The Complete List of Fly Fishing Terms & Definitions (Lingo for Beginners)


As with any sport or hobby, there are a few terms when starting that you have no idea what they mean. It is sometimes rather embarrassing to ask what they mean, not wanting to sound stupid.

Well, not to worry, we have put together the ultimate terms list that will have you talking like a pro in no time!

Fly Fishing Terms and Lingo for Beginners

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Starting Gear Terms

Fly Rod
The fly rod is an extension of your arm, and it holds the fly reel transferring energy through the line to the fly. You also use the fly rod to fight the fish. It has extra flex, which prevents the line from breaking. Rods differ in weight from 1wt up to 16wt.
Weight
Fly rods differ in weight from 1wt, which is the lightest, to 16wt, the heaviest. The weight of the fly rod is determined by the weight line it can cast.
Length
Fly rods come in various lengths. From 7′ up to 11,’ the general length is 9.’
Grip
The grip is the handle to which you hold the fly rod. They are usually made from layered cork, and there are various shapes made according to the weight of the fly rod.
Action
The action of a fly rod is how much flex and how quickly it returns to a straight form once cast. You set slow, medium (moderate), and fast fly rods. The best general action is a medium to fast action. This allows you, as a beginner, to have more control over your casts.
Ferrule
The ferrule is the reinforced part of the fly rod where each piece joins into the other. It has usually got a reinforced thread wrapping and epoxy over each receiving piece of the fly rod.
Carbon Fiber
Fly rods are made from various compounds. The most common is Carbon fiber-built fly rods. These rods are rolled on a heated steel rod, and the carbon sheets are then shaped and secured by the plastic resin.
Graphite
Graphite is a material used to make fly rods. It produces a very light fly rod.
Graphene
It is a substance added to the resin when rolling the fly rod. It is extremely strong and gives added strength without added weight.
Fiberglass
It was used in the older days to make fly rods. It was the next step up from split cane rods. These rods have a beautiful buttery action and are lovely when fishing a dry fly. The more modern glass rod companies like Epic Fly Rods build some of the best in the business.
Split Cane Bamboo
In the old days, split cane or bamboo was used to build fly rods. As withl everything in life, the split cane fly rods of the modern-day are prized possessions.

Reels

Weight
The fly reel holds the backing and fly line. They come in different weights, usually covering 2-3 weight classes at a time 2-4wt/5-6wt/7/9wt, etc.
Drag
The drag on a reel provides tension on the outgoing line when the fish is swimming away. This can be tensioned according to the angler’s needs and quickly changed. There are different types of drags in the reels, which are available in different price brackets.
Reel seat
The reel seat is the place on the rod where the reel gets attached. You get different types. Downward locking, upward locking the reel foot securely in place.
CNC machined
It is a method of reel production. It is considered a higher grade of production. The finer details can be seen with a machined reel.
Die-cast
Die-cast reels are a method of reel manufacture and production. Considered cheaper with a greater volume output, most entry-level reels are made this way.
Spool
A spool is a round disc that holds the line. Most reels have interchangeable spools allowing the angler to change lines quickly.
Quick-release
The quick-release clip releases the spool from the reel housing. It is usually a tiny clip or button that can be pushed.
Startup inertia
It is considered a jerky/staggered uneven output of the fly line from the reels drag system. It happens when it gets pulled out, and it isn’t ideal as it can result in lines breaking and fish being lost.
Disc Drag
It is a type of drag system. It is an excellent drag system as it uses two discs against each other to create tension. Teflon, Rulon, and cork are the main materials used.
Click and Pawl
It is a style of reel. It’s of the older design but making its way back into the market. It makes use of a small clicker pin that is tensioned to a disc tooth. It makes a lovely clicking sound on the outward movement. Not a very strong dray system, but the use of a palming helps.
Anodizing
It is a treatment to the reel cage and body to prevent corrosion and rust from the elements.

Fly lines

The fly line is a tapered line attached to the reel and then to the leader, which you tie your fly onto.

Weight Forward
It is the fly line style that is tapered towards the front end. Weighted in the front part allows the line to load faster. It is a great fly line, to begin with.
DT
Double Taper fly lines are most heavily in the center of the line and taper off evenly to either end. These are a great small streams line for delicate fishing and presentations.
Nymphing Line
A nymphing line is a single-diameter fly line that can only be used for euro nymphing techniques.
Welded loops
The modern fly lines have welded loops on either end of the fly line, allowing easier connections and changing of the fly lines.
Arbor
Arbor is the term used to identify the distance from the center pin of the reel to the base of the spool. A large arbor has a greater distance between the two.
Backing
The backing is used to extend the fly line. It’s put on the reel before the fly line and can be anything from 40 yards to 400 yards in length.
Taper
The taper of a fly line is where the heaviest and thickest diameter of the line is.

  • WF – Weight forward taper.
  • DT – Double Taper.
  • Rocket Taper – is a very heavily weighted WF line used for heavier flies and windy conditions.
Floating
A floating line is a fly line that floats on the water surface and has a buoyant coating around it.
Intermediate
This fly line doesn’t float, has no complete sink, has a very slow sink rate, and often just hangs in the water column.
Sinking
A sinking line is a line that sinks. They have different sink rates, DI3 DI5. DI7. DI3 sinks the slowest and DI7 the fastest.
Running Line
A running line is a full-length fly line with no taper. You usually attach a tapered head of choice to it.
Leader
The leader is the length of the line that connects your fly line to the fly. This is usually monofilament, fluorocarbon, or a light polymer of sorts.
Tipper X
Tippet refers to the last piece of the thinnest line used to tie your fly on with. It is the piece of line you change most often. Tippet is classed in sizes of X; 1X, 2X down to 8X. 8X being the thinnest and lightest.
Sink rate
The rate at which the line sinks. It is measured in inches per second.
Breaking strength
The lbs at which the line will break under tension.
Butt section
The larger end of a leader or fly line.
Tippet rings
A tippet ring is a small 2mm steel ring that you use to attach your tippet to, and on the other end, it is attached to your leader. This allows you to change your tippet regularly without shortening your leader.
Monofilament
Monofilament is a singular melted polymer, with nylon being its most common medium. Cheap and inexpensive to use.
Fluorocarbon
It is a carbon and fluorine blend that is much stronger than mono. Fluro is a lot denser and sinks. It is mainly used in tippets and leaders.

Flies

Tied with feathers and synthetics, the flies are what we use to imitate the insect. Tied onto the tippet line and fished according to what you want to imitate.

Size
I am referring to hook size, the smallest being #32, the size of a match head up to the largest 4/0, the size of your inner hand.
Barbless
Most modern hooks are made barbless these days. The small barb near the hook point has been removed. This advocates catch and release and minimal damage to the fish.
Mayfly
The most common species of insect found on the river systems around the world. Its life cycle has a few stages, each with a specific fly pattern tied to imitate it.
Caddis
An insect that is of abundance on most river systems. Many fly patterns imitate its life cycle.
Stonefly
An insect that is found in water systems worldwide. Its lifecycles are a rich source of food for fish, mainly trout.
Damselfly
Damselfly is a fly insect very similar to a dragonfly.
Dun
It is the stage of a mayfly between a nymph and adult stage. It’s a vulnerable stage as the wings are formed, but it can’t fly yet. Trout love them!
Nymph
The stage of the insect once hatched from the egg. Trout feed on nymphs on the bottom of the riverbed. It is also called a nymph pattern, the fly used to imitate the nymph stage of the Mayfly.
Dry fly
The name for a certain category of the flies. Dry flies imitate the adult stage of the insects on the surface of the water. These flies generally always float.
Wet fly
A wet fly is a class of flies with a very traditional side. They are tied to imitate baitfish and larger insects in the nymph or pupa form.
Emerger
Emergers, are the emerging form of the insect’s life cycle, and a fly is tied specifically to imitate this stage. At this point, the insect’s wings are fully developed but still wet and can fly, which makes the insect very susceptible to being eaten.
Spinner
Spinner is the mayfly female that has laid her eggs and now floats on the water surface until she dies. Which then she is called a ‘spent spinner.’
Midge pupa
The midge pupa is the insect stage when the nymph moves up through the water column to emerge.
Terrestrial
Terrestrials are considered outside the water cycle insects such as grasshoppers, beetles, spiders, and dragonflies.
Chironomid
Midge larvae are also called Chironomids. It’s the stage if the midge post egg below the insect emerges and flies away. They hang suspended in the still waters, and trout love to feed on them.
Streamer
The streamer pattern is a large baitfish imitation that you fish in still or moving waters, and it usually produces aggressive eats from big fish.
Search pattern
A search pattern is considered a pattern that searches for fish. It doesn’t represent anything in particular and can be mistaken for numerous insects and food. It is a great pattern to use when the fishing is slow.
Hatch
A hatch is when the insects all break out into the adult stage and fly all over the water. This usually causes a feeding frenzy and happens early or late in the day or after a downpour.
Hook Point up
A term to describe the way the hook point rides in the water.
Gape
The distance from the shank of the hook to the hook point. A wipe gape hook has a larger distance from point to shank and is usually used for fish species with larger mouths.

