Complete Glossary of Fly Fishing Terms & Definitions (Updated 2024)

fly fishing terms

Fly Fisher Pro is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.

This is a complete glossary of fly fishing terms that you’ll need to learn in order to understand what people are talking about.

Fly fishing can be extremely intimidating to get into. Not only will you catch more trees than trout for the first few weeks but words like nymph, tippet and hackle will have you scratching your head.

We alphabetized it in order to help you find what fishing words you need faster. Simply click the letter to in the drop-down menu below and you’ll head to where you need to go. For more of the fly fishing basics see here.

Fly Fishing Terms


Action – An elusive, but important characteristic of a beginner fly rod. Rods are said to have fast or slow action. Fast action rods are generally stiffer overall, but bend more at the tip, generating higher line speeds and longer casts, especially into the wind. Slow action rods, appear to flex their entire length, giving the sense of a more compliant feel. See also Rod Flex.

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

Albright knot – A common knot used for tying the backing to the fly line.

Anadromous – A term to describe fish that travel from the sea upriver to spawn in freshwater like salmon. Fish that migrate from freshwater to the sea for spawning are catadromous.

Angler – One who seeks to catch fish with a hook (an “angle”), usually fixed to the end of a line.

Anti-Reverse – A feature of fly reels where the spool handle does not turn as the line is pulled out from the reel.

Attractor – A style or variety of fly that is effective in eliciting strikes, but has few apparent characteristics of a natural food item. Often an attractor is flashy and bigger than life.

Arbor – The center part of a fly reel where line and backing (first) are wound.

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


Backcast – During the cast, throw the line behind you in preparation for the forward cast, keeping the line and fly in the air. The backward counterpart of the forward cast acts to create a bending action on the fly rod, setting up the conditions to generate the forward cast and present the fly.

Backing – The first segment of line on a reel, usually braided and used to build up the arbor. The backing provides extra running room when playing a fish and provides a larger spool, winding more line per revolution of the reel, which aids in retrieving fish.

Badger – A feather of a specially bred or chosen chicken that has colors that change from brown-black to black at the center of the quill to ginger or white on the outer edges.

Baetis – widely distributed genus of mayflies typically found in sizes 16 to 22

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

Barbless – Barbless hooks are either manufactured without a barb or the barb is squeezed down. 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 – See blood knot

Bass Bug – the 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).

Beadhead – Usually but not always a fly with a bead immediately behind the hook eye. Beads come in many materials, from brass to nickel-brass to ceramic. Some beads help a fly sink, but others are floaters.

Belly – A tapered fly line has several components, with a fairly sharply tapered tip (at the fly end). The middle portion of the line is called the belly.

Belly boat – Originally using a tractor or truck inner tube, this is a one-person craft with a seat across the bottom on which the fly fisher sits. Feet are in the water and scuba fins are used to move the tube around. This type of fishing boat is very popular with warm water fly fishers and with individuals who fish high mountain lakes. Also called a belly boat. See kick boat.

Bimini Twist – A knot used in saltwater fly fishing. It has a loop and a double line section making it especially strong.

Blank – Fiberglass and graphic fly rods (which also have 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 – A widely-used knot, best known for its strength in tying monofilaments of different diameters and materials together. It is not easy to tie on the water. A blood knot is often used to make a fly leader of several different diameter monofilament segments. Also known as a barrel knot.

Bobbin – A fly tying tool and term borrowed from seamstresses. A bobbin holds the tying 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 doweling and a needle. It is used in fly tying used to deposit cement or lacquer to a fly.

Braided loop connector – A way of putting an in-line loop at the end of your fly line so as to use the loop on the leader to do a loop-to-loop connection between the leader and the fly line. The braided loop connector works like the so-called Chinese finger torture.

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

Bucktail – A streamer fly tied to imitate a fish. This fly usually features a long segment of hair, played back from the eye to the bend of the hook. That hair often is from a deer’s tail.

Butt section – The thicker end of a tapered leader that is tied to the fly line.


Caddis – one of the three most important trout flies used by fly fishermen; found worldwide 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).

Callibaetis – a widely distributed genus of mayfly that is commonly found in lakes – is often called the “Speckled Wing Dun” because of the speckled markings on the leading edge of the adult’s wings. Callibaetis are usually found in sizes 16 & 18.

