How To Spool a Fly Reel – Beginner’s Guide

| Last Updated August 5, 2021

So you went out and bought a fly rod and reel? Awesome, but now you're sitting there with fly backing and fly line wondering how exactly all of it's going to come together so you can start catching fish. 

After staring at it for a bit, hoping to "Jedi Mind-Trick" it together, you finally came across this article. Great!

Grab a beverage, and let's get started.

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Quick Questions Before Starting

Before we get started, we thought it would be wise to answer a few preliminary questions. Hopefully, this helps you know what you'll need and how much you can look to spend on materials.

How Difficult is This to Complete?

The entire process of spooling a fly rod is pretty straightforward. It's like spooling any other type of fishing line. Don't worry, it doesn't take a lot of skill to be able to do spool the fly reel. As far as fly fishing is concerned, it might be the easiest part of the sport.

How Long Does It Take to Complete?

The entire process from setting everything up to putting everything away shouldn't take longer than an hour and a half, and that's factoring in for unforeseen difficulties. Actually spooling the reel should take between 25-45 minutes, depending on how good you are with knots. 

How Much Do Materials Cost?

Assuming you already purchased the rod and reel of your choice, backing, fly line, and leader should cost between $65-350 USD if you shop at Orvis, which tends to be the go-to for fly fishing gear. 

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How to Set Up a Fly Reel - Step-by-Step Guide

Okay, folks, let's get to the reason you searched for this article in the first place: spooling a fly reel. Setting up a fly reel isn't hard, and we're going to do our best to make it even easier.

Step 1: Getting Things Ready

There are a few tools you should have:

  1. A pair of scissors or fingernail clippers to cut the excess line.

  2. A pencil to hold your spool.

  3. A nail knot tool, if you have one.

  4. Tape to temporarily secure the different lines to the spool.

  5. Optional: another person, if one of those are floating around. 

Reel to Rod

The first thing we have to do is get everything ready. Attach the reel to the bottom part of the reel only. No need to assemble the entire rod; 9 feet can be difficult to manage indoors, and we don't want to explain that the lamp is broken because we were playing with our fly rod. 

Setting up the Line Spools

Setting up the line spools will require a little ingenuity. So harness the inner redneck and come up with a way to hold your different spools so you can freely reel the different lines from the spools onto the reel. 

One way to accomplish this is placing a pencil through the center of a line spool then closing it in a drawer or having someone else hold it. 

However, if no one is using the bathroom, you already have a perfect solution at hand: the toilet paper holder. 

Take a pencil, cram it through the center of the desired spool, then place the pencil into the toilet paper axle holder. You might have to cut your pencil to fit. Your significant other might look at you funny, but if it works, it isn't stupid. 

You only need one setup as you're only going to be spooling one line at a time.

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Step 2: Spool on the Fly Line

First, it is essential to know that there are two distinct ends to a fly line: the tip and the butt. There will be a sticker on one end that states "this end to reel," or something along those lines. 

For this step, we will ignore that sticker, but do not remove it so you can quickly find it in a later step. 

Now unroll the fly line and find the tapered end that would normally attach to the fly. This will be the end opposite from the end with the sticker. 

Using a piece of tape, secure the tapered tip to the reel arbor. Set the reel's drag as tight as possible, then reel the fly line onto the reel.

Using another piece of tape, secure the butt end down to the rest of the line, now one your reel. 

You might not be able to use your pencil setup here since fly lines typically come coiled in a box and not on a spool. 

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Step 3: Spool on the Backing

Using another piece of tape, secure an end of the backing to the top of the fly line currently on your fly reel.

Now reel your backing onto the fly reel until the backing is about ¼ inch from the fly reel frame. Here is where you'll want to use your pencil method. Then cut the backing from the backing spool. You now have the right amount of backing needed for your fly reel. 

The backing isn't tapered, so it doesn't matter which end. Also, tape the end of the remaining backing still on the backing-spool down to itself.

Step 4: Unspool Backing From Reel Back Onto Backing Spool

Now loosen the reel's drag all the way, and spool the backing from the reel back onto the backing-spool. You may have to do this manually, but you can also use an electric drill.

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Step 5: Unspool Fly Line

For this step, it's best to unspool the fly line and coil it on the floor because you're going to need the butt end for step 7. If you were to unspool it from the reel onto another spool, the butt end would be buried underneath the 50 ft of a fly line. 

Step 6: Attach and Spool Measured Backing to the Fly Reel

Now take the end of the backing you just spooled back onto the backing-spool and attach it to the fly reel spool. Wrap the backing around the spool arbor twice, then tie a double arbor knot to secure it.

You can find videos for tying a double arbor knot on the internet. If it's your first time, don't expect to get it on your first try. 

Once you've secured the backing to the reel arbor, set the drag as tight as possible and reel the backing from the reel spool back onto the reel. Again, use your pencil set up to assist with this step.

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Step 7: Attach Fly Line to Backing and Spool on to the Reel

Now on the fly line find that sticker that says "this end to reel" or something like it, and attach it to your backing using a nail-knot. 

You can find how to tie a nail-knot online. A nail-knot tool is convenient to have but if you don't have one, that's okay; it can be done manually with a little more difficulty. Again if you haven't tied a nail-knot before, don't expect to get it on the first try.

Once you have the fly line secure to the backing, reel the fly line on to the reel. 

You might notice your fly line has a loop welded into the tapered end; that's for tying your leader onto the fly line, which we'll discuss in the next step. 

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Step 8: Attach Leader Line to Fly Line

This is an optional step, and you can do it now if you know what your next fishing trip is going to be. Otherwise, wait until you’re planning your next excursion, as the leader you’ll use is dependent on the type of flies and the type of fish you'll be chasing. 

If you're going to add your leader now, both the fly line and the leader should have a loop at both ends. Attach them with a loop-to-loop knot, and you're all set.

Tips and Safety Considerations When Spooling a Fly Reel

There are a few tips and safety considerations while performing this simple task we felt obliged to include.

  1. If you're doing this in your house or, more importantly, someone else's house, please do not fully assemble your fly rod indoors. A fly rod is hard to manage for some beginners, even out in the open. Think of it as opening a long umbrella inside; you're asking for bad things to happen.

  2. If you're having trouble finding a way to hold your spool, and the pencil in the toilet paper holder didn't work, you might try using an old wire clothes hanger and bending it in a fashion to hold the spool for you.

  3. Make sure all your knots are properly tied and secure. The knots are the only thing holding everything together between you and the fish. The worst feeling in the world is when a mammoth fish gets away because your knot came untied. 


Spooling a fly reel is like spooling any other reel type, just with a few extra steps. Don't let the process scare you. There are many other things in fly fishing much more difficult to worry about, like casting

Ensure your knots are good, the right end of your fly line is attached to the backing, and you'll be ready to hit the water. Until next time anxious anglers, tight lines. 

People Also Ask

We typically have a few follow-up questions after each instruction, so we chose the ones most often asked and included them below. We hope we’ve answered your question.

Why Do You Need an Extra Spool For Fly Reel?

Having an extra spool for your fly reel is a good idea if you plan on fishing in multiple climates or different kinds of water bodies. For example, if you're fishing a river with dry flies, you'll want to use a reel spool set up with a floating fly-line. 

However, if you're fishing a lake, you'll want to get your bait down deeper underwater than you'll want a spool setup with a sinking line. Having two spools, one for each type of fly line, is common practice for this reason.

When You Buy a Fly Reel, Does It Come With The Spool?

Yes, when you buy a fly reel, it comes with one spool built internally. Any other spools will need to be purchased separately from your reel's manufacturer.

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.