Rio, Airflo, SA Fly Lines: Review & Product Guide

As promised, this here blog entry is a humble attempt to sift through some of the mystery involved in our contemporary – and technically dizzying array of fly lines we have at out hand in our local fly shops and Internet Catalogs. Chris Daughters, with the purest of educational intentions, invited knowledgeable folks who represent our big three (Rio, Airflo, and Scientific Anglers) to answer a few questions about their fly lines.  Those Q & A will be at the tail end of this blog post, for anyone who wishes to read the technical information they offered. Mr. Rooster was dazzled by the answers, and honestly, after reading their answers, and as a modestly competent fly fisher (that’s my story and I am sticking to it), I thought I just wanted to go out and smack myself in the head with a rock.  My bad, I admit.  It was really nice for our friends to take the time to answer our questions.

What to do? Rather than depend solely on the experts, (why would we want to do this anyway) I decided to ramble a bit, talk about my personal reaction to these three fly line brands, and create a summary of lines a fly fisher should consider when gearing up for different fly fishing situations.

When was the last time any of us replaced a fly line? I mean really just stripped off the line and retired it to the gardening supplies corner of the garage, not just throwing it in the drawer we reserve for might need it so I’m going to save it for a back-up.  As good as modern fly lines are, they should be replaced every now and then.  Fifty days on the water can put some serious stress on a fly line.  Look for cracks that reflect the joyous stress of playing big fish.  Ask if that floating line really floats.  Feel for those rough areas and nicks where we have been walking on our fly lines.  This is my favorite technique for messing up my fly lines.  My ability to stand on my fly line, whether in the confines of a Pram or in the wide-open space of my Sled, is champion.  The region of our lines near the tip, the front three feet of our running line, and the 40′ to 50′ region tend to be the first to show the stresses of normal wear and environmentally induced damage.

Point is, the fly line is the crucial means of transferring energy from body, through fly rod, and delivering our fly to the water, hopefully containing fish.  It makes sense to keep a good line in this game.  There, said it.

Any fly line that has been spooled up for 3 or more years is begging to be replaced.  There are exceptions, for sure, but it’s worth the time to inspect  lines and ask the question……..

Now for the fond memory part of the story.

I remember back in the early 1960s when I was able to purchase a SA Air Cell Supreme fly line.  It was an Ivory color, which to this day I wish someone would bring back to market.  This was a double taper fly line.  Anyone buy a DT fly line lately? Not likely.  The Double Taper sold with the notion that one would turn the line around and double the line’s lifespan, is gone.  At that time, we had level fly lines and double tapers.  Level lines were the everyman’s line, the double taper was a line to aspire to and pay more for.  Then came the WF line – the weight forward taper.  Today, the WF lines we have are capable to make the same delicate and precise presentation that the best DT line could fifty years ago, in fact, they perform better, I think.

I also remember the Cortland 444 fly lines, and the Cortland line with the bright neon orange tip for nymph fishing, as if we thought that indicator tips were new?).  I remember good sinking fly lines that I put to work fishing for sea-run cutthroat and steelhead.  Full sinking fly lines that today I would normally pass over in favor of a sink tip of some length or density.

Nothing brings a smile to mind, though, than the memory of my early 60s SA Ivory DT6 waving back and forth overhead, in crazy wide open loops, spending far more time in the air than on the water.

What fly lines do I fish? This is a common question, especially by folks who assume that I fish Airflo lines exclusively, being a member of the Echo/Airflo Conservation Staff.  Fact is, I LOVE AirFlo fly lines.  I also have my favorite fly lines from RIO and Scientific Anglers too.  Anyone who has been out on the bay or on a river with me in the last ten years knows that I have reels spooled up with RIO Fly lines, SA fly lines, and Airflo fly lines.  If we went back more than a decade, you would have seen Teeny and Wulff fly lines on my reels too, but I barely have enough reel and spool capacity for my favorite “Big Three” fly line brands — so I manage to limit myself to Rio, Airflo, and SA these days.

Conversations with avid fly anglers suggest that most of us, to a large extent, are creatures of habit.  That’s to say people tend to be RIO afflicted, SA focused, or AirFlo junkies.  A fly fisher will have a good experience with one fly line and that brings him or her back to the same fly line brand again and again.

Brand dedication to Airflo, RIO, or SA is not surprising.  Think about the flies we tie on the business end of our leaders.  One good grab from Mr. Chinook can set the pattern for the flies i will tie in an entire season.  Standing there near rolling fish, peering into a fly box full of different flies, I am probably likely to reach for the last fly I caught a fish on.  So too with fly lines.

