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Fly Fishing Terms

Fly Tying Terms


Abdomen - the segmented rear section of an insect's body.
Adult - the winged stage of aquatic insects; reproductive stage.
Amphidromous fish - fish that regularly migrate between freshwater and saltwater
Antron - a synthetic yarn material made of long sparkly fibers used for many aspects of fly tying including wrapped bodies, spent wings, and trailing shucks. Is also used for dubbing material.
Arbor - the center part of a fly reel where line and backing (first) is wound.
Arbor knot - a knot used for tying backing to the arbor of the fly reel.
Attractor - a fly pattern tied to stimulate a strike.


Back cast - that portion of any fly cast that extends behind the caster (as in false casting).
Backing - usually braided dacron, used to take up space on the spool before the fly line is attached (see spool and nail knot); on salmon, steelhead, and saltwater reels, also becomes important in fighting fish.
Baetis - widely distributed genus of mayflies typically found in sizes 16 to 22.
Bamboo - oldest rod building material still in use; the classical fly rod material
Barb - the backward facing projection cut into a hook near the point to reduce the chances of hooked fish escaping.
Barbless - barbless hooks are either manufactured without a barb or the barb is squeezed down. This feature makes it easier to remove a hook and minimizes the handling and potential damage of a fish you may want to release.
Barrel Knot - same as blood knot (see blood knot).
Beadhead - usually but not always a fly with a bead immediately behind the hook eye. Beads come in many materials, from brass to nickel brass to ceramic. Some beads help a fly sink, but others are floaters.
Bimini Twist - a series of knots and twists in a leader which acts as a springy shock absorber in the line. Used mostly in saltwater fly fishing say for tarpon. It has a loop and a double line section making it especially strong.
Biot - the short thick barbs from the leading edge of the first flight feather typically from a goose or a duck Used to simulate tails, legs, antennae and other parts
Bi-visible - a fly with both light and dark colored hackles to give good visibility in both light and shaded water.
Blue Dun Hackle - a slate-blue or gray hackle.
Blank - fiberglass and graphite fly rods (which also usually contain fiberglass) are produced by wrapping sheets of graphite and fiberglass around a carefully tapered steel rod (called a mandrel). The hollow rod that results from this process is called a blank. It has no guides, ferrules or reel seat.
Blood Knot - the most widely used knot for tying two pieces of monofilament with similar diameters together; the best knot for construction of a knotted tapered leader; also called the barrel knot.
Bobbin - a tyer's tool for holding thread.
Bodkin - a bodkin is a tool best described as a needle with a handle. It can be easily made from a piece of wooden dowling and a needle. It is used in fly tying used to deposit cement or lacquer to a fly.
Body - the main part of the fly, that covers the shank.
Breaking Strength - amount of effort required to break a single strand of unknotted monofilament or braided line, usually stated in pounds (example: 6 lb. test).
Breakoff - a term of defeat and excitement for a fly angler describing the event of a hooked fish breaking your tippet or leader. Usually a break off results from an unusually strong or big fish, an undersized tippet or leader, or a poorly tied knot.
Bucktail - (1) the hair found on the tail of the Eastern whitetail deer, used in the tying of many types of flies; can be dyed any color, or used natural, (2) a type of minnow simulating fly, usually constructed of bucktail.
Butt section - the thicker end of a tapered leader that is tied to the fly line.


