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by Dennis Pierce - Northern California Fly Fishing Editor

Spend the money here. Good lines are worth the investment and radically ease casting.

Lines in a Joseph's coat of colors can float, sink at the tip, sink half way, sink at a moderate rate, sink fast or offer neutral density. They come in all sorts of tapers to suit beginners, bugs, weight forward, shooting heads and the like. They come in weights from #1 all the way up to #13 or so. I've tried this last on a 15 foot rod and while I'm 6'3' and was in reasonable shape, it took only two casts to realize this kind of rig suits NFL linemen or those who cruise about all day without casting, in search of billfish.

Go with a "beginner's taper" if it's offered, as these put rather more weight near the leader and suit the shorter casts you'll use to start. If you can't find one of these try a standard double taper at the high end of your rod's rating. If you fish a lot on small streams where you won't ever cast out the entire line, you might go up another weight or even two to improve casting ease at the price of a heavier line slap on the water. Double tapers, if you use the right kind of backing and leader system like the Orvis "no-knot" loops, also let you reverse the line to get a second season's use after the front half wears.

Spend the money here. Good lines are worth the investment and radically ease casting. Then invest in some backing, usually Dacron and such (don't use monofiliment here) which goes under the flyline. One way to get the right length is to reel the fly line onto the reel and top it off with backing up to 1/4 inch or so of the spool's edge. Then reel off the backing and line, tie the backing onto the reel and reattach the taper. Incidentally, one of the virtues of double tapers is that there's no wrong end. All line and backing packages include knot information. I'd look at a knot book like Lefty Kreh's and Mark Sosin's too.

Everyone's got a favorite material -- mine is Climax, with Orvis woven leaders a close second. Most fly flingers have a favorite length for leaders; mine runs 9 feet for trout, 7 1/2 feet or shorter for everything else. Some are stiffer than others -- stiffer leaders and proper proportions can help line and leader turnover. Leader to line to rod matches are a good reason to pay a little more and buy your first rig from a local fly shop.

Leaders, besides their length, also come in "X's" They start with stout leaders with funny numbers 1x and above and work down to puny 8X. There's a lot of status, and some lies, here. The X rating system roughly relates to the hook size of the fly. So trout types might run 4X (6.5 pound test) with streamers and work down to 6X (3.5 pound test) or so for pupa or even an 8X (1.5 pound test) for a size 24 which I can't see to tie on anyhow.

The problem here is killing fish. If you use a very puny leader you tend to play fish to exhaustion and your kill rate goes up. I belong to the school that says gear should be matched to your average fish so you can bring it in reasonably quickly and either release it, or where species and conditions allow, tap it on the head and take it home to the skillet. Challenge, for the experienced angler, isn't extremely light tackle, it's catching fish that, by their location, size or experience are difficult. So don't fall into the "wimp" gear school which I suspect was started on the East Coast where I've seen video anglers call an 11 inch brown a "trophy."

Instead, buy a couple of extra leaders and a spool of the same strength -- 4x or 5x -- that you can tie on the end of your tapered leader so you don't nibble your taper off when you change flies. TIP: run your leader and tippet through your lips from time to time (do remove the fly) because with monofilament lines you can feel rough spots which might signal wear and, if they're near the tippet, time for a change.

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