7 Easy Steps to Set Up a Fly Rod

7 Easy Steps to Set Up a Fly Rod

Fly fishing may seem like an intimidating sport to get into, but with a bit of knowledge and the right equipment, you'll be on your way to landing trout and other fish with this in no time. 

Fly fishing may seem like an intimidating sport to get into, but with a bit of knowledge and the right equipment, you'll be on your way to landing trout and other fish with this in no time. 

To set up a fly fishing rod, you will need an appropriately weighted rod, line, and reel. You'll also need backing and a fly line, as well as leader and tippet material, then your choice of fly fishing fly. 

If you're wondering how to choose the appropriate material for each item, don't worry! In this article, we will cover how to choose the right materials for your situation. On top of that, we'll look at how to set up your rod so you can start fly fishing!

Picture of a fly rod setup

How To Set Up a Beginner Fly Fishing Rod

Here, we'll explore the various parts of a fly fishing setup, discuss how to choose the right material for your situation, and look at how to rig your fly fishing rod. Here are the components you need and how to choose them:

A Fly Fishing Rod

Your fly fishing rod is the first and most important piece of equipment you'll need. When selecting a fly fishing rod, you'll need to consider both its length and weight.

Fly Fishing Rod Length

The length of your fly fishing rod is largely determined by the size of the streams and rivers you'll be fishing. As a general rule, select a fly fishing rod about 10-12 feet long for larger waters and 7-9 feet long for smaller streams.

Nymphing fly fishing rod with net

Fly Fishing Rod Weight

The weight of your fly fishing rod is also important, as it will affect how easily you can control your cast. A good starting point is to choose a fly fishing rod that feels comfortable in your hand and isn't too heavy or light for the type of water you'll be fishing.

Rod Size (Weight)

Type of Fish


Small trout


Average trout/ Typical fly fishing


Bass/ Streamer fishing


Bass, Pike, Large Trout




Now that you've selected the right fly fishing rod, it's time to learn how to set it up!

Step 1: Fly Fishing Rod Assembly

The butt of your fly fishing rod is the end you hold in your hand, and it's where the reel is attached. Start with the butt section, and insert the end into the next largest section with the alignment dots 180 degrees apart, then twist.

Repeat this step for the remaining sections.

Assembly a fly rod

Step 2: Attaching Your Fly Reel

Your fly reel is an important piece of gear and should be chosen based on the weight of your fly line. Heavier fly lines require a heavier reel, while lighter fly lines work best with a lighter reel. Here is how the weight of your reel should correspond with your catch:

Reel Size (Weight)

Type of Fish


Small trout


Average trout/ Typical fly fishing


Bass/ Streamer fishing


Bass, Pike, Large Trout


Tarpon/ Large saltwater fish

Depending on your ideal catch, your reel should also have a drag system to allow for controlled fish fighting.

To attach your reel to your fly rod, find the cork on the butt section of your assembled rod, unscrew the locking nuts, and slide the reel foot under it so that the reel is in line with the guides. Once the reel is placed onto the seat, tighten the locking nuts and check to ensure the reel is secure.

Fly Reel

Step 3:  Attach Line Backing

Line backing is a braided line that is used as the foundation for your fly line. The weight of your line backing should be equal to or greater than the weight of your fly line.

Attach one end of the backing to the spool of your reel and the other to your fly fishing rod using an arbor knot.

Arbor Knot short video click to watch

Attaching your backing to the reel is a relatively simple process. To attach your backing to your reel, you'll need to make sure the reel is configured correctly with either left or right hand retrieve. Then, attach the backing to the spool, which may be easier to do before mounting the reel on the rod.

Once attached, you'll be able to load the backing onto the reel by winding. Between 100 yd. and 200 yd. of backing is typical, but it's important to match the amount of backing you use with the size of your reel.

This can typically be found on the manufactures website from the company that made your fly fishing reel.

Step 4:  Attach Your Fly Line

Attach the opposite end of the backing to the fly line using the Surgeons Loop if your Fly Line has a pre welded loop or a Albright Knot if it does not. 

Surgeons Loop Knot - Video 

The next step is to attach the fly line. This is probably the most important part of your setup, as it's what you'll use to cast your fly.

A weighted line is used in conjunction with a fly rod and reel to cast the lightweight fly fishing lure or fly toward game.

There are three main types of fly lines:

  • Floating Fly Line.
  • Sinking Fly Line.
  • Sinking Tip Fly Line.

The floating fly line is the most versatile type, as it can be used in most fishing conditions. However, if you're fishing for heavier fish in deep water, you'll need a sinking fly line to get your streamer down to where the fish are.

Sinking fly line

A sinking tip fly line is a good option when you know you'll be fishing in deeper water but don't want to use a full sinking fly line. The sinking tip section of the line will help get your lure down quickly, while the floating section at the end of the line will keep your presentation visible and natural-looking.

Your line weight is also a factor to consider when choosing a fly line. Heavier lines are designed to cast larger lures and cover more water, while lighter lines are better for smaller flies and delicate presentations. Line weight corresponds with your rod and reel and reflects the size of the fish you're going for.

  • 1-3 - Small fish and trout.
  • 4 - Panfish/ larger trout
  • 5 - Trout/ “all-purpose”
  • 6 - Large Trout/ Bass
  • 7 - Bass/ Salmon/ Steelhead
  • 8 or more - Large saltwater salmon

Fly Line on a fly rod

Should the Fly Line Come Off the Top or Bottom of the Reel?

