Fly fishing tackle

Fly fishing tackle comprises the fishing tackle or equipment typically used by fly anglers. Fly fishing tackle includes:

Fly rods

Sizes and usage

Fly rods normally vary between 2 m (6 ft) and 4 m (13 ft) in length. Fly rods and lines are designated as to their "weight", typically written as Nwt where 'N' is the number (e.g. 8wt, 9wt, 10wt).

Rods are matched to the line according to weight. The rod's manufacturer will mark on the rod the fly line weights for which a rod has been designed. One-weight (1wt) rods and lines are the lightest; the weight designations increase up to the heaviest readily available rods and lines at 16-weight (16wt).[1] In general, 1wt through 2wt would be in the class used for small trout, and panfish, 3wt and 4wt are popular for small-stream fishing, 5wt is often considered the all-around rod for trout, 6wt and 7wt are used on large rivers and for fishing with streamers, 8wt to 9wt rods and lines might be used for steelhead or salmon in medium rivers, as well as for bass fishing with large flies and as lightweight salt water use, and 10-11wt rods and lines would be used for pursuing large salt water gamefish under conditions of high wind or surf. The heaviest rods (12–16wt) are mostly used for bluewater species (billfish, tuna) while fishing from a boat. The characteristics of these rods reflect the fact that only short casts are needed during this type of fly fishing, while lifting ability is at a premium.

The species pursued, under which conditions, will largely determine the weight of rod selected. Next, it is important to match the line to the weight of the rod. Using too heavy a line on too light on a rod, or vice versa, will dramatically affect casting performance. It may also permanently warp the rod blank. Generally speaking, you can safely go one line weight more or less (i.e. using an 8wt or 10wt line on a 9wt rod). There are also rods stamped with a range of weights. For example, a rod may be rated 7-8wt. This indicates the rod is designed for either a 7 or 8 weight fly line. There are also some rods rated for wider ranges (e.g. 8-9-10wt). The drawback to multi-rated rods is that compromises in flexibility or action are made in order to accommodate a wider range of line weights. For example, a rod rated for 8-9 weight line will be slightly stiffer than a straight 8wt but slightly softer than a straight 9wt rod.

Saltwater fly rods are built to handle powerful fish and to cast large, bulky flies over longer distances or into strong winds. Saltwater fly rods are normally fitted with heavier, corrosion-resistant fittings. The reel seat may also be equipped with a short extension often called a "fighting butt". Rods for saltwater fishing fall into the 8 to 15 weight class, with 12-weight being typical for most larger species like tuna, dorado (mahi-mahi) and wahoo (ono).

Bamboo and split cane

For more details on this topic, see Bamboo fly rods.

The earliest fly rods were made from greenheart, a tropical wood, and later bamboo originating in the Tonkin area of Guangdong Province in China. The mystical appeal of handmade split-cane rods has endured despite the emergence over the last 50 years of cheaper rod-making materials that offer more durability and performance: fiberglass and carbon fiber.

Split-cane bamboo fly rods combine sport, history and art. It may take well over 100 hours for an experienced rod builder to select and split the raw cane and then to cure, flame, plane, file, taper, glue, wrap and finish each rod. Quality rods made by famous rod makers may sell for prices well beyond US$2,000; a new rod from a competent, contemporary (though not famous) builder may sell for nearly as much. These rods offer grace, form, and, with their solid mass, surprising strength. Bamboo rods vary in action from slow to fast depending on the taper of the rod. In competent hands, they provide the pinnacle in performance.

Synthetic fly rods

Today, fly rods are mainly made from carbon fiber/graphite with cork or, less frequently, hypalon being favored for the grip. Such rods generally offer greater stiffness than bamboo, are much more consistent and less expensive to manufacture, and require less maintenance. Fiberglass was popular for rods constructed in the years following World War II and was the "material of choice" for many years. However, by the late 1980s, carbon/graphite composite rods (including premium graphite/boron and graphite/titanium blends) had emerged as the materials used by most fly rod manufacturers. These premium rods offer a stiffness, sensitivity, and feel unmatched by any other synthetic material. Graphite composites are especially well-suited to the construction of multi-piece rods since the joints, known as ferrules, in better-quality graphite rods do not significantly affect overall flex or rod action. Today's modern carbon graphite composite fly rods are available in a wide range of sizes and types, from ultralight trout rods to bass fishing rods and two-handed "spey" rods.

