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When is a 5-weight not a 5-weight?

Fly lines used to be identified by letters.  If you wanted a double taper fly line you would get an HDH.  An HDH line would be .025″ on each end and the mid-section (belly) would be .045″ and as long as you purchased the line from the same manufacturer life was good.  However, if you bought an HDH from a different manufacturer all bets were off.  The line might cast well or it might not. The industry had no standard. Today there is a standard – sometimes.

In 1962 the AFTM (Association of Fishing Tackle Manufactures) stepped in and presented the industry with a standard weight chart based on the weight of the 1st 30 feet of a flyline. Suddenly it didn’t matter who manufactured a fly line if it was a 5-weight it probably would cast well on your 5-weight fly rod. If life was good before it was now grand because you could jump based on price, availability, coating characteristics or whatever else mattered to you and be fairly sure you the line would load your rod well – no matter who manufactured the line.

A few years back I started hearing rumblings about how a line from “Company A” loaded a rod better than a line from “Company B” and frankly I didn’t pay much attention.  Because after all according to this chart:

Fly Line
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
Actual Weight
of Line (Grains)
60 80 100 120 140 160 185 210 240 280 330 380 420 455

a 5-weight was 140 grains and no matter who made it 140 grains was, well, 140 grains and so all line would load the same.  Lines may have had different tapers and rolled out differently but from a loading point of view – one 5-weight should load as good as another. BUT – that wasn’t true any longer.  Some people weren’t paying much attention to AFTM standards.

Rod manufactures are a competitive bunch and rod tapers and design are pushed to new limits on a regular basis.  The new limits are usually on the faster, quicker end of the spectrum as it was hard to make rods softer than some already out there.  With the faster tapers came timing problems and compounding the timing issue is the fact that quicker rods, faster strokes and high line speeds shorten the time it takes to execute a cast.  Some people bought faster rods and just weren’t up to

casting them – ability was one limiting factor – the need to concentrate on your timing was another.  So people started overlining rods.

It became common to overline rods. But the inevitable backlash came and it arrived in the form of a simple question like – if you wanted a 7-weight why didn’t you just buy a 7-weight, how come you bought a 6-weight?  Some bright light in the line manufacturing end of things saw this question as an opportunity and along came lines like the Rio “Grand” and the Scientific Angler “GPX” and recently the Orvis “PowerTaper” all billed as lines for “today’s Tip-Flex or Fast Action” fly rods. This slowed the casting stroke down and allowed more time during the stroke for the brain to register the feedback from the rod loading and unloading.

These lines have two things in common.  For a given line weight none of them are that actual line weight – they are all at least a half-line weight heavy.  And to their credit they all are advertised that way.  When half-weight lines were introduced it was a little bit of a back-door offering.  Initially a half-weight heavier fly line was marketed right along side its actual line weight neighbor and not identified as being heavier.

But the difference was there and noticeable and that started people talking about how a line from “Company A” loaded a rod better than a line from “Company B” but it didn’t take long for manufactures to let AFTM in on the secret.  Once AFTM became aware of the half-weight lines they reintroduced the offending manufactures to the standard and things have gone on from there.

The half-weight lines didn’t go away but there are now identified and that’s a good thing.  That is after all what standards are about – standards level the playing field – and allow customers to make informed decisions. So when someone says to you “this new GPX, Grand or PowerTaper line really loads my rod well” you and they should understand that the reason is the line is heavier than what it says it is.

So – when is a 5-weight not a 5-weight – it isn’t a 5-weight when it’s a Scientific Angler-GPX or a Rio-Grand or an Orvis-PowerTaper.  What it is a half-weight heavier line that probably gives you that extra loading and feedback you want.

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