August 30th, 1999
Ok, So I'm Interested in a New Fly Line

by Wizard

After the 1999 FAOL Fish-In, I was put in a position where I needed a new fly line. I was stuck a couple hundred miles from home and at the mercy of what the sporting goods store thought was the best line. What is wrong with this picture? Well what they have been selling and 'profit margins' may not be the correct line for the conditions where I want to fish.

I will say that brought up an interesting situation. Weeks after the fact I'm still not comfortable with what I bought, and will try to outline what I went through. Maybe it will help with your next fly line purchase.

First, I was in a situation where I had my brother to outfit and take fishing along with my wife and son. I had more than enough rods and reels but was one good line short. Thus the journey began. I actually purchased two lines and spooled one of my spare reels and a spare spool that was supplied for the reel. I was replacing a well worn Wulff line for my 6wt rod. I was in the State of Colorado visiting my family and planned to hit some places I enjoyed fishing as a youth. The problem came from where we were fishing (above 9,000 feet altitude) where the lakes and streams are a bit cold (something about snow fed). So what happens when a bit of cold water hits a new line? What will a line do that is 'broken in' in the same situation?

I purchased two new 90 foot lines. One was a WF6F Scientific Angler and the other was a Cortland 444 Rocket Taper. The reason for the 90 foot range lines was that both would be used in lake casting and can be used for short range stream casting. The lines were quickly spooled and we went fishing.

What I saw was the cold water killed the Cortland line. This I initially attributed to both being new and as I said, the cold water temperature. The water that I tired both lines in was in the low 40 degree range.

Part of the problem is that different lines have a basic 'memory' when they spool off the reel, and if you add what might be classed as extreme cold water. What you end up with is the line will wrap in small coils at your feet when you strip it off the reel onto the water or ground. The problem is when you are getting ready to extend the line you end up with a large knot of line trying to pass through the guides. Thus stretching and working the line on the rod becomes more important. What happens is 'memory and water conditions. Memory comes in when the line is placed on a reel in tight loops. It tends to remember that when you pull it off the reel and is affected by the coating that is used for the smooth finish that allows the line to fly through the air and zip through the guides. So when you look for a line you should have some idea of what the water temperature the line can be used in.

The end result: Now I am stuck with a new line that performs poorly? What am I supposed to do? Well here is the story, you be the judge.

Cortland 444 Rocket taper with the Gatti rod.

Day one: The line is spooled and then taken out into the front yard for a bit of lets get to know each other. As the line is stripped off the spool a bit of care was taken to stretch the line. The temperature in the late afternoon is over 100 degrees in the shade . Obviously one would think in that temperature the line would be quite docile, it was. So after an hour of work at various ranges with a slight breeze behind (then turn around into the wind) some of the differences are noticed and I feel ready to take it fishing. The line is cleaned and wound back onto the spool.

Day two: The car is loaded and off for two days of fishing in the high country. Camp is setup (at about 9,200+ feet) in the mist of snow banks. The temperature is in the high 50's. The campground is not really open yet. We sit around an evening fire and get ready for a good nights sleep and morning fishing..

Day three: The wife and son headed out in my little boat and I walked the shoreline where I was glad I was wearing neoprene waders. The trout were rising about 20 to 60 feet offshore and the wind was light. At the furthest distance the line had to go about 20 feet past the shooting head of the line. With stripping the line into the water and remembering I'm not quite as tall as I used to be, I start to work the water along the shore. In the first hour I pick up about three fish. When a fish rises a bit farther out I notice that my cast is a bit less that I expected. What I end up with is a few small birds nests in the stripping guide.. Grrrrrhhhh. Other than the wind, trees and water temperature, the performance was a bit difficult to describe from my old Wulff. The noticeable difference was it took more effort to get the line out beyond 50 feet. While the line was officially broken in (it caught fish) I still did not feel confident with the line, this was thought to be still breaking in the new line.

