Fly Fishing Terms, Glossary, and Definitions

Fly Fishing Terms, Glossary, and Definitions

Fly Fishing Terms, Glossary, and Definitions


The intent of this page is to provide some of the more common terms used in fly fishing for those on the journey of learning about this magnificent sport! It may seem a bit overwhelming to newbies at first but they fall into place in short order once your curiosity takes over. Fly fishing terms, glossary, and definitions are unique to the sport and are often neglected by other dictionaries.

It is our sincere hope that some of these terms may bring to you a complete idea of what the sport holds for you! Fly fishing is very basic overall about the idea of waving a fly line with a flexible stick to propel a hook lashed with fur and feathers in hopes of deceiving a fish! The sport has been around for a very long time and the little observations on each and every outing help to enrich and feed this fascination.

I am sure that I shall have many amendments to this list over the coming years. The motivation for this has come about from my latest book I am finishing called “The Fly Fishers Triad“. It will provide many insights into tactics, techniques, and tactical casting. Fly fishing terms, glossary, and definitions come together in short order once folks are engaged in the facets the sport may provide. Tight lines, Mac

Fly Fishing Terms, Glossary, and Definitions by Mac Brown



Adipose Fin

The small fin on the back behind the dorsal fin and in front of the caudal fin.


A reproductive stage of winged aquatic insects.

Albright Knot

The Albright knot is a reliable knot for joining lines of greatly unequal diameters or different materials such as monofilament to braided line. A great knot for tying dacron backing to fly line.

Anadromous Fish

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


One who seeks to catch fish with a hook attached to a line.


 A feature of fly reels where the spool handle does not turn as the line is pulled out from the reel, generally used in saltwater for big or fast species.


Style of fly that is effective in eliciting strikes such as hot colors (fluorescent orange, pink, chartreuse, etc..), mylar (silver, gold, and clear pearlescent) yet has few characteristics of a natural food item.


The center part of a fly reel onto which backing is wound (see Standard Arbor, Mid-Arbor, Large Arbor).

Arbor Knot

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


Back Cast

The back cast is that part of the cast which positions your line in a direction opposite to your target.


An added braided line that connects the reel’s spool to the fly line. Backing serves two functions: It fills out the spool or arbor underneath the fly line, so the angler makes few revolutions to wind the line back onto the reel, and it provides additional length to the fly line.


The backward facing projection cut into a hook.


A feather of a specially bred chicken that has colors brown to black at the center of the quill to ginger on the outer edges.


Barbless hooks are either manufactured without a barb or the barb is squeezed down using hemostats or pliers, or filed down. Use of barbless hooks makes it easy to remove a hook and reduces damage to the fish. Fishing barbless hooks are superior for penetration and hook-ups.

Barrel Knot

Another name for a blood knot (see Blood Knot).


A style of fly utilizing a bead immediately behind the hook eye. Beads are usually made of brass, lead, or tungsten to assist in sinking a fly.


The tapered fly line has several components, with a sharp taper tip at the fly end. The middle portion of the line is called the belly.

Belly Boat

A one-person craft with a seat across the bottom on which the angler sits (originally old inner tubes with a seat). 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 as well as those who fish high mountain lakes. Also called a kick boat.

Bimini Twist

The knot used in saltwater fly fishing that has a loop and a double line section making it especially strong.


A) 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). B) When you fail to land a single fish on your fishing outing.

Blood Knot

The widely used knot for tying two pieces of monofilament with similar diameters together. Also called a barrel knot.

Bob Fly

A fly closest to the fly line when fishing multiple fly rigs. See cast below.


The fly tying tool that holds the tying thread.


A bodkin is a tool with a needle and a handle. It is easily made from a piece of wood or stag and a needle. It is used in fly tying to deposit lacquer to a fly or picking out materials.

Braided Loop Connector

The braided loop connector works like the so-called Chinese finger torture for joining fly lines. A way of putting an in-line loop at the end of your fly line.


The break-off is when a fish snaps the line. It is usually due to angler mistake in pressuring the fish too aggressive. However, sometimes due to an undersized tippet, poor quality tippet material, or a poorly tied knot.


1). A brown feather of a specially bred chicken that has colors of reddish brown and is very common for fly tying. 2). A trout indigenous to Europe that has flourished all over the globe as a sports fish.

Brook Trout

Brook trout have also been introduced all around the globe but they are indigenous to the northeastern United States.


The streamer fly tied to imitate a fish. The fly usually features a long segment of hair from a deer’s tail laid back from the eye to the bend of the hook.

Butt Section

A) The thicker end of a tapered leader that is tied to the fly line and B) the last section of a rod, at the cork handle.


fly fishing terms, glossary, and definitions



One of the three most important aquatic insects imitated by fly fishers, (the other two being mayflies and midges). Caddis are found worldwide in all freshwater habitats. While at rest, the adult has wings 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).


