Fly Fishing Glossary of Terms and Phrases (Fly Fishing Slang)

  • Jun 11, 2020

Below you will find a complete fly fishing glossary of terms. You can find fly fishing slang, definitions, and common terminology used.

While you’re here, check out our Fly Fishing Tips Library (Top Hints & Tricks) or our Recommended Fly Fishing Books.

Fly Fishing Slang


describes the flex a fly rod makes under the load of the fly line

adjustable drag

a drag setting that is able to be manually adjusted by turning a knob on the reel frame

albright knot

a knot used to tie vastly different sizes or types of leader/line materials together; e.g., to tie wire to line or leader


Refers to the process by which metallic reels are coated with a protective oxide to deter corrosion

anti-reverse drive

type of reel in which the reel handle remains stationary as the line is drawn off the spinning reel spool; engages only when the line is being retrieved onto the reel spool

arbor knot

The knot used to tie backing to the fly reel

back cast

that stage of a flycasting stroke that is on a backward plane to the rear of the caster


a thin, braided material, usually 20-30 lbs. test braided “dacron” or “micron”, that is put first on a fly reel using the “Arbor Knot” to “back” the fly line to which it is attached

back spooling

when the line on a reel spool “overruns” the spool


a piece of cotton, roughly 20″ x 24″, that is worn around the neck to assist in comfort control;

belly boat

slang for float tube

big game

refers to that style of reel designed for use with large fresh or saltwater fish that are also referred to as “big game fish”

blank (rod blank)

name given to fishing rods without any components affixed; a “naked’ (“blank”) rod

blood knot

a knot used to connect/tie together sections of leader; usually with different diameters of material as a means to taper the leader from butt to tippet (alternate: “surgeon knot“)    

boot foot waders

that style of waders that has the “boot” as part of the wader


slang for flies used by fly fishermen

butt cap

the fly rod component that fits over the end of the reel seat

butt end

that end of any line (backing, fly line, leader, etc.) that is attached first to any connecting part (as opposed to “tag end”, “tip” or “tippet”)

butt section

the section of a rod that holds the reel & is held in the casting hand (as opposed to the “tip section“)

cartridge reel

type of reel that uses interchangeable plastic spools enabling use of multiple lines with one reel

cast reels

reels that are manufactured by “casting” the parts from a mold & then connecting together to make the whole reel

casting stroke

the complete cycle of casting the fly line using the backcast and forward cast

chest waders

one piece waders that come up to the chest and are held up by suspenders

click & pawl drag

style of spool restraint that uses 1 or 2 spring-loaded “pawls” ratcheting against teeth on the spool

click mechanism

device used in click & pawl, as well as some disc drag systems, that results in an audible clicking sound as the spool rotates

clinch knot

the primary knot used to tie the leader to the fly    


device used to cut leaders, lines, etc.; usually attached to a retractable reel on a vest

counter weight

feature of reels that adds a weight to the exterior spool to enhance balance


a fly rod’s rate of recovery from a cast


short for diethyl-meta-toluamide, the chemical most effective in the repellents used as protection against insects


weight measurement term (in grams) used to classify fly lines

direct drive

type of reel that has the handle connected directly to the spool, which revolves as the spool does in both directions

disc drag

style of spool restraint in reels that uses an adjustable clutch to effect drag

ditty bag

the fly fisherman’s “handbag”; i.e., auxiliary “duffel” type bag for miscellaneous items carried while fly fishing

double click

reel that has two pawls

double haul

a fly casting technique (using two hauls) that creates increased line speed that results in longer casts


the undesirable effect caused by the flow of water current pulling on the fly line that results in the fly “dragging” behind in an unnatural manner


braking pressure applied to the revolving reel spool by a mechanical device built in to the reel

drag coefficient

term used to describe the start-up friction a fish has to overcome before the reel’s drag system allows the spool to feed out line

dropper knot

a knot used to provide a loop off of the leader or fly line to which can be attached an additional fly or weight

duncan loop knot

a knot used to provide a small, open loop in the leader tippet at the point where it is tied to the fly; to enhance the freedom of movement of the fly

exposed rim

style of fly reel that has the outside of its spool as the outer frame, which as it rotates during line out is able to be “palmed” for drag effect

false cast

a completed casting stroke that does not result in the fly line being released by the caster; an “interim” casting cycle that takes place only in the air


the rigid connector point where rod pieces are joined together


refers to fish that have been conditioned to fishermen and are therefore harder to catch


used to describe rod action


any substance applied to a fly, fly line or leader to promote its ability to float

float tube

inflatable device used by single fly fisherman to floatfish in lakes; also called “belly boat”

fly dressing

category of substances used to “dress” flies to enhance flotation (also called floatant); or to make them sink; also included are fly line dressings for similar purposes

