Central Texas Flyfishers Beginner's Corner

Beginner's Corner
(This section first published in our March 2001 Newsletter)

The following article is the first in a series that will outline the basics of fly fishing gear and terminology. It is being developed because there are a lot of new members who have either never used a fly rod or our out of practice but the information will be useful to the experienced fishermen as well. The first installment will be about rod selection.

There are several factors involved in choosing a fly rod. For the beginner the terminology can be confusing and sales people can be intimidating by trying to sell something you don't need. So, the first thing you need to know is what a rod is for.

The rod performs four functions. It presents the fly to your quarry, controls the fly, hooks the fish, and allows you to play and land the fish. The first requirement is obvious. The energy you supply to the rod is transmitted to the line, and subsequently, to the fly. The second requirement is a little more subtle. As you let your fly drift on the current it may become necessary to adjust how the fly is behaving either above or below the water. This is done by manipulating the rod and line. If one is so fortunate as to have a fish take your offering then you must use your rod to hook the fish firmly so that it will not get away. Finally, the rod gives you a mechanical advantage in playing the fish and bringing it to the net.

Now comes the decision as to what you will use this rod for. The type of rod you choose will depend on your fishing preferences. If you fancy sunfish (bluegill, pumpkinseed, or what the locals call "perch") you will not need a rod that was designed for tarpon fishing. The reverse is true. A rod designed for smaller fish will not have the stamina to horse that 13-pound bass you just hooked out of the weeds. This choice is a personal one but it is crucial to enjoying the sport. Your first rod must be suitable for what you want to do.

The rod "weight" will be a clue to the type of fishing it was designed for. The weight of a rod is determined by the size of the line that it will cast. That number is the weight of the first 30 feet of the fly line in grains (or there abouts). Smaller line weights, and rods, are for smaller fish. Be careful though. A one weight rod is great sport on small fish but will be more difficult to cast for a beginner than say a five weight and, because they are not common, more expensive. A three weight is the smallest I would recommend for the beginner and that is generous.

For the most part the larger the rod weight, the larger the fly that it can cast. If you plan to fish for trout or small bass you can expect to cast flies ranging from #4 nymphs or streamers to #20 dry flies. Three to five-weight rods will cast the small flies quite well but you would need to use seven or eight-weight rods to cast the larger flies. I would suggest a compromise and use a six-weight rod to try to cover the range.

What should your rod be made of? Currently there are three materials that rods are made of: fiberglass, graphite, and bamboo or cane. Fiberglass is heavier but can take a lot of abuse. It is cheaper and may fit into a budget more readily but you will soon want to upgrade. Graphite is the most common material used in modern rods. They are versatile, come in many price ranges, and are easier to cast with. Bamboo is what rods were made of before fiberglass and graphite came on the scene. There has been an upsurge in interest in bamboo because of its delicate presentation and because it can be hand crafted. They tend to be more expensive and not recommended for a beginner.


Rods come in different lengths that vary from 5' 6" to greater that 10". A longer rod requires more energy to cast but gives much better line control and longer casts. Shorter rods, while not requiring the energy to cast take away from line control. They do have their niche though. In close, brushy areas they are ideal. The rod length recommendation for a beginner is from 7' 6" to 9'.

Rod action is the last category I will discuss. In general rods are slow, medium, or fast. Slow action rods are great for delicate presentation of dry files. Fast action rods are stiffer and are good for distance casting. Again the recommendation for the beginner is to compromise and select a medium action rod to give you most of the range of both types.

In summary the beginner should choose a rod that fits his or her needs. For learning to cast and fishing the local fresh water streams, ponds, and lakes a medium action graphite rod, six weight from 7' 6" to 9' in length is a good choice.

Kim Heaston

Beginner's Corner
(This section first published in our April 2001 Newsletter)

This is the second installment in a series of articles that will outline the basics of fly fishing gear and terminology. It is being developed because there are a lot of new members who have either never used a fly rod or our out of practice but the information will be useful to the experienced fishermen as well. This installment will discuss fly lines.

As we learned in the last article, the weight of the fly line is expressed as the weight, in grains, of the first thirty feet of the fly line. This, for the most part, should match the weight designation of your rod. A five-weight rod should have a five-weight line.

There are two factors about fly line that we will begin with: Line tapers, and floating or sinking factors. Floating line, like its name, floats on the surface of the water to hold your fly on or near the surface. Sinking line, like its name, sinks. It comes in degrees: Intermediate, sinking tip, and sinking. It is designed to get your fly down to where the fish are.