The individual who principally fishes dry line trout is far more common than the person who fishes small and large streams, shallow and deep in lakes, chucks big Bull Trout streamers one moment and #22 Griffith Gnats the next.  Anglers who stock rods and lines for fresh and saltwater, single and double hand rods, salmon trout and steelhead, bass, carp, and bonefish (as examples) are not the average fly fisher.

People who pursue the widest range of species in their fly fishing adventures are those most likely to explore different tapers and designs within and across fly line manufacturers.  Fact is, Rio, Airflo, and Scientific Anglers fly lines incorporate generations of technical improvements over the fly lines we fished even 4 years ago.  That said, any of us can grab a fly line made by any of these manufacturers, as long as it is matched to an appropriate fly rod, and go fishing with confidence, knowing we have a great fly line.

Key fly line questions submitted to Airflo, SA, & Rio.  (1) What are the key differences in fly lines at your company’s key price points? (2) For example Rio Mainstream at $39.95, Avid at $59.95?  (3) What is your number one selling fly line?  (4) Please explain your ideal fly line maintenance? (5) Fly lines have gotten very specific in terms of taper and rod match. Can you please explain the line match to Rod match in general terms, specific line examples are welcome.  (6)  Example GPX taper matches a fast rod, XPS is the best match for a more moderate action rod. (7) Fly Line Company Strengths. All three manufacturers have different philosophies in terms of the making of a fly line, science, materials etc.. Please explain your companies overall philosophy towards fly line manufacturing and how it effects the end user/angler.

Kindly brace yourselves:  I created a comparison chart for fly lines.  Oh still thy beating heart!  Not perfect by any means.  One thing I hope you notice, is that if you, as a fly fisher, happen to have “brand loyalty” which is personal and needs no justification, you will be able to find a fly line that is well suited to just about any special fishing situation offered by Airflo, RIO, or SA.  These are all quality fly lines, all are technologically advanced, all have fishing-bum inspired tapers, and that is no Bull.

Given the probably imperfect nature of this chart, I invite you to see if it helps at all.  Hope it does, but hey, you can go ahead and read the fly line expert’s answers following if this is not useful…..

Please click here to see our masterpiece….  JN

Caddis Fly Ship fly Line comparison chart


Answers from the fly line reps below…


Airflo Fly Lines

  1. AirFlo lines have two main price points, the $34.99 AirFlo Velocity fly line and the $69.99 AirFlo Ridge line series.  The AirFlo Velocity doesn’t have all the trappings that the higher end line does—no ridges, loops, power core.  Just a short head Polyfuse line.
  2. Our single best selling AirFlo SKU is the AirFlo Ridge 30# Running Line.  It has a reputation for tangle-free performance, easy handling and it shoots well.  Our best selling family of lines is the AirFlo Skagit Compacts, which make fishing with a two-hand rod simple.  We sometimes forget it in our efforts to promote the product—but ultimately, the AirFlo Skagit Compacts continue to be our top seller because they’ve made the Spey market accessible to everyone, and our competitors attempts so far at creating a similar product have only underscored how good the AirFlo Skagit Compacts are.
  3. Ideal AirFlo Fly Line maintenance – Soap and warm water once a year.  If you you fish in dirty water regularly, you might need to do it more often, but usually you can just dunk your reel under a faucet and you are good.  While lubing is an option, it isn’t really necessary—the dry Teflon finish on the outside of the Airflo line just needs water to perform.
  4. The majority of Airflo’s lines are built to AFTMA standard line ranges measuring the first 30’ of the head (attached).  The exception is the 40+ which is weighted heavy to perform like an integrated shooting head.  In most cases, you can simply match the line size to the rod size.  The AirFlo 40+ works best on medium fast and fast, normal to stiff power rods.  The AirFlo Sixth Sense and Ridge Technical lines are presentation lines and match well with slow action and medium action rods (but still perform fine on other rods).  The AirFlo Tactical and AirFlo Impact perform best on medium-fast and fast rods.
  5. Airflo’s philosophy is to use extrusion and advanced plastics to break out of the “pvc fly line” box and reach for new advances in fly lines.  The founder of AirFlo, Ian Burgess found PVC to be too limiting in its use and application for fly line material.  Polyurethane bonds better with other materials (like tungsten and teflon)—which is why Airflo’s lines have a dry outer Teflon coating as opposed to liquid lubricant used in PVC lines.  By utilizing local design teams (like Rajeff Sports!) Airflo has made massive gains in the Scandinavian, American, and Japanese markets in the past few years—it’s our goal to tailor Airflo’s unique manufacturing abilities toward breakthroughs in fly line design.  We want lines that cast easy (more people fly fishing!) and well.


SA – Scientific Anglers What are the key differences in Scientific Anglers fly lines at your companies key price points?

