What is Fly Fishing Backing?


Fly fishing is definitely one of the more complicated fishing techniques. For anyone who is not already an experienced fly fisherman, understanding all the terms, like backing, can be quite difficult.

The term “backing” in fly fishing is referring to a section of line that connects directly to the arbor of the fly reel and then to the end of the main fly line. While this line is much thinner, the backing is also much stronger than the normal fly line.

Whether a beginner fly fisherman or an extremely experienced one, you probably have had to use backing on one of your fishing trips. If you have not used backing before reading this might just change your mind! Keep on reading to find out why fisherman use backing and what advantages backing can bring them while they are trying to reel in a big fish!

What Exactly is Fly Line Backing?

When you think of fly fishing your first thoughts probably turn more towards the rod and reel than to the line and backing.

However, the line and backing are some of the most important pieces of gear you can bring on your fishing trip.

Fly line is typically made of nylon or dacron and then coated in PVC and many other additives to help the line to either sink or float more.

Meanwhile, fly line backing is made thinner and stronger with either a dacron braided polyester material or a gel-spun mix. The line consists of many small lines braided together to aid in the strength of the backing.

Backing comes in many different strengths and the size to choose depends on the rod and reel you are using. The two most common strengths are 20 and 30-pound tests.

Freshwater fishing typically uses 20-pound test backing; meanwhile, the 30-pound test is typically only used for larger fish in a saltwater location.

When filling your reel with the line you should start by putting a layer of backing on first.

As a general rule, most fly rods can hold anywhere between 50 yards and 100 yards.

However, for some larger fish that require the room and strength to run, anywhere between 200 to 400 yards. This will require a much larger reel designed for hooking and reeling in larger heavier fish.

The backing on the reel will not only help to fill any extra space on the reel but using backing also creates a “platform” of sorts for the line to rest on when spooled in the reel.

The Advantages and Purpose of Backing in Fly Fishing

While you may think that you do not need to add backing to the beginning of your line while fishing, the advantages that come with the use of backing greatly outweigh the time taken to add some backing onto your reel during your fishing trip.

One of the first benefits of backing is the added strength and length to your line.

If you reel in a larger fish or a fish that wants to prolong the fight, the backing can help you keep the fish on the line.

Larger fish need to be allowed to run while you are fighting them. Since a typical fly line is only between 75-100 or so feet, if a fish takes off quickly in a fight, you may quickly run out of line to reel in.

Since fly line can be more expensive than other types of fishing line, you do not want to risk losing all your line to a larger stronger fish.

With the use of backing, it gives the fly line a stronger anchor to the reel and the only thing that should break if a fight between you and a fish turns sour is the leader.

The second benefit of backing is that backing line helps fill up the line more than just fly line alone would.

Why do you want the reel filled up more? Well, simply put, the fuller the reel, the quicker the line will be reeled in.

If you only have fly line on your reel, the open space on the reel has a smaller diameter and will require more reeling to get a shorter distance of line in.

Overall the main purpose of using backing in fly fishing is to give the fisherman an “insurance policy” during those longer harder battles.

While freshwater fisherman may not see their backing very often (or ever for that matter), a saltwater fisherman sees his backing quite often.

How to Use Backing

Backing provides many advantages to your fishing trip; however, if not used properly using backing may become futile.

Your backing is only as strong as your anchor knots.

First, start by tying your backing to the reel. You will do so by tying an arbor knot.

Simply put, an arbor knot is just two overhand knots pulled tight slowly. This should keep the knot from sliding through your original knot.

After attaching your backing to the reel, you need to tie on your fly line. You can do so with either an Albright knot or nail knot (although the Albright is more common).

An Albright knot is tied by creating a loop in your fly line and coming up through the loop with your backing. You then wrap the backing around the fly line a few times (typically 4 or 5) and come back through the loop.

You can tighten your Albright knot by grabbing the ends of your line and backing and pulling tight. Clip the loose ends and test the line with a few strong pulls.

Remember this knot should be well tied to ensure you are not going to lose not only the fish but all of your expensive line as well!

Double check that all your knots are tied correctly and tightly before heading out on your fishing trip. If you are worried about your knot possibly coming undone out on the river, coat the knot in a little bit of super glue or a bit of line glue.

When choosing your backing you might want to choose a line with brighter colors.

These brighter colors will help you to keep track of your line even when a fish takes off quickly with your line. Opt for a brightly colored backing such as fluorescent orange or chartreuse to help you track your fish better.

Be sure to check your backing every so often for any rot or corrosion that may have occurred. Depending on how often you clean your rods and how you store them, backing should not develop rot quickly.

After tying your backing to the fly line all you have to do now is fill the reel with line, tie on your leader and tippets, attach your favorite fly, and start reeling in those fish!

Tim Butala

My name is Tim and I have been a fisherman my whole life. My favorite fish to go after is a Stripped Bass.

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