Later in the afternoon, I laid all the line behind the boat and then hand stretched the line as I put it back onto the reel. In fact I did this twice to make sure that extra twists in the line were not wound onto the reel and laid flat. As the sun began to set I did a bit of casting from the bank and with the rises out at 60 feet, the line seemed to just fall short. This sort of began a pattern, I had to push the line a bit farther.

Day four: Still noticing that on long cast the Cortland line fell a bit short. It seemed like it just did not want to cast quite as far with the same effort (old casting habits with the same rod and old Wulff line). So at the end of two days I had not caught the number of fish I though I should have. I had a fly pattern that worked, but what went wrong?

Day five: Packed up camp and came down the mountain. When we got home I went out with my brother to work on his technique, Used the old SA on the Red Start and the new Cortland on the Gatti rod. The temperature was back to the nice 100 degrees (amazing how docile a line gets). The Red Start with the SA worked well to get his casts out to 60 feet with little effort (his hands). The Red Start and SA in my hands could work the line out to the end of the line. The Cortland in his hands resulted in the line dying just past 40 feet on the Gatti. I Noticed the memory as it continued to tangle in the last ten feet. Just as an after thought I grabbed the reel with the old Wulff line and started casting that. In my brothers hands the line went fine to 50-60 feet ( I could not really expect more with where his casting skills were). In my hands (not trying to show off) I ran the line all the way to the backing. In the back of my head it was telling me I spent $40.00 on the wrong line. I should have kept going until I got to where I could buy a new Wulff line.

Day six: Worked with my brother and his lady friend who was trying to recover from a casting class that she had paid money for, a nine week course from the local college that sadly ended at six weeks. As she had not brought her rod and reel I grabbed the Red Start with the SA line, I put the Cortland on my Gatti for demonstration on how to's. The SA did the job and got her to flying 30 feet of line and then extending on the forecast. We started to work in a bit of Double Haul. Soon she was flying line to 50-60 feet with little problem. I then handed her the Gatti with the Cortland line. I watched it fly out to 30 feet with no problem, but as she tried to extend the line to add that few feet, then to set the fly down, it seemed that she was just short of where she was with the SA and the Red Start. When she tried to double haul, as she got to 50 feet, the line seemed to collapse. I chalked this up to 'learning/technique' and showed that it could be done and what I thought the problem was. I then put the Red Start back in her hands and she seemed to then get it down. I turned around with the Gatti and immediately shot 70+ feet of line and we let it go at that. We chatted about she and my brother should be hitting the streams and lakes together.

Day eight: We trekked back up to above 9,000 feet and the cold water. Wading along the bank and reaching out to rising fish with light shifting winds (5-10 miles/hour, changing gusts). The line still seemed to fall a bit short of where my memory was telling me it should have gone. Some of the rising fish were well within range for lake fishing (50-70 feet). On a couple of occasions when I cast to a rise that happened beyond 70 feet. I was caught with the line well short of where I thought it should have been. Then at points in time when the wind shifted it seemed like things just collapsed. This puzzled me to no end. Back down the mountain.

Day eleven: Here we are in West Yellowstone, Montana. We stopped at the Jacklin fly shop and visited and found out what flies should do the job then headed back into Yellowstone Park for a bit of fishing. The water temperature is about the same as Colorado, perhaps a bit warmer. Short casts (to 35 feet) worked fine and longer casts upstream seem to have problems if you are reaching to 50 feet or farther up river. Where we were, it was 50 feet across the river and if you fish 20 feet upstream you have a reach to hit the other side.

Day twelve: Pretty much the same as day eleven.

Day fourteen: Back home finally (Washington State), I take the rods and lines to the front yard to see if I can sort out what I think is happening. There is a slight breeze behind me. I work the Red Start with the SA, the Wulff and then the Cortland. Both the SA and Wulff extend well with the double haul (80-90 feet). The Cortland appears to collapse beyond 60 feet, and consistently fall short (five to ten feet). This puzzles the living daylights out me. I have no explanation. When the reels are placed on the Gatti, with the SA and Wulff lines they work well in short range and then as a double-haul is used to extend, the full line can be cast. The Cortland still falls a bit short. I'm starting to go mad, the 444 just seems to have a problem I can't explain.