1). The motion an angler makes to throw a fly line. There are different types of casts for different fishing applications such as change of direction, roll casts, accuracy, and distance, curves, piles, and many others for dealing with obstacles. 2). The cast refers to the arrangement of the flies on the leader which is common in the United Kingdom. A cast of flies would include a bob fly, dropper, and point fly.

Casting Arc

Refers to an angular starting and stopping points of the fly rod when making a cast.


The term to describe fish that migrate from freshwater to the sea for spawning.

Catch and Release

A conservation technique in fly fishing that is the recycling of fish for all anglers to enjoy the sport. Fish are landed quickly and kept in the water to be released back into the wild.


The whitewater inflatable that uses two tubes with a frame for fishing in whitewater rivers.

Caudal Fin

A large tail fin on the very back of a fish that provides thrust when swimming.


The fluffy webbing from the preen gland of usually a mallard duck that has excellent floating characteristics.


A species of fish that is related to trout and is found many places in the world. Examples of char are brook trout, lake trout, arctic char and dolly varden.


The 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. They occur throughout the year but are most common in the winter months for the fly angler.

Click Drag (Click & Pawl Reel)

A mechanical system on a fly reel used to slow down or resist the pulling efforts of a fish. The audible noise of clicks is beneficial for knowing when a large fish slows down during the fight.

Clinch Knot

The most common knot for attaching a hook or any other ring to the line.


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

Cone Head

Same as a bead head but the bead is cone shaped.

Coq de Leon

A specialty chicken from the Leon region in Spain known for their translucent and stiffness used in tailing materials for fly patterns.


Used to describe the action of delivering the fly either to a fish or into a likely area of water.


The feather of a specially bred chicken that has barred colors of brown, white, and black.

Current Seam

A current seam is formed where differing high and low pressures of water flows meet. Water travels in all directions on a river of fast and slow currents depending on the bottom structure and the general flow patterns. Water hydrology is always dynamic and changing depending on the water levels.

Curve Cast

The casting technique that allows the cast to land in an abrupt curve. Many fishing scenarios use curves for enhancing the presentation.



An important still-water aquatic insect most commonly imitated in the nymphal form. Damselfly hatches usually are abundant in the summer months. The adult looks similar to a dragonfly but smaller and folds its wings along its back when at rest.


The relatively ancient technique of presenting a fly on the surface of the water where the fly is bounced up and down to entice a strike.

Dead Drift

A perfect float in which the fly moves at the same pace as the current, used in both dry fly and nymph fishing (see Mending Line and “S” Cast).


Delivery is a presentation used to describe the action of casting the fly to a fish or into a likely area of water. The delivery cast can be a straight cast, or it is often curved or piled to induce a strike.

Disc Drag

The mechanical system on more expensive fly reels intended to efficiently slow and tire a fish that is taking the line. Resistance is created between discs that apply pressure as the 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

A large fin on the back of a fish toward the head.


The fishing boat that has been around for centuries with simple lines and easy to build. A Dory is usually 16-24 feet in length, with high sides, an arched bottom and sharp bows. Generally rowed using oars and oarlocks.

Double Haul

A casting technique where the fly fisher tugs and gives back the line in both directions. It creates great line speed and reduces fatigue when making long casts, casting low to the water, or specialty curve casts.

Double Taper

The 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 roll casting and elite distance casts (because there is greater overall line weight than a WF).


(1) An unnatural motion of the fly caused by the effect of the current on the line and leader. Drag is usually detrimental, though at times useful such as imitating the actions of the adult caddis and other mobile insects. (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.


A large and ferocious insect in the underwater world that is an excellent insectivore found in rivers, streams, and lakes. The large sizes of dragonflies make them an important food source for fish.


(1) Used for describing how the imitations ride in the water currents. (2) In general, there are 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).


1). 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. 2). Dropper fly is the middle fly when fishing a cast of flies (see cast above).


Is a parachute device for slowing down the drift speed of a boat. It is essential equipment for lake fishing if there is wind present.

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

The chemical preparation that is applied to a dry fly to waterproof it immediately before use; may be a paste, liquid, or aerosol.


Fly tying material that includes fur, yarn, wool, or synthetic fibers that are wrapped onto a thread with either wax (touch dubbed) or a dubbing loop. This is then wrapped around the shank of the hook to imitate the abdomen and/or thorax of an artificial fly.


(1) The first stage in the adult mayfly’s life cycle, usually of a 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.

Duncan Loop

The loop knot from the early 1960’s invented by Norman Duncan for tying the fly one with a loop which tightens under pressure. It has been renamed by many others in an attempt to take his idea (Uni-Knot, Grinner, etc…).



A section of water that is less disturbed than the surrounding water, often found on the edge of a current or where two streams converge.

Elbow Control

The idea of the overhead and roll cast is to obtain a tight, wind-cutting loop that will unroll the fly line accurately to the target. To achieve a tight loop in say a vertical accuracy cast, have the rod hand higher than your head and simply drop from the shoulder which lowers the elbow. This stroke may generate lots of fly line speed and eliminates entirely any chance of a tailing tendency. It also loads the rod deeper into the butt of the rod. Elbow control keeps the elbow on the shelf (in the same plane) for horizontal casts.


