Fly Fishing Glossary


Adult – the winged stage of aquatic insects; reproductive stage.


Backcast – that portion of any fly cast that extends behind the caster (as in false casting).

Backing – usually braided dacron, used to take up space on the spool before the fly line is attached (see spool and nail knot); on salmon, steelhead, and saltwater reels, also becomes important in fighting fish.

Bamboo – oldest rod building material still in use; the classical fly rod material

Barrel Knot – same as blood knot (see blood knot).

Bass Bug – name used to describe a large number of surface bass flies usually tied with hollow hair (such as deer hair).

Bass Bug Taper – a special weight forward floating fly line with a short front taper so that the generally wind-resistant bass bugs can turn over (see weight forward and turn over).

Bend – A bend is used to tie two ropes together, as in the Sheetbend. Technically, even the Reef knot is a bend.

Bight can have two meanings:

  1. The main part of the rope from the running end to the standing end
  2. Where the rope is bent back to form a loop.

Blood Knot – the most widely used knot for tying two pieces of monofilament with similar diameters together; the best knot for construction of a knotted tapered leader; also called the barrel knot.

Breaking Strength – amount of effort required to break a single strand of unknotted monofilament or braided line, usually stated in pounds (example: 6 lb. test).

Bucktail – (1) the hair found on the tail of the Eastern whitetail deer, used in the tying of many types of flies; can be dyed any color, or used natural, (2) a type of minnow simulating fly, usually constructed of bucktail.


Caddis – one of the three most important aquatic insects imitated by fly fishermen; found world wide in all freshwater habitats; adult resembles a moth when in flight; at rest the wings are folded in a tent shape down the back; the most important aquatic state of the caddis is the pupa, which is its emerging stage (also see larva, pupa and emerger).

Casting Arc – the path that the fly rod follows during a complete cast, usually related to the face of a clock.

Clinch Knot – universally used knot for attaching a hook, lure, swivel, or fly to the leader or line; a slight variation results in the improved clinch knot, which is an even stronger knot for the above uses.

Co-Polymers – mixtures of various nylons and plastics along with anti-UV chemicals that have resulted in the exceptionally high breaking strength of modern tippet material. This is certainly one of the biggest advancements in fly fishing as it allows the use very fine tippets with breaking strengths two to four times as strong as regular nylon monofilament. Co-polymers are not as abrasion resistant as regular nylon monofilament.


Damping – reducing excess vibrations in the rod blank when unloading the rod during a cast. This causes fewer waves in your fly line resulting in more power & distance for less effort.

Damselfly – an important stillwater aquatic insect most commonly imitated in the nymphal form; usually hatches in early to mid-summer. Adult looks like a dragonfly, but folds its wings along its back when at rest.

Dead Drift – a perfect float (the fly is traveling at the same pace as the current); used in both dry fly and nymph fishing (see mending line and “S” cast).

Deer Hair – most commonly used of the hollow hairs for fly tying; used for the Humpy and the Muddler Minnow styles of flies.

Double Taper (DT) – a standard fly line design in which both ends of the line are tapered, while the greater portion or “belly” of the line is level; excellent line for short to moderate length casts, and for roll casting; not as well suited for distance casts; commonly available in floating, or sinking styles.

Drag – (1) term used to describe an unnatural motion of the fly caused by the effect of the current on line and leader. Drag is usually detrimental, though at times useful (such as imitating the actions of the adult caddis). (2) Resistance applied to the reel spool to prevent it from turning faster than the line leaving the spool (used in playing larger fish).

Drag Free – see Dead Drift

Dragonfly – important stillwater aquatic insect most commonly imitated in the nymphal form; usually hatches in early to mid-summer. Unlike the Damselfly, the Dragonfly adult holds its wings straight out (like an airplane) when at rest.

Dry Fly – any fly fished upon the surface of the water; usually constructed of non-water-absorbent materials; most commonly used to imitate the adult stage of aquatic insects.

Dry Fly Floatant – chemical preparation that is applied to a dry fly (before using the fly) to waterproof it; may be a paste, liquid, or aerosol.


  1. first stage in the adult mayfly’s life cycle; usually of short duration (1 to 24 hours); this is the stage most often imitated by the dry fly
  2.  a darkish gray-blue color that is very desirable in some fly tying materials.


Emerger – pertaining to aquatic insects, the name used to describe that time frame when the nymph reaches the surface and the adult hatches out; the emerging nymph may well be the single most important nymph phase for the fly fishers to imitate.