Day fifteen: Pretty much the same results. Time was spent in working with just the Cortland line. Generally it just still takes more effort when running a long line. It had a tendency to collapse if the breeze shifted mid-cast. Now I'm getting to the point that I need someone to look at what is happening to tell me what is wrong.

Day seventeen: So I laid off for a day, the rest was good. This goes pretty much like day fifteen. The question now becomes how do I setup an adequate test to prove what I think. Can I design a test that is objective?

Now I need to work the Cortland line so that its not quite so 'new' as it is working against two lines that are well used. I will need to setup as many same weight rods as I can; then get some very kind person to watch me who know's what they are seeing.

7 Aug 1999

This afternoon I worked with all four rods that I have in the same weight range and a single line on each rod. There was a light breeze ahead of me. The session starts with about 40 feet of line. I work with my right hand then switch the rod to my left hand and just work the rod and line. This exercises both hands and timing. It's both physical and mental and I want everything to be as smooth as possible. The casting sessions last for about 30 minutes each and then a bit of rest before the next rod.

Gatti - 444

The primary reason for spending more time on the 444 and the Gatti rod is to break in line and I want it to be my final combination. I am working with the line to become more comfortable with the line/rod combination and to stretch the line. When I get into that last few feet of the line, I still have coils that tend to knot as I want them to shoot through the guides. The session lastes for about 30 minutes. I work with about 40 feet and both hands (no double-haul) to make sure that my casting is right on.

Doublehaul 50+ foot

The line does not seem to fly as well, there is a tendency with a slight shift of the breeze to collapse the line. Overall the line does not go as far (distance) and requires more attention to maintain the speed of the rod/line in long line situations.

Red Start - Wulff (the old guy)

The Wulff lays out flat and within about 5 casts runs out to the 80+ foot range. I work with both hands and the line fly's 40-50 feet, no double-haul, no problem.

Doublehaul 50+ foot

The softer rod shows through, the line performs well and the combination works fine with attention to rod/line speed. It works fine in close. If I pay attention, with the proper timing, the line goes out to 80+ feet.


The SA lays flat and requires a bit more work to run it to the 80+ foot range. It flys 40-50 feet with no double-haul. Because of the action of the rod it requires more careful timing to long-line the rod, this is the line not the rod.

Doublehaul 50+ foot

The stiffer rod with the lessor line is a bit more critical in timing in the double-haul. The line does not fly as well as the older Wulff, but the rod and the caster adjusts to where the whole line can be used.

Elkhorn - Wulff

The Elkhorn is actually very nice to cast. It has characteristics similar to the Gatti. This the first time I added it into the equation. My goal is provide a bit of information about how and what. At this point I did not feel this would hurt, as it added a rod that was in the middle. The line I used was an older Wulff. With about 6 casts it was out to the 80+ foot range.

Doublehaul 50+ foot

It did not seem to matter, I could pickup (from the ground) 40 feet of line and in a cast or two extend the cast to 70 feet and release to 80+ feet.

8 Aug 1999

Okay, take the problem to someone that could watch to see what I'm not seeing. I had a chance to run up to JC and Ladyfisher's house for a quick look and a bit of insight. One of the first things that happened is we measured out the shooting head of the 444 line. It was right at 42 feet, which is about the same as the Wulff. We went over the line and then talked about the 444 running line being a bit thicker than the Wulff. We talked about what that would do to line speed while the line is in the air and in various wind conditions. Then discussed what the slight extra weight in the running line would do while one line or the other was flying.

Okay, now to casting. There was a slight breeze (head wind), later we would turn around so that it was a tail wind.

Gatti - 444

JC noted that my timing in my back-cast was a bit off. We corrected that and was working the line out 70 feet without much problem. Correcting the timing in the back cast allowed the line to be shot to 80+ feet. JC took the rod and shot the line out to the end of the running line. His statement was there is nothing wrong with the line. Okay, so I have egg on my face quote "there is nothing wrong with the line."

