Rio Mainstream Fly Lines - low cost performance

Text and images by Craig Smith

Rio Mainstream Fly Line Selection
Rio Mainstream Fly Line Selection

Fly lines can be expensive with some of the highest quality lines for single handed rods retailing for $130.  These lines have incorporated the latest technologies into their cores, outer layers, and specialized coatings.  They often shoot through the guides better than lower cost lines and floating lines may float higher and longer and shed dirt better.  They may also be more durable than lower cost lines, often lasting 150 more days of angling if cared for properly and not damaged accidentally.

But not everyone can afford to spend $130 or $100 or $70 on a general purpose fly line.  Fortunately there are some pretty good fly lines from the major brands that cost $50 or less.  Our favorite is the Mainstream series from Rio Products. These lines are available in floating weight forward, double taper, bass taper saltwater weight forward, intermediate, sink tip, and full length sinking versions that retail for $40. When they first came out the Mainstream series of lines retailed for $30 and they have been kept at the $40 price point for over 10 years now.

The weight forward floating line has a loop at the front for quick rigging of leaders.  These lines all run either half or full line weight heavier than AFFTA standards, which is common for many lines from many brands today. There is also an intermediate Mainstream Striper version weight forward that retails for $50 and that is two line weights heavier than the AFFTA standard and performs similarly to the $100 Rio Striper line.

All of the Mainstream lines are 80 feet long instead of the 90 feet or longer of the premium lines.  They do not have the ultra slick coatings of their more expensive cousins in the Rio lineup so they may not shoot as well for more proficient casters. However for most fishing conditions they will work fine.  For most trout, bass, and panfish angling where casts tend to be 40 feet or less the lack of the ultra slick coatings will not be noticed by most anglers.  Skilled casters will have no problems casting the entire 80 foot line if it is clean.

The Mainstream series of lines have been in Rio’s product line for 20+ years so we have a lot of experience with them.  They work well for most general conditions in both  fresh and salt water, even the trout lines.  The Mainstream Saltwater line is an often overlooked sleeper line for temperate through tropical saltwater conditions.  I first used a couple of these when I took them as backup lines on a three week trip to Cape York, Queensland, Australia in 2004.  They performed admirably on the tropical waters there.  Closer to home I have used the same line for tossing bass bugs on local lakes as well as poppers to bonito and calico bass and skipjack tuna in the ocean off of San Diego.  I have found this line useful locally in all but the coolest conditions, unlike many lines designed for tropical conditions.

The mainstream lines have proven to be durable and if well cared for can last for 100 or more outings.  The trout lines are supple and work well in cold to temperate conditions.  The Bass line has a warm water coating that makes the line a bit stiff in cold conditions but it works fine for bass, trout, panfish, and carp in our local waters.  The Mainstream Striper line is a good low cost option for casting flies to bonito, barracuda, small tunas, and other species at or near the surface around the kelp beds or off shore. It is even a great line for casting streamers to bass chasing shad in our local lakes.

If you need a fly line and do not need the best quality line or cannot afford a pricier line then the Mainstream series is a very good option.  These lines are just as good and cost less than the top level lines from the 1990s.   I have no qualms about fishing these lines.  If you need a new fly line and have a budget to watch, just want to spend less than the top lines cost, or need a backup or two, the Rio Mainstream series of lines are worth consideration and an exceptional value.