fast action fly rod

What is Fly Line Backing? (is it necessary?)

Fly line backing is basically used to extend the total length of line on the fly fishing reel when landing fast or strong game trout species or other game fish like: bonefish, tarpon or bass. I’ve even been down to the backing on a number of occasions in fast flowing trout streams. Especially if they start to take off! 

Backing connects to the fly line so if you cast all your 30 feet of line, you’ve still got plenty of line to fight the fish.

Fly line backing is especially important when saltwater fly fishing to create a vital link that keeps anglers connected to the powerful fish. Some known to take up to 100 feet of fly line when caught. It also comes in handy when freshwater fly fishing for bass, salmon or trout species and other hard fighting fish.

Benefits of Using Backing

Apart from extending the length of the fly fishing reel, the backing provides a bedding for the fly line when gets wrapped on a large arbour reel or spool. This additional diameter prevents the fly line from getting wrapped too tightly in circles around the arbour and increases the rate of retrieving the line when reeling in.

The bigger diameter also prevents the fly line from developing memory coils that usually affect the casting performance and develop unwanted tangles and knots. To achieve this, you need to spool the backing systematically to avoid creating overlapping wraps that tangle unexpectedly. Read on to find out how to put the line on a reel.

As more fishermen choose lighter tackle and long tippets for slow water targets they need every advantage to be successful!

 

fly fishing backing fish running down mountain stream

What Type of Backing should You Use?

The standard type of backing is the Dacron. It performs exceptionally well, is durable and stretches between 10 and 15 per cent to balance shock and the fish-fighting abilities. This backing is ideal for anglers looking for a cost-effective material to extend the length of the fly line.

Experts recommend using this type of backing when you are not worried about overloading the reel, and targeted fish is not running more than 300 feet. That’s pretty much most fish you’ll catch on a fly rod.

The other type of backing is the gel-spun polyethene, which stretches shorter than Dacron. It is also called the Ultra-high molecular weight polyethene and is manufactured to produce long molecular chains that give the backing additional strength.

This high breaking strength compensates for its incredibly small diameter (30 lb has 0.14’’ of diameter). Gel-spun polyethene backing is used by anglers whose line capacity is limited when catching fish running more than 300 feet. Backing made from this material is pretty thin, which allows fishers to load long lengths of line on the reel. Gel-spun is more expensive, but is worth it.

overhead cast fly fishing

How Much Backing on Fly Line?

The lengths vary based on the type of fish you intend to catch, and the length of backing the fly reel can hold. Avoid loading the reel with too much line as it causes the fly line to touch the reel frame. You may need to perform a few trials to get the right amount.

Be sure to leave 1/4 inch of clearance once the backing and fly line is loaded on the spool. This will ensure none of the line slips off and you don’t get any tangles when you’re in the moment. Here’s a brief overview of the required lengths of backing when fishing different fish species:

  • Panfish and small trout: 25-50 yards of a 12-pound backing
  • Normal trout: 50-100 yards of 20-pound backing, e.g., the Scientific Anglers Backing Fly Line
  • Salmon: 250 yards of a 30-pound backing
  • The steelhead and the big trout: more than 150 yards of a 20-lb backing
  • The large carp and the bonefish: 250 yards of 30-pound backing. The gel-spun poly is ideal in this case
  • Tarpon and other large fish species: more than 300 yards of 30-pound backing

Backing to Reel Knot

As you may have guessed there are two ends of the backing that need attaching. You need to first make the backing to fly line knot to connect the fly line to backing (also referred to as the backing-to-reel knot). Keep in mind that the backing is the first line wound around the fly reel, followed by the fly line, then the leader and the tippet attached last.

An arbour knot is used when connecting the backing to reel. The line is wrapped twice around the arbour before tying the knot to prevent slippage. For maximum strength, you can make a Bimini loop in the backing first then proceed to secure the double line to the arbour using a uni-knot. This connection allows the fisher to switch the fly lines without re-tying the knots and preserves each line’s breaking strength. See the video above.

Fly Line to Backing Knot

For the backing to fly line knot you need to make a secure connection that can freely flow through the guides on the rod. There are two primary knots used for this connection, the Albright knot and the Nail knot.

Nail knot vs Albright knot

For the majority of my fly fishing life, I have been using the nail knot.  One of my most trusted guides here in New Zealand told me that I should be using the Albright knot. Depending on what line you are using, the nail knot had a tendency to rip the plastic coating off the fly line and let the fish run away with your precious fly line. 

I have never had one of my nail knots break and a fish has never run away with my line (yet!) But, after thinking about it I have switched over all of my fly reels to this knot. We’ve noticed that the floating fly lines tend to crack after some time when using the nail knot and begin to sink from the backing towards the weight forward tip.

The only problem that I can see with the Albright knot is that it is slightly bulkier and can get caught up on the guides. But, generally, if I am onto a fish that has me down to the backing, they have the strength to get the knot through the guides. 

How to Tie a Nail Knot

See the video below for a full step by step run through of how to tie the Nail knot:

Don't use the nail knot with sinking lines, especially mono-core lines. If you make sure you check the coating and retie the knot occasionally, I'm sure you'll have no problems with it. 

How to Tie an Albright Knot

See the video below for a full step by step run through of how to tie the Albright knot:

Common mistakes with Backing

Fishers should, however, avoid using the nail knot when using a monofilament-core line because it strips off the core. That’s why it is not advisable to make this knot when using heavy tippets. The Albright knot is the most suitable for these conditions, though neither knot allows fishermen to change lines fast.

Anglers using Gel-spun backing should take extra precautions when making the knots. This is because GSP backing is slippery, which contributes to knot slippage if a fish is really running, you’ll see him running away with your flies and your fly line. If you’re using this type of backing stick to the Albright knot to be safe!

It is essential to carry out maintenance by inspecting and retying backing to fly reel occasionally before going for a fishing trip. Also, remember to remove the fly line at the end of the trip if you are not planning to fish for a long time. Clean the reel using soapy water, soak the backing and allow it to dry before putting back the fly line.

Best Fly Line Backing

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Scientific Anglers Fly Line Dacron Backing,...
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Rio Fly Fishing Backing Dacron 20Lb 200 yd. Fly...
Rio Fly Fishing Backing Dacron 20Lb 200 yd. Fly…
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Conclusion

Clearly, fly line baking is important whether you are fishing on saltwater or freshwater. Backing provides insurance once you catch fast swimming fish. It allows the fish to make a break away from you for a distance, longer than your fly line (which may only be 30ft).

The length of the backing depends on the size and the type of fish you want to catch. The Scientific Anglers Backing Fly Line is ideal for anglers who want to land normal trout.

Remember to share the post with your fellow fishing buddies and comment on any other questions you may have about this discussion.

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