fly boxes

boxes used to hold flies; from sizes to fit vest pockets, to “tackle box” size for large/big water flies

fly fish

the method of fishing that uses imitations of insects (“flies”)

fly reel

the fishing reel used by fly fishermen

fly rod

fishing rod used by fly fishermen


also called “hemostat”; a slender, pointed pliers- like device with multi-purpose use for fly fishermen

forward cast

that stage of a flycasting stroke that is on a forward plane in front of the caster

gravel guards

a device worn over the boot tops with stocking foot waders to keep out sand, gravel, etc.; also called “gaiters”, or “gravel cuffs”


the component that serves as the handle of the rod


metal circular devices affixed to rods through which line moves in a straight line


the part of a fly made from feather(s) that is wound around the hook to make it float an/or to make it look lifelike

handshake loop

another name for interlocking loop

hang up

the condition of the fly, fly line and leader being unable to be cast due to being stuck on some object


usually a broad-rimmed cover used to protect and shade the fly fisherman’s head and face


the practice of movement of the fly line with the line hand to increase its speed during the casting stroke; (single haul; double haul)


a separate section of fly line, generally 30′ long, that connects to the running line with a connecting loop; e.g., shooting heads,

high speed retrieve

synonym for multiplying reel


describes the effect of the imbalance caused when the connection of materials are too different in diameter or strength to support a cast

hip waders

two piece waders (one for each leg) that come up to the waist/hips

hook eye

the front end of a hook through which the leader is tied

hook hone

or hook sharpener; small, portable device carried by fly fishermen to sharpen hooks


device on fly rods to secure a fly when attached to a leader

improved clinch knot

an alternate way to tie the “clinch knot” for tying the fly to the leader tippet    

interlocking loops

the connection formed by union of two lines each with a loop in the end; functional for connecting leaders, tippets, lines, etc. (also called “handshake loop”)


refers to a tapered leader that contains no knots between sections


refers to a tapered leader constructed of individual sections of various diameters connected together by knots


a device to which an item is “tethered” so that it is close by when needed; e.g., glasses;


the tapered section of monofilament between fly line and fly


condition in fish that makes them “spooked” by leaders

leader wallet

compartmentalized “wallet”, usually carried in the vest, used to store a variety of leaders for different uses;

line guard

the solid horizontal “bar(s)” between the two sides of a fly reel over which the fly line passes

line hand

the hand of the caster that controls the fly line (as opposed to the “rod hand“); (for right handed casters, the left hand)


refers to use the process of bringing the line in/onto the reel


refers to the process of taking line off/out of the reel

line speed

refers to the velocity of the fly line in the air as it is being cast

line weight

term to classify fly lines by the weight of the first 30 feet

load (loading)

refers to the process of “cocking” a fly rod with the fly line by the application of the casting stroke

machined reels

one piece reels that are “stamped” out of a single piece of metal, often referred to as “bar stock”


the undesirable property of fly lines, leaders or materials to “remember” their stored condition of being coiled or wound


the practice of changing the position of the fly line on the water to minimize the effects of drag


that portion of a leader between the butt and tippet

multiplying reel

style of reel that has a spool which turns more than one revolution for each turn of the reel handle


a nail or other object used in tying the “Nail Knot

nail knot

knot used to tie the leader butt (or butt section) to the fly line tip    

nail-less knot

a knot used to tie the fly line backing to the butt-end of the fly line (substitute for the “Nail Knot”)    

needle knot

knot used to attach the leader to the fly line (alternate for the “Nail” or “Nail-less” Knots


a small (16×24″), lightweight net often carried while fly fishing to assist in catching fish


the practice of using one’s hand to apply pressure to the exposed (“palming”) rim of a fly reel to increase drag


a metal device inside a fly reel that serves to provide drag; normally associated with a “click & pawl” mechanism

perfection loop knot

knot used to create a small, permanent loop; usually in leaders

polarized glasses

eyewear that has specialized lenses which reduces the glare from water; “polarized” means the lenses have been specially made to protect eyes from ultraviolet rays (UV)

reel bag

small bag in which to keep fly reel(s) when not in use

reel foot

the flanged metal “bottom” of a fly reel that is attached to the reel seat on the rod

reel frame

the housing part of a reel to which the reel spool is attached; the frame is stationery, the spool rotates

reel seat

the part of the fly rod that holds (“seats”) the fly reel to the rod

reel spool

the rotating portion of a fly reel that holds the fly line

removable spool

style of reel that has spool(s) which can be taken off the reel frame


insect avoidance fluid; usually part of a fly fisherman’s necessities

retractable reel

spring-controlled device, usually pinned or hooked to the vest, to which tools are attached for easy access; also called “zingers”

retrieve ratio

the ratio between the amount of line retrieved upon each complete revolution of the reel spool/handle

