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Fly Fishing Terms You’d Better Know

    The first thing to know about fly fishing is that you will always be learning. It’s part of the beauty of the sport. Always refreshing old ideas, picking up new tricks, and slowing down to let in some knowledge. I have scoured the internet and a couple of books to pull out all of the terms that I can think of to compile into this list. In all honesty, it was a practice of learning myself.


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

    Arbor: The center part of a fly reel where first backing and then line is wound (see Large Arbor, Standard Arbor, Mid-Arbor).

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


    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 when your rod and line are behind you.

    Backing: An added braided line that connects the reel’s spool to the fly line. Since fly lines average 75-115 feet in length, the lines require backing for those adrenaline-charged times when a large fish runs out all of the regular fly line.

    Barb: The backward facing projection cut into a hook.

    Barbless: Barbless hooks are either manufactured without a barb or the barb is squeezed down using hemostats or pliers. ‘Going barbless’ makes it easier to remove a hook and minimizes the handling and potential damage to a fish you intend to release.

    Beadhead: A style of fly utilizing a bead immediately behind the hook eye. Some beads help a fly sink, but others are floaters.

    Blank: A hollow rod is called a blank. It has no guides, ferrules, or reel seat. Fly rods are produced by wrapping sheets of fiberglass and graphite material around a carefully tapered steel rod (called a mandrel).

    Blood Knot: The most widely used knot for tying two pieces of monofilament with similar diameters together; the best knot for construction of a knotted tapered leader.

    Break off: A break off is that heartbreaking moment when an unusually strong or large fish snaps the line, typically due to an undersized tippet or worn leader, or a poorly tied knot.

    Butt section: 1) the thicker end of a tapered leader that is tied to the fly line and 2) the last section of a rod, at the end of the handle.


    Caddis: One of the three most important aquatic insects imitated by fly fishers – the other two being mayflies and midges – found worldwide in all freshwater habitats. The 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 (see Larva, Pupa, and Emerger).

    Cast: This is the motion you make when you collectively ‘throw’ a fly rod, reel, and line. There are different types of casting for different fishing applications. (See Back Cast, Overhead Cast, River Load Cast, Roll Cast, Water Tension Cast).

    Casting arc: The path that the fly rod follows during a complete cast.

    Catch and release: A practice within fly fishing intended as a technique of conservation. Fish should be fought quickly and never allowed to tire to the point of exhaustion to prevent injury or death. After capture, the fish is unhooked using wet hands – or no touching if possible – and forceps and returned to the water as quickly as possible. If necessary, resuscitate by pointing the fish’s head upstream into the current and waiting until it swims off under its own power.

    Chironomid: A scientific name for the members of the Diptera family of insects commonly known as midges. In the pupae stage, they typically appear to be small aquatic worms. In addition to caddis and mayflies, one of the most important insects in a trout’s diet.

    Click Drag (or Click & Pawl Reel): A mechanical system on a fly reel 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.

    Clinch Knot: A 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 for the above uses.

    Cone Head: Same as a beadhead, but the bead is cone-shaped.

    Covering (or Delivery): Used to describe the action of casting the fly to a fish or into a promising-looking area of water.

    Current Seam (or Seam): Current seams are formed by the nature of current flow. Usually, the middle of a river or stream contains the fastest flow with its edges having slower flows due to friction with the bank and the streambed obstacles. A stream channel’s curvature redirects its heaviest flow away from the remainder of the stream creating current seams.


    Damselfly: An important still water aquatic insect most commonly imitated in the nymphal form, with hatches usually occurring in early to mid-summer. Adult looks similar to a dragonfly but smaller and folds its wings along its back when at rest.

    Dead Drift: A perfect float in which 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).

    Delivery (or Covering): Used to describe the action of casting the fly to a fish or into a promising-looking area of water.

    Disc Drag: A mechanical system on more expensive fly reels intended to efficiently slow and tire a fish that is taking line. Resistance is created between discs that apply pressure as line is pulled from the reel. Different from the click drag, the disc drag is smoother and less likely to create a sudden stopping resistance that will break the line.

    Dorsal Fin: The fin on the back of a fish, sometimes divided into two or three partly or entirely separate sections.

    Double Haul: In this cast the fly fisher 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 wind.

    Double Taper (DT): A standard fly line design in which both ends of the line are tapered, while the greater portion or “belly” of the line is level. An excellent line for short to moderate-length casts and for roll casting, but not as well suited for distance casts.

    Drag: (1) An unnatural motion of the fly caused by the effect of the current on line and leader. Drag is usually detrimental, though at times useful – such as imitating the actions of the adult caddis. (2) Resistance applied to the reel spool to prevent it from turning faster than the line leaving the spool (used in playing larger fish).

    Drag-Free Drift: This is accomplished when you minimize the effect of the current flow on the fly. This is equally important when fishing dry flies or nymphs. Trout are more likely to take food moving at the same speed as naturals being carried by the current and may even be spooked by flies moving too fast or too slow.

    Drift: Four types of drifts: Straight upstream from you, upstream and across from you, downstream and across from you, straight downstream from you (see Fishing the Drift).

    Dropper: A practice of fishing two flies at the same time, often one on the surface and a second underwater. A classic combo like the ‘Hopper-Dropper’ features a dry fly grasshopper pattern with a small nymph or emerger pattern tied off the bend of the hook. A dropper effectively doubles your chances of finding which type of insect and imitation fly the fish are keying on.

    Dry Fly: Any fly fished upon the surface of the water, usually constructed of non-water-absorbent materials. Dry flies are most commonly used to imitate the adult stage of aquatic insects.

    Dry Fly Floatant: Chemical preparation that is applied to a dry fly to waterproof it immediately before use; may be a paste, liquid, or aerosol.

    Dun: (1) First stage in the adult mayfly’s life cycle, usually of short duration of 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.


    Eddy: An area of water that is less turbulent than the surrounding currents, often found at the edges of a current or where two streams converge.

    Elbow Control: The concept of maintaining a consistent level with your elbow during the overhead and roll casts. By holding your elbow in a steady plane, you can achieve a tight, wind-cutting loop that accurately delivers the line to your target. This is facilitated by adopting a proper stance that allows your upper body to pivot freely, ensuring a constant elbow position.

    Emerger: Referring to aquatic insects, the term “emerging” describes the phase when a nymph reaches the water’s surface and transforms into an adult. The emergence of the nymph is a crucial period for fly fishers to imitate, as it represents a significant food source for fish.


    False Cast: A fundamental fly fishing cast used to adjust line length, change direction, and dry off the fly. This cast involves continuously moving the line backward and forward without allowing it to touch the water or ground (see Casting Arc, Back Cast, and Forward Cast).

    Ferrule: A collar that connects the sections of a fly rod. One section fits inside another in an overlapping manner at the ferrule, providing the connection between rod sections.

    Fingerling: A small and immature fish, such as a juvenile trout.

    Fishing the Drift: The process of fishing from your target point to where you plan to pick up the line for the next cast. By strategically positioning yourself during the initial cast, you can achieve a longer drift, maximizing your chances of enticing a fish.

    Fish Ladder: A series of interconnected pools constructed alongside a river obstruction, like a dam, to enable salmon and other fish to swim upstream.

    Floatant: A water-resistant salve, cream, or substance used to help flies, leaders, and fly lines float on the water’s surface.

    Floating Fly Line: The most versatile type of fly line that remains buoyant throughout its length (see Double Taper, Level, Shooting Head, Weight Forward).

    Fluorocarbon: Tippet or leader material with near-invisibility underwater, quick sinking properties, and minimal light reflection on the water’s surface, making it harder for fish to detect.

    Fly: An artificial lure hand-tied to resemble natural insects or baitfish, designed to attract fish. Flies incorporate various natural and synthetic materials secured onto hooks.

    Fly Casting: The technique of presenting a fly to a target using a fly rod and fly line, involving various casting methods (see Back Cast, Forward Cast, False Cast, Roll Cast, “S” Cast, and Shooting Line).

