Montana Streamer fly lines

Gearing Up For Fall – Fly Lines

We’ve just had our first big cold-front of the fall. Real cold. The one that brings rain, sleet and snow. Temps in the 30’s. Freezing hands. You forgot the coffee? This is the front that we wait for every year because it changes the fishing.

Like a light-switch things will change. The nymph rig has been the rule other than a few folks tossing streamers. From here on out, streamers and dries will rule. Many anglers are looking for a new line that will help them deliver the fly. Mornings in the shop see the counter filled with reels and spools. Questions about which line is best for streamers, which for dries. A few are looking for the best of both. Here’s a rundown of the lines we find most useful for fall fishing.

Streamer Fishing Sink Tips

RIO Outbound Short WF F/I

The RIO Outbound Short WF F/I is the most popular streamer line at Headhunters (which means on the Missouri River). The Outbound Short series lines are “integrated” shooting head. The difference between a standard taper and a shooting head is the  small diameter running line in the rear, and the over weighted short head. As the name implies, shooting heads are designed for “shooting” instead of “casting”. The RIO Outbound Short series heads are  heavier by 1.5 time than designated (a 6 would be a 7 1/2 weight), and are made for quick loading and quick shooting.

If false casting tight loops is your thing, these are not for you. When customers ask me how it’s different, I tell them the Outbound Short turns you fly rod into a spinning rod. You can strip your fly right back to the boat, pick it up and fire a single shot up to 60-70 feet right to the bank. With a single false cast, you can shoot it 100′. Pretty? No. Quick, efficient and powerful? Yes. Using a RIO Outbound Short improves your technique because your fly is in the water more than it isn’t.

Our favorite RIO Outbound SHort configuration (of which there are many) is the WF Floating with a 15′ Intermediate clear tip. The tip is rated to sink at 1.5 inches per second (ups), and it sinks at least that fast. I don’t really consider it an “intermediate” line, more of a type I or II slow sinking line. With a weighted fly, you can pretty much cover the entire water column on the Missouri River.

The Outbound Short series is also very easy to cast. The over-wieghted head is easy to feel load, and launches without the need for single or double haul techniques. You just pick it up, load the rod and come forward. The Outbound Short will do the rest.

On a recent trip Striper fishing in Maine, I had the chance to try the full intermediate version, which has a 30 foot clear head, and a translucent yellow intermediate running line. It didn’t feel that much different to me, and was nearly as easy to pull from the water at the end of my retrieve. We are getting a few of these int he shop this fall to try. The advantages should be a longer clear section for stealthy bright conditions, and a less tangle prone running line. Durability may be improved as well.

RIO Streamer Tip WF F/I We also use the RIO Streamer Tip series of lines. These are very similar to the Outbound Sort in profile, but have a 10′ clear intermediate head (instead of 15′), and are one size heavier than designated. These are great for those who prefer a little smoother stroke, have a softer rod, or just don’t want a 15′ tip. – talk to Ninch at the shop.

Airflo Streamer Max

The Airflo Streamer Max is very popular with the “get it deep” crowd. Like the Outbound Short, the Streamer max would be thrown into the “integrated shooting head” category. The Streamer Max is built on Airflo’s “Power Core” no stretch core, which I like because fo the improved connectivity you feel between you and the fly and the fish. The head consists of a 24ish foot section of level “T” fast sinking line. Grains are associated with each line weight (5=160gr, 6=200gr, etc.). Behind the long sink tip is a short very fat section of floating line that makes up the rear taper of the head. Behind that, you have Airflo’s “ridge” running line, some of the smoothest shooting and most durable line on the market.

Lines with long, heavy sink tips are not new (think Jim Teeny), but the addition of the short floating section behind the tip is what sets this line apart. It improves line pick-up, mending and casting performance. And, it allows you to cut the tip shorter.

What!? Cut my new fly line? Yes, that is the idea with the Streamer Max. The sink tip is long, maybe a little too long. The idea is that you progressivly cut back the tip until you find the sweet spot that matches your rod and the water you fish. I know angler who use this line with the tip cut back to 8 feet! Now we wouldn’t recommend cutting it back that far right out of the box, but maybe a foot or two at a time until you get it where you want it (Airflo recommends 6 inches at a time, but I don’t have the patience for that).

This line is perfect for those who want that long-ass heavy super sink tip for dredging the bottom of deep runs (LOG, Kootenai), or who swing streamers in heavy currents (Yellowstone, Jefferson) using the full length tip. If you need to cut it back because you’re hanging the bottom constantly, you can and you won’t have to worry about casting performance.