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

Catch and release – A practice originating in the late 1930s to conserve fish populations by unhooking and returning a caught fish to the water in which it was caught. Catch & release highly successful practice in warm water, cold water, and saltwater settings.

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

Char – A species of fish that is related to trout, that prefers cold water and is found in many places in the world, including both east and west United States. Examples of char are brook trout, lake trout, arctic char, and Dolly Varden.

Click-drag – A mechanical system on many inexpensive fly reels used to slow down or resist the pulling efforts of a fish, so as to slow the fish down and tire it to the point where it can be landed. Basically, a clicking sound is created by a triangular steel ratchet snaps over the teeth of the gear in the reel spool. The term singing reels refers to the high-frequency clicking associated with a big fish pulling out a line.

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. It has the advantage of being very easy to tie without using many lines.

CDC – stands for “Cul de Canard” which literally translates to “butt of the duck”. Used both to refer to the feathers from the area around the duck’s preen gland. and also to the flies tied with these feathers. They are naturally waterproof and incredibly lifelike on the water. Great for tying any dry or emerger fly pattern.

Collar – A ring of feathers or hair placed immediately behind the head of the fly.

Comparadun – series of no-hackle dry flies developed by Caucci & Nastasi in the 1970’s using a hair wing tied in a 180° flair. They are very effective patterns in slow-moving clear water where an imitative (as opposed to impressionistic) pattern is needed.

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 in the last 50 years. It allows us to 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.

Curve cast – A casting technique that allows an angler to cast a fly around an obstacle. It is also used to minimize the influence of water current or wind on the fly or the fly line.


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.

Damsel fly – an important still water aquatic insect most commonly imitated in the nymphal form; usually hatches in early to mid-summer. The adult looks like a dragonfly but folds its wings along its back when at rest.

Dapping – A relatively ancient technique of presenting a fly on the surface of the water where the fly is connected to a short piece of line on a long rod. The fly is then touched on the surface of the water, immediately over a place where a fish might lie.

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.

Disk drag – A mechanical system on more expensive fly reels whereby resistance is created to the line as a fish pulls it out. This resistance is intended to slow the fish and tire it. The resistance proper is created by applying pressure between two disks. Different from the click-drag, the disk drag is smoother and less likely to create a sudden force that will break the line

Double haul – The term for the cast where the caster quickly pulls and releases the line on both the back cast and the forward cast. It is used to create greater line speed, enabling the caster to reach farther or cut through the wind.

Double taper – DT or double taper refers to a fly line that is reduced in diameter on both ends. When one end of a DT fly line wears out, you can take it off the reel, turn it around and use the other end. This is an excellent line for short-to-moderate length casts, and for roll casting, but it is not as well suited for distance casts. DT line is commonly available in floating or sinking styles.

Drag – This term has two meanings in fly fishing: (1) An unnatural pulling of a floating or submerged fly such that it moves at a different rate than the current, often (at least on the surface) creating a “V” in the water. Fish are commonly put off by drag. (2) A mechanical system that applies resistance to the reel spool to prevent it from turning faster than the line leaving the spool and is 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.

Dropper – A practice of fishing two flies at the same time, often one on the surface and a second underwater. This increases the chances of getting a successful fly in front of a fish.

Dry fly – A fly constructed of water-resistant, lightweight, and buoyant materials so as to imitate an insect that alights or floats on the surface of the water.

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

Dubbing – Fly tying material (usually strands or fibrous, including fur, yarn, wool, or synthetic fibers) that is wrapped onto a thread (commonly using wax) and wrapped around the shank of the hook to imitate the abdomen and/or thorax of an artificial fly.

Duncan’s loop – A monofilament knot used most often to tie a tippet to the eye of a hook. Also called a uni-knot.

Dun – (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 or pupa is at or near 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 – Casting the fly line forward and back in the air as a means to lengthen the amount of line that extends out from the rod, or to change direction, and dry the fly off. In a false cast, the fly is not allowed to drop onto the water (see casting arc, backcast, and forward cast).

Ferrule – A collar that is found at the point where sections of a fly rod are joined. The end of one section fits inside the end of another, in an overlapping fashion at the ferrule.

Flat – An expansive area of water with a relatively unchanging (flat ) depth, often over a sand or grass bottom. A common water topography for certain species of fish, like bonefish.

