Sinking fly lines
for subsurface fly fishing

...how to match with your rods and "countdown" to catch more fish!

At many seminars on subsurface fly fishing over the past 5 years, I have polled fly fishers who were assembled for my seminars and asked how many were comfortable with subsurface presentations, especially below 4 feet. Less than one tenth of one per cent said they were. This means that most fly fishers most of the time are missing out on MOST of the fish! I figured this out years ago, and now I'm trying to convince fly fishers who aren't comfortable fly fishing subsurface to start building skill and enjoy the tremendous rewards like catching a lot more fish! I caught the fat bonito (left) in 20 feet of water suspending over a wreck lying in 80 feet of water 7 miles off shore in the Gulf of Mexico on an 8-weight with 300 grain sinking line. I used the "countdown" method to get the fly down to it.

Don't get me wrong -- I LOVE TO CATCH FISH ON SURFACE!! but I have a plan to catch fish when they aren't feeding on surface. Why don't most fly fishers have a plan for catching fish when they are suspended deeper? Why don't most fly fishers feel comfortable fly fishing below four feet? In most cases, they aren't experienced, have no confidence in the process, and haven't had a mentor.

Personally, fly fishing just one outing with a good friend got me going. Once I realized just how profound an impact having a subsurface fly fishing plan could be for me, I decided to CONCENTRATE on it, master it, and see where a solid subsurface plan would take me. It has been MORE THAN A REVELATION. I have personally found that water beneath the surface is where the action is MUCH OF THE TIME.

Seeing its vast impact on my fly fishing experience, I created a systematic way for other fly fishers to approach this process. I didn't invent subsurface fly fishing, but I have given it a lot of thought, and after several thousands of fly fishing hours I've worked out this simple subsurface fishing plan, that will help you catch fish in coldwater, warmwater, or saltwater. With the right line/rod combinations for most situations, you can even fish standard flies at depth for most game species.

This article will focus on LINES for subsurface fly fishing that will cover most situations. In order to fish subsurface most people immediately think of fishing sink tip or sinking lines. I have found that I can VERY effectively fish to 15 feet with my regular weight forward floating line and FLIES DESIGNED TO SINK for many species. When I probe deep waters for striped bass, hybrid bass, smallmouths, Red Drum, false Albacore, the sunfishes, the trout family members depending on conditions and flies, I cast heavier sinking lines to sink buoyant flies.

Anytime you can fish the lightest weight rod with which you are comfortable, use weight forward floating line and a long leader/tippet. Using flies designed to sink quickly to depth and stay there, plus a long leader/tippet will make the system work. Other VERY IMPORTANT aspects of fishing floating lines is that you can use lighter rods and enjoy GREAT sensitivity and feedback from the fish. You can feel them suck a fly into their mouths, then just raise your rod. Any change in motion can be FELT and will result in more fish caught. With heavier rods and lines you wouldn't even notice these subtle takes. I use light tackle and weight forward lines anytime I can. When circumstances dictate, I switch to heavier sinking lines.

Intermediate sinking lines. These are manufactured in clear, clear tipped, and colored lines. These will slowly sink but their primary use is to keep a fly just below the surface. I find this necessary in surf fishing where wave action will make a floating line totally unmanageable. When I am striper or hybrid fishing in chop and the fish are hitting just below surface, an intermediate sink line will help casting in heavy wind and help make a good a shallow subsurface presentation.

SINKING LINES. Sink tip or sinking lines generally come in 100 to 600 grain weights, and are designed to be fished with 3- to 15-weight rods. These lines sink well and will only cast well WHEN PROPERLY MATCHED TO YOUR ROD. If you tried to cast a 500 grain line on your six-weight rod, you'd likely break your rod! We will cover manufacturer's recommendations for line weights in grains (like bullets) and recommended rod weights two through fifteen.

Triple ought (3/0) weight to 1-weight rods will fish subsurface just fine, but so far as I'm aware no manufacturer makes a sinking line for any rod under a 2-weight; most don't go below a 3-weight. I simply use an appropriate length leader, and extended tippet with properly scaled subsurface flies. The result is VERY sensitive and effective subsurface fly fishing.

The table right is from the Orvis catalog. It lists Orvis' recommendations for matching their Depth Charge sinking lines with Orvis fly rods. Depth charge starts at 200 grains, and is recommended for a 6- or 7-weight Orvis rod up to 600 grain line recommended for Orvis 14- to 15-weight rods.

In the graphic left the Teeny Company has sinking lines beginning with 100 grains which may be used with 3-weight rods up to 300 grain lines that they recommended for 7- to 10-weight rods.

In addition in both cases, the manufacturer's estimated sink rate is listed to tell you how long to estimate sink times to better count down and more effectively fish your sinking lines.

So, you are fishing for hybrids on West Point Lake with a 3- to 6-weight rod and Teeny 100 grain line, and you want to sink a Clouser minnow™ in front of a school of fish suspending at 6 feet -- your count down should be how long? The line sinks at the rate of .25 ft/second so your count down time will be 24 seconds. If you were fishing an 8-weight with Orvis 300 grain depth charge line, counting down to 12 feet at .44 ft/sec would take 28 seconds.

On Lanier, you want to get a fly in front of stripers at 15 feet. You cast your 250 grain line and count it down how long? At .42 ft/sec you'd need to count to 36 seconds to reach that depth.

In salt water it will take slightly longer for your line to sink because salt water is MORE BUOYANT than fresh water. Current also influences the sink rate of the lines.

Here is a guide that you can print and use!

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Line weight

Rod rating

Sink rate in ft/sec

6 foot sink time in sec

12 foot sink time in sec

15 foot sink time in sec

20 foot sink time in sec

100 grains

3-6 wt

.25 ft/sec

24

48

60

80

200 grains

5-7 wt

.41 ft/sec

14

27

34

45

250 grains

7-8 wt

.42 ft/sec

15

29

36

48

300 grains

8-10 wt

.44 ft/sec

14

28

34

46

350 grains

9-10 wt

.47 ft/sec

13

26

32

43

400 grains

10-11 wt

.5 ft.sec

12

24

30

40

500 grains

12-13 wt

.57 ft/sec

11

21

26

35

600 grains

14-15 wt

.63 ft/sec

10

19

24

32

The chart above will give you approximate sink times in fresh water for these line weights. These numbers are a composite of the Orvis and Teeny recommendations and estimated sink rates. Print these out and keep them with you. Hopefully they will help you.


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