Best Sinking Fly Line | What, Where, Why & How (2023)

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This is a complete guide to sinking fly line in 2023. RIO Products Sub-surface Deep 5 Sinking Fly Line
  • Introduction to fly line
  • A quick note about RIO Products
  • Info on tapers
  • Floating vs sinking fly line
  • What is sink rate?
  • Why choose sinking line?
  • Sink tip vs full sink fly line
  • Best sink tip fly lines, reviewed
  • Best full sink fly lines reviewed
Let’s get started.

Introduction to Fly Line

One of the main characteristics that separate fly fishing from other forms of fishing is the fly line. Fly fishing line is a heavy line that uses its weight to propel the flies. Fly line is usually 80 to 100 feet long and comes in a variety of colors. Fly lines are measured based on their grain and are typically marked by numbers ranging from 1 to 12. The weight of a line will match up with the same weight as the reel and rod. You will generally use a lower line weight when fishing for smaller fish and using smaller flies. Line weights serve different functions—described below.
  • 1-3 is normally used for lighter flies and more precise placement.
  • 4-7 are medium-weight lines, and the most common “all-around” weight and line for fishing trout.
  • 8 and above are used for casting large flies or targeting bigger fish such as salmon, bass, and northern pike.

A Quick note on RIO Products

RIO is a total powerhouse in the sport of fly fishing—and because they put attention solely on line, leader, and tippet (with some flies and accessories) I have to emphasize this company. Their specific focus allows them the ability to excel when it comes to research & development in this area. Companies like Scientific Angler, Cortland, and Orvis also make great products, but when it comes to anything line-related you cannot do better than RIO products—in my eyes. RIO Mainstream sink tip RIO Premier 24 ft sink tip fly line


When it comes to fly fishing you’re going to hear the word tapers when describing the fly line. Tapers are changes in a line’s thickness, and fly fishing lines come in a variety of tapers. Each kind of taper functions differently to change how a cast is performed or to change the presentation of a fly.

Double taper lines

Double taper lines have equal tapers on each end of the line with a long midsection between the two ends. This type of line is helpful in making short and medium casts or when euro-nymphing. Additionally, double taper lines are reversible—therefore, if one end of the line becomes worn it can be flipped around. Double taper lines are the best for beginners as they allow for easy loading of the line and accurate fly placement.

Weight forward lines

Weight forward lines are another common type of line taper.  Weight forward lines are thicker and heavier in the first 30 ft—followed by a long thin midsection called a running line. Weight forward lines are a great line for many common trout waters and can cast further distances than double tapers. One downside to weight forward lines is they lack accuracy. weight-forward-taper

Shooting tapers

Shooting tapers; oftentimes called shooting heads are short but heavy tips that attach to monofilament or a basic running line. The head is designed to have enough weight and is small enough to pull the running line through the guides on its way to your target. The shooting taper allows the angler to cast very far distances—but with unfortunately little precision. Shooting tapers are usually unnecessary for the typical trout fly fisherman but certain situations will utilize this style of line.

Looking for more info on fly line and like to fish for trout? Explore this article “Best Fly line for Trout.”

Fly Line Color

Fly lines also come in a variety of colors from bright orange or green to dull brown. Most of the time brighter colors are used as they are easier to see on the water. Because of this many believe the bright colored line spook the fish, and prefer to use a darker—muted color.  Others feel that any color line will cast a shadow potentially spooking fish. Either way, the line color is up to the angler—and frankly, I’ve never noticed a difference in my fishing based on the line color. Fly-line-color

Floating vs Sinking Fly Lines

Fly lines may seem pretty similar to the novice but can actually be very unique. Apart from different types of tapers and styles, lines can come in either a sinking line or a floating line.

Floating lines

Floating lines are lighter lines that float above the water surface to present dry flies without pulling your bug underwater. Furthermore, a floating line allows the caster to easily pick up the line to mend or recast. A floating line is the most common type of line for the basic trout angler. Alternatively, sinking line is often used depending on the type of fishing you’re doing, and the water you’re on.