The biggest difference is the base formulation the lines are built on as well as added technologies like dry tip, loops, AST…etc.

SA AirCel and Pro fly lines are  built with the same base formulation.  AirCel lines are aimed at the beginner with tapers designed as such (example = species specific lines).  Pro lines are distinguished by line weights instead of species – so they’re geared a bit more to someone who knows the sport but doesn’t want anything too advanced.  Pro also have sinking lines (although there are a few sinking lines in AirCel too…oddly enough).  AirCel and Pro lines DO NOT have loops, AST, Dry Tip, or SA-ID.

SA Supra lines are built on the same base formulation as AirCel and Pro but with technology additions like loops and AST.  These lines also have a bit more advanced tapers but are still pretty general.

SA Mastery Lines are built on our premium formulation that makes these lines last longer and perform a bit better than the Supra/Aircel/Pro formulation.  Mastery lines also have specific specialty tapers and our premium technologies – AST, Dry Tip, SA-ID, loops.  Mastery (and all of our premium lines) take advantage of different core technologies/materials to further enhance line performance.

Scientific Anglers Mastery Textured lines are built on the mastery formulation but with the mastery textured surface finish.  Same technologies – AST, Dry Tip, SA-ID, loops.

SA Sharkskin – again, same as Mastery Textured only with a sharkskin finish.

What is your number one selling SA  fly line? Why? SA GPX. It is and has been the #1 line in fly fishing. The reason is because it was the first line that addressed the fast action rods. Add to that the Drytip and AST technologies and you can soon see why it is the line that sets the standards for all fly lines.

Please explain your ideal fly line maintenance? Cleaning a line twice a year with our cleaning kit. More if you fish more than 50 days a year.

SA Fly lines have evolved to be very specific in terms of taper and rod match. Can you please explain the line match to Rod match in general terms, specific line examples are welcome.

SA GPX, Magnum, any of the Streamer Express, Headstart, Redfish, and Mastery Textured Nymph/Indicator (to name a few) tend to work better on faster rods since they are heavier than the standard weight.  This isn’t to say a slower rod cant cast them fine.  Good rod matches – Z-Axis, Sage TCX, Scott S4S, Winston BIIMX, St Croix Legend, Loomis NRX, Loomis GLX.

SA Trout, Expert Distance, XPS, Ultimate Trout, Tarpon, Bonefish, and Saltwater tend to work a bit better on traditional action rods.  Again, this is very dependent on the user.  Good rod matches – Scott G2, Winston LT, Sage TXL, St Croix Imperial.

Scientific Anglers Switch lines are similar, just a touch lower. Go one or two size increments lower to get the switch chart  Switch lines do bring up an interesting paradox when it comes to lines.

Although a switch line is designed to be used for Spey casts and overhead casts, lines cannot be designed to do both of these tasks – or at least both well.  If a user wants to swing with a switch rod, it’s best to use a Spey line.  If they seem themselves overhead casting, a Steelhead taper (or other weight forward, long belly line) is a better option.  The problem is this – when Spey casting, the weight of the line needs to be in the back of the head while when over head casting, the weight should be in the front.  If you try to do both (which a few line companies have), you get a line that does neither well!

SA Fly Line Company Strengths. All three manufacturers have different philosophies in terms of the making of a fly line, science, materials etc.. Please explain your companies overall philosophy towards fly line manufacturing and how it effects the end user/angler.

Scientific Anglers was founded by a hard-core fly fishermen that was also a scientist. If it weren’t for his knowledge and passion of both arenas we would not have the fly lines we have today. Scientific Anglers patented both floating and sinking fly lines. That tradition of science and passion still exists today. We fish and develop fly lines. Hence Sharkskin, Mastery Textured. Cutting edge science and fish head attitudes keep us going.

SA has been and will continue to be the LEADER in fly line innovation.  We were the first for almost every single advancement in fly line technology in the last 60 years and will continue to be the leader.  While others may tout that they are innovative, we actually back up our claims with real scientific data.  We have access to the most advanced technology platforms in the world and leverage them to create a product that is not only technically advanced, but fishes better than any other line out there.


Rio fly Lines.

Rio Floating Lines have evolved over the past 10 years into the most technologically advanced lines ever offered.

Driving Factors for the RIO Fly line Evolution: Technology Driven  XS Technology Provides the absolute Ultimate in Fly Line Slickness while repelling dirt and grime. AGENT X is truly “Secret Society” stuff providing the Highest level of Buoyancy ever seen in Floating Fly Lines.     SFT Brings yet another round of Secret Society proprietary process resulting in Fly Line Tips that literally “Float Like a Cork”.  Dual Tone is the final factor that sets Rio apart from the competition providing an easily identifiable “Visual sweet Spot” for optimum load identity/location.