False Cast – standard fly fishing cast; used to lengthen and shorten line, to change direction, and to dry off the fly; frequently overused. In false casting, the line is kept moving backwards and forwards without being allowed to touch the surface of the water or the ground (see casting arc, back cast, and forward cast).

Floating Fly Line (F) – a fly line where the entire line floats; best all round fly line (see double taper, level, shooting head, weight forward).

Fly Casting – standard method of presenting a fly to a target using a fly rod and fly line; involves many different casts (see back cast, forward cast, false cast, roll cast, “S” cast, and shooting line).

Fly Line – key ingredient to fly fishing; made of a tapered plastic coating over a braided dacron or nylon core; available in several tapers and in floating, sinking, and sink-tip styles (see double taper, shooting head, weight forward, sink-tip, and floating fly line).

Fly Reel – fishing reel used in fly fishing to hold the fly line. There are three basic types: single action, multiplier, and automatic. 1.)Single action is the most common and the most popular. Single action means that one turn of the handle equals one turn of the spool. 2.) Multiplying reels use a gear system to increase this ratio (usually, 2-to-1). With a 2-to-1 ratio, each turn of the handle equals 2 revolutions of the spool. 3.) Automatic fly reels are the least practical for most people; they operate by a manually wound spring which is activated by a lever; automatic reels are heavy and tend to malfunction.

Fly Rod – a type of fishing rod especially designed to cast a fly line. Fly rods differ from other types of rods in that the reel attaches at the butt of the rod with the rod handle always above the reel; fly rods usually have more line guides than other types of rods of the same length. Fly rod lengths vary, with common lengths being between 7 and 9 feet. Materials used in fly rod construction are bamboo, fiberglass, and graphite.

Forceps – hand operated medical instrument widely used in fly-fishing to remove flies from the jaws of a hooked fish. Have plier-like jaws with locking clips so that once they are clamped to the hook, they stay there until you release them.

Forward Cast – the front portion of the false cast or pick-up and lay-down, and a mirror image of the back cast.

Forward Taper – see weight forward.


Gel-spun polyethylene – A synthetic fiber that is extremely thin, supple, slippery, very abrasion resistant, and strong. It is stronger than steel for its size. It is often used as a braided fly line backing where large amounts of backing are needed and space on the reel is limited.

Graphite – the most popular rod-building material in use today; offers the best weight, strength, and flex ratio of any rod building material currently available.


Hackle – a feather, usually from the neck area of a chicken; can be any color (dyed or natural); hackle quality, such as the stiffness of the individual fibers and amount of web, determines the type of fly tied with the hackle; many hackles are grown specifically for fly tying.

Hitch. A hitch is used to tie a rope to a spar, ring or post, such as the Clove hitch. Hitches can also be used to tie one rope onto another rope, as in the Rolling hitch.

Hollow Hair – hair from some animals is mostly hollow, thus holding air and making these hairs float. Ideal for tying dry flies and bass bugs. Antelope, deer, and elk all have hollow hair.

Hook – the object upon which the fly is tied; can be any size from tiny to huge; made from steel wire, and either bronzed, cadmium coated, or stainless. Hook designs are variable; style used depends upon the type of fly being tied.


Indicator – floating object placed on the leader or end of the fly line to “indicate” the take of the fly by a fish or to indicate the path of the drift of the fly; used when nymph fishing with a slack line; very effective.


Jam – when the knot tightens under tension and you cannot get it undone!

Jassid – type of terrestrial fly tied with a jungle cock.


Knot. Strictly speaking, a knot is tied in the end of a line as a stopper, such as the Thumb knot or Figure of eight knot.

Knotless Tapered Leader – a fly fishing leader entirely constructed from a single piece of monofilament. Extrusion, or acid immersion are most commonly used to taper the leader.

Knotted Leader – fly fishing leader constructed by knotting sections of different diameter leader material to each other to make a tapered leader. Most commonly used knots to construct such a leader are blood (or barrel) knot and surgeon’s knot (see blood knot, surgeon’s knot, leader, tapered leader, leader material).


Larva – the immature, aquatic, growing stage of the caddis and some other insects. Many species of caddis larva build a protective covering of fine gravel or debris to protect them in this stage. The larva is a bottom dwelling non-swimming stage of the insect.

