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How to Set up your Fly Line – Beginners Instruction



How to Spool a Fly Reel in Steps.

Now that you have hopefully bought your rod, reel and line you will need to know how to set up your fly line and put it all together so you can go fly fishing.

 Get Best Fly Fishing Reels Here

Fly fishing is a sport involving many skills, fly casting, river craft, entomology and knot tying among others. To be considered a proficient fly fishing angler you need to be able to be accomplish these with good precision. In this post we will walk through the task of setting up a fly rod so we can go fly fishing.

There are several steps to doing this task including;

a) Attaching the backing line to the reel

b) Joining the fly line to the backing

c) Adding the leader to the front taper of the fly line

d) Putting on our flies

e) Add water and go fly fishing.

What materials you will need is;

1 The Fly Reel, either a large arbor or regular spool reel.

2 Fly Fishing Line, in our case a weight forward WF5 floating line.

3 Spool of backing line at least 100ft

4 Braided Loop

5 Optional tube of Stormsure or Aquasure

6 Leader material

7 Flies

The first thing to do is load the reel with the fly fishing line unless you have purchased a kit with it already spooled on. The backing line is the first to be added to the fly reel. and is used to,

1) bulk up the fly reel to keep the fly line even and close to the top of the reel so it can be easily spooled on and off.

2) Its main purpose however is to allow the fish to take you on long runs if it chooses to do so. It’s important in your fishing line setup that you have this in place so you don’t loose fish.

How much line can you put on a fly reel?

A fly fishing line is normally 30 yards long and many fish species will want to run further than that so it is advisable to add as much backing line as your reel will allow.

If you are following the recommended start up kit here and purchased a 5 weight reel you will be able to spool on about 100ft of regular fly fishing backing.

I say regular as there are with all aspects of fly fishing many variations and these come in different dimensions. As thinner lines are more expensive I would recommend the basic backing line made from woven Dacron or braided monofilament which are more affordable.

Advanced Tip!

A good way to see exactly how much line you can hold on your reel is to first spool on the fly line and tie the backing to it with a simple knot and wind as much as you can until the line is close to but not touching the outer rim.

Then take it back off by either winding on to another reel or the spool it came from making sure you have cut the line at the required end. It takes a bit of back and forth but this means you will have the reel full to capacity.

Remember that you need to reverse the line before winding back on the reel and well worth the effort to get a reel to its optimum level.

What I do is reel it all onto the reel I’m using then off onto a spare spool then again onto another spare spool so it is now turned and ready to be wound onto the reel it’s intended for again.

To be clear there is a right way and a wrong way to spool fly line on and off a reel. If you hold the fly line on the spool it came with you will see it is wound a certain direction around the spool.

You need to unwind and direct that line onto a reel in the opposite direction so it winds around the spool neatly and not against itself. So if you are looking at both the reel and spool connected together the line is flowing nicely from one to the other without becoming twisted.

Whats the Best Knot for Attaching your Backing to the Fly Reel?

Arbor Knot

Once you have the line reversed you can start to add it in the correct order backing first followed by fly line.  The backing to reel knot that I prefer is the arbor knot. This knot is very simple to do and very safe.

Once tied on wind the backing on in even turns laying it down flat on the reel as best you can. If you take your time you will get it to lie flat and neat. If you are using the more expensive backing lines these are thin and really easy to wind on without much effort.

Next we have to know how to attach fly line to backing. This is where we need to be careful as a badly tied knot will not only loose the fish but possibly the fly line as it goes flying off the reel into the water and away after your prize fish. The knot regularly used here is the nail knot.

Nail Knot

It has great strength and when mastered correctly will sit nice and flat on the line. Hywel Morgan has also a handy tip in the video for connecting braid to fly line, I have used it successfully on a fly fishing trout setup but not so sure about salmon or larger target species.

Tip! Get some fly tying thread and run consecutive turns over the nail knot connection and run a couple of layers of quick drying varnish to form a very smooth finish.

Important when you are targeting species that will take you into backing line regularly you don’t want to have a huge knot bumping through your rings as it will break at some point.

OK now that is done and you’re sure of its connection wind the fly line onto the reel. Take your time and wind the line in even rows on the fly reel spool. This makes for easy stripping of the line for casting and for fish playing.

