How To Set Up Fly Reel & What You Will Need: Beginner Guide

by Julie | Last Updated:   November 15th, 2022
How To Set Up Fly Reel & What You Will Need: Beginner Guide

Fly fishing is an exquisite sport and hobby that can take you to some of the most breathtaking natural places on earth. You have a lot to learn if you are just starting fly fishing. One of these lessons is how to set up a fly reel. You cannot skip the step of setting up a fly reel. And this may be quite tasking, especially for a beginner. However, the final results are rewarding. 

So if you’re just getting started on fly fishing, this article will walk you through the entire process of setting up a fly reel. It will also explain everything a beginner needs to know to begin fly fishing.

Gather your supplies, and let’s start!

What You Will Need In Setting Up Your Fly Reel

Getting all the essential fly fishing supplies is the first thing you must do. These supplies are the equipment you absolutely must have to go fishing. Although much of the fly fishing equipment available from various merchants are excellent, it is not necessary to use it all.

These are the most important things you will need for your fly reel setup:

  • Fly fishing rod (size 4-6)
  • Fly fishing reel of matching weight (size 4-6)
  • Appropriate fly fishing line
  • Fly line backing (100-150 yards)
  • 4X or 5X tapered line leader (7½ feet)
  • Small spool of 5X tippet
  • Variety of flies
  • Scissors or Clippers

Fly Fishing Rod

Fly rods are available in various lengths, weights, and types. They are designed like this to help anglers be as productive as they can in various environments. The kind of fly rod that will work best for you depends on the fish species you’re going for.

As the foundation for your fly fishing setup, the fly rod you are using determines what you will need for a reel and fly line.

Rod Weight

A fly rod’s weight should be matched to the fly line weight it is best suited for. However, a fly rod is balanced best when combined with a fly line in the same weight class.

Rod Length

A fly rod is essentially a big casting lever. Your casting powers depend significantly on its length. Casting further distances becomes easier if the rod is longer.

In addition, longer rods make it simpler for anglers to mend their lines. They can also reach deeper holes, allowing them to catch more fish. Mobility is the only drawback of long rods. Anglers can get into tighter places with short rods, like narrow streams and places with bushes that hang over.

Fly Rod Action

When shopping for a personal rod at a fly shop, you’ll find fly rods labeled with an “action.” This action essentially defines the fly rod’s flex qualities. The stiffness and flexibility of a fly rod during casting are related to the action of the rod. 

The types of fly fishing rods include; fast-action, moderate-fast action, moderate-action, and slow-action rods. Typically, a stiffer fly rod means fast action. And a less stiff rod fits to slow movement.

Often, it is recommended that beginners start with a moderate action fly rod. This is because it is more adaptable and much simpler to cast than a fast-action fly rod.

Fly Fishing Reel

The fly reel is a significant piece of gear. Its main function involves storing and releasing the line. It is also responsible for producing the drag that aids fishermen in landing fish. The fly reel is made and labeled for a specific fly rod size. 

The drag matters more for fly rods and reel sizes that are four and above. Why? You will want to get the “fish on the reel” as soon as a fish is hooked. This entails pulling the surplus fly line in until it is tightly wound around the fly reel and the fish. As a result, the fish is pressured by the reel’s smooth drag system.

In larger sizes, the fly reel’s quality has greater significance. The line capacity of a larger-sized reel (size eight and above) will be sufficient for more than 150 yards of fly line and backing. This is usually suitable for freshwater fishing. Also, for fly fishing in saltwater, you might need a line that can go up to 300 yards.

Using a fly rod between 4 and 6 weights is usually recommended. Considering this, consider loading the reel with a fly line and 50 yards of backing.

Generally, bringing your fly rod with you when buying a reel is vital. By doing so, you’ll be able to fit and test it instantly. When choosing a fly reel, the most important thing to think about is how well it fits on the fly rod. The fly rod and reel should balance, and you should be able to handle them lightly. This will reduce wrist pain when fishing for an extended time.

Fly Fishing Lines

Anglers can cast far and display their flies naturally, thanks to their fly lines. Fly lines come in various styles and tapers and are generally between 80 and 90 feet long.

Type of Fly Lines 

  • Sinking fly line
  • Floating fly line

The difference between both lines is straightforward. The floating line floats, while the sinking fly line sinks. Most times, fly fishing situations require floating fly lines.