Pertaining to aquatic insects, the name used to describe that time frame when the nymph reaches the surface and the adult hatches out. The emerging nymph may well be the single most important nymph phase for the fly fisher to imitate.


False Cast

A standard fly fishing cast used to lengthen and shorten the line, change direction and to dry off the fly; frequently overused. In false casting, the line is kept moving backward and forward without being allowed to touch the surface of the water or the ground (see Casting Arc, Back Cast, and Forward Cast).


The 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.


A small, immature fish, such as a juvenile trout.

Fishing the Drift

This is the process of fishing from your target point to where you will pick up the line for your next cast. If you chose your initial casting position carefully, you can get a long drift, maximizing your chance of catching a fish.

Fish Ladder

A series of interconnected pools created on the side of a river obstruction, such as a dam, to allow salmon and other fish to pass upstream.


An area of water with relatively unchanging depth.

Float Tube

See belly boat.


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

Floating Fly Line

The best all-around fly line in which the entire line floats (see Double Taper, Level, Shooting Head, Weight Forward).


In many sports, the fluffies are called “wannabees”. The singular term is “fluffy”. They make up a huge part of our fly fishing community today reiterating “principles” and “fundamentals” from a very narrow view regurgitated from an antiquated past. They typically remain stuck in an unconscious incompetence stage because they are content with where they are. Fluffies are often classified into the “good enough” for me crowd. Fluffies stagnate the progression and evolution of the sport. They love to post ##, tweets, Facebook with huge numbers of followers because they bring little to the table for sharing knowledge with others. Don’t be a fluffy! Get out there and make a difference!


Tippet or leader material that is virtually invisible underwater, sinks quickly and doesn’t reflect light on the water surface so fish can’t see it.


Hand-tied artificial lure imitating natural insects or baitfish to entice fish. Flies incorporate different natural and synthetic materials wound onto or otherwise secured on hooks.

Fly Casting

A standard method of presenting a fly to a target using a fly rod and fly line, involving many different casts (see Back Cast, Forward Cast, False Cast, Roll Cast, “S” Cast, and Shooting Line).

Fly Fishers International

The global organization dedicated to the legacy of fly fishing for all fish in all waters by focusing on conservation, education and a sense of community.

Fly Fishing

Sport where the weight of the line is used to cast a very light-weight fly. All anglers fly fished before the advent of spinning gear. Today roughly 5 million anglers in North America fly fish versus over 50 million that use conventional tackle (spinning rod). An interesting side note is that conventional would imply the “way things have always been done”. In America, fly fishermen were conventional until World War 2. The bait casters and spinning reels really took off in the United States after the war.

Fly Line

A special line designed for fly fishing. It is made of a tapered plastic coating over a braided Dacron or nylon core; available in several tapers and in floating, sinking and sink-tip styles (see Double Taper, Shooting Head, Weight Forward, Sink-tip, and Floating Fly Line). Check out the fly line study from WCU.

Fly Pattern

Also called a ‘recipe,’ this is the fixed design of materials and positioning of parts that make up an artificial fly.

Fly Reel

The fishing reel used in fly fishing to hold the fly line.

Fly Rod

A type of fishing rod designed to cast a fly line. These 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. The lengths vary, with common lengths being between 7 and 9 feet. Materials used in fly rod construction are bamboo, fiberglass, and graphite.

Fly Tying

The process of building fishing flies by hand using thread and various natural and synthetic materials.


A hand-operated medical instrument widely used in fly fishing to remove flies from the jaws of a hooked fish. Smooth or lightly serrated jaws utilize a ratchet-locking mechanism to clamp onto the hook until you release them. Also called hemostats.

Forward Stroke

In fly fishing, casting motion occupies the open airspace around you with the rod and line. We establish a momentum of fly line that allows you to place your fly where you desire. This is accomplished with circles, figure 8’s, and if the room provided around your position is sufficient sometimes straight to and from fly casting. The final unrolling of a line is often called delivery cast, power stroke, and forward stroke in fly casting.

Forward Taper

The front taper of a fly line near the leader which includes all fly lines except the level lines. Many believe forward taper implies only weight forward lines and this is incorrect.

Foul Hook

To hook a fish anywhere but in the mouth.


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, 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. Less fertile than spring creeks, freestone streams have smaller and less diverse aquatic insect populations. Fewer bugs in faster water usually result in fewer but more opportunistic trout.


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


A coloration of feathers from a chicken that has a dark brown-to-black center changing to a light brown on edge.



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


The distance between the hook shank and the hook point.


A term that originates from the Celts to describe a fishing guide in the U.K., especially in Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

Gel-Spun Polyethylene

Synthetic fiber that is extremely thin, supple, slippery, abrasion resistant and strong. 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.


The most popular rod-building material in use today, graphite offers the best weight, strength, and flex ratio of any rod building material currently available.