Lines come with no taper, double tapered, weight forward, and a modified weight forward, the shooting taper. The fact that a line is tapered makes casting easier. As the energy of the cast is transmitted down the line it diminishes. The diminishing diameter of the line allows what energy is left to keep the line going. Line with no taper, called level line, is very difficult to cast well and is not recommended for the novice. A double tapered line is tapered evenly at both ends. It cast well but not for distance. It is especially good for roll casting. That makes it a good choice for areas where there is limited back casting. Another benefit is that it can be swapped end-to-end when you have worn out the working end and the life of the line is doubled. Weight forward line has all of the taper towards the front of the line and is the best line for the novice caster. It casts for longer distances that double tapered line. Its cousin, the shooting taper line is designed for distance casting but is not recommended for the beginner.

Now let's put this together. There is a convention in the description of fly lines:

DT - Double Taper
WF - Weight Taper
ST - Shooting Taper
L - Level
S - Sinking
F - Floating
F/S - Sinking Tip
I - Intermediate

To describe a five weight, weight forward, floating line you would see the following: WF5F. WF for weight forward, 5 for the line weight, and F for floating. Other examples are ST8S, WF6F/S, etc.

Kim Heaston

Beginner's Corner: Reel 'em In
(This section first published in our May 2001 Newsletter)

Well friends and fishers, we have yet another hurdle to jump so that you can catch a fish with your gear. We have talked about rods and lines. The next thing you are going to need is a reel.

The reel's most rudimentary function is merely a place to store your fly line when it's not in use. They can range in price from around $20 to the-sky-is-the-limit. As you go higher in price the functions of the reel increase. Most reels are single action meaning that one turn of the crank gives one turn of the spool. For very large game fish you can get reels with a 1:2 ratios.

Most fish caught are not reeled in but played in by stripping line. But the other functions of the reel are to apply resistance, or drag, to tire the fish and it must be rugged enough to handle the environment where you fish.

The most rudimentary reels have a simple click-and-pawl type of drag, which is not adjustable. As stated before, a drag is not a necessary function for most types of fishing and this type of drag system is adequate. Most reels come with some form of adjustable drag, which the purists consider a luxury, but there will come a time when a fish larger than you expected will take up all of your slack and start pulling line off of the reel. A drag will be handy then.

Reels must be rugged enough to deal with the fishing environment. If you wish to do salt water fishing you will need a reel that will withstand the corrosive environment of salt water. Also, the reel must not fall apart when taxed. Less expensive reels are often made of stamped sheet metal or injection molded graphite. You would not want to task a reel like that against a tarpon and conversely, you would not need a heavy-duty machined aluminum reel to catch a sunfish.

Size plays a role in your selection of reels also. You should match the reel to the line weight of your rod. Usually reels can accommodate several different line sizes. All reels must be strung with a backing, which is attached to the fly line. The backing acts as a filler to keep the fly line from being wound to small against the reel. The reel instructions will usually tell you how much backing to install for what size line. This is how one reel can accommodate different line sizes.

To sum up, a reel's main function is to store fly line and retrieve it. When choosing a reel consider your budget because there is a reel to fit all of them. Select according to the type of fishing you will do by considering what you will fish for and where you will fish.

Kim Heaston

Beginner's Corner: Following the Leader
(This section first published in our June 2001 Newsletter)

This installment will define what a leader is, what a tippet is, how to choose one for your fishing conditions, and how to attach the leader to your line.

So far you have a rod, some line, and a reel to put it onto. What you don't have is the way to present the fly to the fish. The diameter of your fly line is obviously too large to tie a fly to and would spook the fish when it came splashing down in its vicinity. What is needed is a leader.

The leader performs three functions. It is the transition between the fly line and the fly, transmits the energy of the cast to the fly, and, hopefully, fools the fish into thinking that it's not there. The first function is quite plain. There needs to be a transition from fly line to fly and the leader performs that by starting out with a thick diameter at the fly line end and tapers down to the diameter that is needed to tie on a fly. That taper also helps transmit the energy of the cast to the fly. As the diameter gets smaller the leader needs less energy to move forward, thus keeping your fly in the air. The third function has to do with the final diameter of the leader. It is usually much smaller than the butt end and is tied to a tippet of the same or smaller diameter. It is this tippet that the fish will hopefully not see.

