A basic Fly Rod and Fly Reel

Fly Fishing Gear

In order to effectively throw a near-weightless fly, fly fishing is really the art of throwing a weighted line onto the water, and really, anything that’s attached to the end of the fly line, within reason, should follow. Think of your fly rod as a stick. If you hold the bottom of a stick, the top of the stick is sticking out. If you tie a piece of string to the stick, then position the stick above your shoulder, and begin short strokes, keeping the tip of the stick up in the air, the string will follow the tip of the stick, until you stop moving the stick. The moment you start the stroke is called the moment of inertia, it’s when you give some energy to your apparatus.

The Proper Grip For Accurate Casting

While you’re waiting for the class to begin, try this at home: Grasp a pencil or pen in your hand. To get the right grip, you’ll want to have your palm up, facing your eyes, so you can see as you grasp the pen or pencil. Let the pen/pencil fall into the fold behind the first knuckle, closest to the hand.

Let the pen rest behind the first knuckle of your casting hand.

Slowly close your hand, and position your thumb on top of the pencil/pen facing upward. You’ve just completed the proper and most natural grip to hold a fly rod.

The proper and relaxed way to hold a fly rod when fishing.

When I began to fly fish, I was told that the fly reel was basically a place where the line was stored, and kept out of the way. Most of the time, when fishing local waters, you’ll use only a little of the line on your fly reel, but allow me to start at the beginning.

The Fly Reel

The fly line system is comprised of the reel, backing, fly line, leader, and tippet sections. When setting up your fly reel, the most likely, at least when you’re starting out, the fly shop selling you the reel will tie fly-line backing material to the fly reel. The backing material is strong yet flexible braided dacron thread, that is used if a fish pulls all your fly line off the reel (in most cases, the fly line is less than 100′ long. The backing comes into play so you won’t necessarily lose the fish if all the fly line is in play. Reel the backing back in then reel in the line. In the past 20 years, I’ve gone down to backing maybe four times, and I fish a lot.

A typical disc-drag fly reel. The numbers around the hub allow you to set your drag – the higher the number, the more the brake discs make contact and the tougher it is to turn the spool.

The crank side of the same reel. When fighting a strong fish, you may use the crank on the reel, but many for many fish, you won’t even touch your reel.

I’ve flipped the reel over again and released the spool. The thing in the middle holds a brake rotor and discs, quite similar to those on an automobile.

Here’s the spool side of the reel. You can see two colors. The beige line is the fly line, and the green or yellowish-green stuff is the backing. The backing is instrumental in keeping the line closer to the outside of the reel, allowing the angler to easily pull the line off by hand.

In most cases, your fly will be a very small thing, and the hook eye will be too small for the fly line to go through, so the end of the fly line is connected to a fly leader. We connect the two using either a knot or a loop-to-loop connection.

Look at the loop to loop connection . The yellow fly line is connected to a small red piece of 30lb fishing line.

Here in the close-up, you can see that the line comes with a pre-formed loop, and a perfection loop has been tied into the 30lb test line. Since the eye of the hook of the fly we’re using is smaller than our 30lb test, we’ll use some smaller sizes of tippet to get our leader thin enough. Most fly anglers use pre-made tapered leaders, available for about $6 each, and then add taper. These leaders are typically made of nylon or other plastic (monofilament) lines. The butt-end of the leader is the thick stuff – often 30# test or more, and then the leader thickness gets smaller as you get to the end. Fly anglers use the term X after a number to describe the size of the leader material or the end of the leader.

Easy to read tippet chart. Most of us use 5x tippet size for trout in Connecticut and NY and maybe 4X for smallmouth bass.

Tippet: What Is It and Why Do I Need It?

I guess it’s time to talk about Tippet. In the chart above, you can see that with Fly Fishing, we use the regular line that the spin and bait fishermen use, namely, the fishing line. Where they tie it directly onto their reels and fill their reels with it, we use it to go from our leader to our fly, in short sections. In the chart above, you can see that the 10-pound-test fishing line is equal to 0x tippet that fly anglers use. So, we call our 10# test, 0x. Four-pound-test is what most of our trout leaders end in, we call it 5X. It comes in monofilament, nylon, some other (unknown to me) plastics, and even fluorocarbon (lines that even the fish cannot see. (*Ken’s Tip -always make sure to use fluorocarbon line as the line that’s tied to the fly. Have at least two feet of fluorocarbon tied to the end of your leader. It looks more natural to the fish if they can’t see the line).

