Tropical Saltwater Fly Line Shootout & Buyer's Guide
Trident Fly Fishing is a full-service fly shop. We spend a lot of time testing gear and writing shootouts to give you all of the tools to make your next trip a success. We are not a blog or a review site. 100% of our funding comes from your gear purchase, so if this shootout helps you on your next fly fishing adventure, support us by buying your next fly line (or better yet, your next rod and reel), from us.
Why Fly Lines?
If you've read our 2016 Fly Line Shootout & Buyer's Guide, you know the answer to this question. In 2016, we felt that the most talked about and least understood part of fly fishing equipment was fly lines. That's still true today. And while we helped anglers better understand 5wt fly lines in that shootout, no one has ever published a thorough review of 8wt tropical saltwater fly lines.
In the first part of our Tropical Fly Line Shootout, we got our hands on as many tropical saltwater WF8F lines as we could and tested them in a variety of ways. This shootout is designed to help anglers better understand fly lines, when to use which line, and which lines are the best in different angling scenarios.
Another reason we decided to test fly lines is because they are arguably one of the most important pieces of fly fishing equipment. If you have the very best fly rod and fly reel setup partnered with the wrong fly line, you're not going to catch fish. It's that simple.
Lastly, as fly rod companies have moved toward faster rods in the past decade, fly lines have evolved to fit these high-performance rods. An 8wt fly line looks much different today than it did 10 years ago. There's also a massive amount of variation between lines. We want you to know exactly what you're purchasing when you buy a fly line from us and we want it to be the very best line for your angling needs.
We limited this shootout to WF8F tropical saltwater fly lines. This helped us keep the shootout somewhat manageable by choosing lines that are built for similar circumstances. We then reached out to every major fly line manufacturer and asked if they'd donate lines for the shootout. In doing so, we tried to get the latest fly line technology available and, in most cases, we did.
Similar to our 5wt line shootout, we chose two different 8wt fly rods to cast these lines with. We used one moderate/medium-fast action rod and one fast action rod to make sure we tested these lines with two different rod tapers for maximum performance.
Orvis Helios 3F 9' 8wt: The Helios 3F was our 'moderate action' rod of choice. We chose the 3F because it's a well-known, high-performance fly rod that's one of our best selling presentation saltwater rods. We thought this rod would cast lighter lines better than a fast action rod.
If you want to learn more about the Helios 3F rods, read our Helios 3F model-by-model fly rod review here.
Scott Meridian 9' 8wt: We chose the Meridian to compliment the medium-fast action of the 3F. This rod's fast action design handles heavier lines and more aggressive tapers well and evokes the most performance out of lines that are too heavy for the 3F.
If you want to learn more about the Scott Meridian, read our blog review here.
To generate accurate taper diagrams, we used the micrometer pictured above to measure the line diameter in 6-inch increments along the front taper of each line. We took a measurement every 6 inches until we were well into the running line to provide accurate, real-life taper diagrams of these lines. This was (by far) the most monotonous, time-consuming part of the shootout.
One of the most important features of a fly line is its taper. Once we had the taper diagrams, we analyzed the lengths of each key element of the line's taper: the Level Tip, Front Taper, Belly, Back Taper, and Running Line.
As you'll see, some line diagrams show each part of the line very clearly. For other lines, it's less clear:
In cases like this, we used the manufacturer's specifications as a guideline. After all, we're really trying to determine if what they are telling us is accurate.
A note about accuracy: All of our measurements were in 6" increments so we could be as much as a foot off. Couple this with a 6" manufacturing tolerance and that gives us another foot. So if a manufacturer claims the head length is 40', and we found it to be 42', it could still be within specifications. This goes for any part of the line.
Another time-consuming effort in this shootout was weighing every fly line in 10' increments up to 30 feet. We did this to understand the effect mass has on how a line casts. Then we measured the full head weight to determine the maximum amount of weight that we were casting. We took all of our measurements using a gram scale accurate to +/- 0.15 grains.