Floatant – A water-proofing (usually oily) salve or cream that is used to help flies, leaders, and fly lines float.

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).

Float tube – Originally using a tractor or truck inner tube, this is a one-person craft with a seat across the bottom on which the fly fisher sits. Feet are in the water and scuba fins are used to move the tube around. This type of fishing boat is very popular with warm water fly fishers and with individuals who fish high mountain lakes. (See belly boat and kick boat).

Fly – An imitation of a fish food item, traditionally very light and made of hair, feathers, and thread tied to a hook. Modern flies have many synthetic materials and often include lead to help them sink.

Fly Casting – a 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 fishing – A technique for fishing where the weight of the line is used to cast a very lightweight fly that would not be heavy enough to be cast with conventional spinning or telescopic fishing rods.

Fly line – A line for fly fishing, originally of silk but currently made of a plastic coating over a braided line core. Fly lines are commonly 1.5 to 2 mm in diameter. The plastic coating gives the line weight and is commonly distributed unevenly to make the line easier to cast. A weight forward line, for example, has a greater plastic thickness near the forward (or fly) end of the line. Fly lines are not particularly long, generally not exceeding 105 feet. See taper, weight forward, double taper. Fly lines are rated in different weights, from 1 to 11, referring to the weight of the first 30 feet of the fly line.

Fly reel – A special fishing reel with fairly simple mechanics (compared to spinning or bait casting reels) designed to hold a large diameter fly line. A fly reel is relatively light and attaches below the handle on a fly rod. More sophisticated (and expensive) fly reels have a fly reel drag system that creates resistance to the rapid pulling off of the line by a fish. 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. See drag, click-drag, disk drag.

Fly rod – The special fishing rod is constructed so as to cast a fly line. Fly rods are generally longer and thinner than spinning or casting rods. 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. A fly rod is designed to bend a certain way because that bending action determines how well it can help cast a fly line. Fly rods were originally split cane bamboo. In the last 60 years, other materials, especially fiberglass and fiberglass with embedded graphite fibers are used. Fly rods are rated in their stiffness to match fly lines of different weights. (a number 6 fly rod should be used with a number six fly line). See fly lines.

Forceps – hand-operated medical instrument widely used in fly-fishing to remove flies from the jaws of a hooked fish. Have pliers-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.

Freestone – a type of river or stream with a significant gradient resulting in medium to fast-moving water. Although the upper reaches of a freestone stream may be spring-fed or get water from rainfall or snow or glacier melt, the vast majority of its flow comes from run-off or tributaries. The fast-moving water inhibits the growth of weeds or other rooted vegetation resulting in a “Free Stone” bottom. Freestone streams are less fertile than spring creeks resulting in a smaller and less diverse aquatic insect population. Fewer bugs in faster water usually result in fewer but more opportunistic trout. Freestone streams are most common in mountainous regions.

Fry – The first stage of a fish after hatching from an egg.

Furnace – The coloration of feathers from a specially-bred chicken that is dark brown-to-black along the center changing to light browns on the edge.


Gaiters – Commonly a neoprene anklet or legging is put over the top of wading shoes and to keep gravel from getting into the shoe and abrading the stocking foot of the wader. These are also called gravel guards.

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.

Ghillie – A fishing guide in Britain, especially in Scotland, Wales, and Ireland where the term originates from the Celts.

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. The graphite is formed into fibers and placed in the fiberglass of a fly rod, making the rod relatively stiff with little increase in weight as compared to fiberglass alone.

Grilse – An young, not-sexually mature Atlantic salmon

Grip – The cork handle of a fly rod, is generally made of cork rings shaped in several different ways, including a cigar grip, full-wells grip, half-wells grip, and superfine grip.

Grizzly – The coloration pattern from a specially bred chicken with a barred black and white “V” pattern. Very popular for many flies because it may create the illusion of motion.

Guide – Metal rings, usually bent pieces of wire along the length of the fly rod to ease the release of the line during casting and to distribute the stress of a fish along the entire length of the rod.


Hackle – Feathers from the neck or back of a specially bred chicken that is wrapped around the hook or otherwise attached to a fly to imitate parts of an insect, such as legs or segments of the body. Hackle tips are used also for the wings of certain flies.