Fly reels

A variety of fly reels on display at a fly fishing show

Fly reels, or fly casting reels, with a few exceptions, are really little more than line-storage devices. In use, a fly angler strips line off the reel with one hand while casting and manipulating the rod with the other. Slack line is picked up by rotating the reel spool. Even today, the vast majority of fly reels are manually operated, single-action reels of rather simple construction, with a simple click-pawl drag system. However, in recent years, more advanced fly reels have been developed for larger fish and more demanding conditions. These newer reels feature disc-type mechanical, adjustable drag systems to permit the use of lighter leaders and tippets, or to successfully capture fish that undertake long, powerful runs. Many newer fly reels have large arbors to increase the speed of the retrieve and to improve drag performance during long runs. In order to prevent corrosion, saltwater fly reels often use aluminum frames and spools or stainless steel components with sealed bearing and drive mechanisms.

Some reels with simple click drags are designed to be "palmed" when a fish runs with the line. Palming allows the angler to add additional drag with a light touch of the palm to the rim of the reel. On some reels, palming is difficult or impossible because the spool is fully skirted. With such reels, the only drag that an angler can apply to the line is with one or more fingers directly pinching the line.

The fly line can be retrieved using either hand. Most modern fly reels can be converted to or from left-hand or right-hand retrieve. Many fly anglers who have come to the sport after spending some years as spin casting anglers are more comfortable with a left-hand retrieve. Right-handed "big game" fishers may find the right hand retrieve more efficient. In either case, modern large-arbor reels can be retrieved with fair efficiency using either hand to retrieve.

Fly reels are often rated for a specific weight and type of fly line in combination with a specific strength and length of backing. For example, the documentation supplied with a reel may state that the reel can take 150 yards (140 m) of 50 pound-test backing and 30 yards (27 m) of fly line. An angler should be able to "load" the reel with the specified length of line and backing and still have sufficient room between the line and the spool's edge. As well, many modern reels are designed to take interchangeable spools. Such spools can be quickly switched, thus allowing an angler to change the type of line in a matter of minutes.

Fly lines

Fly line is a specialized fishing line that supplies the weight or mass necessary to cast an artificial fly with a fly rod. The first fly lines were constructed of woven horsehair that eventually evolved into woven silk fiber lines. As plastics technologies improved, synthetic materials gradually replaced natural materials in the construction of fly lines. Today’s fly lines are generally constructed of an outside synthetic layer that determines the line’s slickness, buoyancy, shape and weight over an inside core material which determines the line’s strength and flexibility. The typical fly line is 90 feet (27 m) long although longer fly lines are manufactured. Fly lines have several characteristics which can be used to describe any given fly line. Some of these characteristics are based on industry standards and norms while others vary considerably between manufacturers.

AFTMA standard fly line weights
(grains per first 30 feet (9.1 m) of line)
Designation Weight (grains) Acceptable range (grains)
1wt 60 54-66
2wt 80 74-86
3wt 100 94-106
4wt 120 114-126
5wt 140 134-146
6wt 160 152-168
7wt 185 177-193
8wt 210 202-218
9wt 240 230-250
10wt 280 270-290
11wt 330 318-342
12wt 380 368-392
13wt 450
14wt 500
15wt 550

Fly line manufacturers design and formulate their fly lines with other characteristics as well. Some fly lines are specifically formulated for warm water and cold water conditions, fresh and salt water conditions as well as designs that target a specific type or fish or fishing.