Another situation I would recommend this for would be Alaskan style streamer fishing or single handed winter or Great Lakes Steelhead fishing. You know you’re going to be using a sink tip, and the guide recommends that you bring a variety of tips. Using this line, you could quickly figure out the right depth for the river and flows on day one, and roll the rest of the week with that tip.

You should note that if you intend to cut the tip back by half or more, we would recommend going up a line size or two, depending on your rod. As you remove grains – even with a heavy tip – you’re going to eventually fall out of the designated line category.

While we don’t use these lines a lot during Fall (Oct. & Nov.), we do tend to switch to them in December when the water temperature get nasty cold.

Wulff Ambush

This is a very interesting line from Wulff, the Ambush Series of lines has gained quite a following and has been imitated by others. It is designed primarily as a line for single or two-handed “spey” casting. Like the above lines, it’s an integrated shooting head. The Ambush has an even shorter and heavier head (18′) that acts like a compact Skagit two-handed head, but with a short and aggressive front taper that will deliver flies of any size and turn that leader over.

If you like the Outbound Short you will identify with the Ambush. It is similar, but more aggressive. This head is so short, heavy and powerful that you need to “lay off” the power when casting. Like other shooting heads, it is not intended to be false cast, or to carry large amounts of line in the air. Start your cast with the rear taper in your tip top, go back, then go forwards. It will leave the guides all by itself.

Unlike the above lines, we use this in a floating configuration, and it can also be used as a hopper line, or just for windy conditions. We do a lot of floating line streamer fishing from August through November, and this fits the bill. Using a floating line allows us to fish spooky shallow flats without disturbing fish with our splashy and heavy tips. If you need to get deep, put on a long leader and the heaviest fly you can find. The Ambush can handle it. You could probably throw a Musky sized Rapala with this line.

And as stated, this is a great line for your switch rod. You can overhead cast, or “spey” cast with it. It’s a little short for spey casting, even with shorter switch rods. No problem, just add an intermediate or sinking Poly-leader to lengthen the head and you’ll be at 28′, perfect for many 11′ rods. Because the head and forward taper are so aggressive it will handle sink-tips with ease, including medium MOW tips from RIO.

While the Ambush isn’t a daily driver for most, it’s an interesting and versatile line that I could see using for streamers fishing on the Missouri, pike and bass fishing, throwing Polywogs for Silvers, switch rod nymphing, fishing for Redfish, Snook or baby Tarpin, and a whole host of other things. Just a good line to have in your arsenal.

Floating Do-it-all Lines

Many fall anglers are looking for that one line that they can do it all with. They fish with one rod, and need to be able to throw streamer down a bank, then fish a baetis hatch on foot. The following are a few of our favorite do it all lines for fall. It should be noted that we consider all of these lines to be 5 weight and up tools. If you’re looking for a line to throw streamers with on your Winston 3 weight, you should be looking for a bigger rod, not a new line.

RIO Perception

The new RIO Perception is quickly becoming our new favorite in the “do-it-all” category. Built on RIO’s new “connect-core” technology (no-stretch), it has that powerful connected feeling that we like for streamers and nymphing. While the taper isn’t as short or aggressive as the Outbound Short, it still has more punch than most lines we use on a daily basis. It does it, however, with enough grace to have total confidence while presenting a #20 BWO cripple on 5X tippet.

The Perception fishes and casts slightly heavy, but just. We wouldn’t compare this to the Outbound Short or even Rio Grand (the original “heavy” line). To us it fishes like a stronger, more aggressive version of the RIo Gold. It does like a little energy, and it’s not for mellow casters. It does a great job of loading up high-energy rods like the Sage ONE or Orvis Helios 2, and respond well to an aggressive casting stroke. “No-stretch” core lines always feel a bit more powerful to me.

This might be the perfect do it all line for fall. Plenty of power in the streamer game, with an aggressive front taper that will turn over large streamers. Accurate enough for small dries and delicate presentation, but it will punch through that nasty November wind. For nymphing, it has the turnover skills for that weighted nymph rig and we love no-stretch cores when setting the hook.