Gravel Guards

Flaps on each wader leg that hook over wading boots to further secure the waders and to prevent debris from getting inside the wading boots. Most waders today have built-in gravel guards with elastic bottoms and hooks to keep wader leg in place. See also Gaiters.


The method of sectioning off likely fish holding lies and working all of them methodically regardless of tactics that include streamers, dries, wets, and nymphs.


A juvenile Atlantic salmon.


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

Grip & Grins

Refers to anglers squeezing fish for the gratification of a photo. Especially more out of control than ever before with the use of social media and the internet. Keep them wet for your photos in their natural setting partially in the water for really great pictures. These are also called hero shots.


A barred feather of a specially bred chicken that has colors white to black and is very common for fly tying.


1) Metal rings, usually bent pieces of wire along the length of the fly rod to ease the release of a line during casting and to distribute the stress of a fish along the entire length of the rod. 2) One that teaches and shares knowledge of angling with others for a fee.



Feathers from the neck or back of a bird such as a chicken, starling, partridge, etc… that are wrapped around the hook.

Hackle Gauge

A ruler-like device to make sure the length of hackle used is appropriate for the size of 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.

Hair Bug

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 into shapes like frog bodies. Hairbugs are commonly used for warm water fish, but a mouse imitation hair bug is excellent for big brown trout on certain waters.

Hair Stacker

The 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.

Hand Retrieve

A hand retrieve is the line hand working a figure of eight to retrieve the fly line. Used for a slow retrieve and manage the line in many situations while fishing.


A large number of flies of the same species.


The pull on the fly line with the non-casting hand to increase the line speed to gain greater distance. This is done effectively during line pickup (see Double Haul).


An 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.


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

Hero Shots

Refers to anglers squeezing fish for the gratification of a photo. Especially more out of control than ever before with the use of social media and the internet. Keep them wet for your photos in their natural setting partially in the water for really great pictures. These are also called hero shots.


The foundation upon which the fly is tied. Hooks are made from steel wire and are either bronzed, cadmium coated, or stainless. Hook designs are many and the style used depends on the type of fly being tied.

Hook Keeper

Made of a loop of thin wire built into the shaft of the fly rod near the grip, a keeper safely secures the fly while still attached to the line. This prevents losing the fly to stream-side foliage and grasses on the walk to the next promising spot.

Hook Shank

The hook shank is the length of wire measured from the eye to the bend of the hook.

Hook Size

Hooks are standardized based upon the gape. Smaller numbers refer to larger hooks, for example, a very small #24 (gape of 2 mm) to very large #2 (gape of 10 mm). These styles do vary with wire thickness, gape, shank, and hook eyes (jig, up, down, or straight).


Imitative Flies

Tied to more closely match specific insects, imitative flies are most effective on finicky trout living in clear, fertile, slow-moving streams supporting large populations of aquatic insects.

Impressionistic Flies

A pattern tied to loosely suggest a variety of insects or insect families, impressionistic flies are usually most effective in streams with medium to fast water with less dense populations of aquatic insects.

Improved Clinch Knot

One of the most widely used fishing knots, it provides a good method of securing a fishing line to a hook, lure, or swivel.


A 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. Made of materials such as floating putty, poly yarn (soaked with floatant), foam and rubber, colored mono, knots with tags, and dry flies. Strike indicators are very effective when nymph fishing at a greater distance than we can reach in control.



The technique used with sub-surface patterns especially nymph fishing where the angler moves the fly up and down erratic through the water (vertically).

Jumping Rise

This is when a trout breaks out of the water’s surface to catch a rising or a descending insect.


Kick Boat

A one-person fishing boat with a seat between two pontoons at a level that allows the anglers feet to be in the water. It is propelled by swim fins, oars, or a motor.

Knotless Tapered Leader

Fly fishing tapered leader manufactured from a single piece of monofilament.

Knotted Leader

A fly fishing leader constructed by knotting sections of different diameter leader material to each other to make a tapered leader.


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


Large Arbor Reel A large arbor reel is wider and larger in diameter than a standard reel. Advantages include an increased line retrieve rate and quick long lengths of line stripped off when casting.

Larva The aquatic growing-stage of the caddis and some other insects. Many species of caddis larva build a protective covering of sticks, leaves, and fine gravel to protect them at this stage.

Lay Down (after the pick-up) A fly fishing cast using only a single back cast. The line is lifted from the water and a back cast made, followed by a forward cast that is allowed to straighten and fall into the water, completing the cast (see Pickup).

Leader The section of monofilament line between the fly line and the fly. It is usually tapered so that it will deliver the fly softly and away from the fly line (see Knotted Leader, Knotless Tapered Leader, Turn-over, and Monofilament).

Level Fly Line

Fly line that is level throughout its length with no taper. These are great for building custom lines (used as running line for shooting head or weight forward). Level lines in small sizes are also great nymphing lines for pocket water scenarios. Mid-1980’s Cortland line manufactured coated level lines .018 to .020 which was the first coated skinny level lines.

