so you get the timing right for release. A good
idea. This is basically a point and shoot line that can be cast a very long way
just by getting the head out of the tip and letting go.
then come on to the new Rio Accelerator designed as their replacement for the
(absolutely fantastic and sorely missed) Longcast lines. The thinking on this
one is that by putting the weight at the back of the head this delays turn over
so the head flies further before unfurling extending the shoot (the opposite of
the Precision taper in fact) Sadly, there's not a lot of use for the X version
in the UK as it is designed for warm waters (27 to 38 degrees C and we don't really
get close to that in the UK. In fact, we have more chance of icebergs!) The standard
green version faired a lot better. Upon casting it, it was a great line that had
positive turnover. Another great roll casting line. However, like a lot of the
stepped Rio lines it has a propensity to wrinkle on the top leg of the loop once
the loop point passes the step in the taper. This is inherent in quite a few of
Rio's lines and is due to the abrupt change of direction in the front of the loop
when casting tight loops. Once the loop is opened up the problem disappears. It
was also good to see that this line didn't have the other problem some of Rio
lines suffer from and that is a kick at the back of the rear taper when overhanging
the lines. Some of the Rio lines have too short a rear taper for the weight at
the back of the head and this can unbalance the loop. The rear taper on this line
is only 50 cm longer than that of the Bonefish line that suffers from this so
maybe it starts at about the 3 meter mark. The Lumalux 8 weight with bullet taper
was especially bad for this. It seems to be an idiosyncrasy of a short rear taper
and a lot of weight at the back of the head.
Finally we come to the Rio Steelhead and Atlantic Salmon line. This is an extremely
long bellied weight forward line and is fantastic at long distance roll casting
having the same characteristics of a DT line up to about 20 meters. The only downfall
of this line (and technically it's not because it's a design feature) is the bullet
taper up front. Again, it's just too extreme. It's an excellent line for really
large flies and if this is all you cast then this line is fantastic for this.
But if you happen to want a small fly the turnover is a little too positive and
the tip kicks. Adding a really long and really fat tapered leader helps but it
doesn't cure it. This is definitely not a line for mullet. For 5" flies it's
a struggle to find a better roll casting line.
Standard 444SL is excellent at roll casting even when up to a meter off the back
of the rear taper. It will turn over very well.
the stepped profile of the Powerhead makes this even better again. Unfortunately,
Cortland decided to make the coating on the 444SL wind taper equivalent to 800
grade sandpaper so the great taper is let down by the rough surface. So this is
the only line where this excellent taper is available in a useable form. Why the
444SL Wind taper isn't the same beautiful, smooth coating of the 444SL I have
no idea why.
The Powerhead can effortlessly handle roll casting well up to
4 or even 5 meters past the end of the red section of the line.
Vision Extreme distance struggles over 12 meters but comes into its own when Switch
casting (unlike the Precision line which fails miserably at that too). It is possible
to shoot 10 meters in the cast with ease.
the Accelerator standard and X are great roll casting lines due to the long front
taper.They can handle anything up to 16 meters and still give good turnover.
there's not a lot that needs to be said for the longest head on test. With the
Rio S & AS roll casts of up to 20 meters were possible. Mending in a rip tide
when fishing dead drift would also be also excellent.
of the lines were slick in a way but the 444SL was by far the slickest. Slickness
is not just about shooting performance, it's also about wearing grooves in your
sea water softened fingers after a full day of stripping. The Powerhead was also
a slick line but for some reason felt sticky when drawn through the fingers. It
probably just needed some line treatment. The Vision was also good. The Rio Accelerator
X and standard Accelerator were different from each other and the X was slightly
rougher than the standard. Neither of the lines had the rough surface that plagues
the Rio Bonefish line and that can shred fingers in less than a day. The Rio S&AS
line was also very smooth.
test was designed to find the best all round fly line for UK SWFFing, the one
that would handle the most situations with the best score in each category.
the Winner is
. The Standard 444SL Line. By quite a margin. It does everything
well, has no casting draw backs is slick, shoots very well, carries any sized
fly, and does what it says on the tin. As the best all round cold SW fly line
its still at the top of the tree.
becomes a little trickier for the next place because of the different head designs
but it would have to go to the Vision Extreme Distance line. A great all round
performer with the possibility of casting a long way very easily. Only let down
by its long range roll casting ability. It's a line to aerialise a little and
shoot a lot.
equal third place come the two Rio lines. The very short front taper of the S
& AS line lost it points on being a little too keen to turn over but if *Big*
flies are your bag then this is no longer a negative. The accelerator only loses
marks due to its slightly less slick surface than the 444 SL line. The Standard
Accelerator would be the line to go for as it is a lot more supple than the X
5th place is the Powerhead which suffers from memory and colour transfer. Neither
good qualities in a line. This loses it a lot of points for what could be the
best front taper in the test.
final results (at the moment)
1st Cortland 444SL
2nd Vision Extreme
3rd Rio Accelerator/Rio Salmon and Atlantic Salmon
Carl Hutchinson is a qualified instructor
with the FFFE and FFFUSA and runs saltwater fly fishing Mullet with www.corporateflyfishing.com
He is a member of the board of the British fly Casting Club and has fished extensively
in many saltwater locations and specialises in saltwater fly fishing for Salmon