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© Bill Beddows 3/08/17
In 2016, after a lot of research I decided to try a silk fly line. At heart I’m a bit of a traditionalist, in the dry fly seasons I use Orvis Superfine Carbon rods which are about as close as you can get to cane without spending a fortune and with my record of breaking rods I need the certainty of the Orvis guarantee behind me.
There are not many places you can buy a silk line, I got a double taper 4 weight from Phoenix Lines, a English couple in France, which was approximately double the cost of a top quality conventional plastic line. I also got a 3 wt. half line from Terenzio in Italy which was a bit less expensive. As my Italian does not do any more than buy me a beer purchasing this was an adventure in its own right. He makes natural and artificial silk lines in half weight sizes. If you struggle with his website Steve Parkes at Atom Six acts as a UK agent. The half line has proved to be long enough for the mid-size rivers I fish. I have never been into the backing or seen the marker I made on the middle of the double taper line while fishing.
So, over a year down the track, how do I feel about these lines and do the advantages out-weigh the disadvantages ?. A silk line has a higher density than water so it will sink unless it is dressed with floatant. They also need breaking in . Phoenix supplied a tub of red Mucilin and Terenzio included a tub of his own formula grease, now I use Mucilin on both lines. Initially I spent a lot of time pulling the lines through a pad with floatant on it and bending the line round and though my fingers. Now, in year 2, the lines are noticeably softer and I just go up and down the line once with the pad lightly coated with Mucilin to grease it.
Two of the main upsides come from the higher density of silk compared with modern lines. For the same AFTM weight the silk line is thinner and therefore is less affected by wind. Secondly, because you have coated it with a water repellent substance a silk line floats on the surface tension of the water so when you lift the line off the surface to mend or re-cast it comes off very quietly and without any spray of water droplets. A plastic coated line is less dense than water so it floats by the Archimedes principle of displacing its own weight of water in the same way a boat does. The surface tension has to be broken to get the line off the water and this causes disturbance on the surface, potentially frightening any nearby fish.
The third advantage of a silk line is that, as long as you don’t damage it, the silk line will last much longer than a modern plastic line and will continue to improve as it gets older. I have no idea how long my lines will last, the only problem I have had is that one line went floppy just behind the loop on the end. It is possible and probably preferable to nail knot the leader to the line but as I wanted to experiment with different leaders I made a very small loop by folding back a very short bit of the tip and whipping it down to form a loop about 10mm long. On the 3 wt. I use a 4ft 6” furled thread leader with a similar length of tippet. On the 4 wt. it is either a furled leader or a conventional tapered mono leader.
However, there are disadvantages. First is the much higher initial cost, particularly if you bought one and then decided you didn’t like it !. Second is the fact that it will not float all day unless you are on Halford rules and only casting to a rising fish. I find that, with reasonably continuous casting, it will float for up to 2 hours. The old literature says you should not grease a wet line so I used to carry a spool with a plastic line and change over when the silk started to sink. A chat with Brian Clarke, Sales Officer for the Grayling Society changed my view of this so now after some time fishing I pull some line off the reel though a dry cloth and let it sit on the grass while I have a sit and a drink. I then pull it though a Mucilin pad once up and down the line, wind it back on and carry on fishing. In my normal day of 5 or 6 hours fishing I will grease the line twice. There is no sign of the line rotting as a result.
The third down-side is the need for maintenance after fishing. First job when I get home is waders on the line, immediately followed by fly line on the drier. Leave it wet in a bag and it really will rot. No one seems to make or supply line driers, antique ones appear in the auctions but seem to fetch £80 to £100 so I had to make one. It is a miniature Ferris Wheel about 250mm in diameter and 100mm wide made from plywood and dowel. There is a photograph below. I leave the line on the drier overnight and grease it lightly the next day. This performance means that a silk fly line is not a good idea if you are fishing every day and especially on a trip away from home.
So, on balance, are silk lines a good thing ? For me, definitely yes !
Reel Holder ( can be integrated into drier)
The drier is available from FlyTek on special order (email email@example.com for further information), £50 plus post and packing, £60 with built in reel holder. 3 weeks delivery. Dimensions of drier can be changed on request.