Hackle gauge – A ruler-like device to make sure the length of the hackle used is appropriate for the size of the hook. Particularly, hackle feather fibers (barbules) on a classic dry fly should be the same length as the hook gap.

Hackle pliers – Pliers used to hold feathers while they are being wound around a hook. Generally, hackle pliers are spring-loaded and often have a rubber disk to hold the slippery feathers.

Hairbug – A fly constructed through a special technique called hair spinning whereby buoyant (hollow) winter-coat, slippery deer, elk, antelope or caribou hair is made to flare and form a solid shape. This hair can be further trimmed to shapes like frog bodies. Hairbugs are commonly used for warm water fish, but a mouse imitation hairbug is excellent for big brown trout in certain waters.

Hair stacker – A cylinder with one end blocked that is used to get tips of animal hair lined up for wings, tails, and other parts of a fly. A spent rifle cartridge is suitable for small bunches of hair.

Hatch – Generally refers to a stage of aquatic insect change when there is a transformation from a swimming to a fly stage and from underwater to a surface stage. Insects in the early part of this transition are also referred to as emergers.

Haul – A pull on the fly line with the non-casting hand to increase the line speed and get greater distance. This is done effectively during line pickup action associated with fly casting whereby the line speed is increased with an extra pull during line pickup or backcasting.

Headwaters – upstream section of the river before the main tributaries join it. This section is typically much smaller in width and flow than the main section of the river.

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; the style used depends upon the type of fly being tied.

Hook size – To a degree hooks are standardized based upon the gap (or gape) which is defined as the distance between the hook shank and the hook point. Smaller numbers refer to larger hooks, consistent with the origin of hooks made from steel wire stock. Hooks for fly fishing range from a very small #24 (gap of 2 mm) to a very large #2 (hook gap of 10 mm).


Imitative Flies – flies tied to more closely match specific insects (for instance a BWO Comparadun). Imitative flies are most effective in slow-moving, clear water, with finicky trout in fertile streams with large populations of aquatic insects.

Impressionistic Flies – flies tied to loosely suggest a variety of insects or insect families. For instance, a Hare’s Ear nymph in sizes 12-16 can be used as both a mayfly and a caddisfly imitation and in larger sizes as a stonefly imitation. Impressionistic flies are usually most effective in medium to fast water, in streams with sparser populations of aquatic insects.

Improved clinch knot – A popular knot to tie a monofilament tippet to the eye of a hook. If the tippet is run through the loop twice it is even stronger.

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.


Keeper – A loop of thin wire built into the shaft of the fly rod (near the grip) the fly can be attached to while still connected to the tippet and line. This allows the fly fisher freedom to walk and climb without concern about hooking trees, grass, or himself.

Kick boat – A personalized, one-person fishing boat, usually with a seat between two pontoons at a level that allows the angler’s feet to be in the water. It is propelled by swim fins, oars, or even a small electric motor. Also called a pontoon boat.

Knotless Tapered Leader – a fly fishing leader entirely constructed from a single piece of monofilament. Extrusion or acid immersion is 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. The most commonly used knots to construct such a leader are the blood (or barrel) knot and surgeon’s knot (see blood knot, surgeon’s knot, leader, tapered leader, leader material).

Kype – A male spawning trout or salmon develops a hook-like protrusion on the mandible. The kype is particularly striking in salmon.


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 – A single piece of tapered monofilament or multiple segments of monofilament stepped down from large where it is attached to the fly line to small where it is attached to the tippet. The butt end is usually fairly large and stiff (say 0.023 inches diameter) with the tippet end around 3X or 4X (.008-.007 inches). The section near the fly may include a tippet.

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

Lie – Areas in a river or lake where fish hang out, are commonly well-located because they are out of the main current, present cover from predators, or provide a good source of insects and other food.

Line dressing – An old term carried over from the days of silk fly lines referring to the oily substances applied to clean and increase buoyancy. Modern fly lines generally only need to be cleaned with warm water and soap.

Line weight – The weight of the first 30 feet of a fly line, used as a way to standardize fly lines by matching them to fly rods of differing stiffness. Line weighting is not a linear numbering system; the first 30 feet of a #6 weight line are 160 grains while the first 30 feet of a #3 weight line is 100 grains.

Loading – Also called Loading the Rod. A term used to describe the effect of the weight of the line and the momentum of the cast upon the rod. A loaded rod is bent or loaded more with a greater casting force and a heavier line.