Fly line is traditionally attached to the reel by wrapping it around the arbor, or spool, of the reel. There are two ways to do this: top or bottom. Some anglers believe that the fly line coming off the top of the reel is better because it puts less tension on the line and makes it easier to cast. Others believe that the fly line coming off the bottom of the reel is better because it provides more drag on the fish, making it more difficult for them to escape.

Fly line should come off the bottom of the reel. If your line comes off the top, there may not be enough room between the rod handle and the line for your fingers.

You may have trouble removing or switching your rod to your other hand if a fish takes a bite out of you without having the line trapped between your fingers and the handle.

Leader and Tippet with Fly

Step 5: Attach A Leader

Leaders are an essential part of fly fishing and are used to connect the fly line to the fly. Leaders are typically made of monofilament lines or fluorocarbon lines. Monofilament is a cheaper material, but it is more visible in the water. Fluorocarbon sinks faster than monofilament and is less visible in the water.  

To attach a leader to a fly line, use the loop to loop connection or a blood knot. A nail knot or snail knot is also effective if you have a larger diameter fly line and leader material.

Blood Knot Video - How to Attach Leader to Fly Line

Fly fishing leaders range from  6 feet to 12 feet. What length to choose depends on the conditions, but a great starting point is to go with a 9-foot tapered leader. When you tie on your leader, make sure that there is a loop at the end so you can easily attach your fly line.

Do You Need a Tippet and Leader?

When fly fishing, it is important to have the right gear. This includes a fly rod, reel, fly line, tippet, and leader. Some anglers may ask themselves if they need a tippet and leader.

As a general rule, you do not need tippet if you have a long enough tapered leader.  Tippet is great for extending your leader, and also adding length when your leader gets to short from adding on flies.

Tippet for fly fishing

The main purpose of a tippet is to provide a transition between the fly line and the leader. The tippet helps to protect the fly line from getting nicked or abraded by the leader. It also serves as a shock absorber, which is important when fishing for larger fish. A good tippet should be strong and durable yet still be able to bend and move with the fish.

The main purpose of a leader is to help you cast your fly. Leaders are typically made of braided or monofilament lines, and they come in different lengths and strengths.

Step 6: Attach Tippet to your Leader

The tippet is the section of the leader that connects the fly to the hook. Tippets come in a variety of materials, including monofilament and fluorocarbon.

To attach your tippet to your leader, use the double surgeons knot. You can also add additional tags for flies using this knot. 

Double Surgeons Knot Fly Fishing Video

Monofilament is by far the most popular material for leaders, as it's strong, flexible, and affordable. Fluorocarbon leaders are gaining popularity due to their invisibility in water and high abrasion resistance.

Monofilament is the most popular choice for tippets because it is strong, relatively inexpensive, and easy to find. Monofilament is a single strand of plastic and is available in a variety of diameters. The diameter you choose depends on the weight of fly you're using and the size of the stream.

Fluorocarbon is a good choice for tippets because it is nearly invisible in the water, making it a favorite among fly fishermen. It is more expensive than monofilament, however, and can be difficult to find. Tippet size is going to correspond to the type of catch you’re looking for: 

Tippet Size


Pounds Test

Fish Size


.015 inches

25 pounds

Big Game


.013 inches

20 pounds

Larger Salmon


.012 inches

18.5 pounds

Striped Bass


.011 inches

15.5 pounds

Salmon or Steelhead


.010 inches

13.5 pounds



.009 inches

11.5 pounds

Largemouth & Smallmouth Bass


.008 inches

8.5 pounds

Bass & Larger Trout


.007 inches

6 pounds

Average Trout


.006 inches

4.75 pounds

Trout & Panfish


.005 inches

3.5 pounds

Smaller Trout


.004 inches

2.5 pounds

Smaller Trout & Panfish


.003 inches

1.75 pounds

Small Flies

Whichever tippet material you choose, make sure to match the size to the fly you're using. A too-large tippet will decrease the sensitivity of your line and make it more difficult to detect strikes from fish. A too-small tippet will make it difficult to land fish.

Small fly on tippet in mouth of small fish

Step 7: Attach Fly to Your Tippet

We like to use two main knots when attaching our fly to the tippet. The first is the Improved Clinch Knot. We want to use this knot on our first fly on multiple nymph rigs and dry fly rigs.

Improved Clinch Knot Video

The second knot is the Non-Slip Loop Knot. We use this knot when tying on streamers where we need a little extra movement. We also use this knot on tailing droppers and emerges to give it a little more free movement in the water column.

Non Slip Loop Knot Video

How Do You Reel a Fly Rod?

Reeling a fly rod is one of the most important aspects of fly fishing. It’s how you get your line out where you want it, and it is also how you set the hook when a fish bites. There are a few different ways that people reel their fly rods, but the most common way is to use an overhand or underhand grip.

When reeling a fly rod, ensure your drag isn't too tight, keep your rod tip high to put pressure on the catch, and slowly reel in your line. If your catch is low in the water, reel in as much as you can, dip the end of your rod, and reel in again as you lift.

Fly Fishing Flies by Drifthook - Catch more on the water

As you can see, assembling and setting up your first fly rod isn’t as intimidating as it seems. The key points are to select the materials that are right for your catch and conditions.

There are a ton of products on the market that can be used right out of the package in order to help beginners, but the more you get into the sport of fly fishing, the more you’ll learn about rod and reel specifics, including unique setups that benefit your style of fishing.

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