The Law of the Instrument and the Intermediate Line

I recently came across a reference to the Law of the Instrument, and it reminded me of fly fishing with an intermediate line in surf and current — especially since I recently used an intermediate line for two days on Cape Cod.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Law of the Instrument, it’s basically this: If all you have is a hammer, you see everything as a nail.

And why, you may ask, was I fishing with an intermediate line? It was the ideal taper and grain weight for my new two-hander. For test drive casting, it was aces. For fishing, it reminded me why I never choose an intermediate line for current or surf. (For more on this, read Mainly Misunderstood: Five Myths and Realities About Using Floating Lines for Striped Bass.

“The fundamental thing about fly fishing is presentation. It means that you control what’s going on, so that you can bring your fly to the fish. You’re in control. Not the line. Not the accident.” What Ken is saying is simple: use the right tool for the job.


Perhaps the Law of the Instrument explains so many of the misconceptions about intermediate lines: they are less affected by surf, they are good for presenting deep, they are versatile. (D: none of the above.)

Expand your toolbox with a floating line — and you’ll begin to notice all the screws and nuts and bolts around you.

13 comments on “The Law of the Instrument and the Intermediate Line

  1. Cynthia Harkness says:

    Excellent article. I always use intermediate line, but, I am now going to give a treat and get a floating line. The mention of how the floating line tumbles like bait in the surf can be desirable makes so much sense. Not a lot of muscle in those striper baits…so I need the action. Thanks

    Cynthia Harkness Fearless Fly Fishing LLC FB: FearlessFlyFishing IG: FearlessFlyFishing Cell: 617-784-4880


  2. Cynthia, Steve is legit. Peruse this blog and you will be all the better for it.

  3. Jim Wilson says:

    I had several 8wt lines, intermediate, floating, sinking; however Jim Bender thought highly of the Royal Wulff 8wt floating Ambush for saltwater, and I bought it. Except for cleaning, it’s been a part of my 8 wt rig for several years. Wish Jim still had his Worcester shop.

  4. Pierre Sauvé says:

    Having fished for Atlantic salmon for so many years, practically always with a floating line, I agree with you on its greater versatility for striper fishing.

    I started fishing for stripers with a two-handed rod last year (a switch rod, overhead casting), and I have a floating line on it (actually a 30′ head with a floating running line) but I don’t like how it performs and I’m trying to decide what to replace it with. So, as you’ve been using a two-handed rod for a number of years, I’m curious about the type of floating line you prefer (I assume you’re doing mostly overhead casting when striper fishing).

    • Steve Culton says:

      Pierre, that is the million dollar question. I only have a $1 answer. My first two-hander is a switch rod for which I have only used a Rio Outbound — not an ideal line for casting (especially in wind on that rod) and mending long distances. I am still trying to find a good floating line match for my new two-hander. I used an old Airflo Beach line (550 grains, intermediate, 33 foot head) on it last week. It casted great, but it’s an intermediate which does me little mending good, and it’s also no longer made in that grain weight. If I find a good solution, I will surely publish it. Please let me know if you find something that works for you.

      • Pierre Sauvé says:

        Thank you Steve. I’ve read a lot about lines for overhead casting with two-handed rods over the past year and I knew I was asking a million-dollar question but… one can always hope! I will be experimenting quite a bit this summer (even with a traditional weigt-forward line to facilitate mending) as , in addition to the switch rod, I will be using one of my salmon rods (a 10′ 10w which I had made on a Hardy blank 30 years ago ) as a two-handed rod (it already has a longer than normal top hand grip and a 4″” fighting butt, so no real “conversion”). I will let you know how it works out.

      • Steve Culton says:

        My grail is a floating line 530-550 grains with a 33′ head…I will likewise be playing and will post results.

  5. Pierre Sauvé says:

    Steve, you probably know this but, just in case…. I just read an interesting thread on SOL (Fly fishing forum, “Head weight on airflo lines”, April 25, 2015) with contributions by Mike Oliver, Crunch, etc.: in brief, if you do overhead casting with a two-handed rod, you should use a line with a head weighing quite a bit less than the head weight of lines (Skagit, Scandi…) recommended for the rod (from the examples given, about 80% of that weight). Steve Rajeff wrote the same thing in a 2007 post mentioning specifically that 80% and also adding that the head lenght should be 3 to 3.5 times the lenght of the rod.

  6. Bill Giokas says:

    Take a look at the Airflo Sniper line…it has an aggressive short heat .

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