Loop to loop – A way to connect a fly line and a leader by making a loop at the end of the leader (perfection loop knot) and a loop attached to the end of the fly line. loop-to-loop connections are sometimes made.


Marabou – Fluffy and soft down or under feathers from most birds, but particularly for fly tying, marabou comes from chickens, turkeys, or other domestic fowl.

Matching the hatch – An attempt by a fly angler to select an artificial fly that imitates the color, size, shape, and behavior of natural insects that fish are feeding on at a particular time. Often when a hatch is happening, fish become very selective and refuse insects that are not the most abundant.

Mayfly – worldwide, the most commonly imitated aquatic insect. Most dry fly and nymph patterns imitate this insect. The nymph stage of the mayfly lasts approximately one year; the adult stages last one to three days. The adult has one pair of upright wings, making it look like a small sailboat, and long tails. Mayflies are commonly found in cold or cool freshwater environments and are found throughout the world, in both still water and rivers. Mayflies vary in size from the 3 mm tricos to the 30 mm hexagenia.

Mending Line – the 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– the 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 – the 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 narrowcasting 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.

NymphWhat do trout eat? An underwater stage of aquatic insect. It is an important source for all varieties of warm water and coldwater fish.

Nymphing – a 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 – a 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.


Palmered – A term used to describe feathers wound perpendicular to the shank of the hook and apparently based upon the appearance of pilgrims bearing palms.

Parachute – a type of dry fly where the hackle is wound horizontally around the base of the wing-like a parachute instead of vertically around the hook of the fly. This drops the body of the fly down into the surface film of the water. It is usually most effective in medium to slow-moving waters.

Parr – A young trout, salmon, or char, usually in the so-called fingerling stage.

Perfection loop – This is a knot often used to create a loop in a piece of monofilament, frequently at the butt end of a leader for the loop-to-loop connection.

Pick-up & Lay Down – a fly fishing cast using only a single backcast. The line is lifted from the water and a back cast is 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).

Polarised sunglasses – Sunglasses with iodized lenses that block incident light (glare) and thus allow anglers to better see beneath the surface glare of the water.

Popper – Also called a popping bug. A topwater lure, made of painted balsa wood or deer hair, with a flat face that causes it to make a popping sound when retrieved. It is commonly used for warm water panfish, bass, and some saltwater species.

Presentation – A term referring to the placing of a fly in the feeding region of a fish. It reflects the precision and elegance of casting a fly in a manner that perfectly imitates a natural insect. The variety of presentations is infinite, and changes with each fishing situation.

Pool – A reach or segment of a river or stream with greater depth and slower current, making it safer from predators birds, and animals. Here swimming against the current is reduced.

Pupa – An intermediate stage of certain insects, generally the stage between the larva and adult form of caddis flies or midges. Also refers to the fly imitation of these insects.


Reach cast – A cast used for adding extra slack in the line, or when fishing downstream, in order to provide a more natural float.

Redd – The hollowed-out nest in a streambed where a fish deposits its eggs, a behavior typical to most salmonids.

Reel Seat – a 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.

Rim Control Reel – A certain type of reel that has part of the spool exposed so the fisherman can palm the reel, controlling drag.

Rise – The action of a fish as it comes to the surface of the water to feed. Different kinds of rises (splashy, dimpled, etc.) suggest different kinds of feeding and may suggest different kinds of insects.

Rod Flex – The manner in which the rod bends during the cast during the acceleration phase of the cast. Tip-Flex rods bend primarily through the tip section, Mid-Flex rods bend down into the middle section, and Full-flex rods bend throughout the entire rod during the cast. Orvis has put together a Flex Index rating system so fly fishers can tell at a glance what type of flex to expect from a particular rod

Roll Cast – one of the three most basic fly casts; allows a cast to be made without a back cast. The line is made to loop in front of the angler and if properly executed it “rolls” out to present the fly. IT is an essential cast to use with sinking lines, to bring the line to the surface so it may be picked up and cast in a normal manner.

Running Line – a thin line that connects on one end to a shooting head and on the other end to the backing and indirectly the reel. It might 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 to reduce the influence of the current on the fly line, and therefore in getting a drag-free float. It gets its name from the “S” pattern of the fly line on the water created by the side-to-side movement of the fly rod during the forward cast. This cast is used to put slack in the fly line and hence to reduce the influence of the current on the fly line and thus to minimize drag. (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).

