Fly Fishing for Beginners – Part 6 – Fly Rod and Reel Setup – How to Connect your Fly Line Components

Welcome to episode #6 in the Fly Fishing for Beginners blog and video series. To quickly recap what we’ve covered so far, in episode #1, I answered the question, “What is fly fishing,” as there are many misconceptions. In episode #2 we explored the fascinating history of fly fishing. In episode #3 we looked at the wide variety of fish that you can catch with fly fishing. In episode #4 we covered how to find places to go fly fishing in your local area. Episode #5 was about essential fly fishing gear, and in this 6th installment, you’ll learn how to set up some of that gear…more specifically,  your backing, fly line, leader, and tippet. It’ll be pretty obvious how to attach your fly reel to your fly rod, and most fly reels also allow you to set them up for either right or left-handed retrieval. Simply consult your owner’s manual to make any necessary changes or adjustments. When it comes to connecting the various components of your fly line and leader materials, however it can be a little confusing and tricky at first.

To begin, make sure you purchased fly line that is matched to the correct weight of your fly rod. For example, if you’ve chosen a 6-weight fly rod, then you’ll need a 6 weight fly line for optimal performance. As I mentioned in the last installment, there are many options when it comes to fly line, but for starters, a weight forward, or double taper floating line is a good choice that will cover most situations.

Alaska Fishing - how to plan a DIY Alaska fishing adventure


How to Attach Fly Line Backing to your Fly Reel

Before you get started with setting up all your line components, I suggest having your reel mounted to the base section of your fly rod during this whole process to make things easier. The first step is to attach the fly line backing to your fly reel. You can use an arbor knot to connect your backing to your reel, which is quite popular, or any other knot that you’re confident with. Even a couple of simple overhanded knots will work fine for connecting backing to your reel, which is what I often do. For the arbor knot, simply tie an overhanded knot at the end of your line and pull it tight, then tie another overhanded not and pull that one tight so that the knotted end buts up against that second knot you tied.

You’ll most likely never get all the way to the end of your backing when fighting a fish, but nonetheless, you do want to make sure it’s tied on securely. No matter what knot you use though, it’s best to then wind the backing on your reel in a perpendicular fashion by using a vice to hold the spool of backing as I demonstrate in the video below, or anything that will keep the spool upright when winding up the line. If you wind up the line with the backing spool lying flat, your line will get twisted up, which may cause troubles and tangles down the road. Be sure to keep the line evenly dispersed on the reel as you wind it up by simply using your fingers to guide the line. Also, keep your fingers fairly tight in order to keep tension on the line as you reel. If your line is too loose when wound up on the reel, you may have issues with backlashing while you cast.

How to Attach Fly Line to your Backing

Next, after all your backing is on the reel, it’s time to attach your fly line. Your line should have a little tag on it designating which end should be tied to the backing, unless it’s a double taper line, in which either end can be tied to the backing. To connect the fly line to the backing, I recommend a nail knot which can be easily and confidently tied with a handy dandy nail knot tool. Here is a how to tie the nail knot. After the fly line and backing are connected, you should then wind up the fly line in the same manner as you did the backing. If your fly line didn’t come on a spool and was instead just packaged as a bundle of line, I recommend unraveling it and laying it all out straight in a place where you have plenty of space like your backyard, and then winding it up on your reel.

How to Connect a Leader to your Fly Line

After you have your fly line on your reel, it’s time to connect your leader. As I mentioned in the last episode of this blog and video series, there’s a lot of variety when it comes to leaders, but the bottom line is that you’ll want a leader that will be appropriate for the species of fish you’re going after. Leaders and leader material usually have this information right on the packaging. As far as attaching the leader to your fly line, some fishermen use the trusty nail knot and others prefer the loop-to-loop connection system which enables you to quickly and easily change leaders when going after different species of fish or fishing dramatically different sized flies. You can buy a loop extension to attach to your fly line and buy leaders with loop ends, or simply tie a loop knot in the end of any leader you’d like.

How to Connect your Tippet to a Leader

While you may not have to change your leader all that often, you will have to change or replace your tippet material quite a bit. Naturally, you’ll want to use lighter tippet for fishing with small flies and larger tippet for bigger flies and bigger fish. Just as with leaders, tippet material comes in species-appropriate sizes and strengths. It’s also important to note that some leader and tippet materials float, such as nylon monofilament, which is a good choice for dry flies that float on the surface of the water, and some materials sink, such as fluorocarbon, which is good choice for nymphs, micro jigs, and other sinking flies. Leader and tippet materials are generally standardized with a numeric “X” system to designate the size and strength. Here’s an example…

Charts like this one will help you with selecting the proper tippet and leader material, but as I mentioned in the last video, if you want to save quite a bit of money, you can simply buy and use monofilament and fluorocarbon that’s designed for more generic styles of fishing. For example, a big spool of premium monofilament or fluorocarbon that’s designed bass for crappie fishing will cost much less than a tiny spool of fly-fishing leader or tippet material, and it’ll last much, much longer. In fact, I have spools of fluorocarbon that I bought years ago to use for fly fishing tippet that are still going strong. I simply wind up a supply of line on a smaller-sized spool when needed, put it in my pack, and I’m good to go! The only time that I buy the fancy, expensive fly fishing tippet is when I need a new spool.

Anyhow, no matter what you choose to use for tippet material, you only need a few feet of it to attach to your leader. I recommend connecting your tippet and leader together with a surgeon’s knot. This knot is an especially important one to master, as you may be changing or adding new sections of tippet to your leader fairly often. Here is how to tie it.


 How Long Should the Leader and Tippet Be?

When it’s all said and done, the leader and tippet section of your fly fishing rig should be about the length of your fly rod, or perhaps a little longer. Some like a little longer leader and tippet, and some like a shorter one. This is something that you’ll develop a feel for as you get more experience with your fly fishing efforts. Too long of a leader can throw off your casting and fly presentation, and too short can end up spooking the fish. So again, I recommend a leader and tippet combo of the length of your rod for starters and then adjust as necessary.

There you have it my friends, that’s an overview of how to set up you fly rod, fly reel, and all your line components. Check out the video below to see more…