Fly line is typically attached to a length of braided or gelspun line wound on the fly reel known as backing. The length and breaking strength of the backing required depends on the overall line capacity of the reel and the type of fish being sought. Backing may be as short as a few yards up to hundreds of yards if the reel has the capacity. Backing can serve two purposes. One is to create a larger diameter spooling surface that allows the fly line to fill the entire fly reel. The other is to provide additional line for fighting heavy or hard fighting fish. A fast running or hard fighting fish may take line from the reel and get into the backing.

Terminal tackle

Terminal fly fishing tackle connects the fly line to the artificial fly. This is typically a tapered or level ‘’leader’’ with a ‘’tippet’’ section. Other terminal tackle may include small ‘’strike indicators’’ or weights added to the leader to assist in strike detection and presentation. The leader is a section of fishing line that is attached directly to the end of the fly line. The ‘’tippet’’ section is a section of fishing line attached to the leader to which the artificial fly is attached. Leaders and tippets play a key role in the presentations of the fly to the fish and the subsequent landing of a fish when caught. Leaders and tippets are generally constructed of monofilament or fluorocarbon fishing line. In some fly fishing situations involving toothy fish, tippets are constructed of braided or single strand stainless steel wire.

Tapered leaders

The tip of a fly line is usually more than 0.030" thick and the eye of a fly hook may be less than a tenth that size. The two must be joined by a "leader," usually 7 to 10 feet long, nowadays of nylon or similar monofilament, either extruded in a continuous taper or made by knotting together several lengths of nylon of diminishing thickness. These taper from about 0.020" diameter to 0.010" for a large fly or 0.007" for a size 14 trout fly. The right size and stiffness of nylon also helps the leader "turn over" when cast, so as to present the fly naturally, as if not connected with a fishing rod. Anglers usually carry spools of extra fine nylon, to replace the tippet or other sections of a leader as required.

Level leaders and sink tips

Level leaders are a single diameter of line that connects the fly line to the tippet or fly. Level leaders are typically much shorter than tapered leaders and used with sinking fly lines and heavy flies. Level leaders when used with sinking lines help get the fly deeper faster.


The tippet connects the leader to the fly. Tippet sizes were traditionally expressed as X sizes in a scale based on silkworm gut leader material, but nowadays gut has been superseded by a variety of synthetics, mainly monofilaments. Monofilament is calibrated in thousandths of an inch from 0.020" and larger (used for leader butts or in saltwater fishing) to 0.011" (old size 0X) and as small as 0.003" (8X.) Fly fishing records are classed by tippet diameter, not breaking strength, which varies between material and manufacturers. Choice of tippet involves a tradeoff: finer tippets are less visible to the fish, resulting in more strikes, but are more easily abraded and broken. Stiffer or softer tippets may be used depending on water temperature, visibility, and need for abrasion resistance. Some toothy species require specially strong and durable tippets so they will not be bitten through, called shock tippets, made of thick monofilament or stainless steel wire.

Strike indicators and leader weight


Accessories include an abundance of different tools and gadgets used by fly anglers to maintain and prepare their tackle, deal with fish being caught and personal clothing and apparel specifically designed for fly fishing comfort and safety. Accessories include fly boxes designed to store and carry artificial flies.

Tools and Gadgets

Clothing and Apparel

Fly boxes

An assortment of fly boxes with trout, warmwater and saltwater flies

Fly boxes are designed to store and carry artificial flies in an organized manner. The typical fly angler carries one or more fly boxes while fly fishing. Fly boxes are available in a wide variety of sizes, styles and configurations. Fly boxes store flies using a variety of foam, plastic, clip, metal and containing mechanisms. Probably the most famous fly boxes are made in England by Richard Wheatley who have been manufacturing these since 1860 and maybe the oldest continuous makers of fly fishing tackle in the world.


  1. Johnson, Paul, Sage Manufacturing News Release of 16-weight 1680-4 Xi2 Saltwater Fly Rod, 24 August 2005
  2. Rosenbauer, Tom, The Orvis Fly Fishing Guide, The Lyons Press, Connecticut,
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