A Glossary of Fly-Fishing Terms

When you’re learning to fly-fish, you need to learn a few new terms that describe the equipment you use and the parts of the fly cast. Here’s a short list, adapted from the Orvis Fly Fishing Learning Center:

Backcast: that portion of any fly cast that extends behind the caster (as in false casting).

Backing: usually braided Dacron, used to take up space on the spool before the fly line is attached (see spool and nail knot); on salmon, steelhead, and saltwater reels, also becomes important in fighting fish.

Clinch Knot: universally used knot for attaching a hook, lure, swivel, or fly to the leader or line; a slight variation results in the improved clinch knot, which is an even stronger knot for the above uses.

False Cast: standard fly-fishing cast; used to lengthen and shorten line, to change direction, and to dry off the fly; frequently overused. In false casting, the line is kept moving backwards and forwards without being allowed to touch the surface of the water or the ground (see casting arc, back cast, and forward cast).

Floating Fly Line: a fly line where the entire line floats; best all round fly line

Fly Line: key ingredient to fly fishing; made of a tapered plastic coating over a braided Dacron or nylon core; available in several tapers and in floating, sinking, and sink-tip styles.

Fly Reel: fishing reel used in fly fishing to hold the fly line. There are three basic types: single action, multiplier, and automatic. Single action means that one turn of the handle equals one turn of the spool. Multiplying reels use a gear system to increase this ratio. Automatic fly reels are becoming less common; they operate by a manually wound spring which is activated by a lever.

Fly Rod: a type of fishing rod especially designed to cast a fly line; fly rods differ from other types of rods in that the reel attaches at the butt of the rod with the rod handle always above the reel; fly rods usually have more line guides than other types of rods of the same length; fly rod lengths vary, with common lengths being between 7 and 9 feet; materials used in fly rod construction are bamboo, fiberglass, and graphite.

Forward Cast: the front portion of the false cast or pick-up and lay-down, and a mirror image of the back cast.

Leader: the section of monofilament or fluorocarbon line between the fly line and the fly; usually tapered to deliver the fly softly and away from the fly line (see knotted leader, knotless tapered leader, turn over, and monofilament).

Loading the Rod: phrase used to describe the bend put in the rod by the weight of the line as it travels through the air during the cast.

Pick-Up and Lay Down: a fly-fishing cast using only a single backcast. The line is lifted from the water and a back cast made, followed by a forward cast which is allowed to straighten and fall to the water, completing the cast; good wet fly cast; also useful in bass bugging; most efficient cast to use, when possible, because the fly spends more time in the water (also see presentation).

Presentation: the act of putting the fly on the water and offering it to the fish; the variety of presentations is infinite, and changes with each fishing situation. The object is to present the fly in a manner similar to the natural insect or food form that you are imitating.

Roll Cast: one of the three most basic fly casts; allows a cast to be made without a back cast; essential for use with sinking lines, to bring the line to the surface so it may be picked up and cast in a normal manner.

Surgeon’s Knot: excellent knot used to tie two lengths of monofilament together; the lines may be of dissimilar diameters.

Tapered Leader: a leader made of monofilament and used for fly fishing; the back or butt section of the leader is of a diameter nearly as large as the fly line, then becomes progressively smaller in diameter as you approach the tip end

Tippet: the end section of a tapered leader; the smallest diameter section of a tapered leader; the fly is tied onto the tippet.

Turn Over: words that describe how the fly line and leader straighten out at the completion of the cast.


Unloading the Rod: unbending the rod. Transferring the casting energy from the rod back into the fly line.

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