Fly Line Taper

The two most common tapers are:

The weighted forward line moves the weighted section of the fly line forward. Most anglers who enjoy fly fishing employ this line taper. But, when casting short distances, – the weight back line taper – which puts the weight in the middle of the line, is frequently used. They are ideal for delicate presentations.

Fly Line Backing

This is a short piece of sturdy line that is fastened to the fly reel’s arbor. It gives the angler some more distance when fly fishing. The first line that is attached to your fly reel is the one that allows you to fight the fish. Most fish will take your fly and pull the fly line further from your reel. However, a fish that pulls you into your backing is a thrilling experience.

Line Leaders

The primary transparent piece attached to the fly line’s end is called the fly leader. Where it connects to your fly line, it is often hefty but gradually decreases in weight. It also drops in thickness until it reaches the point where the tippet is attached. 

Typically, the fly leader is about 9 feet long. In recent times, fly leaders have sometimes been designed as tapered leaders. This way, a 9-foot stretch of line gradually gets thinner as it approaches the end. These leaders are popular among fishermen because of their effectiveness and ease of use.


Your fly is usually attached to the beginning of the tippet. The tippet exists as a short piece of light, thin line. Its purpose is to help you catch the fish you’re after. The tippet should be as light as possible.

The less line you have, the less drag you’ll experience in the water, and the less likely it is that fish will notice it.


Without flies, fly fishing isn’t fly fishing. Wet flies and dry flies are the two types of flies available to any angle.

Wet flies are always wet, and they are often known to sink. These include streamers, worm patterns, nymph patterns, and egg patterns. More often, wet flies increase your chances of catching fish. This is because, in almost every situation, most fish feeding happens on subsurfaces.

The traditional perspective on fly fishing relies on dry flies. It is always stunning and thrilling to see a gorgeous trout break the surface in search of a fly resting delicately on the water’s surface. These dry flies are designed to float on the water’s surface while waiting for fish to surface for a meal.

Scissors or Clippers

They are designed well for cutting lines and removing fish hooks. If you fail to go on a fishing trip without scissors, you may have a hard time cutting your line and completing the catch

How To Set Up A Fly Reel

How To Set Up Fly Reel

Now that we’re done reviewing the fundamentals of fly lines and other necessary gear, it’s time to start working on your primary task, setting up a fly reel. The following steps will teach you how to set up a fly reel:

Choose Your Retrieving Hand

The first thing you’ll need to do is choose your retrieving hand. This will be the hand you’ll use to reel in your catch. You’ll need to choose between using your left or right hand for reeling. Make sure your fly reel can be switched to either hand or matches your preferred retrieval method.

Load The Backing

The backing line is the first component to go on a fly reel. The first step in setting up fly fishing gear as a fly angler is loading it. Your needs will determine how much backing line length you will use.

If your fly reel comes with a handbook, you can review it to see if there are any recommendations. If not, the correct amount of backing line length to start with is between 100 and 150 yards. As you get more experience, you’ll learn how to adapt.

The fly line must, however, have enough room to pass after the backing has been loaded without being too tightly wound around the reel’s frame. To attach the backing line, wind it once around the reel arbor, and tie an arbor knot at the end.

These steps describe how to tie an arbor knot:

  • Wrap the finishing line around the arbor.
  • Form a loop around the standing part. Pass the tag end through it.
  • Then knot it by looping the tag end around itself.
  • Put it through the loop connection to tighten it.
  • Pull tight the second knot into the first one to secure them to the arbor.

Watch this video to learn how to tie an arbor knot:

When you’re done with the arbor knot, cut off any excess line. Next, turn the arbor slowly while putting very little tension on the line to keep it from slipping. You can increase the pressure once the wrapping has already started.

Additionally, you must ensure that the backing is evenly spaced across the spool. Then use scissors to cut the end off.

Attach The Line And The Backing

The next step in setting up a fishing pole is to attach the fly line to the rod after spooling the backing.

Nowadays, many fly lines have labeled ends that allow you to immediately identify where to connect to the backing line. The thinner end should go with the backing if your fly line is different. Ensure the tapered, thicker end is on the other.

Additionally, most wires feature loops on both ends to create simple connections. Tie a clinch knot on the backing and trim the extra lines.