Now you will have come to the end taper of the line where we need to attach our leader. An easy way to do this is put on a braided loop on to the fly line which leaves the end with a nice loop so leaders can be attached whenever we go fishing easily with a loop to loop connection.

How to tie leader to fly line will become a regular task when going to fly fish so learning how to do this consistently and well is very important. As I have said before in other posts the weakest part of any fly fishing line setup is the knot so get it right.

The other way to do it is a simple hand over knot on the end which has been used successfully down the years before braided loop was developed. The braided loop does leave the line a lot smoother.

One thing to consider if you are targeting easily spooked species like wild brown trout the braided loop can cause tiny air bubbles to be released from the end of the fly line when retrieved and this can put them off. In cases like that I would use a nail knot to attach the leader.  For most cases the braided loop is fine.

Braided Loop
Braided Loop

Another Tip! When the loop is attached use some Stormsure adhesive to run over the loop to make it smooth before securing with the flexible tube. Some would use super glue but this goes brittle after a while and causes the loop to hinge when casting.

The storm sure is flexible and made for water repairs so ideal for the situation.  If you are targeting larger species make sure the loop is securely fastened I would recommend a nail knot of monofilament line equal to the weight of the desired catch. Example targeting Salmon up to 20lb then use 20lb mono and run the knot around about eight times. I have found loops secured this way are super strong.

Remember your set up is only as strong as the weakest link so double check all connections regularly. If in doubt redo them to make sure you don’t lose that fish of a lifetime.

Don’t be intimidated by making these connections, with a bit of practice and patience you can master them, which at the end of the day is all part of the sport.

While working in the tackle shop it always surprised me how many anglers didn’t know how to attach loops or make connections properly relying on their mates or us to do it for them. We didn’t mind it was all part of the service but for me personally I would rather blame myself and not someone else if I lost a good fish to a knot breaking.

Now that we have the loop on its time to attach the leader.  This can be done a few ways but I would always use a loop to loop Loop to loop connectionconnection so I would form a water knot  (or surgeons knot) at the end of the leader to connect it with. The formation of the leader is another problem which we will tackle in another post.

Now that the leader is on before we can go fishing we need to put on our flies. However we need to put the rod together and feed the line up through the eyes before we do that.

I simple tip I have used is when feeding the fly line up the rings is to bend the line in double for a few inches say 6-8. As you feed it gives you something a bit bigger to hold as you go. Now if you let go of the line by accident which happens all the time the doubled over line will not slip the whole way back down to the butt section meaning you have to start all over again.

Once the line and leader is free of the tip ring pull through a few feet of the following fly line before we start to attached out flies.

It will depend on your setup how many flies you are attempting to fish for a beginner I would recommend only one but two can be fished fairly easily if you can keep your casting in line.

In some cases I have seen guys fish 4 or 5 flies at a time but for me I create more tangles than I’m happy with so 2 is a normal setup for me.

Depending on the size of the fly there are different knots to attach them to your leader. I wouldn’t get to indecisive on this for now but concentrate on 1 or 2 knots to use and learn them well. You will be surprised how you can forget how to tie a knot you learnt the evening before in front of the computer only to be at the river side trying to change a fly to a rising trout and not remember. Its times like this that knowing at least one good knot is essential or that trout could be long gone before you get the fly tied on.

For me the simple clinch knot for trout flies and the double turle knot for salmon flies is all I need. I have tried a few other also but seem to revert back to these every time I go fishing. They have stood me well over the last thirty six years of fishing.

Time to go fly fishing

So once the flies have to attached it’s time to add some water and go fly fishing. 🙂 This is not a definitive list of spooling your fly line and getting ready to go fishing but a setup I have used over and over again. I have set it up for many clients who came into our fly shop and friends over the years so I can vouch that it works.

You will of course as you develop into the sport come into new ways of attaching and spooling on lines and these you need to test for yourself. After all there is more than one way to do it so don’t be afraid to vary things and try them out. I just know that this has worked for me up to now.

Practice makes perfect

I think the most important thing to remember here is to make sure you practice your knots over and over so you can do it automatically. The better you become the better you will be able to change a fly fishing setup at the river back and the easier it will be for you to catch fish which is what it is all about.

Hope this guide helps you in some way please feel free to ask any questions on the subject below in the comments or by emailing me directly. I will do my best to find you a solution.

Need more info on fly fishing check my review on fly fishing unleashed!


Tight Lines!



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