Level Leader

A level leader is often used for lake fishing for three fly rigs (cast of flies). They are also common when fishing sink tip or sinking lines.


Refers to areas in a river or lake where fish hang out, optimum or prime lies are typically out of the main current, present cover from predators or provide a good source of insects and other food.


The technique of raising and lowering the fly pattern in a slow and controlled manner when fishing.

Line Dressing

A term carried over from the days of silk fly lines referring to the oily substances applied to clean and increase buoyancy. Mucillen is one of the more popular brands for a dressing. 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 determines the line weight of a rod or reel. This measurement system is used as a way to standardize fly lines in 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 weighs 160 grains, while the first 30 feet of a #3 weight line is 100 grains. This method really could be improved upon in the coming years.

Loading the Rod

When either a forward or backward cast is made, the weight of the line puts a bend in the rod thus ‘loading’ or storing the energy necessary for the ensuing forward or backward cast.

Loop to Loop

A way to connect a fly line and a leader by making a loop at the end of the leader ‘ using a Perfection Loop knot ‘ and joining it to a loop at the end of the fly line. Loop-to-loop connections are sometimes made from a leader to a tippet.



Fluffy under feathers from usually chickens and turkeys used in fly tying.

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 do not match the predominant insects present.


Mayflies are the most commonly imitated aquatic insects worldwide. Most dry fly and nymph patterns imitate these insects. The nymph stage of the mayfly lasts approximately one year; adult stages last one to three days. The adult has one pair of upright wings, making it look like a small sailboat. They vary in size from 3 mm trico to 30 mm hexagenia in size.


Throwing fly line around during the drift to enhance an intent of presentation while fishing. Useful for sinking a fly, raising a fly, swinging a fly, or matching the water’s currents.

Mending Line

The method used after the line is in the water to achieve a drag-free float. It constitutes a flip, a stacked roll, or series of flips with the rod tip, that positions excess line in the proper current. This assist with the fly matching the currents in which it rides.


A very small two-winged insect in the Diptera family of insects useful to imitate during the winter months or lakes.


This refers to the size of the area of a reel that holds the fly line. A mid-arbor reel is your ‘middle’ option between a standard arbor reel and a large arbor reel. A mid-arbor design gives you a large line capacity plus the added benefits of rapid retrieve and reduced line coiling over a standard arbor.

Minimizing Stream Current Drag

Mending your line by throwing a loop of the line into the drifting line can help it to move at the same speed as the current, reducing current drag. Depending on the cast and the drift situation, appropriate mends may be up, down, or across the stream with or without a series of ‘S’ mends to combat drag.


The clear, supple nylon filament used in all types of fishing that is available in many breaking strengths and diameters (see: Breaking Strength). Check out the mono study from WCU.


Nail Knot

A 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 ‘ such as a section of a plastic coffee stirrer ‘ rather than a nail.

Narrow Loop

As the fly line travels through the air it should form a narrow loop to cut wind resistance. In appearance, a narrow loop resembles the letter “U” turned on its side and is formed by proper casting technique.


The fly pattern that attempts to match the natural insect in size, shape, and coloration.


A tool for clipping off mono. The best nippers are an inexpensive pair of nail clippers because of the leverage difference for ease of cutting.


The immature form of insects. As fly fishers, we are concerned only with the nymphs of aquatic insects.


Describes fish actively feeding on nymphs or the act of fly fishing with nymphs. Here is a link to some nymphing articles.



A long shaft with a blade attached used for rowing boats. Common lengths are 8-12 feet. Carbon shafts are the best but they also are made of aluminum and wood.

Oar Frame

A frame made of aluminum or wood that is used with inflatables such as a raft or cataraft for fishing with oars and oar locks for greater control steering.

Oar Locks

Oar locks are the yoke the oars rest in and pivot when taking a stroke. Most of them are made from brass.

Open Loop

A very large loop that is an arch shape in appearance that travels through the air. An open loop is caused by a very wide casting arc and/or power.

Overhead Cast

This is the traditional fly rod cast most people associate with fly fishing. It is used for presentation of everything from nymphs and streamers to wet flies and dry flies.



A fly pattern style that has the feathers wound perpendicular to the hook shank.


Gently applying the palm of your hand against the spool edge of a fly reel is an effective method to help slow the release of the line when fighting large fish.


The dry fly style with hackle wrapped horizontally at the base of the wings. Enables the fly pattern to have the abdomen resting in the film and also is better in flight.


A young trout, salmon, or char in the fingerling stage.


The hesitation used with all types of fly casts for redirecting the cast to a new direction. The pause varies in timing for all casts as well depending on the intent of the fly caster.

Pectoral Fins

A pair of fins just behind the head and on the bottom of a fish.

Pelvic Fins

The pair of fins on the lower body of a fish near the abdomen; also called ventral fins.

Perfection Loop

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.

Pickup (and Lay Down)

This casts helps to lift the fly line off of the ground or water and is one of the first casts taught for new fly fishers. Bend the elbow and move the wrist, forearm and upper arm in a backward motion rotating at the shoulder. This will pick up the line and start the backcast over your shoulder (see Lay Down).

