Rigging for Fly Fishing

Article courtesy of Cascades Flyfishing, www.cascadesfly.com

Terminal tackle is a term more frequently used in the conventional fishing world; however, in my mind, it applies to any component in your fly fishing rigging that could fail, i.e. – the knots, the leader material and the fly.

Rigging Overview

  1. When rigging a fly fishing reel, the first step is to tie backing onto the fly reel spool, and wind on backing. Typically an arbor knot is used at this step. If a fish takes you all the way to the end of your backing, and to this step in your rigging, you’re in trouble.
  2. The backing is then attached to the rear section of the fly line. Two knots work in this application; the Albright knot or the nail knot.
  3. At the distal end of the fly line, attach a butt section. A butt section is a 6-10” section of 20-30 lb monofilament with a Perfection loop at the end. Use an Albright or nail knot to attach the monofilament butt section to the fly line. A Perfection loop is tied on the end of the butt section to allow rapid changing of leaders through the use of an inter-locking loop.
  4. Most store-bought leaders come with a Perfection loop already tied in the end that attaches to the fly line, or butt section. Slide the leader Perfection loop over the butt section Perfection loop and pull the leader back through the butt section Perfection loop to create an inter-locking loop that can be easily swapped out without having to re-tie any knots.
  5. Tie the fly on with any number of knots including a non-slip mono loop, palomar, improved clinch or Duncan loop.


There are several knots I use very regularly when rigging for fly fishing. When you are tying these knots, keep in mind that these are what keep you connected to the fish so a good knot book is a really nice resource to have around. There are numerous resources on the inter-web as well.

Some examples of functional fly fishing knots:

  • Non-slip mono loop (attach large flies)
  • Palomar (attach very large flies)
  • Improved Clinch (attach small flies)
  • Perfection loop (butt section and leader – interlocking loop)
  • Double or Triple Surgeon’s (building leaders)
  • Albright or Nail (backing to fly line and butt section to fly line)

The Albright knot or nail knot is used to connect two lines of different diameters; in our case, the fly backing to the fly line and the fly line to a butt section. This is a heavier weight monofilament attached to the fly line with a Perfectionloop knot at the end. This allows rapid changing of leaders through the use of two interlocking loops.

The Perfection Loop knot is most commonly used when building a leader and utilizing the interlocking loop method from “butt” section to attach to the leader. An alternative would be to use the Albright or Nail knot to attach the leader directly to the fly line with no butt section.

The non-slip mono loop knot (large flies) and Palomar knot (gargantuan flies) and improved clinch knot (small flies) are used to attach the fly to the leader. A non-slip mono loop knot allows the fly to swing freely at the end of the leader with the theory being that it increases the action of the fly in the water. The Palomar is said to be a 100% knot and relatively easy to tie. I find it applicable to really large flies and hopefully really large fish.

The improved Clinch knot is one of the most basic fishing knots. I use the improved Clinch knot when there is a need to attach small flies to the leader. The Palomar or Loop knots are just too cumbersome for this task.

As fish break off or your efforts to find the right fly causes shortening of the leader, remember you can “rebuild” or increase the leader length using tippet material and a Double or Triple Surgeon’s knot. Other knots applicable to this task are the Blood knot and Uni-knot.

Partings tips

I look for a number of possible defects which could cause failure. These include some type of deterioration such as cracking of fly line from age and/or overuse or damage to leader material fromabrasion.

When you don’t have a point on your hook after dinging it on a rock behind you on a poor backcast, it is called “pointless” fishing. Inspect your fly regularly. And remember, some of us spend a lot of time and money chasing these crazy fish. After hooking up to a nice one, it would be a shame to lose it because of complacency in rigging.

Cascades Flyfishing, A Division of Cascades Expeditions, LLC, Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved