Fly Fishing with Sinking Line – A Complete Guide for Beginners

Fly Fishing with Sinking Line

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There’s nothing like the thrill of fly fishing, and sometimes, using a sinking line can be your secret weapon. This approach is perfect when you’re angling for trout nestled deeper in a river, lake, or pond, and a floating line just won’t cut it.

I first explored the world of sinking fly lines while trout fishing in the UK. These lines allowed me to navigate my flies across the water’s entirety, hitting the exact depth where the elusive trout were feeding. However, the realm of sinking fly lines can be a bit mystifying, with an array of types to choose from. But fear not, picking the right sinking line for your fishing scenario is the key to a fruitful catch, and I’m here to help!

Fly Fishing with a Sinking Line Explained

sinking line

In the simplest terms, a sinking line is a line that, well, sinks! This is the polar opposite of a floating line that stays on the water’s surface. Sinking lines come in various forms and sink rates, measured in inches per second (IPS). This variance allows you to control how deep your flies delve.

A Closer Look at Sinking Lines

There are three main types of sinking fly lines: full sinking lines, intermediate fly lines, and sink tip lines. Each one is slightly different from the other, with distinct sink rates to match the depths you want your flies to explore.

Full Sinking Lines

Full sinking fly lines are your best friend when you’re fly fishing in deeper lakes. These lines sink swiftly, helping your streamers or nymphs reach as deep as possible. Thanks to their heavier density, the entire 90 feet of the fly line sinks, giving you access to the bottom if you so wish. Full sinking fly lines come in different sink rates, and the higher the sink rate or IPS, the faster it plunges. However, these are seldom used in rivers, as their full sinking properties could have you snagging the bottom quite often. They’re ideally suited for lakes.

Sink Tip Line

sinking tip line

A sink tip fly line is essentially a hybrid. It has a front taper head that’s made of a full sinking section of line around 10 feet to 30 feet in length, followed by a floating line. This design allows you to fish a limited portion of the water column. The sinking tip will only sink as far down as its length and then stop sinking due to the floating line. This makes a sink tip fly line incredibly useful in a lake when fish are feeding in the top 10-30 feet of water, or when you want to fish a streamer through a deep pool in a river.

Sink tip lines are also a must-have when fly fishing for salmon or steelhead in big rivers, helping your fly descend into the feeding zone, especially in strong currents. Each sinking tip line comes with a different sink rate, and you can even buy sinking tips to add to your floating lines with a loop-to-loop connection.


An intermediate sinking fly line is a full sink line that sinks at a slow speed, allowing you to keep the fly just below the surface or at a depth of your choosing. It’s like a floating line that’s slowly transitioning into a sinking fly line. I find these particularly useful on lakes when the fish are feeding around 2 feet to 10 feet under the water’s surface. The slow sink rate lets you keep your streamers and nymphs in the target zone for longer.

Choosing the Right Sinking Fly Line

Picking The Right Sinking Fly Line

The first crucial step for any angler is to match the sinking fly line with the water they’re fishing. The deeper the water, the faster the sinking fly line you’ll need. As a rule of thumb, a full sinking or intermediate line is ideal for deep stillwaters when you’re fishing on foot or from a boat. Sink tip lines, on the other hand, are better suited for rivers. They can also come in handy in stillwater fly fishing when the fish are feeding just a foot or so under the surface.

Sink Rates – What’s the Deal?

Sink rates can range from 0.5 – 8 IPS, and a faster sinking fly line should be deployed in deeper waters. You can also use the IPS rating to gauge how deep you’re fishing. For instance, with a 4 IPS line, if you count to 12 before retrieving, your fly will be hovering at 4 feet under the water’s surface. On your next cast, count to 24 seconds before retrieving, and your fly will be at 8 feet under the water’s surface. This technique allows you to experiment with different depths with your streamer or nymph to pinpoint where the fish are feeding.

Rigging Your Sinking Lines

Rigging Sinking Lines

When it comes to rigging sinking lines, whether they are sinking tips or full sinkers, you’ll want your leader to be short and sturdy. A short leader, around 4 ft, will sink at the same speed as the fly line, giving you a straight, direct retrieve. A longer leader will sink slower than the line and create a bow between the sink tips and the fly, leading to snags and hooking the bottom.