Sinking fly linesDry-fly-pattern

Sinking fly lines can be broken into two categories – sink tip lines and full sink lines. Sink tip lines have 5-25 ft of the heavy line at the end, followed by a floating midsection. With full sinking lines, the entire line sinks. This can make casting challenging as most of the line needs to be retrieved prior to the cast. Another difficulty with full sink lines is their inability to mend. This can often lead to an unnatural drift when fishing nymphs or streamers. These lines have the same grain weights as floating fly lines, but there are major differences in density between the two types of lines. Density, not line weight determines a line’s sink rate. To explain this further, a floating fly line has small air pockets in the coating to keep it more buoyant. Alternatively, sinking lines have lead or tungsten mixed into the coating to fill the air pockets and allow them to sink. rainbow-trout

Sink Rates Explained

The density determines how fast the line will sink at a rate of inches per second (IPS). The slowest rate is denoted as intermediate, which correlates to a 1-2 inch per second sink rate. Each rate after the intermediate will sink faster and will be represented by a number. The number means roughly the inches per second it sinks at. For example, a type 4 will sink at 4 inches per second—while a denser type 6 will sink at a rate of about 6 inches per second.

fly-on-lineWhy Choose Sinking Line?

There are a couple of different reasons why an angler would fish with either a sink tip or full sink fly line. The majority of a trout’s diet is subsurface; primarily on the bottom of the river bed. Most of the time an angler can get away with longer leaders and extra weight in the form of split shot(s). Although this method is useful, casting with heavy split shots or other weights can be challenging, and result in tangles instead of hooked fish.

Sink Tip vs Full Sink Fly Line

Sink Tip Line

Sink tip line is ideal for fishing nymphs in deeper pools or shallow lakes. The sink tip will get your bugs on the bottom in those fast-moving currents. They are useful when casting into shore on a lake or through weed beds. Sink tips also work well when fishing streamers through deep pools or lakes. sink-tip-taper

Full Sink Line

Full sink lines work best when fishing ponds or lakes. When fishing these still waters a full sink line will allow the fly or streamer to stay in the feeding zone longer even during the retrieve. When you retrieve your fly with a floating line, the fly will automatically move toward the water’s surface the more you retrieve it. However, with a full sink line, the entire line sinks—leading the fly or streamer to stay deeper and longer during the retrieve. full-sink-taper

Rigging with Sinking Fly Line

Setting up your rod with a sinking line is generally similar to your normal rig with a few differences. Most of the time you will use a shorter and heavier leader. Longer leaders may not sink at the same rate as the sinking line, resulting in a noticeable bend in the leader and an unnatural drift for the fly. With a sinking line, it is unnecessary to add extra weight in the form of split shot(s) or use a strike indicator. For more info on fishing with a sinking line, click here.

A Tip for Tracking Sink Rate

Because sinking lines sink based on inches per second (IPS) it is easy to track where your bug or streamer is in the water column. Once you cast out, simply count the seconds until you reach the appropriate depth. For example, an angler would count to 3 to get their type 5 line down 15 inches. Furthermore, a count of 10 while using a type 5 sinking line would put your fly down 50 inches or about 4 ft.
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Best Full Sink and Sink Tip Fly Lines | Review | (sorted by Price)

Now that we have given an overview of sinking fly lines, let’s look at the best lines on the market. We have created 4 categories for our review
  1. Best sink tip fly lines for under $100
  2. Best sink tip fly lines for under $50
  3. Best full sink fly lines for under $100
  4. Best full sink fly lines for under $50
At the time of writing this, these pricing categories are correct. However, companies change their pricing fairly frequently. The benchmarks above are to give you an idea of pricing and budget. It is possible that one of our products mentioned below moves above the $50 or $100 price point.

Best sink tip fly lines (Under $100)

There are some really good sink tips on the market. If you can justify $50 or more you can get some QUALITY line.