Caddis - one of the three most important aquatic insects imitated by fly fishermen; found world wide in all freshwater habitats; adult resembles a moth when in flight; at rest the wings are folded in a tent shape down the back; the most important aquatic state of the caddis is the pupa, which is its emerging stage (also see larva, pupa and emerger).
Cape - part of a bird skin used for fly tying flies.
Cast - the action of the line as it is pushed by the rod - also the line used as the leader.
Casting Arc - the path that the fly rod follows during a complete cast, usually related to the face of a clock.
Catch and release - a practice originating in the late 1930s to conserve fish populations by unhooking and returning a caught fish to the water in which it was caught. This is a highly successful practice in many warm water, cold water and saltwater settings.
Caudal fin - caudal is an anatomical term meaning "the back". The caudal fin is the tail fin or tail of a fish.
Chenille - a furry rope-like material for making the bodies of artificial flies. The bodies end up looking like a pipe cleaner (with thread in place of the stiff wire). Can be found in many colors and materials, and is a critical component of the Wooly Worm and Wooly Buggers patterns.
Chironomid - scientific name for the members of the Diptera family of insects commonly known as Midges. In the pupae stage they typically appear to be small aquatic worms.
CDC - acronym for "Cul de Canard" which literally translates to "butt of the duck". Used both to refer to the feathers from the area around the oil gland of a duck and also to the flies tied with these feathers. The feathers from this area are very wispy and impregnated with natural oils making them extremely waterproof.
Click drag - a mechanical system on many inexpensive fly reels used to slow down or resist the pulling efforts of a fish, so as to slow the fish down and tire it to the point where it can be landed. Basically a clicking sound is created by a triangular steel ratchet snaps over the teeth of the gear in the reel spool. The term singing reels refers to the high frequency clicking associated with a big fish pulling out line.
Clinch Knot - universally used knot for attaching a hook, lure, swivel, or fly to the leader or line; a slight variation results in the improved clinch knot, which is an even stronger knot for the above uses.
Collar - a ring of feathers or hair placed immediately behind the head of the fly.
Comparadun - series of no-hackle dry flies developed by Caucci & Nastasi in 1970's using a hair wing tied in a 180� flair. They are very effective patterns in slow moving clear water where an imitative (as opposed to impressionistic) pattern is needed.
Cone Head - same as a bead head but the bead is cone shaped.
Co-Polymers - mixtures of various nylons and plastics along with anti-UV chemicals that have resulted in the exceptionally high breaking strength of modern tippet material. This is certainly one of the biggest advancements in fly fishing in the last 50 years. It allows us to use very fine tippets with breaking strengths two to four times as strong as regular nylon monofilament. Co-polymers are not as abrasion resistant as regular nylon monofilament.
Crystal Flash - the trade name for a synthetic stringy material used in many streamer patterns to add flash and color.


Damping - reducing excess vibrations in the rod blank when unloading the rod during a cast. This causes fewer waves in your fly line resulting in more power & distance for less effort.
Damselfly - an important stillwater aquatic insect most commonly imitated in the nymphal form; usually hatches in early to mid-summer. Adult looks like a dragonfly, but folds its wings along its back when at rest.
Dead Drift - a perfect float (the fly is traveling at the same pace as the current); used in both dry fly and nymph fishing (see mending line and "S" cast).
Deer Hair - most commonly used of the hollow hairs for fly tying; used for the Humpy and the Muddler Minnow styles of flies.
Delivery - an alternative term to 'covering' the term used to describe the action of casting the fly to a fish or into a promising-looking area of water.
Disk drag - a mechanical system on more expensive fly reels whereby resistance is created to the line as a fish pulls it out. This resistance is intended to slow the fish and tire it. The resistance proper is created by applying pressure between two disks. Different from the click drag, the disk drag is smoother and less likely to create a sudden force that will break the line.
Dorsal fin - the fin on the back of a fish, sometimes divided into two or three partly or entirely separate sections. Drainage A drainage basin or a drainage system; the process of draining.
Double haul - the term for the cast where the caster quickly pulls and releases the line on both the back cast and the forward cast. It is used to create greater line speed, enabling the caster to reach farther or cut through wind.
Double Taper (DT) - a standard fly line design in which both ends of the line are tapered, while the greater portion or "belly" of the line is level; excellent line for short to moderate length casts, and for roll casting; not as well suited for distance casts; commonly available in floating, or sinking styles.
Drag - (1) term used to describe an unnatural motion of the fly caused by the effect of the current on line and leader. Drag is usually detrimental, though at times useful (such as imitating the actions of the adult caddis). (2) Resistance applied to the reel spool to prevent it from turning faster than the line leaving the spool (used in playing larger fish).
Dropper - a practice of fishing two flies at the same time, often one on the surface and a second underwater. This increases the chances of getting a successful fly in front of a fish.
Dry Fly - any fly fished upon the surface of the water; usually constructed of non-water-absorbent materials; most commonly used to imitate the adult stage of aquatic insects.
Dry Fly Floatant - chemical preparation that is applied to a dry fly (before using the fly) to waterproof it; may be a paste, liquid, or aerosol.
Dubbing - material used to create a body on the fly.
Dubbing needle - a fine needle used to pick fibers out of the dubbed body. Also referred to by some as a bodkin.
Dun - (1) first stage in the adult mayfly's life cycle; usually of short duration (1 to 24 hours); this is the stage most often imitated by the dry fly; (2) a darkish gray-blue color that is very desirable in some fly tying materials.
Duncan's loop - a monofilament knot used most often to tie a tippet to the eye of a hook. Also called a uni-knot.


