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photo courtesy of DUN Magazine

Does this sound familiar?
You’ve been making long casts, but then decide to make a series of short casts, leaving a pile of line at your feet. You see fish blowing up bait near the shore. You bomb out a long cast, but instead of the fly heading to that perfect lie, the fly line ends up tied in a huge knot around the stripping guide.

Or how about this?
You’ve been fishing with an indicator all afternoon and then decide to switch to a dry fly.  Your first cast has the fly turning over, and over, and over on the line.

If you have ever experienced these symptoms, your fly line is twisted.

Fly line twist occurs for many different reasons. Despite the manufacturer’s best efforts, most lines come from the factory with a little bit of twist. If the line is not installed on the reel properly, the line will twist even more.  While fishing, casting wind resistant flies and indicators will also cause line twist. In addition, every time you strip the fly line you are putting a little twist in the line.

The good news is that managing and removing twist is super easy.

The first step is good line management. When fishing we pull off the amount of fly line we need to make our casts.  Sometimes we will end up with much more line than we can cast off the reel.  This extra line is a great place for the twist to build up and tangles to occur.  When casting, most of the casts you make should pull the line tight against the reel.  The action of the line coming tight against the reel will pull some of the twists out of the line and help prevent knots from forming.

Choosing the correct line weight for the flies and rig you’re fishing is also imperative.  It may be possible to cast that #2 Chernobyl ant with a three weight, but the wind resistance of that fly will cause the light and thin 3 weight line to twist, and those twists will head down the line and lead to tangles. When nymph fishing, make sure you pick the smallest and most aerodynamic indicator for the conditions. Indicators are notorious for causing line twist.

Finally, make sure you remove twists from your line on a regular basis. When I’m boat fishing and having an issue with twists (because I haven’t followed my own rules above), I clip off my fly and pull all the line off my reel. I mean all my line down to the backing, making sure the backing extends past the tip of the rod.  I let out the line behind the boat until it comes tight in the current. Then I relax for a few minutes as the current and tension on the line pull out the twists. If you do not have a lot of room to do this, or you are wade fishing or still at home, the best method to remove the twist is to pull all the line off your reel down to the backing. Make sure you are in a room without any young kids or pets (especially cats), because this can and will quickly turn into chaos.  

Starting at the backing and fly line junction, grasp the line between your index and thumb fingers in each hand. Hold the backing connection with your non-dominant hand and pull the line gently through your thumb and fore-finger on your dominant hand holding snugly.  You should be able to see the line untwist, moving forward down towards the end of the line.  Once your hands are about an arm’s length apart, grip the line tightly with your dominant hand and move your non-dominant hand next to your dominant hand. Continue to work your way down to the leader junction.  It usually takes three to four passes through the entire line to get the majority of the line twist out. You’ll know you are doing it correctly when you see the leader twisting around in circles as you push the twists out.  Once the line is untwisted, reel all the line up while running the line through a cloth to remove any extra dirt and grime, and you’re ready to go fishing with a lot less frustration.