Are Textured Fly Lines Worth the Money?

masterytextured_gpx_sm_2First off, some background: textured fly lines debuted in their modern incarnation with the release of the Sharkskin line by Scientific Anglers in 2007.  This line was developed in SA’s lab, primarily by Jeff Wierenga, Tim Pommer, and Bruce Richards.  When the line debuted, the market was fairly skeptical, most notably because of the steep price tag: for the first time, a company was asking over $100 for a fly line after taxes.

The Sharkskin process was mechanical.  SA’s lab invented a machine which scored or embossed the line after ordinary production.  (For background on how normal fly lines are made, check out my 2008 American Angler article Cooking Up Some Lines).  In other words, an ordinary fly line was fed through a proprietary device which sliced into the line in a

Original Sharkskin Under a Fancy Science Camera

This has a number of effects.  The most notable and most beneficial result of this process is that it cuts the surface tension along the line, making “line coil” almost non-existent.  Secondarily, it reduces the surface area of the line making contact with the guides, thereby causing the line to shoot noticeably further.  Because the ridges break up water’s ability to adhere to the line via surface tension, textured lines shed water well and thus mend very nicely. More controversially, texturing also allegedly helps the line to stay cleaner, by creating depressions into which grit and dirt can settle as a line ages, thus again reducing friction.  And finally, it is frequently said to float higher on the water, although I am not sure this is a claim SA has ever made itself.

The concept on the higher flotation claim is that the more complex surface, coupled with the line’s water repellent chemicals, induces some degree of flotation-by-repellency or hydrophobia.  Oil and water don’t mix, after all, and silk fly lines used to float entirely because they were permeated with oil.  The problem with this argument is that plastic fly lines actually float primarily based on displacement.  Thus any additional flotation imparted by the embossed surface of the line is likely to be negligible to the end user.  There is also the possibility that the line could float higher as the result of surface tension, much like water-striding insects.  From a real-world perspective, the problem with that concept is that the fly line would have to be set down so lightly–and on perfectly still water–as to not disturb the surface film, which I think is very unlikely in real fishing conditions.

The original Sharkskin from 2007 was a very aggressive product.  The pricing was aggressive; the taper design was aggressive and meant for long casters; and most notably the emboss was very aggressive and the line was scored quite deep.  This had unfortunate consequences, as I discovered firsthand when I tail hooked a 32″ brown trout on the Cumberland River and wound up in a 20 minute battle on 5 weight original Sharkskin.  When the fish ran, I held the line in my fingers, and wound up bleeding from most of the insides of my knuckles by the end of the fight.  In other words, texturing that deep makes a line sandpaper; with fast fish in a saltwater environment, that can be downright dangerous.

SA quickly figured this out and in subsequent years it dialed back the depth of its emboss. Building on the success of Sharkskin, it also developed new textures which were less naturally abrasive.  The texture pattern on the Mastery Textured Series is akin to that of a golf ball.  Again, dimples reduce surface tension along the line, thereby cutting back on line coil, and also create less surface area, resulting in longer shoots.


 Mastery Textured’s Cute Dimples

Mastery Textured and subsequent series, including this year’s new triple textured lines, are a continued progression of what basically amount to experiments.  Some anglers really enjoy the textured lines; others do not see what all the fuss is about.

My verdict on Textured lines is that they seem to work best in cold water/cold weather environments and where long casts are required.  If I were only fishing on balmy summer days, making short casts from a drift boat, well, most of the advantages are basically being left on the shelf in that scenario, although the superior mending qualities could still be of some help.  If I planned to bomb huge casts to stripers in a wintertime fishery where line coil was a problem and distance was a big advantage; now we’re talking about serious benefits.

The last thing I will say is that so far my experience has been that the Sharkskin/Textured lines also last longer.  I am not sure why; possibly the texturing elevates the functional surface of the line above the inevitable cracks in the PVC coating, which are a byproduct of loss of plasticizers in the mix as the line ages.

Rating : Depends on application.

Purchase: Wherever fly line is sold.

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