Eddy - a section of water that is less disturbed than the surrounding water, found for example on the edge of a current or where two streams converge.
Elk Hair - hair from elk which is used in many fly patterns to supply body and floatation.
Emerger - pertaining to aquatic insects, the name used to describe that time frame when the nymph reaches the surface and the adult hatches out; the emerging nymph may well be the single most important nymph phase for the fly fishers to imitate.


False Cast - standard fly fishing cast; used to lengthen and shorten line, to change direction, and to dry off the fly; frequently overused. In false casting, the line is kept moving backwards and forwards without being allowed to touch the surface of the water or the ground (see casting arc, back cast, and forward cast).
Federation of Fly Fishers - a non-profit organization dedicated to teaching the sport of fly fishing and the improvement of fisheries.
Ferrule - a collar that is found at the point where sections of a fly rod are joined. The end of one section fits inside the end of another, in an overlapping fashion at the ferrule.
Fingerling - a small, immature fish, such as a juvenile trout.
Fish ladder - a series of interconnected pools created up the side of a river obstruction, such as a weir, to allow salmon and other fish to pass upstream.
Flashabou - commercial name for a colorful synthetic filament material used in fly tying for adding flash to streamers as well as other patterns.
Flashback - a nymph pattern that has a flashy material substituted for the wing case, such as reflective mylar. Have a look at out Pheasant tail range.
Float tube - originally using a tractor or truck inner tube, this is a one-person craft with a seat across the bottom on which the fly fisher sits. Feet are in the water and scuba fins are used to move the tube around. This type of fishing boat is very popular with warm water fly fishers and with individuals who fish high mountain lakes.
Floatant - a water-proofing (usually oily) salve or cream that is used to help flies, leaders and fly lines float.
Floating Fly Line (F) - a fly line where the entire line floats; best all round fly line (see double taper, level, shooting head, weight forward).
Floss - multi-strand silk or synthetic substitute Material for tying flies.
Fluorocarbon - tippet or leader material, correct name for the material is made of PVDF-polyvinylidenfluoride.
Fly - an artificial lure hand tied with different natural and synthetic materials tied on hooks.
Fly Casting - standard method of presenting a fly to a target using a fly rod and fly line; involves many different casts (see back cast, forward cast, false cast, roll cast, "S" cast, and shooting line).
Fly Line - key ingredient to fly fishing; made of a tapered plastic coating over a braided dacron or nylon core; available in several tapers and in floating, sinking, and sink-tip styles (see double taper, shooting head, weight forward, sink-tip, and floating fly line).
Fly Pattern - recipe used for tying a specific fly.
Fly Reel - fishing reel used in fly fishing to hold the fly line. There are three basic types: single action, multiplier, and automatic. 1.)Single action is the most common and the most popular. Single action means that one turn of the handle equals one turn of the spool. 2.) Multiplying reels use a gear system to increase this ratio (usually, 2-to-1). With a 2-to-1 ratio, each turn of the handle equals 2 revolutions of the spool. 3.) Automatic fly reels are the least practical for most people; they operate by a manually wound spring which is activated by a lever; automatic reels are heavy and tend to malfunction.
Fly Rod - a type of fishing rod especially designed to cast a fly line. Fly rods differ from other types of rods in that the reel attaches at the butt of the rod with the rod handle always above the reel; fly rods usually have more line guides than other types of rods of the same length. Fly rod lengths vary, with common lengths being between 7 and 9 feet.
Materials used in fly rod construction are bamboo, fiberglass, and graphite.
Fly Tying - the process of building fishing flies using thread and various materials.
Forceps - hand operated medical instrument widely used in fly-fishing to remove flies from the jaws of a hooked fish. Have plier-like jaws with locking clips so that once they are clamped to the hook, they stay there until you release them.
Forward Cast - the front portion of the false cast or pick-up and lay-down, and a mirror image of the back cast.
Forward Taper - see weight forward.
Foul hook - to hook a fish anywhere but in the mouth.
Freestone - type of river or stream with a significant gradient resulting in medium to fast-moving water. Although the upper reaches of a freestone stream may be spring-fed, the vast majority of its flow comes from run-off or tributaries. The fast moving water inhibits the growth of weeds or other rooted vegetation resulting in a "Free Stone" bottom. Freestone streams are less fertile than spring creeks resulting in a smaller and less diverse aquatic insect population. Fewer bugs in faster water usually results in fewer but more opportunistic trout.
Fry - the first stage of a fish after hatching from an egg.


