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Sinking Lines
by Ed Jaworowski

By varying two components, the core and the coating, manufacturers have produced more than 1000 different fly lines. The majority of these are sinking lines, and when it comes to east coast salt water angling, having the right ones and the knowledge of how to use them can be more important to success than fly selection.

Converts from fresh water who seldom use anything but floating lines for their trout fishing or bass bugging may ask, "Why do we need sinking lines?" Think of the water as a column in which fish feed. If they are deep, near the bottom of the column in a strong flowing tidal rip, you will probably strike out unless you get your flies down deep and the only way to do this is with a very fast sinking line. Even when the fish are near the surface, if your line picks up drifting grass, as a floating line tends to do, again the odds are against you. A third scenario: bait fish normally flee toward the surface to escape predators but if your line draws the fly downward (which the wrong sinking line can do) on the retrieve instead of upward, the unnatural motion will likely not draw strikes. Using the right sinking line can remedy these and many other problems. Let's survey the way these lines are made and how they perform so that you can better select what best suits your needs.

If it suits your fishing needs, use it.

First, the core of most lines is braided nylon and varies only in strength, heavier line being used for larger fly lines which are typically used for heavier fish and therefore subjected to more stress. Core options include 1) kevlar (Sue Burgess Air-Flo lines), if you feel more comfortable fishing a non-stretch line, 2) monofilament (Scientific Anglers MonoCore lines) for slightly more stiffness and transparency or 3) braided monofilament (S. A. Bonefish and Tarpon Tapers, which are the same line except for size), when even more stiffness is desired. Check out these different lines at your favorite tackle shop, ask questions and even borrow lines from friends to try. Remember, just because a line is called a Tarpon Taper doesn't mean you can't use it for throwing poppers to bluefish. If it suits your fishing needs, use it.

The vinyl or polymer coating of the line can be altered in many ways to produce a bewildering variety of lines. Obviously line size (weight) can be adjusted by varying the thickness and selecting the same size as your floating line is easy enough but another characteristic requires more consideration. The density, hence sink rate, of the line you choose depends on how much lead or tungsten is added to the vinyl coating. If you want, say a 9-weight sinker, consider how fast you want the line to sink. Too slow and it won't get down to the proper depth, especially if there is a current; too fast and it may hang up.

Approximate sink rates in inches per second are marked on the box of each line. Intermediate lines sink slowest. Faster sinkers have a Roman or Arabic number (one through six) after the size designation on the box to show relatively how fast the line sinks. For example, a WF9S IV (4) will sink a bit faster than a WF9S III (3). As a rule of thumb, IV/4's and V/5's are the most popular for many salt water conditions you are apt to run into in the mid-Atlantic area.

Sinking lines for years suffered from a serious defect which hampered casting, sinking, retrieving, striking and hooking. Here is the problem, simply put. Since the tungsten or lead is mixed in with the vinyl coating of the line and since the belly is thicker than the thinly tapering front end, the belly is heavier and sinks faster. The result is that the fly stays higher in the water column than the line. When the angler strips line, he often merely pulls on the sagging belly, barely moving the fly. Also, strikes are hard to detect and striking is difficult because of the slack.

Fortunately, this defect has now largely been remedied with the introduction of lines with density compensation. What this means is that during the manufacturing process, as the line is tapering from the belly to the tip, additional weight is added to the vinyl mixture to make the front end just a bit heavier than the belly. When the line sinks, the front end sinks a tad faster than the belly. The line tracks almost perfectly straight from the rod tip to the fly, especially if you use a short, two or three foot leader. You have more positive control of your flies, as well as better strike detection and hooking ability. The Scientific Angler Uniform Sink lines are typical of this construction and their superior performance makes them well worth the premium price. They also turn over better when casting.

One other line design has been rapidly gaining in popularity among east coast anglers. It's called the Teeny Shooting Taper. This unique creation of famed steelheader Jim Teeny is a level 24' sinking head permanently attached to a 58' level floating running line. The T-300 works well for 8, 9 and 10-weight rods. The T-400 balances well with a 10 or 11. (They are available in lighter and heavier sizes, as well.) These specialized lines not only get your flies down quickly, they cast and handle better than most other sinking and "sinking tip" lines.

This certainly doesn't exhaust the subject of sinking lines for salt water fishing but should answer some questions for anglers in the mid-Atlantic area. I recommend you think in terms of a system. Use your floater for popper fishing but add to it either an intermediate like the Cortland Big Game Intermediate or similar line or a slightly faster sinking Bonefish/Tarpon Taper or MonoCore line for shallow fishing. In addition to getting a foot or two under the surface, these lines accumulate less grass and are less subject to tossing by wave action. To get deeper, consider one of the Teeny T-Series mentioned. If you have to get very deep, a very fast, full sinking line or shooting head may be called for. By adding two or three lines to your arsenal you can be prepared to meet many of the situations the ocean can dish up.

Uploaded: 2/21/2004