1. RIO Premier 24ft Sink Tip Fly Line

Some say that Rio’s InTouch fly line is the best sink-tip fly line on the market today. It features a 15 ft of weight forward line. The sink rate is dependent on the line weight.
  • 4/5 wt – 4 IPS
  • 6/7 wt – 5 IPS
  • 8/9 wt -7 IPS
  • 10 wt – 8 IPS
This is the perfect line for streamer fishing through fast trout waters or casting for bass along shallow lake shores.
View on Trident Fly Fishing → RIO Premier 24 ft sink tip fly line
  • 5wt – 10wt
  • 100 feet
  • sink rate is optimized for each line weight

2. Orvis Hydros Bank Shot Sink Tip Fly Line

The Orvis Hydros Bank Shot is great quality and similar in price to many other fly lines. This line has 10 ft of sinking tip followed by 80 more ft of floating running line. The tip section is 10 feet and will sink at about 7 inches per second. The line is also easy to mend and make roll casts. This line comes in sizes ranging from 5 weight to 11.
View on Trident Fly Fishing → orvis hydros bank shot sink tip fly line
  • 5wt – 11wt
  • 90 feet
  • 7 IPS sink rate

3. Cortland Streamer Series – Sink Tip 10 Fly Line 

Cortland has created a line to rival Rio and Scientific Anglers. Their streamer series line has a 10 ft sink tip that sinks about 6 inches per second. This line is intended for streamer fishing but also makes a great line for nymphing or swinging flies for steelhead or salmon. The overall length of the line is 100 ft.
View on Trident Fly Fishing → Cortland Streamer Series - Sink Tip 10 Fly Line
  • 5wt – 8wt
  • 100 feet
  • 6 IPS sink rate

Best sink tip fly lines (Around $50)

There are some really good sink tips on the market. If you can justify $50 or more you can get some QUALITY line.

4. Scientific Anglers Frequency Type III

Scientific Anglers frequency sink tip fly line is a great line at a modest price. This line features 10 ft of a type 3 sink tip. The first 10 ft of the line will sink at a rate of approximately 3 inches per second, while the rest of the line will float. This is a great sink rate for most bass and pike streamer fishing. The Frequency Type III comes in a range of sizes from 5wt – 8wt.
Update: Currently this is $59.95 –solid line for the price
View on Trident Fly Fishing → scientific anglers frequency sink tip III
  • 5wt – 8wt
  • 100 feet
  • 3 IPS sink rate

5. Bozeman FlyWorks Sinking Tip Fly Line 

Bozeman FlyWorks has created an affordable yet durable sink tip fly line. This line comes with approximately 5 ft of sink tip that sinks at a rate of 3-4 inches per second. This is a shorter sink tip than most other lines on the market and works well for fishing shallower, but faster-moving water. The line also comes in weights ranging from 5 up to 9. Additionally, all lines come in a small fly box; an angler can never have too many fly boxes.
View on Amazon → Bozeman FlyWorks Sinking Tip Fly Line
  • 5wt – 9wt
  • 90 feet
  • 3-4 IPS sink rate

6. Rio Fly Fishing Mainstream Sink Tip Fly Line W/Leader

This is one of RIO’s most affordable lines with the same great quality you’d expect from RIO. This line is shorter than others at only 80ft. The Mainstream sink tip comes in 5wt – 8wt options and all have a sink rate of 3, which means they sink at 2.5-3.5 inches per second. It’s going to be hard to beat this line when it comes to price and quality.
View on Amazon → RIO Mainstream sink tip
  • 5wt – 8wt
  • 80 feet
  • 3 IPS sink rate

Best Full sink fly lines (Under $100)

7. Scientific Anglers Sonar Titan Intermediate / Sink 3 / Sink 5 Fly Line

Here is another great line from Scientific Anglers. Their Sonar Titan series of lines feature some awesome technologies. It has 3 distinct sections of line density and therefore different sink rates (intermediate, S3, and S5). These different sink rates allow for easier casting and retrieving, along with more natural presentations. This line also features a unique line texture which keeps the line slick and moves Scientific angler full sinkthrough the guides very easily.
View on Trident Fly Fishing →
  • 6wt – 12wt
  • 105 feet
  • 3 different sink rate sections (intermediate, S3, and S5)