    Fly Line: Specially designed line for fly fishing, consisting of a tapered plastic coating over a braided Dacron or nylon core. Fly lines are available in different tapers and styles, including floating, sinking, and sink-tip lines (see Double Taper, Shooting Head, Weight Forward, Sink-tip, and Floating Fly Line).

    Fly Pattern: Also known as a “recipe,” it refers to the predetermined arrangement of materials and the arrangement of parts that make up an artificial fly.

    Fly Reel: A reel used in fly fishing to hold the fly line.

    Fly Rod: A specialized fishing rod designed for casting a fly line. Fly rods differ from other types of rods in that the reel is attached at the butt of the rod, with the rod handle always positioned above the reel. Fly rods typically have more line guides than other types of rods of the same length. They are available in various lengths, commonly ranging from 7 to 9 feet. Materials used in fly rod construction include bamboo, fiberglass, and graphite.

    Fly Tying: The process of handcrafting fishing flies using threads and a combination of natural and synthetic materials.

    Forceps: Hand-operated medical instruments widely used in fly fishing to remove flies from a hooked fish’s mouth. These instruments, also called hemostats, feature smooth or lightly serrated jaws with a ratchet-locking mechanism to securely hold the hook until released.

    Forward (or Power) Stroke: In fly fishing, the forward cast or stroke refers to the motion of propelling the rod and line in front of the caster towards the target. To execute a powerful forward stroke, maintain a consistent plane with your forearm, wrist, upper arm, and shoulder throughout the cast. Drive the entire arm forward, loading the rod, until the rod tip reaches the ten o’clock position. Then, allow the rod tip to drift down slightly while releasing the line with your non-casting hand, propelling the line toward the target (see Power Stroke).

    Forward Taper: (see Weight Forward).

    Foul Hook: To accidentally hook a fish anywhere other than in its mouth.

    Freestone: A type of river or stream characterized by a significant gradient, resulting in medium to fast-moving water. While the upper sections of a freestone stream may be spring-fed, the majority of its flow comes from run-off or tributaries. Due to the swift current, the growth of weeds or vegetation is limited, resulting in a “Free Stone” bottom. Freestone streams are generally less fertile than spring creeks, with smaller and less diverse populations of aquatic insects. The faster water and fewer insect populations make trout in freestone streams more opportunistic feeders.

    Fry: The initial stage of a fish’s life after hatching from an egg.


    Gel-spun polyethylene: A synthetic fiber with exceptional thinness, suppleness, slipperiness, abrasion resistance, and strength. This material is often used as braided fly line backing when a large amount of backing is required and reel space is limited.

    Graphite: The most widely used material for constructing fishing rods today. Graphite offers an ideal balance of weight, strength, and flexibility, making it the preferred choice for rod building.

    Gravel Guards: Flaps attached to each leg of waders that hook over wading boots, providing additional security for the waders and preventing debris from entering the boots. Modern waders often feature built-in gravel guards with elastic bottoms and hooks to keep the wader legs in place.

    Grip: The handle of a fly rod made of cork rings shaped in various styles, including cigar grip, full-wells grip, and half-wells grip. To grip the rod properly, locate the balance point by resting the rod on the edge of the index finger with the reel pointing downward. The balance point is usually about 1/4 to 1/2 inch back from the front of the cork grip on most rods.


    Hatch: An occurrence where a significant number of flies of the same species are present.

    Haul: A technique of pulling the fly line with the non-casting hand to increase line speed and achieve greater casting distance. The haul is particularly effective during line pickup (see Double Haul).

    Headwaters: The upstream section of a river before its main tributaries join it. Typically, the headwaters are narrower and have lower flow compared to the main section of the river.

    Hemostat: A clamp or forceps used by fly fishermen to remove flies from the mouths of trout.

    Hook: The fundamental component on which a fly is tied. Hooks are made of steel wire and come in different designs, including bronzed, cadmium-coated, and stainless. The choice of hook style depends on the type of fly being tied. Hook sizes range from tiny to large and are standardized based on the gap or gape, which is the distance between the hook shank and the hook point.

    Hook Keeper: A loop of thin wire built into the shaft of a fly rod near the grip. The hook keeper securely holds the fly while it is still attached to the line, preventing the loss of the fly to streamside foliage and grasses when moving to the next fishing spot.


