The typical fly line has four elements. These are listed here, in order, from the spool end to the fly end:
  • Backing
  • Fly line
  • Leader
  • Tippet

Have a look at this diagram to see how these are organized:

The Backing will usually be supplied with a new reel, if you ask. It is made of braided nylon with about a 20lb breaking strain. This is attached at one end to the spool of the reel and at the other (forward end) to the leader. This is your “insurance” for the time that you nail a biggie fish and it runs out taking line against the drag that you have set lightly on your reel. This will cost up to $10.

The Fly Line is attached to the free end of the backing line. There are numerous companies that produce fly lines such as Airflo, Scientific Anglers, and Orvis; you can also buy more inexpensive lines at BassPro, Cabelas, eBay, and Amazon. Prices vary from $10 to $150.

Fly lines are manufactured to glide through your fishing rod guides with as little friction as possible. The degree of engineering that goes into manufacturing the line is reflected in these very varied price ranges. In most cases, you should match your fly-line to your rod.

A three-weight rod should be loaded with a 3-weight line, a 4-weight rod should be loaded with a 4-weight line and so on.

Next, you need to decide how you will be fishing. It is suggested that dry fly fishers should use a floating double tapered line (DT-F for short). This allows for a delicate and accurate cast of a dry fly. This is a dry fly:

If you intend to be bottom fishing with a nymph, such as this:

or using an indicator or float system, then you should probably load your reel with a weight forward line (WF for short). This allows short casts with less likelihood of tangles.

You may also have to decide whether you want a floating or sink tip line. For most applications, you should buy a floating line.

Leaders and Tippet are made of either monofilament or fluorocarbon.

The leader and tippet together reduce the width and strength at the end of the fly line system. So the line can taper from about 20 lbs breaking strain down to as little as under 2 lbs. Why would you go to a weaker segment of tippet? Isn’t it better to have thicker, stronger lines?

  • There are many reasons for the tapered line:
  • less visibility to the fish
  • projects the fly forward easily
  • transfers the energy of the cast to the fly
  • allows subtle movements of the fly in the currents
  • allows for easy adjustment of the fly’s drift (called “mending” of the line).

You can buy a prefabricated leader and tippet combination that will do the tapering for you, or you can tie your own using leader and tippet material from the fly-fishing store.