Tippets are made of the same material as the leader. It should be the same diameter as the end of the leader and it extends the life of the leader. When you lose a fly or get a nasty tangle you can cut the tippet. If the tippet gets short you can replace it and only lose a couple of inches of leader. There are many other functions that the tippet serves that you will learn as you delve deeper into the art of fly fishing.

Leaders and tippets come in different sizes. These are 1X, the largest size, thru 7X. I have heard tell of 8 and 9X but these are not common. You may read an interesting article about why this sizing convention was chosen by going to the Federation of Fly Fisher's web page. The size of your fly should determine the size of your leader and tippet. The following table shows the tippet size and fly size associated with that:

Tippet Size

Fly Size


2, 1/O


4, 6, 8


6, 8, 10


10, 12, 14


12, 14, 16


14, 16, 18


16, 18, 20, 22


18, 20, 22, 24


22, 24, 26, 28

Although you can tie small flies on larger tippets and leaders you will lose some of the more natural appearance of the fly on or in the water. Sometimes a one size difference can make the difference in a day's fishing.

Leaders come in different lengths. Usually starting at about six feet and going up to twelve. A long leader is preferred for fishing with little splash so as not to spook nervous fish. I have read of fishermen using twelve foot leaders with three feet of tippet. For fishing Texas that kind of delicacy is usually not needed but keep the concept of delicacy in mind when fishing the Gua-dalupe River. Usually a 7-1/2 to 9 foot leader will do fine. As you gain more experience you can experiment.

Let's wrap it up. The leader connects the fly line to the fly, and hence, the fish. Tippet is tied onto the end of the leader to extend the reach of the leader and to preserve the leader. For a beginner I recommend a 7-1/2 foot leader with about 18 inches of tippet for fishing Central Texas waters. The size of the leader and tippet should match the type of fishing you are going to do.

Kim Heaston

Beginner's Corner: Let's Wrap it Up
(This section first published in our July 2001 Newsletter)

So far we have chosen a rod, fly line, reels, and discussed leaders so lets put the system together and take it for a test spin. How do all of these components come together? I can sense this question coming so here is a start on putting it together.

Attach the fly line backing to the reel. This has not been previously mentioned. Backing? What is backing? The fly line is of limited length and will not usually fill the reel. To prevent the fly line from taking a permanent set and to allow for some extra line if your fish puts up a good fight you need to put a layer of backing on your reel first. This is usually 20-lb. test Dacron line. The reel manufacturer usually tells you how much backing to put on the reel for a given weight and style line. Often times you can buy a spool of the recommended length. Using too much backing is the safer way to add backing. Too little backing will impede your casting because the line will want to remain tightly coiled. Too much can always be trimmed shorter. The backing and fly line, when reeled in should be about ¼ inch from the edge of the spool to allow smooth operation of the reel. The backing is attached by tying a slipknot around the spool and then an overhand knot at the tag end. Wrap a few turns by hand to trap the line and insert the spool into the reel. Put the reel on your rod and reel up the backing evenly with moderate tension.

The backing is attached to the fly line with an Albright knot. Tying the knot is difficult to describe so come to a meeting to learn how. Reel up the fly line. If there is less than ¼ inch of space between the edge of the spool and your line you will need to remove a few yards of backing until it comes out about right.

There are many ways to attach the leader to the fly line. The most commonly used method is the nail knot. Again, this is a difficult knot to describe (but fairly easy to tie) so come to a meeting to learn how. The other methods are making an epoxy connection to the fly line or using a commercial device for the connection. It is recommended to know the nail knot so that when you are in the middle of a stream and your alternate method fails you will have this skill to reattach your leader. Now tie on a tippet to the end of your leader. There are also several knots for this. Tie it about eighteen inches long and of the same size as your leader.

Finally, after you have assembled your rod and reel and threaded the line through the guides you must tie on a fly. A great many articles and studies have been made about the knots used for this purpose. Two knots that are fairly easy and quite strong that come to mind for tying on flies are the improved clinch knot and the Trilene knot. Both are similar in how they are tied and retain up to 90% of the line strength.

I know that I've been brow beating you about coming to meetings to learn this stuff but I also know that it's not always possible. So I am going to recommend a book that will give you more detail on setting up for the first time. From whatever sources you, can get a copy of "The Orvis Fly-Fishing Guide". It will take you from selecting a rod through landing your first fish. You will never become proficient by just reading but this is a great book for anyone who has gotten the bug.

Kim Heaston

© 2001 Central Texas Flyfishers

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