The following Fly Lines feature “All of the Above Driving Factors”: Rio Gold: Rio’s “go to” line featuring a remarkable Taper providing both Loop Stability for “Max Air Line/Load Stability” coupled with a “presentation front Taper’. Ultimate All Round Floating line for Freshwater fishing.

Rio Grand: the Blue Collar Workhorse providing a Bumped up half line size advantage . Example ; WF-5-F weighs that of a 5 ½. This “Bump” does some cool things such as A) better Load on many of Today’s fast Action Fly Rods. B) Assisting the “Load oriented Caster”. C) Quick loading driving taper to deliver Flies in Challenging conditions-Like Wind from The Cascades all the way to Chicago!

RIO Trout LT: This unique taper is “The Focused trout line for the discerning Angler”…..headed to Montana this summer. This is without a doubt your “Go TO” Presentation line. Great roll casting coupled with the ultimate in gentle presentations makes the LT “Light Touch” a starting player on any 3,4 or 5 weight.

RIO Indicator Line: Many Anglers now devote 2 rods to their daily Arsenal.  One as a strict Dry Fly Stick (Gold/Trout LT) and the second, a” Focused Nymph weapon”. This is where the Indicator line simply shines. All the “Junk in the trunk’ gets delivered with an aggressive front taper. Couple this with ample “Mend-ability’ and you are in the Chips from the Madison to the Middle Kenai.

Rio’s AVID Fly Lines (New fall 2010).  These Mid priced lines feature slick (Agent X Coming up on Ya) front loading tapers that deliver value laden performance. At $54.95 can’t go wrong here.

Rio’s mainstream Fly Lines. These economically priced lines are Targeted to the overall needs of the average or occasional angler. Mainstream lines undergo the same rigorous production processes and quality control standards as their more “All Star Cousins” like the Gold and Grand lines. Freshwater/saltwater and a Basic Spey line round out the Mainstream program.

End of fly line Q/A.

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8 Responses to Rio, Airflo, SA Fly Lines: Review & Product Guide

  1. Capt. Nate says:

    Tell me you got a bird for the shop! please…! I’m coming back… great info jay

  2. Brian says:

    This is great– I wish I had that chart last time I bought a fly line…

    good work


  3. Craig Sharrow (aka SanFranFlyFish) says:

    Regarding the fishing line reviews:

    Wow! Did the Rio rep drink to much of the Jonestown Marketing Koolaid? What’s up with all the unnecessary capitalization? What ever happened to “just another expert fisherman talking the truth” without all the gobbleygook hype? It’s enough to make me never want to try a Rio line!

  4. Mike says:

    Great info!!! With apologies for the little bit of self-promotion, here’s another informative piece on fly lines.

    It definitely lacks your authority in the subject…. 😉

  5. Two dogs says:

    Hey Capt Nate, if you come back to the shop I will guarantee you get whatever animal makes you happy…..except it has to be legal and can’t scare either Jay or me. Chris is on his own. Bird? Something in the raptor family with about a five foot wingspan that will glid down swip customers food, their small dogs, land on Jay during filming a video and star him down……. Good idea you have there Nate. Let’s us know when the Rock fish are ready.

  6. Jay, you took some time and reasearch for this one. You need to write a book:):)

  7. Dean Becker says:

    Loved the article about fly lines. I have learned alot from your information but do have a conundrum. I fish a 8.6 4weight st. croix legend ultra that is about 4 years old and use it for my dry fly rod. I have had rio gold on it and wondering if I should go up to the gpx line or is that to heavy. I fish spring creeks primarly in wisconsin and do use somewhat long leaders and tippet up to 12 feet and cast about 30 feet max to fish. Is the gpx a better line for what I am fishing or the rio gold? If I stay with the rio gold, will I have a hard time turning over a 10-12 foot leader and tippet because I noticed that can be difficult. I know you said in your article that you could use a heavier line and then use a longer tippet in order to not scare the fish. I also have the l9 ft 4 weight legend elite rod, 2 years old and have the gpx line on it and it works great and I have used that for dry fly but mostly for nymphing and wolly buggers because I use the legend ultra 8.6 4 weight for dry fly fishing because it is a little softer and can present the flies a little better. Just wondering what you would recommend?

  8. ray bull says:

    Nice review and some realistic comment. I just bought an entry level Echo 7′ 6″ 3wt rod Have not fished much for the last 20+ years, but some. Lots of experience, but not recently. I’m interested on a floater and a sink tip for general use. Rod is quite stiff. I’m interested in small creeks and lakes. Your suggestions?

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