Fly Fishing Terminology

Everything you need to know about Fly Fishing, from terminology to neccessity. This A-Z resource is continually growing in response to all the questions and comments we recieve from our customers. We do everything we can to keep our customers as informed and educated as possible in order to ensure a successful fishing experience.



If you go into a fly shop today, the sheer number of flies or patterns can be a bit intimidating. Although there are many different patterns being tied today, the flies break down to a few core categories – dry, nymphs, streamers, terrestrials, and midges.

Related Terms:

  • Dry Flies: any fly that imitates the adult form of an aquatic insect floating on top of the water.
  • Nymphs: imitate the nymphal or larval part of an aquatic insect’s life sub-surface.
  • Streamers: are flies that are fished actively by stripping (retrieving) the fly in the current. They mimic baitfish, crawdads, and many other swimming fauna that fish feed on.
  • Terrestrials: any insect or mammal that mostly spends its time on terra firma, but might accidently fall in a stream or lake from time to time.
  • Midges: are very small flies size 18-28 that imitate any part of the insect’s (midge) life. These are great flies to use anywhere, but especially on tailwaters.


Floatants are chemicals in either liquid or powder form that helps a dry fly float better.  The liquid type works best when applied before the fly gets wet.  The powder form works best after the fly gets wet and starts sinking.  This form contains a desiccant that draws the water out of the fly and applies a coating to help it float.

Fly Boxes

A must have item for the fly fisher is the fly box.  The fly box is used to store and organize your flies.  The two main types of fly boxes are the compartment type and the foam type.  The compartment box will have multiple compartments either open or with spring loaded lids to store the flies.  The foam box is lined with smooth or rippled foam.  These are used by inserting the hook into the foam.  The foam box is sometimes easier to use since you can organize them together where each fly is visible.  Most fly fishers will end up with multiple boxes arranged by the type of fly and/or fishing situation.

Fly Fishing Accessories

Other accessories range from floatant holders to hold the bottles of liquid that makes the dry flies float, small flashlights, or a tool to measure the size of tippets and leaders.

Fly Rods

Fly rods come in a variety of lengths, actions, and sizes (weights) ranging from 6’ to 13’ long and weighs 0wt to 15wt. A 0wt rod is going to be a supple (or noodley) and extremely light rod for small fish and small streams. A 15wt rod is a burly beast of a rod used for huge fish like billfish and sharks. To break it down, 0 to 3wt rods are generally shorter and are used for small stream trout fishing. 3 to 6wt rods are used in a broader sense as far as freshwater fly fishing goes. The smaller 3wt and 4wt rods are used for trout and sunfish, whereas the 5 and 6wt rods are reserved for everything this side of the ocean. 7 to 15wt rods are reserved for saltwater applications and bigger fish.

Fly Reels

Reels are made in a variety of configurations and sizes that match your rod weight (wt) and fishing conditions. The first variance is the arbor. The arbor is the center of the reel that the line is wrapped around. There are standard (small), mid, and large arbor reels. The difference is that with every revolution of the spool, x amount of line is wrapped back on the reel.

With standard arbors you retrieve 2 to 4 inches of line per revolution. The mid and large arbor reels can pick up 4 to 10 inches of line depending on the size of the reel. The reason this matters is that in some applications, it is imperative to get the line back on the reel fast. A large arbor reel would be well suited for picking up line faster.

The next thing to think about in looking at a reel is the drag system. There are a lot of different systems out there, but they all boil down to 3 basic types- click and pawl, disc, and cork. The whole purpose of a drag system is to create resistance against the fish making it harder for it to pull line off the reel. Click and pawl reels have a very limited amount of resistance, but resistance can be increased by adding a heavier spring if it is available from the manufacturer. Disc drag systems have much more resistance and adjustability. Cork drags also have more resistance and adjustability as well as little to no maintenance. Good reels are made of aluminum or other corrosion resistant materials. Plastic or composite reels will get the job done, but are not made for longevity or durability.

Fly Line

Fly lines are 80 to 90 feet long and have a 30’ belly or “fat” part of the line in a strategic place on the line.  Just like the rest of fly fishing the line has many different types and applications. We will start out with tapers. Fly lines have many different tapers that filter down to a few basic types. Weight forward (WF), double taper (DT), and level (L).