Gatti - Wulff

Switch reels to the Wulff. Within 3-4 casts the line shot out to 80+ feet. Just like an old pair of shoes. The session lasts for about 20 more minutes. I was casting with the wind from behind and from the front. There were occasional side gusts that the Wulff (smaller running line), weathered better that the 444.

So we sat down and talked about what happened. We did not put on the SA line but discussed briefly the differences, this also is like old shoes.

Observers: JC and LF


Had I just said that while I was in Colorado I bought a Cortland 444 Rocket Taper and it was a $40.00 piece of crap, I would have offended the sensibilities of some and caused others to not buy a line they could make perfect use of. That was not my goal, my goal was to understand why the line did not work for me!

JC's Quote: "There is nothing wrong with this line." What may be more correct is saying that I did not have confidence in the line. We all know that each line and rod combination are different. That is why there are different sizes, weights of rods/lines and reels. Each has a purpose it's used for. The two older Wulff lines and the SA are exactly as I said 'very high quality Old Shoes,' they are very comfortable on my feet (or rods). For me to expect the 444 to perform just like the Wulff I was replacing, was not really very fair. Had I done something like place a new line on a new rod then work to adjust physically and mentally to the rod and line my opinion might be different. The new Cortland 444 Rocket Taper line requires a bit more of my attention to timing. It is a thicker line and requires more effort to make it fly consistently. It did not respond well in Colorado's cold water. I can attribute this partially to being a new line and low 40 degree water. My feeling (or lack of confidence in the line) is that after having worked with it almost daily, is that it performs 'okay.' It is a good line. In warmer weather/water the 'memory' is not really anymore than any reasonable quality line. I would not recommend it for real cold water.

All of the other lines, Wulff and SA are a couple of years old, well used and well taken care of. They have literally flown back and forth for thousands of casts. While flying the SA line to 80+ takes a bit more work than the Wulff, it performs well.

It's important to make sure cleaning and maintaining of the line happens, this is why they have lasted so long. If the line is clean and lubricated then it goes through the guides, the air, and performs to its maximum.

While the coating on the Wulff has started cracking, it still performs. I intend to use it for a practice line or for emergencies until it breaks.

Bottom line is:

The bottom line, when you buy a new line for whatever reason and put all the hype aside, you need to look at a couple of things. Saving a few $$$ on a line just makes no sense! Various lines have temperature ratings (materials and the coating on the line) that affect the many things about how the line works. The time of year (temperature) will also affect how the line works, like May or late August. The temperature will also affect how the line performs when you expect to reach a few feet farther than your normal comfort range.

Don't get caught because at the local sporting goods store, you can get a different brand cheaper (their profit your loss). You may end up with a line that is not right for the rod, or right for the conditions where you live. If you just take it out of the box, spool it and go fishing, you might find yourself with more than you wanted besides fish. The idea is, when you work with the line and then place it and yourself on the water, you have control over the situation. This builds confidence in yourself and your tackle. To expect it to be just like in the advertising or like what you just took off the spool doesn't work.

I also feel that I can take a better quality line and put it on a lesser rod and have a more enjoyable time (less work) fishing. The distance you cast or the price of the rod then makes less difference. If you have a really crappy line (saving $5.00 on a fly line) will not work the way you expect it to. Yes, we cannot afford to go out and buy several lines to see how they all work. So when someone you trust tells you to buy this line or that, we tend to trust our friends and their experience.

So if you want a particular line, ask for it; if they can get one, or if they have used one they will. If they can't get the one you want, then come out to the Internet, you should be able to find it at the right price.

Last but not Least -- Practice makes perfect!!!!!!

Rods 6wt :

    Gatti FR6pa (FR8653pa),
    Sage 6wt RPL+ (960 graphite III),
    Reddington 6wt (Red start) (RS 905/6),
    Elkhorn 6wt ex3 (ex9056)
Lines 90 feet:
    (2) Wulff TT WF6F,
    Scientific Angler WF6F,
    Cortland WF6F 444 Rocket Taper.
Reels: at 90 feet it doesn't matter, they only hold line.

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