General Fly Fishing Terms

Wading boots
Fishing boots are specifically made for wet wading, and they have special grip soles and ankle support. The key difference to normal boots is that they drain well and dry faster.
Waders
Pants you wear that are waterproof and keep you dry and warm.
Chest high waders
Waders that go up to your chest with shoulder straps. These are by far the most common and most used.
Thigh-high waders
Thigh highs are waders that cover you to your thigh, and it’s more like an extended boot.
Stocking foot
Stocking foot waders are the most modern. You put your wading boot on over the wetsuit booties attached to the waders.
Breathable waders
These are the best; the breathable waders allow air to pass through but are still waterproof. You won’t sweat too much and will remain dry.
Gravel guards
Gravel guards are wetsuit-made socks usually 2mm – 3mm thick. You slip in your foot and double-fold over to cover the boot top and laces, and this prevents any small stones from getting onto your boot while on the water.
Wading socks
A wading sock can be a wetsuit sock bootie as described above or material-based poly cotton that drains well and provides comfort.
Float tube
A floating tube that you sit in and kick paddle around to fish. Used on still waters to get to the areas not reachable from land.
Fly Vest
A jacket worn with many pockets holds all the gear needed for the day on the water.
Fly pack
An integrated backpack and chest pack used to fish with. It holds all the gear you need for the day out.
Chest Pack
A singular pack that fist the chest and holds the necessities.
Fly box
The small box holds all the flies you may use for the day.
Landing net
The net used to land the fish and is usually attached to the angler’s back with a magnet for ease of use.
Hemostat
Or forceps, as referred to in some parts. They are used to remove hooks that are a little trickier to get out.
Line nippers
Stainless steel nippers were used to cut the line.
Floatant
An oil-based gel is applied to the dry fly fibers, so the fly floats for longer. Prevent the fibers from becoming saturated with water.
Strike indicator
A small buoyant float is attached to the upper leader. It helps to detect takes.

Technique

Setting the hook
When you raise the fly rod and hook the fish, set the hook to ensure it penetrates and holds the fish.
Cast
The action is used to get your fly out and on the water.
Dropper
A fly that is tied up the tippet from the end fly (point) or a fly tied behind a dry fly can also be called a dropper
False Cast
A casting stroke where the line doesn’t touch the water. This stroke is used to get more lines out through the eyes.
Roll cast
A cast is used in tight conditions. You basically roll the fly line back and flick it forward again. You don’t get much distance, but you don’t need any back room to make the cast.
Double haul
The double haul is a casting stroke used to get extra distance.
Water haul
This casting stroke is used when you are faced with excessive winds or tight spaces. You use the water to load the rod on the back cast. This is great in rivers.
Belgium Cast
The cast is best used in very windy conditions, the wind is used to float the line and fly out onto the water.
Mending
To mend a line is when you need to keep the rod tip and fly line in a line together to prevent and drag; when you roll the line backwards to keep it in line with the fly it is called a mend.
Palming
Palming is a term used referring to when you use the palm of your hand to slow down your spool of the line going out.
Euro-nymphing
It is a technique in fly fishing heavier nymphs are used to anchor the line at the selected depth and drift through the deeper pools and runs. It’s a very effective way to for trout when the waters are high and the fish aren’t eating dry flies.
Double rig
A double is a rig with two flies on it. It usually is used when nymphing.
Drift
A drift is when you let the flies drift with the current, at the currents pace not slower or faster!
Drag
If the flies drift too fast or too slow, DRAG is created. This is a no-no in fly fishing as the flies below just don’t look natural enough.
High stick
High sticking is a technique used to keep the line off the water and to remain in contact with your flies the whole way through the drift.
Strip
A term used to describe the retrieval of the fly line you strip it in.
Figure-eight retrieve
A retrieval method whereby the angler makes a figure of eight with the line when retrieving it in.
2 Handed Retrieve
This form of a strip is used to bring the fly-in at a faster pace. You place the rod under your arm and retrieve the line with both hands.
Fowl hook
Is considered a fowl hook when you hook the fish somewhere other than the mouth.

On the Water

Drop off
A drop-off is usually a ledge that drops into deeper water. Fish like to patrol this ledge drop for food.
Eddy
An eddy is where the water current swirls around onto itself.
Freestone
A freestone stream is a flowing body of water that is dependent on the weather and rain. These streams can be a small trickle to a raging torrent.
Headwaters
Headwaters is a term used to describe the head or inlet of the pool or run.
Tailout
The tail out is the end part of the run or pool that starts to taper into the next set of rapid waters.
Seam
The seam is the line formed where two different currents flow together. Fish often hold in the slower part of the seam to feed on the passing food.
Hydro-Pocket
This is the area before or after a large boulder. The water splits around the rock, creating a natural space in front and behind the rock. Fish will hold here as there isn’t much current to put up with.
Still water
A still enclosed piece of water you fish on.
Ripple
The small swell or waves on the water’s surface are called ripples.
Rise
When a fish breaks the surface to feed.
Run
A stretch of productive fishing water can be called a run, or when the fish is hooked and swims off, pulling your line out is called a run.
Overhang
Overhang is an overhanging branch or structure under which the fish can find protection.
Hung up
To get hung up is a slang word for getting stuck. Either in a tree or the bottom.