Gaiters - commonly a neoprene anklet or legging put over the top of wading shoes and to keep gravel from getting into the shoe and abrading the stocking foot of the wader. These are also called gravel guards.
Gel-spun polyethylene - a synthetic fiber that is extremely thin, supple, slippery, very abrasion resistant, and strong. It is stronger than steel for its size. It is often used as a braided fly line backing where large amounts of backing are needed and space on the reel is limited.
Graphite - the most popular rod-building material in use today; offers the best weight, strength, and flex ratio of any rod building material currently available.
Grip - the cork handle of a fly rod, generally made of cork rings shaped in several different ways, including a cigar grip, full-wells grip, half-wells grip, superfine grip.
Grizzly - the coloration pattern from a specially bred chicken with barred black and white "V" pattern. Very popular for many flies because it may create the illusion of motion.


Hackle - a feather, usually from the neck area of a chicken, can be any color (dyed or natural). Hackle quality, such as the stiffness of the individual fibers and amount of web, determines the type of fly tied with the hackle. Many hackles are grown specifically for fly tying.
Hackle gauge - a ruler-like device to make sure the length of hackle used is appropriate for the size of hook. Particularly, hackle feather fibers (barbules) on a classic dry fly should be the same length as the hook gap.
Hackle pliers - fly-tyer's tool for wrapping the hackle feather around the hook.
Hair stacker - small tube which is used to level a bunch of hair, usually deer hair.
Hare's Ear - nymph in sizes 12-16 can be used as both a mayfly and a caddis fly imitation and in larger sizes as a stonefly imitation. Impressionistic flies are usually most effective in medium to fast water, in streams with lesser populations of aquatic insects
Hatch - a large number of flies of the same species
Haul - a pull on the fly line with the non-casting hand to increase the line speed and get greater distance. This is done effectively during line pickup.
Headwaters - upstream section of the river before the main tributaries join it. This section is typically much smaller in width and flow than the main section of the river.
Hen Hackle - hackle feathers from a hen chicken characterized by soft, wide feathers
Herl Feathers - used for tying with long individual barbules each having short dense fibers. Used as tails and to make fly bodies, usually from Peacock and Ostrich
Hollow Hair - hair from some animals is mostly hollow, thus holding air and making these hairs float. Ideal for tying dry flies and bass bugs. Antelope, deer, and elk all have hollow hair.
Hook - the object upon which the fly is tied; can be any size from tiny to huge; made from steel wire, and either bronzed, cadmium coated, or stainless. Hook designs are variable; style used depends upon the type of fly being tied.
Hook size - to a degree hooks are standardized based upon the gap (or gape) which is defined as the distance between the hook shank and the hook point.


Imitator - a fly to imitate the real insect Imitative Flies- flies tied to more closely match specific insects (for instance a BWO Comparadun). Imitative flies are most effective in slow-moving, clear water, with finicky trout in fertile streams with large populations of aquatic insects.
Impressionistic Flies - flies tied to loosely suggest a variety of insects or insect families. For instance, a Hare's Ear nymph in sizes 12-16 can be used as both a mayfly and a caddis fly imitation and in larger sizes as a stonefly imitation. Impressionistic flies are usually most effective in medium to fast water, in streams with sparser populations of aquatic insects.
Improved clinch knot - an popular knot to tie a monofilament tippet to the eye of a hook. Also called the Trilene knot, after substantial publicity by the folks at Berkely. If the tippet is run through the loop twice it is even stronger.
Indicator - floating object placed on the leader or end of the fly line to "indicate" the take of the fly by a fish or to indicate the path of the drift of the fly; used when nymph fishing with a slack line; very effective. They are made of such things as floating putty, poly yarn, foam, etc.