    Imitative Flies: Flies tied to closely resemble specific insects. These imitative flies are highly effective when targeting finicky trout in clear, fertile, slow-moving streams with abundant populations of aquatic insects.

    Impressionistic Flies: Flies tied to loosely suggest a variety of insects or insect families. These impressionistic flies are often most effective in streams with medium to fast-moving water and less dense populations of aquatic insects.

    Improved Clinch Knot: One of the most widely used fishing knots, providing a reliable method for securing a fishing line to a hook, lure, or swivel.

    Indicator (or Strike Indicator): A floating object placed on the leader or end of the fly line to indicate when a fish takes the fly or to track the drift of the fly. Strike indicators, made of materials like floating putty, poly yarn (treated with floatant), foam, or rubber, are especially useful when nymph fishing with a slack line.


    Knotless Tapered Leader: A fly fishing leader made entirely from a single piece of monofilament, without any knots or sections of different diameter materials.

    Knotted Leader: A fly fishing leader constructed by knotting together sections of different diameter leader material, resulting in a tapered leader. The most common knots used to construct such leaders are the Blood Knot and Surgeon’s Knot (see Blood Knot, Surgeon’s Knot, Leader, Tapered Leader, Leader Material).


    Large Arbor: Compared to the narrow arbor of a standard fly reel, the large arbor reel has a wider diameter in the line-holding area. This design difference significantly increases the line retrieve rate, allowing fly fishers to quickly strip off long lengths of slack line for casting and retrieve line efficiently when playing a fish or changing fishing spots. The larger coils of line from a large arbor reel also contribute to smoother casting with fewer tangles. Additionally, the drag system of a large arbor reel works more effectively, as the effective spool diameter remains nearly constant while the fish pulls out line.

    Larva: The immature and aquatic stage of caddis and certain other insects. Many caddis larva species construct a protective covering of fine gravel or debris during this stage. Larvae are bottom-dwelling and do not swim.

    Lay Down (after the pick-up): A fly fishing cast executed with a single back cast. After lifting the line from the water, a back cast is made, followed by a forward cast that allows the line to straighten and settle on the water, completing the cast (see Pickup).

    Leader: The section of monofilament line between the fly line and the fly. Leaders are usually tapered to deliver the fly gently and away from the fly line. (see Knotted Leader, Knotless Tapered Leader, Turn-over, and Monofilament).

    Lie: Areas in a river or lake where fish reside. Optimal lies are typically found outside the main current, providing cover from predators or offering an abundant supply of insects and other food sources.

    Line Weight: The weight of the first 30 feet of a fly line determines the line weight of a rod or reel. This standardized measurement system ensures proper matching of fly lines to rods of different flexibilities. Line weights are not linear; for example, the first 30 feet of a #6 weight line weighs 160 grains, while the first 30 feet of a #3 weight line weighs 100 grains.

    Loading the Rod: When executing a forward or backward cast, the weight of the line bends the rod, storing the energy necessary for the subsequent cast.

    Loop to Loop: A connection method between a fly line and a leader, achieved by creating a loop at the end of the leader using a Perfection Loop knot and attaching it to a loop at the end of the fly line. Loop-to-loop connections are sometimes used between a leader and a tippet.


    Matching The Hatch: The practice of selecting an artificial fly that closely resembles the color, size, shape, and behavior of natural insects that fish are feeding on at a specific time. During a hatch, when fish become selective, it is crucial to choose flies that mimic the predominant insects to increase the chances of success.

    Mayfly: Found in cold or cool freshwater environments, mayflies are the most commonly imitated aquatic insects worldwide. Many dry fly and nymph patterns are designed to imitate these insects. Mayflies spend approximately one year in the nymph stage and only one to three days as adults. The adult mayfly has one pair of upright wings, giving it the appearance of a small sailboat.

    Mid-Arbor: Referring to the size of the area on a reel that holds the fly line, a mid-arbor reel is an intermediate option between a standard arbor reel and a large arbor reel. A mid-arbor design provides a balance of line capacity, rapid retrieve, and reduced line coiling compared to a standard arbor reel.

