How to Set up your Fly Line

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.

The first thing to do is load the reel with the line unless you have purchased a kit with it already spooled on. The backing line is the first to be added to the reel. This line is used to bulk up the reel to keep the fly line even and close to the top of the reel so it can be easily spooled on and off. Its main purpose is to allow the fish to take you on long runs if it chooses to do so.

A fly 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 7-8 weight reel you will be able to spool on about 100ft of regular 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.

A good way to see exactly how much line you can hold on your reel is to first wind 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 towing and throwing 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.

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 line is attached to the reel with 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.

Next we have to add our fly line to the 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 trout set ups 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.

OK now that is done and you’re sure of its connection wind the fly line onto the reel. 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.

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.

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!


  1. Thanks Mark all I need to do now is catch some fish !!! very helpful indeed

    • Your most welcome Steve, glad I could help. Tight Lines!

  2. Thanks Mark this is some very useful information. I used to really be into knots right from boy scouts through a tour in the navy. Reminds me of a local boat on somebody’s lawn named “Knot For Sale.”

    • I bet you know some useful knots Jim after a tour in the navy! The thing about them is they can come into use in everyday life not just for fishing hunting or sailing. I think everyone should know at least half a dozen knots for everyday use. You would be surprised how many people cannot even tie two ropes together effectively.

  3. Ah the arbor knot I know it well I use this knot to tie my line to the arbor of my reel, fishing and knots go hand and hand….

    • Exactly Tim hence the name Arbor. A very simple knot but most important to load line on the spool.

  4. Hey there! I got to go fishing while in Idaho. Was so great to have some relax time and enjoy the outdoors. Thanks for the how-to article.

    • Hey would love to hear of your adventure what species were you after and did you get any? Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Great info. I’m like Ty, I love knots but never remember how to tie them when I need them. Maybe I need to download these videos to my Ipad and take it along

    • That’s an idea, however there are several pocket books that sit neatly in your pocket and have most of the most commonly used knots. Great to have handy!

  6. Tying knots always gets me confused but as long as I keep at it I can do it from memory, I guess it is pretty similar to tying shoe-laces

    • There is a knot for every situation Dom and learning them all can be a lifes work. However learning a few basic ones well can come in handy for many situations never mind tying your laces. When it comes to fishing knowing how to tie your knots well can be instrumental in landing that big fish.

  7. That nail knot demo was really good! I’ve never seen that before. That could have uses other than fishing. Thanks for the tip!

    • Sure enough Doug knots can be used in all manner of things. My knot skills have come in handy when taking waste to my recycling center in an open top trailer.

  8. Wow thats a lot of info. Very informative

    • Thanks for the comment. I am trying to fill in the gaps for anyone starting out. If I have left anything out just leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

  9. Very methodical approach. I have never fished but your article made wanting to fish :)

    • Hi Anindo, thanks for the compliment. If you are located close to a fishery river or lake I would advise you take up the sport. It will not only get you out in the fresh air but it will give your mind time to think subconsciousness and those problems or tasks you are trying to work out will get solved. Believe me its happened to me more than once. Plus I love it. :-)

  10. Nice post, I love knots, ever since I was a kid I have been fascinated with them. I forgot most of it now but that’s life lol

    • Thanks for the comment Ty, knots can be useful in everyday life not only fishing. It does pay dividends to know a few for everyday use.


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