Keeper - a loop of thin wire built into the shaft of the fly rod (near the grip) the fly can be attached while still connected to the tippet and line. This allows the fly fisher freedom to walk and climb without concern about hooking trees, grass or himself.
Kevlar - a man made material, ideal for leaders/tippets for fish with sharp teeth, hard to cut.
Knotless Tapered Leader - a fly fishing leader entirely constructed from a single piece of monofilament. Extrusion, or acid immersion are most commonly used to taper the leader.
Knotted Leader - fly fishing leader constructed by knotting sections of different diameter leader material to each other to make a tapered leader. Most commonly used knots to construct such a leader are blood (or barrel) knot and surgeon's knot (see blood knot, surgeon's knot, leader, tapered leader, leader material).
Kype - a male spawning trout or salmon develops a hook like protrusion on the mandible. The kype is particularly striking in salmon.


Lanyard - a device to which an item is "tethered" so that it is close by when needed; e.g., glasses.
Larva - the immature, aquatic, growing stage of the caddis and some other insects. Many species of caddis larva build a protective covering of fine gravel or debris to protect them in this stage. The larva is a bottom dwelling non-swimming stage of the insect.
Leader - the section of monofilament line between the fly line and the fly. It is usually tapered, so that it will deliver the fly softly and away from the fly line (see knotted leader, knotless tapered leader, turn over, and monofilament).
Level Line - an untapered fly line, usually floating. It is difficult to cast, a poor line for delicacy or distance, and a poor choice for an all round line.
Lie - areas in a river or lake where fish hang out, commonly well-located because they are out of the main current, present cover from predators or provide a good source of insects and other food.
Line dressing - an old term carried over from the days of silk fly lines referring to the oily substances applied to clean and increase buoyancy. Modern fly lines generally only need to be cleaned with warm water and soap generally once per season for fresh water fishing.
Line weight - the weight of the first 30 feet of a fly line, used as a way to standardize fly lines in matching them to fly rods of differing stiffness. Line weighting is not a linear numbering system; the first 30 feet of a #6 weight line 160 grains while the first 30 feet of a #3 weight line is 100 grains.
Loading the Rod - phrase used to describe the bend put in the rod by the weight of the line as it travels through the air during the cast.
Loop to loop - a way to connect a fly line and a leader by making a loop at the end of the leader (perfection loop knot) and a loop attached to the end of the fly line. Loop to loop connections are sometimes made from a leader to a tippet.


Marabou - fluffy and soft down or underfeathers from most birds, but particularly for fly tying, marabou comes from chickens, turkeys or other domestic fowl.
Matching the hatch - an attempt by a fly angler to select an artificial fly that imitates the color, size, shape and behavior of natural insects that fish are feeding on at a particular time. Often when a hatch is happening, fish become very selective and refuse insects that are not the most abundant.
Maxillary - the rear bone of the upper jaw of a fish.
Mayfly - world wide, the most commonly imitated aquatic insect. Most dry fly and nymph patterns imitate this insect. Nymph stage of the mayfly lasts approximately one year; adult stages last one to three days. The adult has one pair of upright wings, making it look like a small sailboat. Mayflies are commonly found in cold or cool freshwater environments.
Mending Line - method used after the line is on the water to achieve a drag free float. It constitutes a flip, or series of flips with the rod tip, which puts a horseshoe shaped bow in the line. This slows down the speed with which the line travels if mended upstream, and speeds up the line if mended downstream. For example: if a cast is across the flow of the stream and the fastest part of the current is on your side, the mends would typically be made upstream to slow the line down so it keeps pace with the fly traveling in the slower current across from you.
Midge - a term properly applied to the small Dipterans that trout feed on. Many people call them gnats. Adult's appearance is similar to mosquitoes. Midges have two wings that lie in a flat "V" shape over the back when at rest. They are also known as "the fly fisher's curse" because of their small size and trout's affinity to feeding upon them. The term "midge" is sometimes loosely applied (and incorrectly so) when referring to small mayflies.
Monofilament - a clear, supple nylon filament used in all types of fishing that is available in many breaking strengths (see breaking strength) and diameters.
Muddler - normally a deer hair headed fly.
Mylar - metallic plastic available in sheet or plaited tube form. The tubing can be used to simulate scales on the flanks or fry imitating lures/streamer flies.