    Minimizing Stream Current Drag: By mending the line, which involves throwing a loop of line into the drifting line, the angler can minimize the effect of current drag. This technique helps the line move at the same speed as the current, reducing unwanted drag. The appropriate mends may include upstream, downstream, or a series of “S” mends, depending on the cast and drift situation.

    Mending Line: A method used after the line is on the water to achieve a drag-free float. It involves flipping or making a series of flips with the rod tip, creating a horseshoe-shaped bow in the line. This technique slows down the line’s drift if mended upstream or speeds it up if mended downstream. For example, when casting across the flow of the stream and facing faster current on the angler’s side, an upstream mend is necessary to slow down the line’s drift downstream. This allows the line to better match the speed of the fly in the slower water on the far side of the main current.

    Monofilament: A supple and transparent nylon filament used in various types of fishing. It is available in different breaking strengths and diameters and is commonly used in fly fishing (see Breaking Strength).


    Nail Knot: A method of attaching a leader or butt section of monofilament to the fly line and attaching the backing to the fly line. This knot is commonly tied using a small diameter tube, such as a section of a plastic coffee stirrer, instead of an actual nail.

    Narrow Loop: As the fly line travels through the air, it should form a narrow loop to minimize wind resistance. A narrow loop resembles the letter “U” turned on its side and is achieved by using a narrow casting arc.

    Nymph: The immature form of insects. In fly fishing, the focus is primarily on the nymphs of aquatic insects, as they serve as a vital food source for fish.

    Nymphing: The method of fishing with imitation nymph patterns, typically weighted flies and added split-shot on the leader, to target fish actively feeding on nymphs. When observing trout in riffles or shallow areas of a river, anglers wearing polarized glasses may spot the flash of a feeding trout attempting to dislodge nymphs from rocks or swiftly moving to take naturals drifting with the current.


    Open Loop: The characteristic cast where the loop “opens” as it moves through the air. An open loop is often caused by an excessively wide casting arc, resulting in increased wind resistance and decreased accuracy.

    Overhead Cast: The classic fly rod cast commonly associated with fly fishing. It is used for presenting a variety of fly types, including nymphs, streamers, wet flies, and dry flies. The basic overhead cast consists of five parts: Pause, Pickup, Back Cast, Power or Forward Stroke, and Shooting the Line.


    Palming: The technique of gently applying the palm of the hand against the spool edge of a fly reel to help slow down the release of line when fighting a large fish.

    Pause: The moment just before starting the pickup. Allowing a brief pause gives the river current a chance to straighten the line below the angler, making the pickup easier. The angler can strip some line toward themselves and hold it in their non-casting hand in loose coils or larger coils at their feet if making longer casts. This retrieved line will be used for shooting toward the target.

    Pectoral Fins: The pair of fins located just behind the head of a fish.

    Pelvic Fins: The pair of fins on the lower body of a fish, also known as ventral fins.

    Perfection Loop: A knot frequently used to create a loop in a piece of monofilament, often found at the butt end of a leader for loop-to-loop connections.

    Pickup (and Lay Down): This part involves lifting the fly line off the water by moving the hand, wrist, forearm, and upper arm in an upward arc. Then, bending the elbow and initiating a backward motion with the wrist, forearm, and upper arm while rotating at the shoulder. This motion picks up the line and initiates the back cast over the angler’s shoulder (see Lay Down).

    Polarized Sunglasses: Sunglasses equipped with polarized lenses that block incident light or glare, enabling anglers to better see beneath the surface glare of the water. Polarized sunglasses are an essential accessory for fly anglers to improve their ability to spot fish.

    Pool: A section of a river or stream characterized by slower currents and increased depth, providing fish with protection from predators and a place to rest from swimming against heavier currents, particularly during spawning migrations.

    Presentation: The act of casting the fly on the water and offering it to the fish. The objective is to present the fly in a manner similar to the natural insect or food form being imitated. There is a wide variety of presentation techniques, which vary with each fishing situation.

    Pupa: The transition stage between the larva and adult of an insect. In fly fishing, caddis pupa are particularly important.