Sea-run – A term describing brown, cutthroat, and rainbow trout that hatch in freshwater, migrate to the sea to mature, and return to freshwater to spawn. Rainbow trout (in the Pacific Northwest and Great Lakes) is the best-known sea-run trout; these are called steelhead.

Setting the hook – To make sure the hook penetrates the fish’s mouth, an angler must apply an upward motion of the fly rod or some sort of quick tension on the fly line. When fishing with artificial lures and flies, fish often do not hook themselves because very soon after they “mouth” the fly, they are aware that it does not feel, taste, or smell like it should. They will spit it out! This puts a premium on setting the hook a the right time!

Shooting head or Shooting Taper (ST) – 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.

Shooting line – The process of extending the length of your fly cast by releasing an extra length of fly line (usually held in your non-casting hand) during the forward/presentation part of the cast. This technique allows a fly angler to false cast a shorter segment of line and then only at the time of the final forward cast to bring a longer segment of line into play.

Single action – The typical fly reel wherein a single turn of the handle causes one turn of the reel spool. This is distinguished from the multiplier reel where a single turn of the handle causes multiple turns of the spool and makes it easier to retrieve the line. Almost all high-quality fly reels are single action.

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 various lengths, most commonly from 4 feet to 30 feet. 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 when using wet fly fishing rigs 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.

Spawn – The behavior of fish where females deposit eggs (also called spawn) on various surfaces (varying with species) and the male produces necessary milt to ultimately turn the eggs into fry.

Spey – A particular casting technique for spey fishing, using special two-handed rods and a modified roll cast. It is named after a river in Scotland where it was developed.

Split cane rods – Fly rods constructed of six pieces of split cane bamboo, which are triangularly shaped, tapered, and glued together. Split cane rods appear to have originated in the U.S. in the middle of the 19th century. While used by some modern anglers, graphite/fiberglass rods offer less expensive and easier-to-care-for options.

Spinner – The egg-laying, the last stage of a mayfly, is based upon the fact that the wings are spread horizontally as it falls to the water surface after mating. The spinner is of significance because the spinner is an easy target for feeding fish. Overall not as important to the fly fisher as the dun stage. (see mayfly and dun).

Spinner fall – When mayflies of a particular sub-species go into the spinner stage they do so over a relatively short period of time, sometimes creating a feeding frenzy during what is called a spinner fall.

Spring Creek – A creek or stream that gets its water from a ground flow or spring sources, rather than glacier/snow melt or surface runoff. Spring creeks are generally at a temperature of the average rainfall temperature over the course of the year (the source of most groundwater) and hence usually do not warm significantly in the summer nor freeze in the winter.

Standing Line – the part of the line that is joined to another piece of the line when tying the tag ends together. Two standing lines are joined by tying their tag ends into a knot.

Steelhead – A variety of rainbow trout that spawns and lives part of its life in freshwater streams and other parts of oceans. While native to the Pacific Ocean, steelhead has been successfully introduced into many large lakes and now is found in some tributaries of all of North America’s Great Lakes.

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 the 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. It varies in size, but in the larger sub-species can reach 2 inches.

Streamer – fly tied to imitate the various species of baitfish, leeches, or other non-insects 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). Modern streamers are made of many synthetic materials, including metallic film and even epoxy.

Strike – The action of a fish in trying to eat a fly. This term also refers to the movement of the rod a fly angler makes to set the hook.

Stripping Basket – A device used to manage the fly line stripped from the reel for the cast and stripped in during the retrieve, but needed for the next cast. A Stripping basket keeps the line from getting tangled and stepped on.

Stripping guide – The guide nearest the reel on a fly rod, is usually more substantial and larger in diameter than the snake guides nearer the tip. It is called a stripping guide because in bringing in the fly, the line is pulled over this guide with a fair amount of force. Some rods have two stripping guides, with the larger being nearer the reel.

Stripping or stripping the line – Bringing in a fly line within a series of short or varied pulls so as to simulate a living insect or bait fish. Often also involves movements of the rod tip.