Point Fly

The point fly refers to the fly at the end of the leader farthest away from the fly line. See cast above.

Polarized Sun Glasses

Sunglasses with iodized lenses that block incident light (glare) and thus allow anglers to better see beneath the surface glare of water. An ideal accessory to help any fly angler to better spot fish because they help eliminate glare.


A topwater fly pattern made usually from spun deer hair with a flat face that causes a popping sound when retrieved.


The segment of a river or stream featuring slower currents and increased depths that helps protect fish from predatory birds and animals. Pools also give fish a rest from swimming against heavier currents, particularly important during spawning migrations. When fish become stressed with water temps they migrate into pools.


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 that you are imitating. The variety of presentations is infinite and changes with each fishing situation.


In insects, the transition stage between the larva and the adult. To fly fishers, caddis pupa RULE and are the most important of the aquatic insects.



The whitewater inflatable usually outfitted with a frame and oars used for fishing rivers.

Rainbow Trout

Rainbow trout prefer cool and clean water and are indigenous to the west of North America. They can be found all over the globe today due to the advancement of hatcheries.

Reach Cast

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

Rear Taper

The transition between the belly and running line for a fly line.


A hollow scooped in the sand or gravel of a riverbed by breeding trout or salmon as a spawning area.

Reel Seat

The mechanism that holds the reel to the rod, usually using locking metal rings or sliding bands.


Bringing the fly back toward the caster after the cast is made. Retrieves can be done in a variety of ways, but the most important point is to remember to keep the rod tip low and pointed straight down the line.


A quickened flow of water over smaller rocks or gravel, either at the head or tail of a pool. Often a foot-or-less deep in the late season, riffles can be very productive when fished with a two-fly rig, often nymphs.


A term that describes anything inhabiting, or situated on a riverbank; often used in connection with ownership and fishing rights.


Rise forms are the patterns a trout makes as it takes a fly. There are several distinctive forms (see Sipping Rise, Jumping Rise, and Tailing Rise).

River Left

The left side of the river when looking downstream.

River Load (or Water Tension) Cast

This is a cast, motion or technique where the caster uses the river’s current to load the rod. Let the line get straight and almost 90 degrees in relation to the rod tip. Point the rod down toward the water. Using a sidearm motion, quickly move the rod toward the target. The force of the river’s current and your motion against the current will quickly load the fly rod.

River Right

The right side of the river when looking downstream.


Rocks provide a break in the current, allowing fish to station themselves in front of and behind them to feed, particularly medium to large rocks. As water passes over the sides of rocks, the current speed is reduced, making it easier for fish to hold. Fish generally will not expend more energy than necessary to catch food.

Rod Action

An important characteristic of fly rods which help to add greater feel when fly casting. Actions are usually either fast, medium, or slow. Fast action rods bend more at the tip which enables higher line speeds. Medium action rods are ideal overall for freshwater fly fishing. Slow action rods tend to flex their entire length. Lighter tippets tend to be protected better with slower action rods.

Rod Flex

The manner in which the rod bends during the cast during the acceleration phases of the cast, forward or back. 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.

Roll Cast

This is a cast that every fly fisher should master. The best for changing directions when fly fishing. It can also be used as a means of picking up the line off the water when using sink tips or heavy nymphs. It also is more efficient using a roll cast pickup to initiate a fly cast because it eliminates wasted false casting to and from.

Roly Poly

A line retrieval method for moving the flies. The hands work a small circle of grabbing fly line at different rates. It is used on both still water and rivers.


A place where the water comes in between a bank and a rock or between two rocks. A run can be fast to slow. If the run has several large rocks on one side, trout can hold against the side of these rocks. The same applies to a bank area.

Running line

A thin line made of monofilament, Dacron or Kevlar braid, or thin fly line that connects on one end to a shooting head and on the other end to the backing and indirectly the reel.


“S” Cast

A cast used to put deliberate and controlled slack into a cast; used in getting a drag-free float and in conjunction with mending line (see Drag, Dead Drift, Mending Line).


A small freshwater shrimp-like crustacean that is present in most trout waters and serves as a food source for trout; very prevalent in spring creeks.


A current seam is formed where differing high and low pressures of water flows meet. Water travels in all directions on a river of fast and slow currents depending on the bottom structure and the general flow patterns. Water hydrology is always dynamic and changing depending on the water levels.

Seam in Water Currents

The area where two current flows come together (one slower, one faster), ideal for holding trout. Fish often will hang out in the slower flow and dart out into the faster flow to capture food. Fish will reside at varying speeds of current depending on the amount of food they may obtain. Locate a seam in water currents where an obstacle disrupts the flow of islands and large rocks diverting the main flow.


Trout and Salmon that that hatch in fresh water, migrate to the sea to mature and return to fresh water to spawn are known as sea-runs. Species include all types of salmon, browns, cutthroats, and rainbows. Rainbow trout in the Pacific Northwest and Great Lakes are the best-known sea-run trout, called steelhead. In the U.K., New Zealand, and Patagonia sea trout refer to migrating brown trout from the sea.

Setting the Hook The act of pulling the hook into the flesh of the fish’s mouth. The amount of effort needed to do this varies with the size of hook, type of fish, and breaking strength of the leader. The rule of thumb is that most anglers strike too hard on trout and warm water fish and not hard enough on salmon and saltwater fish. To really master hook sets and playing fish usually takes many years to perfect the percentages of fish landed.

Shank The long straight part of the hook between the eye and the bend.

Shooting Line The process of lengthening your fly cast by releasing an extra length of fly line (usually held in your non-casting hand) during the cast. This technique allows a fly angler to cast with greater efficiency.

Shooting Taper or Shooting HeadA short single-tapered fly line, shooting heads are designed for longer casts with minimum effort. Shooting heads allow you to switch between different line types (floating, sinking, sink-tip, etc.) by quickly interchanging head sections. Most commonly used for salmon, steelhead and saltwater species, shooting heads can be used in all types of fly fishing.

Single Action

A 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 line.

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

A floating fly line where the tip portion sinks; available in 4-foot, 10-foot, 12-foot, 15-foot, 20-foot, 24-foot and 30-foot sinking tips. 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 in wet fly 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.

Sipping Rise

The quiet trout-rise that produces a circular waveform, much like a rock dropped in a pool or water. A rise form of this kind may indicate a large trout is feeding, especially at dawn or dusk feeding times.

Sow Bug

An aquatic crustacean found in lakes, rivers, and streams worldwide. There are over 130 species of sow bugs in North America.


The behavior of fish in which females deposit eggs ‘ also called spawn ‘ on various surfaces (varying with species) and the male produces necessary milt to fertilize eggs, ultimately resulting in fry.


A particular casting technique using a modified roll cast with single and double handed rods. The name is derived from a river in Scotland where it was originally developed. It is superior for directional changes and working with tightly vegetated waters. All fly anglers would benefit greatly by mastering these basic casting techniques before venturing into the water.


The egg-laying stage of the mayfly life cycle which provides fast and furious angling! This last stage of the mayfly life cycle has clear wings out horizontal. It is also the most overlooked occurrence on the water by anglers.

Spinner Fall

The egg-laying swarm of mayflies identified usually with clouds of spinners bounding up and down over the water in preparation to lay eggs back to the water. It is also the most overlooked occurrence on the water by anglers.

Split cane rods

Fly rods constructed of six pieces of split cane bamboo, which are triangularly shaped, tapered and glued together. Split cane rods originated in the U.S. in the middle of the 19th century and there are many fine cane rods produced still today.


The revolving part of the fly reel that holds the backing and the fly line. You may wish to purchase additional spools for your reel, enabling you to quickly change from one type of line to another to match fishing conditions.

Spring Creek

The creek or stream that gets its water from an underground aquifer or spring sources, rather than glacier/snow melt or surface run-off. Featuring consistent flows of very pure, clean water throughout the year unaffected by seasonal conditions, water temperatures in spring creeks don’t tend to fluctuate compared to traditional creeks and rivers because they are fed by underground water sources.


An action of creeping up on a fish so as not to surprise or disturb it.


The footwork one uses to make casts that include open and closed stance. These enable the caster to use the torso or block the torso rotation depending on their intent.


A migratory rainbow trout (sea-run).


These insects are a very important aquatic food source for trout in all stages of its life cycle. A stonefly nymphs live for one to three years, depending on species. Most species hatch out by crawling to the shoreline and emerging from their nymphal case above the surface. Thus, adults are available to trout only along the shoreline and around midstream obstructions. At rest, the two pairs of wings lay flat along the back. Stoneflies require a rocky stream-bed with very good water quality.


A fly tied to imitate the various species of baitfish upon which both fresh and saltwater game fish feed. Streamers are big, often heavily weighted flies that sink fast and have a natural swimming motion.


The attempt a fish makes to eat a fly, successfully or not. This term also refers to the movement of the rod a fly angler makes to set the hook.

Strike Indicator

A 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. Made of materials such as floating putty, poly yarn (soaked with floatant), foam and rubber, colored mono, knots with tags, and dry flies. A strike indicator is very effective when nymph fishing at a greater distance than we can reach in control.


The act of stripping the line with the line hand for setting the hook on a strike.


Bringing in a fly line with a series of short or varied pulls to simulate a living insect or bait fish. Often also involves movements of the rod tip. The key when fishing lies in having the ability to vary all types of retrievals for different speeds.

Stripping Guide

The guide nearest the reel on a fly rod, usually larger in diameter than the other guides. It is called a stripping guide because in bringing in the fly, the line is pulled over this guide with a fair amount a force.

Stripping Line

Retrieving the line by pulling it in through your fingers as opposed to winding it in on the reel. Numerous techniques for stripping line in which are a key ingredient for perfecting greater hookups when fishing. Rate changes of stripping line when fishing for all types of species are essential for increased hookups.