Tippet comes in several sizes and comes on different size spools. Most fly shops have tiny spools (because we only need a little at a time)of 30 meters or about 100ft., but the cost compared to a 500-yard spool at your local sporting goods store is twice or three times as much. Whether you’re first starting or when you’re a pro, you can save money by buying bigger spools of regular fishing lines and manually winding it onto your own small spools.

All fishing line isn’t equal though. When buying fly line in large quantities, like a 500 yard spool, have a look at the diameter of the line, usually measured in thousands of an inch (.0X or .XXX) Match it up to what you see in our chart. Our 4lb test, known as 5X is .007 (seven thousandths of an inch in diameter. Plastic line will probably be larger, up to .14 and fluorocarbon will probably be the same or smaller.

I’ve taken the small section of red 30lb test tippet that’s connected to my fly line, and tied it (using a triple-surgeon’s-knot) to a smaller size tippet. When tying different size tippets together, it’s a good idea to use a triple surgeon’s knot

As you can see above in the close-up, I tied a triple surgeon’s knot, one of the easiest and strongest knots you’ll ever learn to tie, to connect a five-inch piece of red 30# test line to a three-inch piece of 20#-test line.

When tying together different size tippets always use a triple surgeon’s knot.

When tying together two pieces of the same size tippet, use a double surgeon’s knot.

Brown Trout

Store-bought leaders

The leaders you find in stores, from Cabelas and Dicks Sporting Goods, all the way to your local fly shop, sell leaders from many different companies, in many different sizes and line strengths. If we can say that each leader company has its own formula for making that tapered leader, we’ll also say that none of them are designed to connect directly to a fly. For that, you need tippet material.

Use the right size gear for the Target Prey

Just as in bait or spin fishing, you choose your gear by the type or size of fish you’re going after. You wouldn’t go after a shark with your little daughter’s Barbie fishing pole. We’re going to go back into the logic of things and again into the numbers that modern fly anglers use to describe their fly-fishing gear.

Size Matters

In the lower 48, and most of western Europe, if you’re fly fishing at all depths of water for small bass, or trout and all panfish, you’ll want a 3 or 4wt rod for a soft-touch presentation, or a 5 or 6wt rod for larger fish and regular presentations. If your target fish are larger still, like big smallmouth bass, or small salmon, you might want to try heavier (Stronger) equipment, like a 7wt or 8wt Rod.

The size gear we use is determined by the size target we’re going after. If you’re going after large smallmouth bass, you probably know that they can get pretty big, like 15 lbs or so. Even a five-pound bass will be a powerful fish. While you may be able to land a big bass on your 5wt rod, it would probably tire both of you out, and nobody wants to quit fishing when the action is good.

Small trout, panfish, and small bass all target prey that they can fit in their mouths. These fish don’t have teeth at the front of their mouths that can bite off big pieces of food, so you’re going to be fishing for them with something they can take and not nibble on.

Salmon – a good reason to get something larger than a 5wt rod

Salmon, Striper, Mackerel

Salmon, especially Pacific Salmon such as the Chinook, Striper Bass, and Mackerel (a medium-size saltwater fish sought for it’s flavor) are examples of target prey you’ll want to catch on a 7wt or 8wt rod. They can all be found within a short distance from shore (when in salt water), and in freshwater, salmon and striper come up the rivers to spawn at different times of the year. Sea trout also should be included in this weight category. All of these fish will take similar flies, all are great fighters, especially on a fly rod. If you’re using an 8wt rod, you should also use an 8 or 8.5 weight line – using something smaller will result in not being able to load the energy into the rod as well. Follow the chart for leader size when using an 8wt. If you’re fishing with a size 0 or 2 fly, chances are that you’ll want something around 8-10lb test, or size 2 to 0 leader, or in some cases, heavier.