This is an important differentiator between fly lines that cast well and fly lines that have subpar performance. 'Loop stability' is a measure of how a fly line unfurls throughout the forward cast. Lines with stable loops are easier to cast at longer distances and allow the angler to present flies more accurately. Fly line construction plays a large role in how a fly line 'unfurls' in the air.
Casting at longer distances can be important in tropical saltwater fly fishing so we added a casting point category for fly lines that performed well at distance. The heaviest fly lines didn't necessarily earn the most points in this category; we took accuracy at longer distances into account and didn't just reward the fly line we could cast the farthest.
Most of the trout lines in our 5wt fly line shootout received good presentations scores; those lines had little variation in presentation capabilities. 8wt saltwater lines are a different story, however. We found that there was much more variation in the presentation capabilities of saltwater lines because not every saltwater fish requires a presentation-oriented approach. Lines made for casting big streamers or blind casting in the surf (like the Outbound Short or the Tropical Titan) don't really present flies 'delicately'. We tested this category by casting each line on the water and judging how softly flies landed.
The ability to quickly shoot fly line is important in saltwater fly fishing. Shooting line is, simply put, the length of line that goes through the tip of the rod after the line is released from your bottom hand. Shooting is similar to distance but there are some lines that shoot really well but can't cast as far because they're not designed to hold a lot of line in the air.
Lastly, we included a category for beginners. Why? Because no matter where you sit on the casting spectrum a line that loads better will give you more feedback and be more fun to fish. We tested this by making a few short casts and seeing how the line loaded each of the rods.
A Note About "Average" Fly Lines
There are several fly lines we tested in this shootout that can be described as 'average'. This means they don't really stand out in any way, good or bad. They don't have spectacular distance capabilities, they don't have stellar loop stability, they don't help you present small flies delicately to Bonefish on the flats. All of these lines will definitely get the job done if you're a competent caster, but there's probably a better line (and maybe a worse one) for a particular style of fishing or casting ability. These lines were tough to review because they didn't stand out in any way due to the fact that there weren't any really significant differences in their performance. If you hear us refer to a line as 'average', refer back to this paragraph.
Below you'll find links to each individual fly line review separated by brand. If you're curious about points, data, and weights, continue down the page to see our data and results.
- Airflo Saltwater Fly Line Reviews
- RIO Saltwater Fly Line Reviews
- Cortland Saltwater Fly Line Reviews
- Royal Wulff Saltwater Fly Line Reviews
- Orvis Saltwater Fly Line Reviews
- Scientific Anglers Saltwater Fly Line Reviews
- Winston Saltwater Fly Line Reviews
If you want just one line rec...
If you forced us to pick one fly line to fish on an 8-weight on a desert island... it would be Scientific Anglers Grand Slam.
If you don't want to read all of our reviews individually, here's a table of our favorite lines broken down by fly size and conditions. If you're having trouble reading any of these charts, find a pdf version below each chart.
Lengths, Weights, and Points
This is the section with all of our test data in three different charts. The Taper Length Chart shows computed taper lengths using our taper charts broken down into tip, front taper, belly, rear taper, and overall head length. The Grain Weight chart shows grain weight measurements taken for 10'-20'-30' and the full head of the line. Finally, we scored every line and crowned a winner in the Scoring section.
Taper Length Chart
Grain Weight Chart
Finally, we decided to score every fly line in the test. While there's no fly line that does everything really well, different fly lines are 'the best' for different situations. If you're looking for the fly line that's the most versatile and does almost everything really well, this point system will help you choose that line. We recommend checking out our section on 'Recommended Lines' above to choose the line that fits your fishing style best. Nevertheless, this section will help those looking for a non-distilled version that helps you choose the best line without reading the entire shootout.
Give us a call here at the shop at (888) 413-5211 or email us anytime at [email protected].