Fly Curious – How to Spool Your First Reel
Are You Fly Curious?
There are all kinds of fly curious people waiting to take their first step. Maybe you’ve been fishing all your life and are ready to enter the fifth dimension. Maybe you’ve never fished at all but are looking for the perfect excuse to enjoy the great outdoors. Either way, you’ve come to the right place. Picking up this sport can be confusing, expensive, and frustrating, but we’ve all done it. We’ve all spooled rods without backing, thrown backward built leaders, and fudged a few experimental knots out on the river. Learn from my mistakes and we’ll move you from curious to competent in the time it takes you to read these articles.
What is a fly reel?
Fly reels are simple machines, they really just hold line. Unlike convention reels they have fewer components, making them easier to work with and impressively durable. Most reels are left-hand retrieve so before you start spooling up, you’ll want to make sure the reel is oriented properly with the knob on the left side and the reel seat facing upward. I like to spool my reels while they’re on a rod, this makes them easier to manipulate. Screw your reel onto the but section of your rod and continue.
The 3 different lines
Fly reels have three different lines at any one time, each is unique in purpose, strength, and diameter.
The first line is what we call the backing. If you’re an experienced conventional angler it's similar to braid. This braided line is strong and thin. Its purpose - insurance. When a big fish takes out your fly line (often 100ft) the next to go is the backing. Some reels can hold up to a couple hundred yards and any true game fish will take you into it. It’s important that when you spool up you do not over spool as you won’t have enough space to fit your fly line. A good general rule is to make sure you can fit your thumb in between the reel seat and the backing, this will ensure you have enough space to stack your next line.
How to Spool It
First, you’ll need to connect the backing to the spool. Follow the steps below to tie an Arbor knot. Once tied crank the line onto your reel while using your right hand to guide it. It’s important the line stacks evenly. Once you’ve loaded enough backing it's time for yet another knot. I like to tie a bimini twist. This knot is essentially a big loop with high tensile strength. It’s a challenging knot to master, but tie it once and it will serve you for years. Make the loop at least 6 inches long so that it can fit around the spool your fly line is sitting on.
The Fly Line
Let’s not go down the worm hole with fly lines. This is a topic for another time. If you’re a beginner look on your rod to find its weight. Usually, there will be 2 numbers near the grip, one that states length and one that tells you the weight. The weight is the strength of the rod, and you’ll need to match this number with the corresponding line weight. A zero weight is basically a blade of grass designed to catch 4-inch brook trout while something like a 16-weight has the backbone of a 2x4 and can handle triple-digit billfish. Most beginner setups are somewhere between 5 and 8.
Buy a basic line. Shop major brands and avoid amazon lines that are a third of the price. The right line is critical and can make or break your cast. Try airflo, Rio, Scientific Anglers, or Cortland to name a few. As a beginner, you’ll want a floating line with a standard taper. Stay away from power, ghost, stealth, or tactical, and look for a more universal taper. This will serve you well.
After you acquire the proper line open the box and look for a small tag clinging to the spool. The line will have 2 tags, you’ll want to find the one marking the reel end and run your bimini twist through the small loop and then around the entire spool. This forms a strong loop-to-loop connection that will easily travel through your guides when the time comes. Wind on your fly line and continue.
The leader is the final line that connects to your fly. Freshwater leaders go by the X system, while bigger leaders go by pound strength. Start by purchasing a few pre-tapered leaders. These leaders come ready to use and are often around 9ft. Go into a fly shop and tell them where you plan to fish, and what you plan to fish for. They can help get you the right setup. Once you feel a little more comfortable we can dive deeper into different kinds of leaders and how to build them.
How to Spool it
This is less spooling and more of a connection, but we wanted to keep the titles consistent. Repeat the same loop-to-loop connection used to attach the fly line to the backing and you’re ready to go. You’ve successfully loaded all three lines and are ready to hit the water.