Casting with Sinking Fly Lines

Whether you’re fishing with a full sink or sink tip line, casting can be a bit of a challenge compared to a floating line. The challenge comes at the start of your cast as the front portion of the line and fly are underwater, making the commencement of your cast a bit tricky.

These lines also carry some extra weight, and you have to manage this additional weight on your cast, similar to a shooting-head line. To start your cast, strip in more line so that it’s easier to lift the front portion out of the water and begin casting. Once airborne, aim for a wider loop by opening up your casting stroke. This wider loop helps manage the weight of the line and enables you to control the line better to avoid tangles.


When should I use a sinking fly line?

A sinking fly line is best utilized when fishing in deep waters or fast currents. They allow the fly to reach the desired depth quickly, which can be pivotal when fishing for species such as steelhead, salmon, and trout.

How do you fly fish with a sinking line?

Why use a sink tip fly line?

A sink tip fly line proves handy when fishing in deep waters or fast currents. It provides a convenient way to get the fly down to the desired depth without continuously adjusting the leader. This feature can be particularly useful when fishing in deep waters, where a floating line would never reach the desired depth. Additionally, a sink tip line enables the angler to cast further and cover more water, making it an ideal choice when searching for fish.

How deep can you fish with a sinking fly line?

The depth at which you can fish with a sinking fly line depends on the type of line you are using. Typically, most sinking fly lines will sink at a rate of 1-2 inches per second. So, depending on the depth of the water you are fishing in, the fly can reach depths up to 10-20 feet.

How do you attach a tippet to a sinking line?

To attach a tippet to a sinking line, begin by tying a small loop at the end of the leader. Then, thread the tippet material through the loop and pull it tight. Finally, tie a clinch knot to secure the tippet to the leader.

What leader should I use with a sink tip fly line?

The type of leader you should use with a sink tip fly line depends on the type of fish you’re targeting and the depth of the water. Generally, choose a leader that is strong enough to handle the weight of the fly and the sinking line, but still flexible enough to cast easily. A leader length of 7-9 feet is usually a good starting point.

How do you fly fish with a sinking line?

We have touched on this already, but let’s delve a little deeper. How you fish with a sinking line depends on the water you’re fishing.

If fly fishing on a stillwater, cast out your flies and count down in seconds, calculating the IPS of the line, until it gets to the depth you want. Continue this process while trying different depths until you find the feeding zone.

On a river, when using a sink tip line with streamers, cast your streamer across the river to the other bank. Then let the sink tip line sink for a few seconds and strip your streamer back across the river. This can be done while wade fishing or from a boat, and you can control how deep your streamers are by adding more or fewer seconds before you strip them back.

What color fly line is best?

Whether you’re fishing with a floating or sink tip line, the color does matter, even more so when the line sinks. Darker colors such as green, brown, and black are ideal for sink and sink tips as they are harder for the fish to see underwater.

What size rod is best for lake fishing?

What size rod is best for lake fishing?

When fishing on a lake, you should ideally be using at least a 5wt fly rod, even with a dry fly. You can go up to a 7/8wt depending on the size of the species you’re targeting. The reason for the heavier rod is so that you can cast the long distances sometimes needed on large stillwaters.

When would you use a sinking leader?

Sinking leaders are great for swinging wet flies and streamer flies in rivers. However, don’t use a sinking leader with tungsten or bead head nymphs as they will drag your indicator down. You can use a sinking leader with all flies except dries on stillwaters, and they are ideal for when you want to fish in 1-4 ft of water.

When would you use a tip line?

Sink tip lines are perfect for rivers when fishing streamers for trout, steelhead, and salmon. They allow the fly to get down into the midsection and in front of the fish. They are also great on stillwater as the sink tip lets you fish in the top 10ft of the water where trout often feed in lakes. You can also use a sink tip for bass to make a popper or a frog fly swim with more action.

When would you use a sinking leader?

In Conclusion

Understanding sinking fly lines can be your gateway to a more successful and fulfilling fly fishing experience. Whether you’re fishing in a deep lake, a bubbling river, or simply looking for that extra edge, sinking lines could make a significant difference. So, consider incorporating them into your fly fishing repertoire, and watch as your catch rate improves!

Now that you’re equipped with this knowledge, why not dive deeper into the world of fly fishing? Download our series of fly fishing books below to learn more!

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