    Reach Cast: A casting technique used to add extra slack in the line, particularly when fishing downstream, to achieve a more natural drift.

    Redd: A depression scooped in the sand or gravel of a riverbed by spawning trout or salmon as a spawning area.

    Reel Seat: A mechanism on a fly rod that securely holds the reel in place, typically using locking metal rings or sliding bands.

    Retrieve: The act of bringing the fly back towards the angler after the cast. The retrieve can be done in various ways, but it’s important to keep the rod tip low and pointed straight down the line.

    Riffle: A section of the river with quickened water flow over smaller rocks or gravel, usually located at the head or tail of a pool. Riffles can be productive fishing spots, especially when using two-fly rigs or nymphs.

    Riparian: Pertaining to anything related to, inhabiting, or situated on a riverbank, often used in the context of ownership and fishing rights.

    Rise: The pattern created by a trout as it takes a fly. Different rise forms, such as sipping rise, jumping rise, and tailing rise, indicate specific feeding behaviors of the trout.

    River Load Cast (or Water Tension Cast): A casting motion or technique that utilizes the current of the river to load the fly rod. By pointing the rod down towards the water and making a sidearm motion against the current, the force of the river’s current and the angler’s motion generate rod load.

    Rocks: Obstructions in the river, such as large rocks, provide breaks in the current and offer cover for fish. Fish often hold in front of or behind rocks to feed and conserve energy.

    Rod Flex: The manner in which the fly rod bends during the cast, particularly during the acceleration phases. Rods can be categorized as tip-flex, mid-flex, or full-flex based on where they primarily bend.

    Roll Cast: A fundamental casting technique used in fly fishing. It can be employed for short to medium distances and is often used to pick up the line from the water’s surface. A properly executed roll cast can deliver small dry flies to large nymphs.

    Run: A section of the river where the water flows between a bank and a rock or between two rocks. Runs can vary in speed from fast to slow. Trout often hold against the side of rocks in runs.


    “S” Cast: A casting technique used to introduce deliberate and controlled slack into the line, primarily to achieve a drag-free float and in conjunction with mending line (see Drag, Dead Drift, Mending Line).

    Scud: A small crustacean resembling a freshwater shrimp, commonly found in trout waters and serving as a significant food source for trout. It is particularly prevalent in spring creeks.

    Seam (Current Seam): (see Current Seam)

    Seam Water: The area where two different currents converge, typically one slower and one faster. This area is ideal for holding trout, as they can stay in the slower flow and dart out into the faster current to feed. Look for seam water near islands or where large rocks divert part of the main flow.

    Sea-run: Trout that hatch in freshwater, migrate to the sea to mature, and return to freshwater to spawn are known as sea-run trout. Species such as browns, cutthroats, and rainbows exhibit this behavior. Rainbow trout in the Pacific Northwest and Great Lakes are well-known examples, often referred to as steelhead.

    Setting the Hook: The action of pulling the hook into the fish’s mouth to secure a solid connection. The amount of force required for a successful hook set varies depending on factors such as hook size, fish species, and leader strength. Anglers often make the mistake of striking too hard when targeting trout and warm water fish, and not hard enough when pursuing salmon and saltwater fish.

    Shank: The elongated and straight section of the hook between the eye and the bend.

    Shooting Line: The technique of extending the length of the fly cast by releasing additional fly line (usually held in the non-casting hand) during the forward/presentation part of the cast. This method enables anglers to false cast with a shorter line and shoot a longer line when making the final forward cast. It is particularly useful for achieving longer casts with minimal effort.

    Shooting Taper (ST or Shooting Head): A type of fly line with a short, single-tapered design, primarily used for longer casts with minimal effort. Shooting heads allow anglers to switch between different line types (floating, sinking, sink-tip, etc.) by quickly interchanging the head sections. They are commonly used for salmon, steelhead, and saltwater species but can be applied in various fly fishing scenarios.

    Sink Rate: The speed at which a sinking fly line descends in the water column. Fly lines are available in different sink rates, ranging from very slow to extremely fast.