Leader – the section of monofilament line between the fly line and the fly. It is usually tapered, so that it will deliver the fly softly and away from the fly line (see knotted leader, knotless tapered leader, turn over, and monofilament).

Leader Material – clear nylon or other type of monofilament. Two types are commonly used. One is the stiff or hard type, used mainly for the butt section and saltwater leaders; the second type is soft or supple monofilament, used mostly for tippets on all line weights, and for complete leaders on light weight fly lines (see leader, monofilament, tippet).

Level Line (L) – an untapered fly line, usually floating. It is difficult to cast, a poor line for delicacy or distance, and a poor choice for an all round line.

Loading the Rod – phrase used to describe the bend put in the rod by the weight of the line as it travels through the air during the cast.


Mayfly – world wide, the most commonly imitated aquatic insect. Most dry fly and nymph patterns imitate this insect. Nymph stage of the mayfly lasts approximately one year; adult stages last one to three days. The adult has one pair of upright wings, making it look like a small sailboat. Mayflies are commonly found in cold or cool freshwater environments.

Mending Line – method used after the line is on the water to achieve a drag free float. It constitutes a flip, or series of flips with the rod tip, which puts a horseshoe shaped bow in the line. This slows down the speed with which the line travels if mended upstream, and speeds up the line if mended downstream. For example: if a cast is across the flow of the stream and the fastest part of the current is on your side, the mends would typically be made upstream to slow the line down so it keeps pace with the fly traveling in the slower current across from you.

Midge – a term properly applied to the small Dipterans that trout feed on. Many people call them gnats. Adult’s appearance is similar to mosquitoes. Midges have two wings that lie in a flat “V” shape over the back when at rest. They are also known as “the fly fisher’s curse” because of their small size and trout’s affinity to feeding upon them. The term “midge” is sometimes loosely applied (and incorrectly so) when referring to small mayflies.

Monofilament – a clear, supple nylon filament used in all types of fishing that is available in many breaking strengths (see breaking strength) and diameters.


Nail Knot– method used to attach a leader or butt section of monofilament to the fly line, and of attaching the backing to the fly line; most commonly tied using a small diameter tube rather than a nail.

Narrow Loop – term that describes what the fly line should look like as it travels through the air; a narrow loop can best be described as the letter “U” turned on its side; it is formed by using a narrow casting arc.

Needle Nail Knot – same as the nail knot except that the leader or backing is run up through the center of the fly line for 3/16 to 3/8 inch, then out through the side of the fly line before the nail knot is tied; this allows the backing or the leader to come out the center of the fly line rather than along the side of it as in the nail knot.

Nymph – immature form of insects; as fly fishers, we are concerned only with the nymphs of aquatic insects.

Nymphing – word describing fish feeding on nymphs; nymphing right at the surface can be difficult to tell from fish feeding on adults, careful observation should tell.


Open Loop – term used to describe what the fly line looks like as it travels through the air during a poor cast; caused by a very wide casting arc.


Pick-up & Lay Down – a fly fishing cast using only a single backcast. The line is lifted from the water and a back cast made, followed by a forward cast which is allowed to straighten and fall to the water, completing the cast; good wet fly cast; also useful in bass bugging; most efficient cast to use, when possible, because the fly spends more time in the water (also see presentation).

Popping Bug a bass bug made from a hard material. Usually cork or balsa wood, as these are high floating materials that can be made into a variety of shapes.

Presentation – the act of putting the fly on the water and offering it to the fish; the variety of presentations is infinite, and changes with each fishing situation. The object is to present the fly in a manner similar to the natural insect or food form that you are imitating.

Pupa – in insects, the transition stage between the larva and the adult; to fly-fishers, caddis pupa are the most important of these insects.



Reel Seat – mechanism that holds the reel to the rod, usually using locking metal rings or sliding bands.

Retrieve – bringing the fly back towards the caster after the cast is made; can be done in a variety of ways; important points of retrieving are to keep the rod tip low and pointed straight down the line.

Roll Cast – one of the three most basic fly casts; allows a cast to be made without a back cast; essential for use with sinking lines, to bring the line to the surface so it may be picked up and cast in a normal manner.

Running End – the end of the rope that is being used to tie the knot.

Running Line – a thin line attached to the back of a shooting taper (shooting head) line. May be 20 to 30 pound monofilament, braided nylon, narrow floating or sinking line, or other material. Usually 100 feet in length, it allows the fly fisher to quickly change the type of line being used by interchanging only the head section.


