The Perfect Distance Line

The Perfect Distance Line

Tracy&James | Sunday, 19 March 2023

A couple of weeks back I wrote about testing some prototype ‘distance’ fly lines that are currently under development by Steve Parkes at his premises set in a beautiful area on the edge of Snowdonia here in North Wales. Steve has part procured and part manufactured all the equipment he needs to produce fly lines. From speaking to him he’s having a lot of fun running off different tapers and going out and casting them as soon as they’ve cooled down from the curing process. The fact that Steve is also a very accomplished caster, he’s won many an event at the BFCC, suggests to me that eventually he will produce something very good indeed.

This exercise started me thinking about what the perfect ‘distance’ line would be, or if there is any such thing.  Also, would the perfect #5 taper be the same as the perfect #7 taper or would the increase in weight dictate a change in head length for example?  

Obviously the Scientific Anglers’ Mastery Expert Distance (SA MED) line is probably the most well-known ‘distance’ line, it’s also the only official line that can be used in the Trout Distance event at the ICSF fly casting world championships.  I love casting the MED, however I find it has almost a cult following that, and maybe this is just my interpretation, implies that any distance cast that isn’t performed with a MED is somehow a lesser one.  This is bullshit in my book.

When thinking about what I think would make the perfect #5 line, I considered which lines I’ve personally thrown the furthest.  I can’t think of any #5 lines that I couldn’t cast say 100ft, although there may be some specialist line with a super short head that I don’t know about.  However, when the distance is upped to 120ft the list of lines narrows down considerably, and when I look at the lines I’ve cast over 130ft then I’m left with quite a short list; the SA MED, the Ballistic Pro Performance, the Barrio GT125 (and its predecessors), the Snowbee ED (I’ll come on to this), the Rio Tournament Gold and most recently Steve’s prototype lines (two slightly different designs).

Paul was the first person to cast a #5 over 130ft at the BFCC and he held the record for over a decade, popping back at one point to further improve the distance.  I’m not sure if I ever told him this but at one event, a few years into his reign, Iabsolutely smashed his record at a competition in Oswestry.  I used a borrowed outfit that I had been handed to try by a longstanding (and now deceased) member.  I really quite liked it so, despite only having a few minutes practice with it, I decided to cast it against the tape.  The outfit was a Sonik #5 rod with a Snowbee ED line.  I was overjoyed when I beat the record by over 6ft and I was celebrating my first ever BFCC record whilst I did the mandatory tackle check in the bar.  Now I suspect anyone who knows anything about the Snowbee ED will have already guessed where this is leading – yep, I had to disqualify myself for using an overweight line, it was in fact a light-ish #6.  My first record had to wait – and wait a long time.  As such I should probably remove the Snowbee line from my list as I haven’t used one since (maybe in protest).

What I will say is that I’ve weighed a lot of lines since then; I make sure I never cast a line that I haven’t personally weighed in any competition these days.  I’ve found quite a few overweight lines over the years, MEDs included.  In fact the majority of MEDs are right at the top of the AFFTA scale, obviously on purpose because, as we all know, mass is generally king as far as chucking fly lines goes.  Unfortunately the odd one goes over, no doubt due to engineering tolerances - this is a very expensive inconvenience if you’re buying it specifically to compete with.  To further upset those who hold the MED as a deity amongst lines, there is no weight checking at the world championships so there is a high likelihood that some of the lines on display are overweight.  Not that this makes any difference to the results – I personally would prefer a MED with a thinner running line than a marginally heavier head.  Manufacturing tolerances mean that getting a thin running line is entirely possible with a MED though, my own measurements have shown over a 15% difference in diameter over the limited number of lines I’ve owned.

In terms of casting the lines that are left on my 130ft plus list, the Rio has the longest head and the Ballistic has the shortest.  Certainly anything with a ~70ft head is going to demand a carry of around 85ft in order to make the most of the line.  This is why I choose to practice with a carry of 90ft so that 85ft feels controlled and relaxed.  This undoubtedly takes a lot of skill, but does it mean that casts performed with shorter headed lines are somehow inferior – well not in my book.  With a shorter carry the caster has to shoot further thus they need more speed, they also have to avoid the crumple into flying spaghetti that’s easy to get if they turn over the line too quickly – is the skill level to do this any less than having a big carry?

On top of this there are weather effects to consider.  Carrying 85ft is all well and good but once the wind speed gets up for most people the amount of line that can be aerialised drops.  For me there is a wind speed above which casting the MED becomes hard (generally the last couple of feet of fly line will crumple) and I’d rather cast something different.  This absolutely does not mean I’ll beat someone using a MED, in fact if that person can still make a full carry in a wind that I can’t, then they’re at a distinct advantage.  I’ll also point out that judging this crossover point between lines has the potential to go horribly wrong – you only have to look at my 7th place in #5 trout distance in the last BFCC competition of 2022 having previously won all the TD events that season.  This actually cost me the overall win on the day – my performance in the other disciplines wasn’t enough to see me recover from such a poor score (to make matters worse Tracy was one of the competitors who beat me).

As much as I love the MED #5 (I don’t want you to read this and think I don’t like the line – in fact my #5 PB was set with it, in my perfect wind), I don’t particularly care for it in a #7.  In this weight once the carry goes above ~85ft I start feeling that it’s too heavy for me.  This is especially evident if I’m using a 10ft rod – the maximum allowed for the #7 event at the BFCC. As such, I’d much rather cast a line which requires a lower carry and hope to get more speed with it.

So where does this leave me in my hunt for the perfect line?  Well I don’t think there is one, there’s just too many variables.  However, so long as we’re all casting the correct weight in each of the BFCC trout distance events then that’s all that matters to me – the best caster is going to win on the day regardless.

Next weekend is the first BFCC day of 2023.  King Bart is coming over in order to compete – no doubt he will win the #5 competition unless I can scupper him with wine and cocktails the night before.  

Have a great week,