Fly fishing with a sinking line is sometimes the best way to catch fish when the trout are sitting deeper in a river or a stillwater like a lake or a pond and a floating line won’t reach them.
I first used a sinking fly line when fishing for trout in the Uk. Sinking lines allowed me to fish my flies across the entire water column so I could target exactly what depth the trout were feeding at.
But sinking fly lines are a little confusing as there are quite a few types to choose from and picking the right sinking line for the situation is key to catching fish.
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What is a sinking line?
A sinking line is a line that sinks as opposed to a floating line that floats. They come in various types and with different sink rates measured in inches per second (IPS) which allows you to control how deep your flies go.
Types of sinking lines
There are three main types of sinking fly lines; full sinking lines, intermediate fly lines, and sink tip lines. Each one has is a little different from the next and they all have different sink rates to match the depths you want to fish your flies in.
Full Sinking Lines
Full sinking fly lines are great when you’re fly fishing in deeper lakes as the lines sink quickly and you can get your streamers or nymphs to get down as deep as possible.
On full sinking lines, the entire 90 feet of the fly line sinks thanks to its heavier density allowing you to get down to the bottom if you want to. Full sinking fly lines come in different sink rates and the higher the sink rate or IPS, the faster it goes down.
You wouldn’t use a full sink line on a river often as the full sinking properties would have you hooking the bottom a lot, they are best used for lakes.
Sink Tip Line
A sink tip fly line has a front taper head that’s made of a full sinking section of line around 10 feet to 30 feet in length with a main body of floating line behind it, hence the name – sink tip line.
A sinking tip on the end of a floating line gives you a limited amount of the water column to fish as it will only sink as far down as the length of the sink tip and stop sinking due to the floating line.
This makes a sinking 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. When fly fishing for salmon or steelhead in big rivers, a sink tip fly line is a must to get you fly down into the feeding zone, especially if the current is strong.
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 letting you keep the fly just below the surface or at a depth you choose. It’s like a floating line that is a bit only and is slowly becoming a sinking fly line.
I love fishing with intermediates on lakes when the fish are eating around 2 feet to 10 feet under the surface of the water. The slow sink rate means you can keep your streamers and nymphs in the target zone.
Picking The Right Sinking Fly Line
The first thing all anglers need to do is match the best sinking fly line with the water they are fishing. The deeper the water the faster the sinking fly line you’ll need to get down deep.
Generally speaking, a full sinking or intermediate line is good for deep stillwaters when fishing on foot or from a boat while sink tip lines are better for rivers. But sink tips are also useful on stillwater fly fishing when the fish are feeding a foot or so under the surface.
What about sink rates?
Sink rates can range from 0.5 – 8 IPS and a faster sinking fly line should be fished on deeper waters.
You can also use the IPS rating to count down how deep you’re fishing. With a 4 IPS line, if you count to 12 before you retrieve then your fly will be sitting at 4 feet (48 inches) under the surface of the water.
On the next cast, you can count to 24 seconds before you retrieve and fish your fly at 8 feet under the water’s surface. This allows you to fish different depths with your streamer on nymph to find where the fish are feeding.
Rigging Sinking Lines
When adding leaders to a sinking fly line, whether they are sinking tips for full sinkers, you want your leader to be short and tough.
A short leader, around 4 ft, will allow the leader to sink at the same speed the fly line sinks giving you a straight direct retrieve. A longer leader will sink slower than the line sinks and create a bow between the sink tips and the fly. This leads to hooking the bottom and snagging.
Using longer leaders can give the impression that your fly is swimming down before coming up which can be a useful tactic on stillwaters. But generally, the leader should be short and tough.
Casting With Sinking Fly Lines
Whether you’re fishing with a full sink or sink tip line, they are harder to cast than a floating line. The casting difficultly comes at the beginning of your cast as the front portion of the line and fly are under the water, making it hard to start your cast properly.
These lines also have some extra weight to them and you have to manage the extra weight on your cast just like you would on a shooting-head line.
When starting 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 you need to get a wider loop by opening up your casting stroke. The wider loop helps manage the weight of the line and you can control the line better to avoid it tangling.
How do you fly fish with a sinking line?
We have touched on this already but we’ll go into some more detail, show you fish with a sinking line depends on the water you’re fishing.
If fly fishing on a stillwater, you should cast out your flies and count down in seconds, calculating in the IPS of the line, until it gets to the depth you want, then strip it back in. Continue doing this while trying different depths so you can 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 a floating or sink tip line, the color does matter but even more so when the line sinks. Darker colors such as green, brown, and black are good for sink and sink tips as they are harder for the fish to see under the water.
What size rod is best for lake fishing?
When fishing on a lake you should be using at a minimum a 5wt fly rod, even with a dry fly. You can go up to a 7/8wt depending on how big the species you’re targeting is. The reason for the heavier rod is so that you can cast the long distances sometimes need on big stillwaters.
When would you use a sinking leader?
You can use a sinking leader with all flies bar 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 ideal 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.