Cortland Cracks the Code--PE+ Liquid Crystal Product Review

While clear fly lines are nothing new, until relatively recently they have only been available as intermediate sinking lines.

The benefits of clear lines are intuitive: they are less visible to and thus less likely to spook fish. Perhaps no other group of fly fishermen stood to benefit from this more than flats anglers who rely on stealth to pursue ultra-spooky game species like bonefish, permit and tarpon. But these situations are often best suited for a floating line. The first lines to be used in these situations were clear tip lines where the running portion of the line was a traditional floating line that transitioned to a clear intermediate sink tip. Still, many anglers dreamed of a full-length clear floating line. The challenge lay in that traditional clear line materials were too dense to float. Fast-forwarding to today: there are now several clear floating fly lines on the market. All of the first-generation lines had problems. Some delaminated, some couldn’t handle warm conditions without becoming sticky or limp while others had too much memory and tangled easily.

I first became sold on the clear floating line in 2010 when I used the 12 wt Cortland PE+ Crystal line in Homosassa. A large string of adult tarpon appeared out of the glare giving us time only for a quick quartering shot. Before I could start the retrieve the nearest fish slid under the fly line without spooking. Another fish farther back rolled and the line slid over the fish’s back—again without spooking the fish. This caused enough disturbance to make the small clump of fur and feathers pulse in the water and one of the fish in the middle of the string almost casually sipped the fly off the surface. In the ensuing pandemonium it occurred to me that I’d never before seen tarpon swim under a fly line. Several months later I discovered that using the 10 wt PE+ Crystal line I could cast directly into schools of tailing permit without spooking the fish. The fly fishing guides were so impressed with the line that they asked to buy it from me at the end of the trip.

Still, the PE+ Crystal had some limitations. The line had serious memory and resisted even the most valiant attempts at stretching the line. Although the line shot through the guides the slack line would come out of the line-tamer like a bird’s nest and foul the cast. After a season of tarpon fishing my 12 wt lines became opaque and so wiry that they became almost impossible to cast.

This spring I related my experiences with the line to Cortland and asked about the rumors I’d heard that they were working on a new version of the line. Joe Goodspeed confirmed that the rumors were true and offered to send some of the prototype lines to evaluate. Like its predecessor, the PE+ Liquid Crystal is made of a blend of polyethylene and copolymers over a monofilament core. An upside of this over traditional lines is that the line is recyclable.

Anyone who’s been engaged or married is likely to recall the four C’s of a girl’s best friend: Clarity, Cut, Color and Carat. Just as gemologists use the four C’s to rate the quality and value of a diamond there are four C’s I used to evaluate the PE+ Liquid Crystal line: Casting, Clarity, Coiling and Construction.

Casting: the PE+ Liquid Crystal line shoots better than any line I’ve ever cast. It floats high in the water and picks up easily even with substantial line out on water. The front taper loads smoothly and turns large flies over efficiently even into the wind. I found this invaluable for permit fishing where the best days are always windy and the crab flies resist turning over. Grade: A+

Clarity: The irony of clear intermediate lines is that most of them aren’t clear, they are just translucent. Being built on a monofilament core helps the PE+ Liquid Crystal live up to its name. I’ve used the lines for eight months now and none of them have become opaque as their predecessors did. It is my go-to line for permit fishing and for the ultra-spooky redfish in my area. Grade: A+

Coiling: the PE+ Liquid Crystal is noticeably more supple than the original PE+ Crystal line. Consequently, it tangles much less frequently but it is still possesses some memory and resists stretching. The biggest difference I’ve seen is that the Liquid Crystal doesn’t become wiry with frequent use--I couldn’t even use my original PE+ Crystal lines for a full tarpon season but after eight months of use these lines are still performing well. Cortland recommends using the line in temperatures above 70 degrees Fahrenheit although I can say that I am still using the line in January when the ambient and water temperatures are in the low 50s and its performance only degrades moderately. Grade: B

Construction: the knock on some of the other clear floating lines is that they delaminate. This doesn’t appear to be the case with the PE+ Liquid Crystal line. The jacket stays welded to the monofilament core. The jacket doesn’t get soft or sticky in the heat and I’ve found that the only maintenance the line needs is to be rinsed in fresh water after fishing to knock the salt off the line. The line is relatively low-stretch and does a good job of transmitting the feel of a subtle strike to the angler and provides good, solid hook-ups when setting the hook. One word of caution: like other lines it is susceptible to damage if you step on it while it is on a non-flat surface or if it gets caught around the trim tabs of a boat. One of the lines I used somehow got a weak spot in it and actually broke on a hard double-haul. Overall, if you take care of this line it will work well for you. Grade A-

If you haven’t sight fished on the flats with a clear floating line before I will warn you that it takes good eyesight and practice to accurately find and track the fly after casting and consequently to see the fish take the fly. The good part is that you can get away with much shorter leaders making it much easier to turn flies over.

Overall, Cortland has cracked the code on the clear floating saltwater fly line with the PE+ Liquid Crystal line. If you suffer from the same affliction for fly fishing and sight-casting to ultra-wary fish on the flats that I do then you will find this line indispensable. Oh, and by the way—there is no cure.



Technical information from Cortland

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