Orvis Hydros 3D

The Orvis Hydros 3D is very similar to textured lines from SA. The texture breaks up the friction between the line and the guides, so this one is a shooter. Perfect for throwing streamers and nymphs. The Hydros 3D is built with an overloaded forward taper that has no problem casting big or heavy flies in the wind. It wouldn’t be our first choice for technical dry fly fishing, but matched up with a fast action rod like the Helios2 it is quite a gun. While I have dedicated streamer rods with clear tips, I would have no problem spending the day tossing Sparkle Minnows on this line.

The Hydros 3D is also excellent as a nymph line. The textured coating shoots great and is good for those who like to make long upstream nymph shots. It also feeds line extremely easy, another bonus for bottom dredgers. Like textured lines from SA, watch out for your finger while stripping and setting the hook. Bring some band-aids. The powerful taper is also an advantage in the wind, which can be a constant menace during the fall. This lines seems to cut through the air with ease. .

We consider this line to be a great choice, especially for wading anglers looking for a single line that will perform a variety of duties. The shoot-ablilty is often desired by those on foot who want to gain a little distance.

Airflo Exceed

The relatively new Airflo Exceed is a line based on some of Airflow’s previous “distance” lines. Some of those we’ve loved, and some simply had heads that were too long for anything other than distance casting competitions (or maybe surf fishing). the Exceed is long, but not too long for most medium to large rivers.

The longer head allows you to carry large amounts of line while false casting. This you can definitely do with the Exceed. And unlike many trout lines, when you get 60+ feet out of the tip-top, you don’t lose any power. The energy keeps transfering, which is what you want for throwing streamers. When we’re fishing over large shallow flats on the Missouri, we need to make long casts and keep fishing that fly from 90 feet to the boat. The exceed is perfect for that situation. Though you won’t be able to make a quick pick up and shoot like you could with an integrated shooting head, you’ll be able to cast farther. It’s a trade off.

The Exceed is an excellent nymphing line as week, as the long head makes mending easy. Casting in short with dries, the line almost turns into a double taper, and if matched correctly with the right rod can work fine for techie dry fly fishing. But this line should primarily be considered a power line. If you are an experienced saltwater angler, you will like how this line feels.

RIO Indicator II LIne

The RIO Indicator II fly line is on the list because although it is designed as a specific purpose line, I see it being used more and more by guides and anglers as a “daily driver”. You can spot this line out on the river by the foot long hot orange tip.

The Indicator line is designed to float high, turn over heavy rigs, and do it with an “open loop” that prevents the dreaded tangles often associated with indicator nymphing. It does all that, but also is an effective streamer and hopper line. The aggressive front taper that is designed to turn over heavy split shot and wind resistent indicators also will push a big hopper or heavy articulated streamer. Now, we won’t tell you that it’s the prettiest caster that we use, but it might be the easiest of the traditional lines.

Fall baetis fishing requires repeated, accurate casts at rising fish, and depending on how you fish, you will either like (not love) or hate this line. At least for that application. The “open loop technology” means accuracy is thrown out the window. If you like to throw lazer tight loops and land the fly a foot in front of the fish (how it should be done in my opinion), this ain’t the line.

If, however, you’re part of that old school, east coast, slack-line presentation school, you might find that the Indicator II works well for you. You won’t have to do any special trick casts to get you leader to shoot up and fall in a pile, that’s what it’s designed to do.

The Indicator II is the best nymphing line on the market, throw big dries and streamers easily – albeit ugly – and depending on your fishing style, may or may not work as a fall baetis line. That’s why I see it more and more on our guides and customer rods, including our local fly line professor Mark Raisler.


We hope that helps you find the fly line you need. Why would you head out there without the right tool to present your fly to the fish? C’mon Man! Come by Headhunters and talk to Mark, Sara or Ben about the right line for your fall fishing.

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  • Carey Parsons
    October 7, 2013 5:49 pm

    great line education!   I have been wondering which line I might try to get down to the smallies on the Tennessee river drop offs …you gave me some options!

  • John,
    You are spot on about the Rio Outbound Full 30 footer. I use that here in Maine and the durability is greater than the shorty. Both in the line up. Great lines.

  • […] Sink tip or dry line? Check this out from Scumliner as he outlines fly lines for Fall. […]

  • What’s the preference in the shop with the loops on flylines? Particularly floaters. Do you guys use them or cut em off and tie on your own butt section like an Amnesia? Thanks!!!

    • We use them on all of our lines. Why cut them off? And, never use amnesia for butt section. It is way too limp, especially in situations where you need to turn over long leaders (Missouri River dry fly fishing). Amnesia was designed for shooting systems.

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