To tie a clinch knot, follow these steps: 

  • Pass the working end through the eye of the hook
  • Wrap it five times around the standing line
  • Work it through the initial loop.
  • Tighten the standing line by pulling it.
  • Remove the extra tag end.

Reel the line in the same way you did with the backing. The lines should be uniformly spaced across the spools without touching the top rod. To ensure this, unwind the fly line and cut off some backing.

Attach The Leader And Fly Line

The leader should be the last component on your reel. Attaching the fly line to the leader is straightforward if they both have welded loops. Like when threading a needle, pass the leader’s loop through the fly line. Before passing the free end of the leader through the fly line’s loop, draw on both lines. After that, you’ll have a strong connection that won’t interfere with your casting.

A simple clinch knot will work if your leader doesn’t have a loop. However, if you’re unlucky enough to have no loops, you can attempt to create one. All you need to do is use a nail knot or an Albright knot.

To secure a three-inch piece of monofilament to the fly line tool, you can use the nail knot. The nail knot comes in handy if any of the loop-to-loop connections in the following steps breaks.

On the other hand, a perfection loop can be used to create a permanent loop on your fly line. Furthermore, a welded loop at the end of the fly line, similar to a perfection loop knot, also connects the leader to the fly line.

How To Tie a Perfection Loop

  • Use the tag end to create a loop.
  • Loop once more and position the tag end between the two loops.
  • Wrap the second loop around the first one.
  • Hold and tighten by pulling in both directions.
  • Remove any excess tag ends.

Attach The Leader And The Tippet

Anglers typically use the final section of their fly leaders as the tippet. But after changing the fly three or more times, that effect goes off. A separate tippet can be attached to reduce spending on an expensive leader.

The double Surgeon’s knot is the most fantastic way to attach the tippet to the leader. The last step in setting up your fly reel is to knot the fly after it has been secured.

Attach The Fly To The Tippet

You are down to the final step of setting up your fly reel, which is attaching the fly to the tippet. After tying so many knots and lines. The fly has a hook that can be connected to the tippet using a basic Clinch knot.

Watch this video to learn how to tie a clinch knot:

You are now prepared to enter the water. What’s left to do is connect the fly reel to your fly rod and begin casting. If it’s your first time, you may experience difficulties attaching the reel to the rod. You will need help learning how to connect the fly rod to the reel.

How To Connect A Fly Rod To A Fly Reel

Attaching a fly rod to a reel is as important as using the right gear. The large base of the fly reel is referred to as the “reel foot.” It is the component that rests at the top of the fly rod. Similarly, the reel seat refers to the area of the rod that holds the reel.

Consider your hand orientation before putting your rod and reel together. If you are right-handed, you will cast with your right hand and reel with your left. However, lefties will use the opposite setup.

Close to the cork, you’ll find a little cutout in the top portion of the reel seat. A reel foot is inserted into what is known as the “fixed hood.” When doing this, you have to pay attention to the cranking handle’s position.

Afterward, slide or screw the movable hood over the other end of the foot to seal it until the reel is firmly fastened. When you’re done with this, you have finished attaching the fly line to your rod.

Key Insights & Takeaways

And that’s all on how to set up a fly reel. If you’re new to fly fishing, setting up a fly reel which may be intimidating. But it’s a relatively simple operation. The setup can be done smoothly with the right instructions and by following trusted methods. Once your reel is fully rigged, don’t forget to maintain it regularly. Reel maintenance will allow you to use it repeatedly.

Frequently Asked Questions

What should every angler know when setting up a fly reel?

Setting up a fly reel comprises of many processes. Anglers are expected to ensure each process is strictly followed to avoid damaging the reel. Also, avoid adding too much line into the reel.

Do I need a tippet for fly fishing?

No, you do not need a tippet for fly fishing. You can attach your fly to the leader. However, if you’ll be using multiple flies, then you’ll need to use a tippet.

What are the basic equipment for fly fishing?

If you’re new to fly fishing, you’d need fly fishing reel and rod, flies, extra lines, wading boots, rain coat and binoculars.

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I was fishing before I could walk and it's been a family tradition for centuries. Fishing is my life, or at least as long as I can remember. In the Lake Champlain International Fathers Day Fishing Derby, not only have I won first place twice but also third place! Also, in addition to majoring in Wilderness Recreation Leadership, I also happen to be a licensed camping, hiking, and hunting guide for NY.