    Sink-Tip Fly Line: A type of floating fly line where only the tip portion sinks. It is available in various lengths, such as 4-foot, 10-foot, 12-foot, 15-foot, 20-foot, 24-foot, and 30-foot sinking tips. The 10-foot sink-tip is the most commonly used and practical in many fishing applications. Sink-tip lines are valuable for all types of fly fishing, especially when fishing wet flies or streamers.

    Sinking Fly Line (S): A fly line that fully submerges beneath the water’s surface. The entire length of this type of line sinks, allowing anglers to target fish at different depths.

    Sipping Rise: A subtle rise form exhibited by trout, resembling the circular waveform created by dropping a rock into a pool of water. This rise pattern often indicates the presence of a large feeding trout, particularly during dawn or dusk feeding times.

    Spawn: The reproductive behavior of fish, during which females deposit eggs (referred to as spawn) on various surfaces, while males release milt to fertilize the eggs. This process ultimately leads to the hatching of fry.

    Spey: A specialized casting technique that utilizes two-handed rods and a modified roll cast. It originated on the Spey River in Scotland, from which it derives its name.

    Spinner: The egg-laying stage of a mayfly. While not as significant to fly fishers as the dun stage (see Mayfly and Dun), it still plays a role in the insect’s life cycle.

    Spool: The rotating component of a fly reel that holds the backing and fly line. Additional spools can be purchased for reels, allowing for quick changes between different types of lines to match fishing conditions.

    Spring Creek: A creek or stream that receives its water from underground aquifers or springs, rather than relying on glacier/snow melt or surface runoff. Spring creeks feature consistent flows of pure, clean water throughout the year, with minimal temperature fluctuations compared to traditional creeks and rivers. This stability is due to their underground water sources.

    Stalking: The act of stealthily approaching a fish to avoid startling or disturbing it.

    Stance: The position of the angler’s feet during casting. The foot on the casting side should be positioned about 45 degrees behind the lead foot, with shoulder-width spacing. For right-handed anglers, the right foot is positioned back, while left-handed anglers position their left foot back. This stance allows for easy twisting and rotation of the body during the cast. Standing with feet parallel restricts the body’s mobility and limits casting accuracy and distance.

    Steelhead: A migratory form of rainbow trout that spends part of its life in the ocean before returning to freshwater to spawn.

    Stonefly: An important aquatic insect and a significant food source for trout in all stages of its life cycle. Stonefly nymphs can live for one to three years, depending on the species. Most stonefly species hatch by crawling to the shoreline and emerging from their nymphal cases above the water’s surface. Adult stoneflies have two pairs of wings that fold flat along their backs when at rest. Stoneflies typically require rocky streambeds with good water quality.

    Streamer: A type of fly designed to imitate various baitfish species that freshwater and saltwater game fish feed on. Streamers are typically larger and often heavily weighted flies that sink quickly and mimic the swimming motion of baitfish. Streamer patterns are effective for targeting larger trout that rely on baitfish for their caloric intake. These patterns can entice strikes from fish that may not respond to smaller dry flies.

    Strike: The attempt made by a fish to eat a fly, whether successful or not. The term “strike” also refers to the angler’s movement of the rod to set the hook.

    Strike Indicator: (see Indicator)

    Stripping Line: The action of retrieving the fly line by pulling it in through the fingers instead of winding it onto the reel.

    Surgeon’s Knot: An excellent knot used to join two lengths of monofilament, even when they have different diameters.


    Tag (or Tag End): These are the remaining one or two lengths of tippet after tying a knot. In the case of a blood knot, intentionally leaving one tag end longer allows for the attachment of a dropper fly above the terminal (or point) fly.

    Tail: The portion of the fly usually made from fine feathers or hair located at the end of the hook. The tail often imitates the legs of an insect or the pupal shuck still attached to emerging caddis or mayflies. Adding a tail to a fly provides motion and a lifelike appearance.

    Tailing Rise: When fish feed in shallow water, their caudal fin is often exposed, creating a tailing rise. This behavior is an exciting discovery and usually indicates the possibility of attracting strikes by presenting the appropriate fly.

