How To Set Up a Fly Reel (Correctly) – Tips and Costs

| Last Updated April 13, 2021

Your fly reel's correct setup is one of the most critical preparations required before going fly fishing.

Too much backing line, imperfect knots, and frayed fly line are small examples of what could cause a day of fishing that you'd rather forget.

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Quick Questions Before Starting

Before starting, you’ll probably be asking yourself the following:

How Difficult is This to Complete?

We would rate this as easy to medium.

How Long Does it Take to Complete?

A good job will take about 1 hour:20 minutes.

How Much Do Materials Cost?

Materials required for the task will cost $70 - $75 on average.

Items Needed to Set Up a Fly Reel

We’ll assume that you already have a rod and reel combination compatible with fly fishing for this section. The reel now needs to be set up so that you can start fishing. You will need:



Fly Line (matching the weight and size of your reel) 

Usually 90 - 110 feet


Backing (matching the size of your reel)

Usually 50 - 1000 yards 



Usually 6 - 12 feet



Usually 2 - 6 feet




Note: The above are average costs.

Setting Up a Fly Reel - Step-by-Step Guide

Once you have all of the equipment necessary to set up your fly reel, you must carefully follow this guide. Be certain of the correctness of your knots, and you’ll be less likely to be telling the story about ‘the one that got away'.

1. How to Put Line on a Fly Reel

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  1. Also known as backing, this is the line attached to the spool of a fly reel. The knot required for this purpose is called the Arbor Knot and the video that follows this section will demonstrate how it’s tied. This knot must be very secure.

  2. This line measures anything from 50 to 1000 yards

  3. Provides distance for your cast, allows your fly to drift with currents, and provides more flexibility when fighting a hooked fish. It also comes in 'breaking strains,' which essentially means how much weight it would take for the line to snap. The latter is typically quoted in pounds, e.g., 20lb, 30lb, etc.

  4. This video below demonstrates the process.

2. How to Attach Fly Line to Backing

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  1. This step requires that the fly line be attached to the backing line using a Nail Knot. Ensure that the knot is tied securely at the end that’s been specifically labeled for that purpose.

  2. A fly line's importance is that it provides the weight needed for a successful fly fishing cast. It’s also instrumental in keeping your fly at a certain depth depending on the fish species you’re after.

Check out the video below for a visual. 

3. How to Tie a Leader To a Fly Line

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  1. Leaders and fly lines typically come with 'loops' on the ends that require connecting. The following video will show how these loops are connected. Should they not have these 'loops,' you’ll have to revert to the Nail Knot already covered in part two above.

  2. If the 'loops' are present where the lines are to be tied, you need to ensure that you have a perfect figure eight at the end of the process, which confirms the joint's correctness and strength.

  3. A clear demonstration follows in the video below.

Watch this video if your leader does not have a 'loop.'

Tips on How to Set up a Fly Reel Correctly Every Time

Here are a few more useful tips we haven’t covered yet: 

Removing 'Memory' From Line

While this probably sounds like something from a spy movie, we’ll briefly explain the concept of 'memory' in the fishing line. Winding a nylon cable around something gives it a tendency to remain in the state that it was before being unwound; imagine the state of your garden hosepipe when unwound. This is a phenomenon known as 'memory.'

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This tends to happen very often, if not always, with fishing lines, and especially with leaders. The way to remove ‘memory’  is to hold the line between your thumb and any finger, then pull it through with your other hand, creating friction and warmth. This should leave you with a straight line.

Line Touching Reel Frame

Another golden rule of fishing is that your fly line should never touch the frame of your reel. When this happens, it implies that you have too much backing line for your reel's capacity, causing many problems, such as line fraying, difficulty with casting, and your reel jamming.

Check Reel Capacity Before Spooling

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The following video is an excellent way to measure how much backing your reel spool can take. It includes a fly line to make the measurement as accurate as possible. It’s a bit tedious, requires extra tools, and maybe an extra hand, but it’s worth doing. Click on the video below.


So, setting up a fly reel, as you have seen, is a pretty simple task. The videos included also give some valuable insight.

Setting up your reel will provide you with a great fishing experience when done correctly and will help you avoid problems such as jamming, line fraying, and difficulty casting.  It may take up some time and patience, but it's affordable, and you get to learn a few types of fishing knots.

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People Also Ask

Many fly fishing reels come with backing, fly line, and leader already attached by the manufacturer. This is not always the case, so it's essential to know the best attachment procedure yourself.

Here are the three most frequently asked questions and their answers.

What is Fly Line Backing?

Fly line backing is the first of the three line-types requiring proper securing to your fly fishing reel. The backing is then tied to the fly line. Being the longest of the three lines, it provides the distance necessary for your preferred method of fishing. 

How Much Backing on a Fly Reel?

The amount of backing can vary in length from 50 to 1000 yards depending on your reel size and capacity. It’d be best if you also considered the reel's arbor size and the length/thickness of the fly line to follow. A golden rule is that the latter should never rub against the reel frame.

What Knot to Use When Spooling a Reel?

It’d be best to use the Arbor Knot as your first knot to attach the backing line to the spool of a fly reel. One can use this knot for centrepin and fixed spool reels. When connecting your backing line to the fly line, the Nail Knot is best to use.

My name is Caleb and I am obsessed with hunting, fishing, and foraging. To be successful, you have to think like your prey. You have to get into the mind of your target - and understand Big Game Logic. If you have any questions, or just want chat about your latest hunting score or big catch, you can reach me at Read more about Big Game Logic.