Whither the Double Taper?

While scanning the internet recently, I happened across an article titled “Why Fish Double-Taper Fly Lines?”  A website reader wondered what these lines were for, noting that he didn’t know anyone that fished one.  The article’s author then opined that he himself had never fished a double-taper either.  Seeking an answer, the question was passed yet again to some other folks.

To my mind, however, Why fish a double-taper? isn’t the telling question.  Rather, what we should all be asking is, Why fish a weight-forward?  Indeed, considering the relative merits of each taper, it’s long struck me as odd that the weight-forward has so convincingly supplanted the double-taper as the de facto line choice for today’s anglers (I’m referring only to floating lines).

After all, double-tapers were the standard in this sport for ages.  Weight-forwards are a comparative newcomer, specialty lines that arose from the quest for distance.  But somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty to thirty years ago this paradigm changed, and weight-forwards took over the world.  They shouldn’t have.

From a practical point of view, the only advantage a weight-forward line has over a double-taper is the ability to cast long distances—say, over 85 feet.  But even this advantage carries a caveat.  To wit, you must use a line-size heavy enough so that a double-haul can exploit the difference in weight between the line’s head and running line (the heavier head essentially drags along the lightweight running line, adding distance to the cast).  This means using at least a 6-weight line or heavier.  Anything lighter and there simply isn’t enough weight difference between the head and the running line to gain significant extra distance, double haul or not.  (One might argue here for five-weights, but it’s a borderline argument at best.  Weight-forward two, three, and fours…hmm…why are they even made?)

While weight-forward lines may have  theoretical distance advantages over  double-tapers, the fact that this extra distance comes from shooting the running line can be somewhat limiting.  Actually, in certain kinds of fishing it can be a real problem.  For instance, when gulper fishing (surface fishing to cruising trout in lakes) long casts are often integral to success.  That’s because they increase the number of chances possible at a given fish, either before the fish swims out of range or before it spooks by coming too close.  But in this kind of fishing I don’t distance to come from shooting the line.  Inaccuracy results from that.  And if I do make a bad cast or a fish passes up my fly, I don’t want to have to strip in a bunch of line (to get to the head) before I pick up and make another cast.  Too much wasted time.  Instead, I want to pick up my line instantly, make one backcast, and lay it right back out.  A double-taper allows me to do that.

Another problem with weight-forwards is that they do not mend well at distances longer than the length of the head (the thin running line cannot effectively maneuver the heavier head).  Although this is typically of more consequence to steelhead and salmon fishermen, it still plays a role in many types of trout fishing.  In contrast, double-tapers mend exceptionally well.

Double-taper lines also permit you to reverse your line when one end wears out.  So you get two lines in one.  In this day and age, with certain fly lines costing upwards of $100.00, that’s a nice benefit.  It’s especially nice when you realize that you don’t give up any performance to get it.

It’s been noted as a disadvantage of double-tapers that they take up more room on a reel.  Which means you’ll have less backing on your reel.  True.  But having less backing isn’t the same as having no backing, and any adequately sized reel will provide for a reasonable allowance.  (I think most of us know how infrequently we need it for trout fishing.)

There are other considerations between the two tapers, but here’s the bottom line.  I can imagine just one fishing situation—fresh or saltwater—where I would opt for a weight-forward line instead of a double-taper (and it would be a long belly weight-forward, which doesn’t really count, since the benefits of such a line are more akin to those of a double-taper anyway).

Nevertheless, here’s the situation:  Long cast required—at least 85 feet.  A need for a heavy line—7-weight or heavier.  Single casts only at sighted fish or multiple casts if fishing blind—the point here is that in either case the amount of time between casts isn’t important (so there’s no penalty for the extra time it takes to strip in the line before making another cast).  Finally, no line manipulation necessary after completing the cast.

Is there real world fishing that fits these criteria?  Yes, but for most of us it’s probably quite rare.  Think, perhaps, of chasing tarpon.  Or certain permit fishing.  Maybe trout fishing with streamers in a big river or reservoir.  If you engage in any of these pursuits, then by all means use a weight-forward line.  But if you find yourself in more conventional situations, consider the double-taper.

There are good reasons these lines were made in the first place—reasons that I daresay prevail still.