Surgeon’s knot – A common and strong knot for tying tippet material to the leader or one segment of tippet material to another. A surgeon’s knot is stronger than a blood knot, especially for connection materials of unlike size and material. The blood knot has the advantage of being smoother and less likely to catch algae or cause tangles.


Tag (Tag End) – the end of the line that is used to tie a knot (also see Standing Line).

Tailing – This term refers to the behavior of fish in shallow water where it is possible to see the caudal fins as they feed. Tailing fish are an exciting discovery and generally signals the possibility of getting struck by the proper presentation of the right fly.

Tailwater – The downstream section of a river or stream found below a large man-made dam. The most famous and productive tailwaters are from bottom-discharge dams, making the water relatively cold and constant in temperature.

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).

Terrestrial insect – As the name implies, these are land-dwelling (or tree/plant-dwelling) insects that breathe air, including grasshoppers, crickets, ants, beetles, and leaf worms.

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

Tinsel – A thin silver, gold or brass-colored ribbon used in adding shine to flies, often as ribbing or for fly bodies.

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

Tip section – The top section of a fly rod, smallest in diameter and furthest from the rod grip.

Tip-top – A guide for the fly line with a small cylinder attached that fits over the end of the fly rod.

Triangle taper – A special taper profile to a fly line designed by Lee Wulff, with 40 feet of continuous taper, with a thin running line. Particularly useful for roll casts.

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. Transfer the casting energy from the rod back into the fly line.

Variant – A dry fly variety of wound hackles that are much larger than normally recommended. It is tied generally the as conventional patterns.


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

Vise – A tool used by fly tiers to hold the hook secure as thread, feathers, and fur are attached and the fly is being constructed. Usually the most expensive and the single most important purchase for a fly tier.


Wader belt – An adjustable belt cinched near the top of chest waders to keep out water, particularly recommended as a precaution to the waders filling up with water in the event of a fall.

Waders – Footed trousers that are constructed of latex, neoprene, Gortex, or other waterproof material so as to keep anglers dry. Currently, flyfishing waders come in stocking foot or booted form and can be found in three lengths: hip waders, waist-high waders, and chest waders.

Wading shoes or boots – Hiking-like boots worn with stocking foot waders, generally having felt soles and a more comfortable fit than the boot portions of boot foot waders. Can be made of leather, nylon, or other synthetic materials.

Wading staff – A walking stick especially adapted to provide stability to a wading fly angler when moving through fast or deep water. Some fly fishing wading staff are foldable and can be kept in a fishing vest pocket until needed.

Weedguard – A piece of stiff monofilament or light wire attached from the top of the hook and extending in front of the hook point and bend to the hook eye. If properly attached, a weed guard reduces the likelihood of a fly picking up weeds, yet it does not deter the hooking of a fish. Weed guards are especially popular for underwater warm water flies.

Weight Forward (WF) – an easy casting fly line because it carries most of its weight in the forward section of the line, generally the first 30 feet 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. It’s considered the most versatile fly line.

Wet fly – A type of fly that is presented to the fish below the surface of the water, usually with insect-like wings sloped backward. Wet flies are not as popular as they once were and have been largely superseded by nymphs.

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 knots – In the process of casting, especially for beginners, loops form particularly in the leader and tippet. The formation of such loops is made worse by casting in the wind and hence when they become knots in the leader or tippet they are called wind knots, sometimes looking like fly fishing nets.


X diameter- an old measurement used to designate the diameter of leader material used in conjunction with a numeral, as in “4X”. To determine the actual diameter of “4X” or any “X” number, subtract the numeral from the number 11 (eleven). The result is the diameter in thousandths of an inch. For example, to find the diameter of 4X material, subtract 4 from 11 (11 – 4 = 7) thus the diameter is .007″. The diameter does not always correspond to breaking strength. 0X (zero-X) represents the largest diameter (.011 inches) and 8X (.003 inches) represents a small, light diameter. Commonly used values are 1X (.010), 2X (.009), 3X (.008), 4X (.007), 5X (.006), 6X (.005). The strength of these monofilament diameters varies with the kind of material.

Save Up To 50% At Trident Fly Fishing

We’ve partnered with Trident Fly Fishing to get you EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNTS on a huge selection of fly fishing gear. I highly recommend checking out their USED GEAR SECTION to save a ton on a premium rod and reel.

Trident Fly Fishing Deal
Scroll to Top