8. Airflo Streamer Max Sinking Fly Line

Airflo is another major company in the world of fly lines and has created perfect specialty lines for many different fly fishing applications. Their streamer max sinking fly line is the top shelf in terms of streamer lines. Whether you’re fishing big rivers for salmon or a deep lake for browns, Airflo will get the job done. This line comes in 5-9 weight lines and each line weight has a different sink rate.
  • 5-6 – 7 IPS
  • 7-8 – 8 IPS
  • 9 – 10 IPS
View on Trident Fly Fishing → Airflo streamer max sinking fly line
  • 5wt – 9wt
  • 105 feet
  • Optimized sink rates based on line weight

9. RIO Products Subsurface Aqualux 2 Fly Line

This is another awesome line from RIO. The Aqualux 2 is an intermediate sinking line, which sinks at a rate of 1.5–2.5 inches per second. Because of the slower sink rate you can fish shallow—but fast-moving water with confidence your flies will be on the bottom. This is also a great line for lake fishing in waters between 2-6 ft deep. The line is incredibly easy to cast and load. The Aqualux is uniquely clear/light green colored and comes in 4 – 8wt options.
View on Trident → RIO Products Sub-surface Fly Line
  • 4wt – 8wt
  • 90 feet
  • Intermediate sink rate (1.5 – 2.5 IPS)

Best Full sink fly lines (Under $50)

10. Scientific Anglers Wetcel General Purpose Sinking Lines 

This is a great line for someone wanting to try out a sinking line but is on a budget. Scientific Anglers’ Wetcel line is nothing fancy but does what it should; cast well and sink. The line is weighted in the first 40 feet followed by 40 ft of running line. It is offered in several different sink rates at intermediate (1.25 inches per second), 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 IPS sink rates. In addition, the WetCel comes in 5wt – 8wt options. You’re sure to find the right weight and sink rate for your needs, and budget.
View on Trident Fly Fishing → Scientific Anglers Wetcel
  • 5wt – 8wt
  • 80 feet
  • Options for Intermediate, 3, 4, 5, and 6 IPS sink rates

11. Cortland 444 Classic Full Sinking Fly Line

Cortland has created a fantastic straightforward sinking line ideal for lakes and deep rivers. This 80-foot line comes in line weights ranging from 4wt – 9wt. Each weight also comes in either type 3 or type 5 sink rates depending on how fast you need your line to sink. This line is also very affordable and great for people just starting out in full sinking lines.
Update: This line is currently $69.95
View on Trident Fly Fishing → Cortland full sink fly line
  • 4wt – 9wt
  • 80 feet
  • Type 3 or 5 sink rates

12. Sunshine Fishing Weight Forward Full Sinking Fly Fishing Line

Sunshine Fishing is a fairly new fly fishing company that has been gaining a strong reputation over the last couple of years. They offer a full sink line with options for either a sink rate of 5 or 3 inches per second. The line is black to blend in better with murky or deep water. This line is slightly thinner in diameter than some of the other more well-known fly lines, which results in easier casting and better accuracy. It’s also one of the most affordable lines out there—perfect for anyone wanting to test out a sinking line.
View on Amazon → SF Full Sinking Tip Fly Fishing Line
  • 4wt – 9wt
  • 90 feet
  • Type 3 or 5 sink rates

Conclusion/Reeling It In

If you enjoyed this review please consider leaving a comment below and sharing it with the buttons on the left. If you are new to fly fishing you might find our beginner’s resources of value. If you want to learn more about fly lines in general—check out this article.
Photo of author
Chuck started fishing as a small child, and switched to a fly rod as a teenager. He developed his skills on the numerous rivers and streams on the northshore of Lake Superior. He later moved out west and spent a decade fishing the wild and rugged rivers of New Mexico, Colorado and Montana. He currently lives in MN stalking trout in the driftless region of MN and Wisconsin.

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