Learn The Fly Fishing Basics and How to Fly Fish!

Fly Fishing Terminology

Fly fishing contains many terms that are confusing and unknown to newcomers of the sport.  To help eliminate some of that confusion of the terms used commonly by fly fishermen, I’ve compiled the following list of some of the more often used fly fishing terms.  This isn’t intended to be an all-inclusive list of every fly fishing term in the sport of fly fishing.  It is a general list of the most often used terms that I have come across.  I hope that it helps those new to the sport.  (Work in progress and continually updated and added to)

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  • Abdomen

    The segmented rear section of an insect’s body.

  • Adult
    The winged stage of aquatic insects; reproductive stage.

  • Anadromous Fish
    Fish that are born in freshwater, migrate to saltwater to grow and return to freshwater to spawn, such as salmon and steelhead. 

  • Antron
    A synthetic yarn material made of long sparkly fibers used for many aspects of fly tying including wrapped bodies, spent wings, and trailing shucks. Is also used for dubbing material.

  • Arbor
    The center part of a fly reel where the backing (first) and fly line is wound.

  • Arbor Knot
    A knot used for tying backing to the arbor of the fly reel.

  • Attractor
    A fly pattern tied to stimulate a strike from the fish.

  • Back Cast

    In fly fishing, casting is a back-and-forth motion of the rod and line that allows you to place your fly where you’d like. The back cast is that portion of the fly cast when the fly line extends behind the caster (as in false casting)

  • Backing
    Typically a braided dacron line that connects the reel’s spool to the fly line.  This also fills up the spool before the fly line is attached (see spool and nail knot).  On larger and harder fighting fish, the backing becomes important when they decide to make a hard run that runs out all of the fly line since fly lines are typically only 75-105 feet in length.

  • Baetis
    A widely distributed genus of mayflies typically found in sizes 16 to 22.

  • Bamboo
    The oldest rod building material still in use today; this is the classical fly rod material.

  • Barb
    The backward facing projection cut into a hook near the point to reduce the chances of the hook coming out of the mouth of a hooked fish.

  • Barbless
    Barbless hooks are either manufactured without a barb (see barb) or the barb is squeezed down using pliers for forceps.  This feature makes it easier to remove a hook and minimizes the handling and potential damage of a fish you may want to release.

  • Barrel Knot
    Same as blood knot (see blood knot).

  • Bass Bug
    The name used to describe a type of surface bass fly that is usually tied with hollow hair (such as deer hair) and sometimes resembles small frogs, mice, or other critters that a bass might eat.

  • Bass Bug Taper
    A special type of 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).

  • Beadhead
    A type of fly with a bead immediately behind the hook eye.  Beads come in many materials, such as brass, nickel, plastic, ceramic, and tungsten.  Beads are typically designed to add weight and help a fly sink, but will also act as a type of attractor to the fish.

  • Bi-visible
    A type of fly with both light and dark colored hackles to provide good visibility in both light and shaded water.

  • Bimini Twist
    A  series of knots and twists in a leader which acts as a springy shock absorber in the line.  Used mostly in saltwater fly fishing for tarpon and other large, hard-fighting fish.  It has a loop and a double line section making it especially strong. 

  • Biot
    The short thick barbs from the leading edge of the first flight feather typically from a goose or a duck.  These are used to simulate tails, legs, antennae and other parts of a fly.

  • Blank
    Fiberglass and graphic fly rods (which also usually contain fiberglass) are produced by wrapping sheets of graphite and fiberglass around a carefully tapered steel rod (called a mandrel).  The hollow rod that results from this process is called a blank.  It has no guides, ferrules or reel seat.

  • Blood Knot
    The most widely used knot for tying two pieces of monofilament or fluorocarbon with similar diameters together; one of the best knots for constructing a knotted tapered leader; also called the barrel knot.

  • Blue Dun Hackle
    A slate-blue or gray hackle (see hackle).

  • Bobbin
    A fly tyer’s tool for holding thread.

  • Bodkin
    A bodkin is a tool best described as a needle with a handle. It can be easily made from a piece of wooden dowling and a needle. It is used in fly tying used to deposit cement or lacquer to a fly along with picking out material on the fly.

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

  • Breakoff
    A term of defeat and excitement for a fly angler.  It describes the event of hooking a fish and then having that fish break your tippet or leader. Usually a break off results from an unusually strong or big fish, an undersized tippet or leader, or a poorly tied knot, but can also be caused by careless fighting of the fish.

  • Bucktail
    The hair found on the tail of the Eastern whitetail deer, generally used in the tying of many types of flies; can be dyed any color, or used natural.

  • Butt Section

    The thicker end of a tapered leader that is tied to the fly line.  Can also refer to the last section of a rod, at the end of the handle.

  • Caddis

    One of the three most important aquatic insects imitated by fly anglers. The adult resembles a moth when in flight; at rest the wings are folded back into a tent shape. Found worldwide in all freshwater habitats. The pupa aquatic state is one of the most important, which is its emerging stage.

  • Callibaetis

    A widely distributed genus of mayfly that is commonly found in lakes. Contains speckled markings on the leading edge of the adult’s wings. Usually found in sizes 16 and 18.

  • Casting Arc

    The path that the fly rod follows during a complete cast. It is often related to the face of a clock (i.e. 10 and 2).

  • Catch and Release

    The practice in fishing intended as a technique of conservation in order to conserve fish populations by unhooking and returning a caught fish to the water alive. Fish are fought as quickly as possible to prevent injury or death and handled with wet hands to prevent damage to the fish. Proper care should be taken to make sure the fish can swim off under its own power.

  • Caudal Fin

    Caudal is an anatomical term meaning “the back”. The caudal fin is the tail fin or tail of a fish.

  • Chironomid

    A scientific name for the members of the Diptera family of insects commonly known as midges. In the pupae stage they typically appear as small aquatic worms. It is considered one of the most important insects in a trout’s diet.

  • Click Drag

    Also known as Click & Pawl. It is a mechanical system on a fly reel used to slow down or resist the pulling efforts of a fish. It is a type of drag system using a click mechanism to create friction instead of a disc using a high-friction surface to create the drag.

  • Clinch Knot

    A universally used knot for attaching a hook, lure, swivel, or fly to your leader/tippet. A slight variation is known as the Improved Clinch Knot, which is even stronger for the same uses.