“S” Cast – cast used to put deliberate and controlled slack into a cast; used in getting a drag free float and in conjunction with mending line (see drag, dead drift, mending line).

Saltwater Taper – a weight forward fly line that is similar to a bass bug taper (see weight forward and bass bug taper).

Setting the Hook – the act of pulling the hook into the flesh of the fish’s mouth. The amount of effort needed to do this varies with the size of hook, type of fish, and breaking strength of leader; most people strike too hard on trout and warm water fish and not hard enough on salmon and saltwater fish.

Shooting Taper (ST)or Shooting Head – a short single tapered fly line, 30-38 feet long; shooting heads are designed for longest casts with minimum effort; shooting heads allow quick change of line types (floating, sinking, sink-tip, etc.)by quickly interchanging head sections; shooting heads are most commonly used with salmon, steelhead, saltwater, and shad fishing, though they can be used in all types of fly fishing.

Sink Rate – the speed at which a sinking fly line sinks; there are at least 6 different sink rates for fly lines, from very slow to extremely fast.

Sink-Tip Fly Line (F/S) – a floating fly line where the tip portion sinks; available in 4 foot, 10 foot, 12 foot, 15 foot, 20 foot, 24 foot, and 30 foot sinking tips; the 10 foot sink-tips are most commonly used and are practical in many applications; sink-tip lines are useful in all types of fly fishing, but especially in wet fly or streamer fishing.

Sinking Fly Line (S) – a fly line in which the entire length of the line sinks beneath the surface of the water.

Spinner – the egg laying stage of the mayfly; overall not as important to the fly fisher as the dun stage; (see mayfly and dun).

Spool – the part of the fly reel that revolves and which holds the backing and the fly line; may be purchased separately.

Standing End – the static end of the rope.

Stopper knots  – a re used to stop the end of a rope fraying, or to stop it running through a small hole or constriction.

Stonefly – very important aquatic insect; nymph lives for one to three years, depending on species; most species hatch out by crawling to the shoreline and emerging from its nymphal case above the surface, thus adults are available to trout only along shoreline and around midstream obstructions; adult has two pair of wings which are folded flat along its back when at rest; stoneflies require a rocky bottomed stream with very good water quality.

Streamer – fly tied to imitate the various species of baitfish upon which game fish feed; usually tied using feathers for the wing, but can be tied with hair and/or feathers; tied in all sizes (see bucktail).

Surgeon’s Knot – excellent knot used to tie two lengths of monofilamont together; the lines may be of dissimilar diameters.


Tapered Leader – a leader made of monofilament and used for fly fishing; the back or butt section of the leader is of a diameter nearly as large as the fly line, then becomes progressively smaller in diameter as you approach the tip end (see knotless tapered leader, knotted leader, and tippet).

Terminal Tackle – terminal tackle is the tackle between the fish and the reel.

Tight Loop – same as narrow loop (see “narrow loop”).

Tippet – the end section of a tapered leader; the smallest diameter section of a tapered leader; the fly is tied onto the tippet.

Turn Over – words that describe how the fly line and leader straighten out at the completion of the cast.


Unloading the Rod – unbending the rod. Transfering the casting energy from the rod back into the fly line.


Vest– a fly fisher’s wearable tackle box; numerous styles available; particularly important in wading situations.


Waders – high topped waterproof boots; two main types used in fishing: boot foot and stocking foot; boot foot have boots built in, just pull on and go; stocking foot requires the use of a pair of wading shoes and provides better support and traction.

Wading Shoes – shoes built specifically to be worn over stocking foot waders; can be made of leather, nylon or other synthetic materials.

Weight Forward (WF) – an easy casting fly line because it carries most of its weight in the forward section of the line; instead of a level middle section, like a double taper, it quickly tapers down to a fine diameter running line which shoots through the guides with less resistance for added distance; the most versatile fly line.

Wet Fly – (1) any fly fished below the surface of the water; nymphs and streamers are wet flies (2) a traditional style of fly tied with soft, swept back hackle, and a backward sweeping wing; the forerunner of the nymph and streamer.

Wet Fly Swing – typical presentation method for fishing a wet fly. Cast the fly downstream and across, and then swim it across the current. Commonly used to imitate swimming mayflies, emerging caddis, and small fish.

Wind Knot – an overhand knot put in the leader by poor casting, greatly reducing the breaking strength of the leader

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