February 15, 2024

“SILK IN OUR TIMES” by Mike Brookes

A nice article about fly lines history

It is very difficult to separate talking about silk lines from tradition, but it is important to realise that the advantages of silk fly lines carry through to rods made from more modern materials, such as fibre glass and carbon as well as bamboo.

The first fully dressed fly lines were produced in the 1880’s and heralded in the modern era of fly fishing. Without the weight of the dressed line, casting was not possible for more than the length of the rods of the time, typically around 15-20′. The core of these lines was braided silk. The dressed silk line then held sway for pretty much 80 years, but its days were numbered. During the war years plastics were being developed and fishing tackle manufacturers were  quick to realise the opportunity. Plastic lines were quicker and cheaper to build than silk lines, but encountered a problem. The old method of designation was by diameter of the line, but the new plastic lines were much thicker and so the AFTMA changed the goalposts to accommodate the new lines. Instead of diameter they decided that weight was to be the new yardstick and so the AFTM system was born. As silk lines weighed more per unit diameter than their plastic counterparts, they were significantly thinner than plastic lines in the same weight. Over a period of maybe 20 years the ‘modern’ plastic line took over.

By 1975 or so the last of the silk line manufacturers (Kingfisher) went out of business.There were, however, two individuals that would not let the tradition go. Noel Buxton in England and Michel Dubos in France carried on the fight. Noel Buxton tried to get information on the manufacturing process from Kingfisher, but the company had destroyed all their records and, so, both men started from scratch. In around the early 1980’s Phoenix lines arose from the ashes. In 1998 I took over the business from Noel and Phoenix Lines became a Limited Company. At the same time, we moved to France where we remain, very content, to this day.

Silk lines were developed, in the early years, as a double tapered line for a very good reason. A silk line which has been greased will float for a good few hours but eventually it will start to sink and re-greasing should not be attempted on a wet line.The answer is to reverse the line and fish with the other dry end for the rest of the day. An added advantage of the double tapered line is that by reversing it one can effectively double the life of the line. The AFTM committee decided on 30′ as the length of line to be weighed, this includes the taper, and this was no accident. 10 yards of aerialised line plus a few feet of shoot will probably catch 90% of trout day in and day out.

(Mike in front of the Lab.)

photoThis leads me on to one of my concerns about the current market in fly lines. I looked through a catalogue of a well known British retailer of fishing tackle and found some 90 plus fly lines advertised, only one of which was a double tapered line, the rest being some form of weight  forward  line. I can only draw the conclusion that this is a concerted effort by the tackle trade to sell more lines to the poor unsuspecting public. Weight forward lines have their place for casting long distances but dragging 20-30 yards of stretchable plastic line through the water to hook a fish is bordering on the ridiculous. One may as well use a ledger, monofilament and a casting reel. Just remember that when you buy a weight forward line you have only one end thereby halving the life of a line and also a line that will not roll cast very well at all.

Let us move on to line weights. The accepted wisdom is that one buys a line of the same number as the rod i.e. a six weight line matches a six weight rod, Correct up to a point. The weight of a fly line is the weight of the first 30′ including the taper plus or minus a manufacturing allowance (tolerance). This is an objective measurement. The line rating of a rod is determined by the rod maker, by definition a subjective measurement with all sorts of variables coming into play, casting style, weather and line out of tip ring to name but three. The difference between the top weight of a number five line and the bottom weight of a number six line is about 1 ½ feet of line. Imagine this placed in a fishing situation where one casts out 30 feet. All feels good but then a fish rises just 20 feet away. Do we stop and change lines? No, we accept that we are effectively underlining the rod and carry on. If one is fishing constantly at 20 feet then going up a line size makes sense as fishing at 40 feet one would be more comfortable with a lighter line. Just to emphasise a point about matching line sizes to rods, a very famous tackle manufacturer brought out a range of rods of 0, 00, 000 and 0000 weight lines. These line sizes do not exist in the AFTM designation, but nevertheless the manufacturer brought out lines in these weights and,guess what? They all fell within number 1 weight lines in the AFTM system. Who is kidding whom? I am afraid the tackle trade is out to catch fishermen and women not fish.

I have always regarded fly fishing for trout as a simple pastime and strived to make it as uncomplicated as possible giving me the opportunity for observation not only of the trout but also the countryside around it.

Phoenix Silk Lines has given me a living for over 15 years and I never cease to wonder at the kind, friendly customers we have. We will never sell the wrong product for the wrong task and will always be available to answer your many and varied questions.

Mike Brookes
Phoenix Lines Limited
Les Mortiers
49390 Parcay Les Pins