Our fly fishing basics – rigging and setup guide is a useful tool for beginning fly fishers. Use the information below to put your rod and reel together and get ready for your first ventures on the water.

Setting up your equipment is not too difficult but you must do it right to prevent breaking and damaging your gear. Test your knots and take your time to ensure everything is in order before you hit the water.

Assembling the Rod

dot alignment on rod

Alignment Dots are Common on Fly Rods.

Rods come in a variety of sizes and with varying number of pieces. Many modern rods are four or more pieces for easy travel. When you assemble the rod, start with the tip section and work your way down to the butt section.

Using this order reduces the need for awkward reaching and you finish with the cork in your hand and the reel seat close for attaching the reel.

Fit each of the ferrule joints together and align the guides as you go. Make sure the sections are snug without applying extreme force. Many rods come with dots to help you align the sections.

Attaching the Reel

fly fishing reel seat

Properly Seated Reel.

Set the foot of the reel in the reel seat and tighten the washer to secure the reel on the rod. Make sure the handle is on the appropriate side.

You should be reeling forward and you should feel the drag when reeling backwards. Choosing your reeling hand is completely at your discretion.

We like to reel with the hand opposite of the casting hand. This prevents the need to switch hands while playing a fish. Some people do however cast and reel with the same hand.

Attaching the Backing to the Reel

fly reel backing

Backing covers roughly 1/3 of the spool.

Run the end of the backing through the lowest (and largest) guide on the rod. Feed the backing through the reel and tie an arbor knot around the spool. Apply tension to the backing by either attaching the spool to a tension device or by running the backing between the pages of a heavy book.

Apply additional tension with your fingers, immediately above the reel. Crank the handle and move the backing back and forth to wind it on evenly. Stop when you have filled roughly 1/3-1/2 of the spool. It is important to leave enough room for your line, plus a small cushion between the line and the rim of the spool.

Spooling Tips

Spooling without a winder is effective but a professional line winder does make things smoother. The winder makes the backing and line wind on evenly and gives you a
nice, tight finish.

If you are not comfortable setting-up your gear, take it to a fly shop (preferably the one you bought it from) and they will show you the fly fishing basics setup process. Most fly shops have a winder and will set you up for free or cheap.

Attaching the Line to the Backing

backing to fly line

Tie the backing to the line with a nail knot. Use a nail knot tool for a clean finish. You can stop here, but we like to add a drop of UV Knot Sense to create a smooth coating.

This prevents the knot from hanging up in the backing. Make sure the coating is completely cured and spool the line on the reel. Use a tension winder if possible.

You can also slide a pencil through the center hole on the line spool. Have someone hold the pencil and apply pressure to the spool with their knuckles while you reel the line.

Attaching the Leader to the Line

loop to loop fly line

Loop to Loop with a Furled Leader.

Many fly lines and leaders are sold with a welded or pre-tied loop on the end. This makes it easy to create a loop-to-loop connection between the leader and the fly line.

If your line does not have a welded loop, tie a 4-6 inch section of leader control or amnesia line to the fly line with a nail knot. Tie a perfection or surgeon’s loop on the new end to create a permanent butt section.

Tie another perfection loop on the butt end of the leader and you can now make a loop to loop connection.

The permanent butt is something that should be in your fly fishing basics knowledge base as welded loops often break or fail after a year or more of abuse.

Attaching the Tippet to the Leader

The tippet to leader connection is typically executed with a surgeon’s or blood knot. The tippet is simply an extension of the leader that creates a working platform.

It allows you to control the length of the leader and extends the life of the leader by preventing you from cutting into the taper. It is common to add two feet of tippet to the leader with some situations calling for several feet more.

Stringing the Rod

Now that your rod is assembled and your reel full, it is time to string up your rod. Pull some line off the reel and fold a loop in the line. Run the loop through the guides, beginning with the lowest guide and finishing at the tip. Forming a loop in the line makes it easy to control and it prevents the line from falling back through the guides if you accidentally drop it.

Attaching the Fly

The final fly fishing basics step before you go fishing is to tie a fly on the end of the tippet. You can do this with a variety of knots but the clinch or improved clinch are the standards and they are effective.

In our presentation and techniques section we cover a wide variety of rigging techniques for single and multiple flies. We include rigs for dry flies, nymphing and streamer fishing.