    Tailwater: The section of a river or stream located downstream from a large man-made dam. Tailwaters, especially those originating from bottom-discharge dams, are renowned for their productivity and relatively cold, temperature-stable water conditions.

    Tapered Leader: A leader made of monofilament material specifically designed for fly fishing. The back or butt section of the leader has a diameter nearly as large as the fly line, gradually tapering to a smaller diameter at the tip end (see Knotless Tapered Leader, Knotted Leader, and Tippet).

    Terrestrial: Terrestrials refer to land-based insects that often serve as food for fish, particularly during warm summer months or windy conditions. Dry-fly anglers particularly enjoy fishing with terrestrial patterns, such as grasshoppers (hoppers), as they attract large, voracious trout.

    Tight Loop: A term synonymous with a narrow loop (see Narrow Loop). It refers to a tightly formed loop in the fly line during the cast, which enhances accuracy and efficiency.

    Tip Section (or Tip Top): The topmost section of a fly rod, characterized by its smallest diameter and furthest distance from the rod grip.

    Tippet: The end section of a tapered leader, typically with the smallest diameter, where the fly is tied. When your tippet becomes damaged on rocks or logs during fishing, or if a section is lost due to an errant back cast in trees, it is advisable to replace the tippet. Carry multiple spools of tippet with varying diameters and breaking strengths to quickly match the remaining diameter of your fly leader.

    Trout Unlimited: A nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation and enhancement of trout fisheries, with a particular emphasis on wild trout.

    Turn Over: The action of the fly line and leader straightening out at the completion of the cast. Proper turn over ensures accurate presentation and effective delivery of the fly to the target.


    Undercurrent: The flow or current of water occurring below another current or beneath the water’s surface.

    Unloading the Rod: The process of the rod unbending and releasing its stored energy, transferring it back into the fly line during the cast.

    Upstream: In the direction against the current of a river or stream.

    Upwind: Moving or positioned into the direction from which the wind is blowing.


    Wader Belt: An adjustable belt secured near the upper part of chest waders to prevent water from entering, especially crucial in case of a fall to avoid filling the waders with water.

    Waders: Available in various styles and constructed from different waterproof fabrics, waders are categorized into two main types: boot foot and stocking foot. Boot foot waders have built-in boots, allowing you to easily slip them on and go. Stocking foot waders require the use of separate wading shoes, which generally offer better support and traction.

    Wading Boots (or Shoes): These specialized boots are designed to be worn over stocking foot waders. They feature soles made of felt or rubber, and many can be equipped with studs for enhanced traction.

    Wading Staff: A walking stick specifically adapted to provide stability for fly anglers while wading in fast or deep water. Some wading staffs are foldable and can be conveniently stored in a fishing vest pocket until needed.

    Water Tension (or River Load) Cast: (see River Load Cast)

    Weight Forward Line (WF): A fly line that is easy to cast due to its weight being concentrated in the forward section. Unlike a double taper line with a level middle section, a weight forward line quickly tapers down from the rear of the forward section to a thin diameter running line. This design allows it to shoot through the rod guides with minimal resistance, resulting in increased casting distance. Weight forward lines are highly versatile and suitable for various fly fishing applications.

    Wet Fly: Any fly intended to be fished beneath the water’s surface; nymphs and streamers are examples of wet flies. It is also a traditional fly tying style characterized by soft, swept-back hackle and a wing that sweeps backward. Wet flies are considered predecessors to nymphs and streamers.

    Wet Fly Swing: A common presentation technique used when fishing with wet flies, particularly popular among steelhead anglers. It involves imitating the swimming motion of mayflies, emerging caddis, and small fish.

    Wind Knot: An overhand knot unintentionally formed in the leader due to poor casting, significantly reducing its breaking strength.


    ‘X’: When combined with a number, the letter ‘X’ denotes the measurement of leader material diameter, such as “4X”. A lower number indicates a larger tippet diameter, correlating with increased breaking strength. Consequently, delicate 7X tippet has a much smaller diameter and significantly lighter breaking strength compared to sturdier 2X tippet.


    Zinger: A retractable device used to suspend essential items, such as nippers, from a fly vest. It allows easy access to the tools while keeping them out of the way when not in use.