Related Terms:

  • Weight Forward (WF): the belly is towards the end of the line where you tie on your leader. They are versatile and generally easy to cast.
  • Double Taper (DT): have a belly centered in the middle of the line, and level line has no belly or taper whatsoever. They are good for roll casting and the angler who wants to get the most out of their line. After one end of the line is worn out, you can reverse it and wear out the other end.
  • Level line (L): offers no tangible advantages, and may be hard to find today.

Fly lines are also designated by whether they float or sink.

Related Terms:

  • Floating (F) Lines: are versatile in that you can fish dry flies, nymphs, and streamers on them.
  • Sinking Lines: are only for streamer fishing and nymphing. There are different degrees of sinking line designated by their sink rate. (S) is a full sinking line, (F/S) is a sink tip line, and (I) is an intermediate sinking line.

After choosing your line taper and floating or sink rate, match the line weight (wt) to your rod weight (wt). So a spool of line with the marking WF-4-F would be a weight forward – 4WT- floating line. A WF-6-S is a weight forward- 6WT- full sinking line. DT-3-F is a double taper- 3WT- floating line.


Another useful tool is the hemostat, or forceps.  These are used to remove the fly from a hooked fish.  This is especially helpful removing the smaller flies.  The tool is also handy for mashing down the barb for easier release of the fish.  Some hemostats also have scissors.

Knot Tying Tools

For people who have trouble tying the knots; there are numerous types of knot tying tools.  The most common is the tool to tie the nail knot but there are other tools for other knots.


Leaders are a tapered monofilament or fluorocarbon material ranging from 0x to 8x and are offered in lengths from 7 ½’ to 15’ long. A 0x leader is about 16 pound test and is on the thicker side of things. An 8x leader is about 1 ½ pound test and is hair thin. Spooky or pressured fish usually call for a longer lighter leader depending on the flies you are fishing. For instance, you would not try to fish a size 22 fly on a 2x leader, nor would you fish a size 8 weighted streamer on a 6x leader. To fish heavier, bigger flies, a stronger heavier leader is needed.


There are many tools and gadgets the fly fisher uses to make life easier while fishing.  Nippers are clippers used to trim off excess leader or tippet material when tying on flies or extending the leader.  Most of these come with a needle like device to clean out the eye of the hook if it is clogged or to untangle an accidental knot in the leader.


Newer on the scene is the fishing pack, particularly the chest pack.  It serves the same purpose as the vest but in a more compact form.  The chest pack hangs from the neck and a strap goes around the back of the fisherman.  One major benefit of the chest pack is it is higher on the body when wading in deeper water.  Other variations of the pack are fishing fanny packs and fishing back packs.  In essence, fishing vests and packs are simply tackle boxes that you wear.

Split Shot

Split shot, or sinkers, does the opposite of a  floatant.  The small BB sized sinkers pinch on the leader to help get wet flies down to the depth that the trout are holding.  They are especially useful in faster water where the wet fly has less time to sink to the trout’s level.  Split shot come in various sizes to suit different situations.  The best bet is to get a combination pack with several sizes.

Strike Indicators

Strike indicators are used to help detect a strike when a trout takes an underwater fly.  In other words, a strike indicator is a bobber.  These come in various styles from stick-on foam that are one time use to yarn and cork types that can be reused to a putty type that can be reused and adapted in size.


A tippet is tied to the end of the leader to prolong the life of your leader and match fishing conditions better. It is sized the same as the leader 0x to 8x. You can add a lighter tippet to a heavier leader, but not vice-versa.


Now that the fly fisher has all these accessories and fly boxes, they need some way to carry these things.  The more traditional method is with the fishing vest.  The fishing vest is just a vest but with many pockets.  The vest has so many pockets that you could carry your fishing gear along with lunch and a rain jacket.  Prior to the invention of the fishing vest by the late Lee Wulff, fly fishers carried their gear in shirt or jacket pockets or their creel.


To make these tools and gadgets more accessible there is the zinger or retractor.  Zingers are simply devices that are attached to the shirt or vest and the tool is attached to it.  When needed you grab the tool and pull it to the task.  Once the task, clipping line, and removing the hook is accomplished, you release the tool and it is retracted back up and out of the way.  The two main types of retractors are the spring driven and coil.  The spring type is a cord that goes to a spring loaded housing.  When pulled, the spring winds to pull the tool back when finished.  The coil type uses a plastic coil to achieve the same result.