Why do you need a bright colored fly line and does it spook fish?

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Video does fly line color matter

By Louis Cahill

A reader asked for an opinion on this and that’s what you’re going to get. My opinion. This is one of those hotly contested arguments that anglers can’t seem to agree on and my saying one thing or another isn’t going to settle it. I do have strong opinions on the subject, so since you asked, here they are.

The color of your fly line doesn’t matter, until it does.

For most fly fishing, if you’re doing things well the color of your line doesn’t matter any more than the color of your eyes. There are, however, times when it can make a difference and the difference may not always be what you think. When I make a purposeful choice on line color, it’s usually not to keep the fish from seeing it.

What doesn’t matter

Assuming for the moment that we are talking about trout fishing, if you are thinking that you are being stealthy by using a dull colored line, you’re coming at things from the wrong angle. If you are putting your line over the fish, it doesn’t matter what color it is. Fish are very attune to shadow and movement. If your fly line passes over them while casting, they will see the shadow of the line, even if it’s clear. The same goes for motion. Color doesn’t matter.

If you are floating the line over them, on the surface of the water, things are worse. They now see the depression of the water’s surface as well as shadow and motion. Sure, they can see that a bright orange line is orange and a green line is green but they will find neither acceptable. The bottom line is, if you’re spooking fish it’s a presentation problem not a color problem.

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If it matters at all, it’s in the margins. Meaning, do fish see the color of your line when you are casting on the edge of their field of vision? You thought you were far enough away but you weren’t and maybe they would catch a glimpse of an orange line but not a green one. Maybe, and maybe they’d see it while it’s still on the reel and you are passing by. You can make yourself crazy about stuff like that if you like.

Personally, I choose my fly line based on the taper, the materials and the performance. The color is secondary at best. There was a time when I went completely the other way. I used to buy white lines and dye them camo, olive and tan. You can do it in the bathtub with fabric dye, changing color every few feet. It’s a pain and will not make your spouse happy, trust me. In the end I decided it didn’t make any difference.

What does matter

When I choose a line for its color, it’s usually for its visibility. It’s also usually for fly fishing in saltwater. In saltwater fishing it’s crucial that you always know the attitude of your fly. Where it is in relation to the fish. Whether it’s moving or still, slack or swinging in current. The best way to know that is by watching your line. I want a line that is bright enough for me to see in my peripheral vision, so I can watch the fish and still know what my fly is doing.

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Swinging flies with spey rods is another case where I want a bright line. I want to see my line so I can effectively manage my swing. Again, the attitude of the fly is what’s most important and I need a line I can see. You are in no danger of spooking a steelhead with a Skagit head so the sky is the limit.

I do like clear tip intermediate sink tip lines for streamers. They allow me to use a short leader, 4-5 feet, to effectively get the fly down. Since the tip sinks there is no surface depression to worry about and they are stealthier. I like clear tips for migrating tarpon as well. They give you better odds at not spooking fish when casting to schools on the move.

What does matter way more than the color of your line is your confidence as an angler. If a bright line, that you can see, gives you confidence in your casting or in detecting a take, by all means that’s what you should fish. If you need to get in the tub and dye your line camo, have at it. There was a time when I needed to do that to be confident and it worked. Make your own decision and respect the decisions of others.

Louis Cahill Gink & Gasoline www.ginkandgasoline.com hookups@ginkandgasoline.com Sign Up For Our Weekly Newsletter!

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>