reversible retrieve

feature allowing the spool to be changed to allow the “reversing” of the retrieve: i.e., from right to left hand or vice versa

rod blank

see blank

rod case

hard, tubular storage/carrying device in which fly rods are kept when not in use

rod grip

the “handle” of a fly rod, usually made of cork,
held onto while fly fishing

rod hand

the hand of the caster that controls the fly rod (as opposed to the “line hand“); (for right handed casters, the right hand)


term describes dirty or turbid water that is usually higher than normal

roll cast

a type of fly cast that employs a shortened casting stroke performed in a rolling over motion

running line

that portion of the fly line between the backing and the first 60′ or so that is actually cast upon the water


used to sharpen hooks; also known as “hook hone”

shock tippet

a specialized leader tippet constructed of heavy monofilament, wire, etc. designed to absorb toothy” and/or very large fish to prevent break off

shooting head

a separate segment of fly line, usually about 30′ in length, that is attached to the running line

shooting line

in casting, refers to the technique of adding distance to a flycast by increasing line speed; also used to describe a type of line material used for such purpose

single click

reel that has one pawl

single haul

a fly casting technique (using one haul) that creates increased line speed that results in a longer cast

slack line

refers to a line that is not perfectly straight, that has some “slack” in it; in a designed cast, leaves “S” curves in the fly line on the water to provide protection against drag

slip-on leader butt

a manufactured accessory, usually of braided material, that slips over the tip of the fly line to provide a knotless connection to a leader butt section to which leaders may be attached by knots or interlocking loops

snake guide(s)

spiral-shaped metal guides; predominant one used on fly rods

spool capacity

the amount of line (fly line & backing) a reel’s spool may contain; usually gauged by using a weight forward line & 20# backing

spool diameter

the diameter of the reel spool

spool release

lever or button activated to disengage the reel spool so that it may be removed

spool width

the diameter of the opening between the two sides of a spool

still water

slang for lakes or ponds, etc.; as opposed to “running water” of streams or rivers

stocking foot waders

that style of waders that has no “boot” as part of the wader, requiring a separate pair of boots to go over the foot portion of the wader

stripping guide

round, circular metal guide; first up from the grip on fly rod butt sections; also called “ring guide”


our collective term for all the items of equipment, clothing or tackle that fly fishermen use


lotion or creme used by fly fishermen to protect skin against harmful effects of sun’s rays

surgeon knot

a knot used to tie together leader materials, usually of different diameters; substitute for the “Blood Knot”


an elasticized, adjustable, harness-like device worn over the shoulders to keep chest waders up


for this course, refers collectively to fly rods, fly reels, fly lines and leaders

tag end

the loose, short, or “end-of-the-end” of a line (as opposed to the long end or “running” opposing line that is attached or leading elsewhere)


refers to the principle or process of the transition of materials (rods, fly lines, leaders) from thicker to thinner, or heavier to lighter, in a manner that allows a smooth transfer of energy between components


the end of a component: e.g., fly rod tip; fly line tip; etc.; also to describe rod sections: tip vs butt

tip guide

closed round or pear-shaped metal guide on the tip of rods


a term for the tip/end section of the leader that is tied to a fly

tippet material

line material of varying diameters, usually nylon monofilament, used to make and/or repair leaders; described by an “X” classification system that defines its diameter and correlating breaking strength

tippet spools

individual spools of monofilament of different diameter used to tie/repair/replace leader tippets

tip section

the uppermost/top section of a rod; (as opposed to the “butt section“)


refers to two (or more) 36″ long sections of different color & diameter limp or braided nylon students use with a Knots 101 Course to practice tying knots; diameter can be 1/8th”-3/8th” or less

turn over

refers to the proper result of a flycast that turns the leader and attached fly over the fly line at the end of a cast


the act of walking in a stream or river; wading


waterproof outerwear that’s worn while wading in water (as in “hip waders”; or “chest waders”; also see “boot foot waders”, “stocking foot waders”)

wade wet

means to wade without wearing waders

wading belt

an elasticized belt that’s worn around chest waders to assist in keeping waders up and for added safety

wading boots

a pair of boots made for wearing with “stocking foot waders” and wading in water

wading cleats

an accessory that fits over waders or wading boots to provide added traction and safety while wading

wading staff

long, “walking stick” type device used when wading to provide stability and safety


a term used to refer to the classification of both fly rods & fly lines

wide arbor

describes a reel featuring an arbor/center that is wider or oversized

wind knot

a knot in a fly line or leader resulting from improper technique caused by casting in the wind


clothing, usually sleeveless, worn while fishing, with multiple pockets in which items needed for fly fishing are kept


slang for a retractable device

More Fly Fishing Slang

Did we miss any commonly used fly fishing glossary terms? Any fly fishing slang you like to use? Please contact us with any suggestions or comments.

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