Knots

Albright
The Albright knot is a great knot to join two lines of various materials and thicknesses. Fly line to leader or backing to fly line.
Arbor
Arbor knot is one of the best knots to tie when connecting your line or backing to a reel spool.
Barrel Knot
A great knot to join to pieces of mono together of similar thicknesses, ideal for leader construction.
Clinch knot
The clinch and improved clinch are great knots to tie your fly on with.
Double surgeons
Great simple knot to tie for dropper tags.
Needle Knot
The needle knot is used to attach the leader to the fly line. It takes some practice, but it is a great knot that isn’t too big.

Fly Tying

Abdomen
The rear end of an insect is often segmented.
Adult
The stage where the insect is at its most mature form and the last stage of its life cycle, before death.
Bead
A little brass or tungsten bead forms part of the head of the fly. They come in various weights and sizes, the bead also makes the fly sink.
Biot
A wing feather of a bird. A turkey or goose boit is split and used as an abdomen on many fly variants.
Bobbin
The bobbin is the tying tool that holds the spool of thread.
Bodkin
A bodkin is a small needle-like tool used for picking out trapped fibers.
Bucktail
The tail hairs of a deer. This material is used in a variety of methods in fly tying.
Cape
A cape is a patch of feathers that have been treated or dyed.
CDC
Cul de Canard, are the feathers around the ducks preen glad. These feathers are drenched in natural oils, which make them very buoyant. They are a prized material in the fly-tying world.
CDL
Coq de Leon is one of the oldest breeds of birds used for fly tying materials. Their feathers have long speckled fibers ideal for tails and wet fly variants.
Chenille
A synthetic line that is made to imitate body fibers and segments.
Collar
The collar of the fly is the area right behind the head or bead. This is often tied in a bright color as a trigger.
Comparadun
Comparadun is a style of tying CDC feathers to imitate an emerging mayfly.
Dubbing
Dubbing is a material, natural or synthetic, used to make the body of the flies.
Deer hair
The hair from the deer’s belly or flank. It has a hollow fiber and is very buoyant.
Elk Hair
The hair of an elk, usually belly patches. These fibers are hollow and buoyant. The hair makes great dry flies.
Hackle
The hackle is the long feathers that can be used for various tying techniques. The feathers are taken from the saddle or neck.
Hackle pliers
Hackle pliers are used to clinch the hackle fibers when wrapping them around the fly body or post. They can also be used to hold any smaller thread or wire.
Hair stacker
A brass or stainless-steel tool is used to pack the hair to align the tips.
Hollow hair
Hairs such as elk, deer, and a few other antelope have hollow hair fibers that work very well on dry flies.
Marabou
These are soft down like feathers from an ostrich or turkey. They are great for tails and bigger bodies.
Parachute
When a hackle feather is wrapped around a post to form a halo of sorts, this is considered a parachute-style fly. The parachute helps the fly float better.
Thorax
The thorax of an insect is the part between the head and abdomen.
Vise
The vise is what you use to hold the hook while you tie the fly.
Whip finish
Whip finish is a tool used to finish off the fly. And secure the thread.

Fish Biology

Anadromous Fish
It is a fish that starts in freshwater then moves to salt and back freshwater.
Kype
The bottom jaw hook that is formed on a male salmon.
Sea-run
It is a term used referring to trout that spend some time in the saltwater. An example is a steelhead.
Dorsal Fin
The top protruding fin on the back of a fish.
Char
A species of Artic fish native to the Alpine lakes.
Caudal Fin
It is the tail fin that the fish swims with.
Pectoral fin
Are the two fins located on either side of the fish’s body? They are responsible for the direction and side-to-side movement of the fish.
Pelvic fin
Are the pair of fins behind the pectoral but inside the anal fin. They keep the fish from rolling over.
Anal Fin
It is an unpairs fin located at the anus of the fish.
Adipose Fin
The Adipose fin is the tiny fin on the lower back of the fish. Not all fish have them, and it helps to keep the fish balanced.
Lateral line
The lateral line is a sensory system that monitors water movements and pressure.
Spawn
When the fish spawn, they lay their eggs.
Steelhead
A sea-run rainbow trout.
Grilse
A salmon that has returned to the river after a season out at sea.

The Wrap Up

So, there you have it, the basic fly fishing terms and lingo to get started and talking like a pro! PLEASE feel free to add any terms I have missed in our comments section.

The more, the merrier!

Tight Lines!

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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