Surgeon’s Knot

An excellent knot used to tie two lengths of monofilament together of dissimilar diameters.


Tag or Tag End

These are the one or two lengths of tippet remaining after tying a knot. To create a dropper leave the tag end long.

Tail Out

The lower end of a pool where it becomes shallow.


The part of the fly usually constructed of fine feather or hair, on the end of the hook. A tail might imitate an insect’s legs or the pupal shuck still attached to emerging caddis or mayflies. Tailing material adds motion and a life-like appearance to a fly.

Tailing Rise

When feeding in shallow water, you will often see a fish’s caudal fin exposed. Tailing fish are an exciting discovery and generally signal the possibility of getting strikes by the proper presentation of the right fly.


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, becoming progressively smaller in diameter toward the tip end (see Knotless Tapered Leader, Knotted Leader, and Tippet).


A terrestrial is a land-based insect that often is food for fish. The terrestrial activity is common for summer months. Late summer grasshoppers, inchworms, beetles, and ants are all common examples of terrestrials.


The area right behind the head of the fly pattern usually created with dubbing.

Tight Loop

Same as a narrow loop.


A thin ribbon used in adding shine on flies as ribbing or for fly bodies. Comes in all colors but most common historically is silver and gold.

Tip Section or Tip Top

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


Represents the end section of a tapered leader away from the fly line where the fly goes. The tippet is the smallest diameter section of mono. Carry a number of spools of tippet in various diameters and breaking strengths to quickly match the situation.

Triangle Taper

A continuous 40 feet taper profile to a fly line with a thinner running line. Triangle tapers make excellent roll casting lines but poor for distance lines because they turn over too quickly.

Trout Unlimited

An organization dedicated to the protection and improvement of trout fisheries, with an emphasis toward wild trout.

Turn Over

How the fly line and leader turn over at the completion of the cast (curved, slack, straight, etc…).



A flow or current of water, below another current or beneath a surface.

Unloading the Rod

The unbending of the rod transfers the casting energy from the rod back into the fly line.


Against the current of the river or stream and higher in elevation.


Into and against the wind.



A dry fly with hackles much larger than recommended tied on conventional fly patterns.


A fly fishers garment used to store gear (fly boxes, tippet, nippers, etc…) while fly fishing.


A tool with locking jaws for holding a hook when fly tying.


Wader Belt

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


Available in many styles and made of different waterproof fabrics, waders come in two main types: boot foot and stocking foot. Boot foot waders have boots built in, enabling you to just pull them on and go. Stocking foot waders require the use of a separate pair of wading shoes that, in turn, generally provide better support and traction.

Wading Boots or Shoes

These are boots built specifically to be worn over stocking foot waders. Their soles are made of either felt or rubber and many can also be stud-compatible.

Wading Staff

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

Warm Water

Refers to water types too warm to support salmonids (trout, char, salmon). Common warm water fish include panfish, bass, and carp.

Water Tension Cast

Using the tension of the water to assist in loading the rod while starting the casting stroke.


A piece of mono tied into the fly pattern in front of the hook point to reduce the likelihood of collecting weeds on the hook.

Weight Forward Line (WF)

An easy casting fly line because it carries most of its weight in the forward section of the line. Instead of a level middle section, like a double taper, it quickly tapers down from the rear of the forward section to a fine diameter running line, allowing it to shoot through the guides with less resistance for added distance. It is the most versatile fly line style.

Wet Fly

Any fly fished below the surface of the water. A wet fly is the forerunner of a nymph and streamer. Also, a traditional style of fly tied with soft, swept-back hackle and a backward sweeping wing.

Wet Fly Swing

A typical presentation method that has the flies swing across the water. It uses all types of methods such as streamers, nymphs, wets and even dries. May imitate swimming mayflies, emerging caddis, and small fish as an example.

Whip Finisher

A tool used in tying flies that helps the tier finish off the head of the fly.

Whitlock Connection

A method and tools for attaching a leader to fly line, repairing fly line, or making custom lines. Once you use it once I think it makes the nail knots and loop to loop connections obsolete (unless Switch, Scandi, or Spey heads). It creates the smoothest connection overall. Here is Dave’s site to purchase the kit.

Wind Knot

An overhand knot put in the leader by poor casting (tailing loop). The term is a polite attempt to appease new casters with the excuse of wind because the wind has nothing to do with it.


Wraps of thread used to attach the eyelets on a fly rod blank.


X System

Used in conjunction with a number, the letter ‘X’ is a measurement designating the diameter of leader material, such as “4X”. It refers to a diameter of a material instead of breaking strength. Subtract the “X” from .011” for the size by example 4x is .007 in size. The smaller the X in size the greater the diameter and the higher the breaking strength overall


A retractable device used to hang necessary items off your fly vest ‘ such as nippers ‘ to keep them out of the way when not in use.

fly fishing terms, glossary, and definitions