Nail Knot - method used to attach a leader or butt section of monofilament to the fly line, and of attaching the backing to the fly line; most commonly tied using a small diameter tube rather than a nail.
Narrow Loop - term that describes what the fly line should look like as it travels through the air; a narrow loop can best be described as the letter "U" turned on its side; it is formed by using a narrow casting arc.
Nymph - immature form of insects; as fly fishers, we are concerned only with the nymphs of aquatic insects.
Nymphing - word describing fish feeding on nymphs; nymphing right at the surface can be difficult to tell from fish feeding on adults, careful observation should tell.


Open Loop - term used to describe what the fly line looks like as it travels through the air during a poor cast; caused by a very wide casting arc.


Palmer - a method for wrapping a hackle feather over a section of the fly's body. When it is retrieved through the water it 'pushes' the water and this causes attractive movement shock waves that help fish locate the fly.
Palming - a term referring to the use of the palm of the hand against the spool edge of a rimless fly reel as a means of applying drag against the release of line in fighting a fish.
Parachute - type of dry fly where the hackle is wound horizontally around the base of the wing like a parachute instead of vertically around the hook of the fly. This drops the body of the fly down into the surface film of the water. It is usually most effective in medium to slow moving waters.
Pattern - the fixed design of material and position of parts which make up an artificial fly sometimes called its recipe.
Pectoral fins - the pair of fins just behind the head of a fish.
Pelvic fins - the pair of fins on the lower body of a fish; also called ventral fins.
Perfection loop - this is a knot often used to create a loop in a piece of monofilament, frequently at the butt end of a leader for the loop to loop connection.
Pick-up & Lay Down - a fly fishing cast using only a single back cast. The line is lifted from the water and a back cast made, followed by a forward cast which is allowed to straighten and fall to the water, completing the cast.
Polarized sun glasses - sunglasses with iodized lenses that block incident light (glare) and thus allow anglers to better see beneath the surface glare of water.
Poly Yarn - a synthetic yarn made from polypropylene. Used in fly tying, often for parachute posts and wings on dry flies.
Pool - a segment of a river or stream with greater depth and slower current, making it safer from predators bird and animal and where swimming against the current is reduced.
Presentation - the act of putting the fly on the water and offering it to the fish; the variety of presentations is infinite, and changes with each fishing situation. The object is to present the fly in a manner similar to the natural insect or food form that you are imitating.
Pupa - in insects, the transition stage between the larva and the adult; to fly-fishers, caddis pupa are the most important of these insects.


Quill - section of a primary or secondary feather used in fly tying.


Reach cast - a cast used for adding extra slack in the line, or when fishing downstream, in order to provide a more natural float.
Redd - a hollow scooped in the sand or gravel of a riverbed by breeding trout or salmon as a spawning area.
Reel Seat - mechanism that holds the reel to the rod, usually using locking metal rings or sliding bands.
Retrieve - bringing the fly back towards the caster after the cast is made; can be done in a variety of ways; important points of retrieving are to keep the rod tip low and pointed straight down the line.
Riffle - a small rapid in a river or stream.
Riparian - a term that describes anything of, inhabiting, or situated on a riverbank; often used in connection with ownership and fishing rights.
Rise - action of a trout as it rises for a fly on the water's surface.
Rod Flex - the manner in which the rod bends during the cast during the acceleration phase of the cast. Tip-Flex rods bend primarily through the tip section, Mid-Flex rods bend down into the middle section, and Full-flex rods bend throughout the entire rod during the cast.
Roe - a collective term for fish milt and ova.
Roll Cast - one of the three most basic fly casts; allows a cast to be made without a back cast; essential for use with sinking lines, to bring the line to the surface so it may be picked up and cast in a normal manner.


"S" Cast - cast used to put deliberate and controlled slack into a cast; used in getting a drag free float and in conjunction with mending line (see drag, dead drift, mending line).
Scud - a small freshwater scrimp-like crustacean that is present in most trout waters and serves as a food source for trout.
Sea-run - a term describing brown, cutthroat and rainbow trout that hatch in fresh water, migrate to the sea to mature, and return to fresh water to spawn. Rainbow trout (in the Pacific Northwest and Great Lakes) are the best known sea-run trout; these are called steelhead.
Setting the Hook - the act of pulling the hook into the flesh of the fish's mouth. The amount of effort needed to do this varies with the size of hook, type of fish, and breaking strength of leader; most people strike too hard on trout and warm water fish and not hard enough on salmon and saltwater fish.
Shank - long straight part of the hook between the eye and the bend.
Shooting line the process of extending the length of your fly cast be releasing an extra length of fly line (usually held in your non-casting hand) during the forward/presentation part of the cast. This technique allows a fly angler to false cast a shorter segment of line and then only at the time of the final forward cast to bring a longer segment of line into play.
Shooting Taper - ST or Shooting Head - a short single tapered fly line, shooting heads are designed for longest casts with minimum effort; shooting heads allow quick change of line types (floating, sinking, sink-tip, etc.)by quickly interchanging head sections; shooting heads are most commonly used with salmon, steelhead, saltwater, though they can be used in all types of fly fishing
Sink Rate - the speed at which a sinking fly line sinks; there are at least 6 different sink rates for fly lines, from very slow to extremely fast.
Sink-Tip Fly Line - a floating fly line where the tip portion sinks; available in 4 foot, 10 foot, 12 foot, 15 foot, 20 foot, 24 foot, and 30 foot sinking tips; the 10 foot sink-tips are most commonly used and are practical in many applications; sink-tip lines are useful in all types of fly fishing, but especially in wet fly or streamer fishing.
Sinking Fly Line (S) - a fly line in which the entire length of the line sinks beneath the surface of the water.
Spawn - the behavior of fish where females deposit eggs (also called spawn) on various surfaces (varying with species) and the male produces necessary milt to ultimately turn the eggs into fry.
Spey - a particular casting technique using special two-handed rods and a modified roll cast. It is named after a river in Scotland where it was developed.
Spinner - the egg laying stage of the mayfly; overall not as important to the fly fisher as the dun stage; (see mayfly and dun).
Spool - the part of the fly reel that revolves and which holds the backing and the fly line; may be purchased separately.
Spring creek - a creek or stream that gets its water from a ground flow or spring sources, rather than glacier/snow melt or surface run off. Spring creeks are generally at a temperature of the average rainfall temperature over the course of the year (the source of most ground water) and hence usually do not warm significantly in the summer nor freeze in the winter.
Stalking - creeping up on a fish, to surprise or not disturb it.
Standing Line - the part of the line that is joined to another piece of line when tying the tag ends together. Two standing lines are joined by tying their tag ends into a knot.
Steelhead - a migratory rainbow trout.
Stock Fish - fish that are reared in captivity and stocked into fisheries.
Stonefly - very important aquatic insect; nymph lives for one to three years, depending on species; most species hatch out by crawling to the shoreline and emerging from its nymphal case above the surface, thus adults are available to trout only along shoreline and around midstream obstructions; adult has two pair of wings which are folded flat along its back when at rest; stoneflies require a rocky bottomed stream with very good water quality.
Streamer - fly tied to imitate the various species of baitfish upon which game fish feed; usually tied using feathers for the wing, but can be tied with hair and/or feathers; tied in all sizes (see bucktail).
Strike - the action of a fish in trying to eat a fly. This term also refers to the movement of the rod a fly angler makes to set the hook.
Strike Indicator - floating object placed on the leader or end of the fly line to "indicate" the take of the fly by a fish or to indicate the path of the drift of the fly; used when nymph fishing with a slack line; very effective. They are made of such things as floating putty, poly yarn, foam, etc.
Stripping line - retrieving the line by pulling it in through your fingers as opposed to winding it in on the reel.
Surgeon's Knot - excellent knot used to tie two lengths of monofilament together; the lines may be of dissimilar diameters.


Tag - (or tag end). The end of the line that is used to tie a knot (also see Standing Line).
Tail - part of the fly usually constructed of fine feather or hair, on the end of the hook.
Tailwater - the downstream section of a river or stream found below a large man-made dam. The most famous and productive tailwaters are from bottom-discharge dams, making the water relatively cold and constant in temperature.
Tapered Leader - a leader made of monofilament and used for fly fishing; the back or butt section of the leader is of a diameter nearly as large as the fly line, then becomes progressively smaller in diameter as you approach the tip end (see knotless tapered leader, knotted leader, and tippet).
Terrestrial - term used to describe land-based insects which are often food for fish.
Thorax - normally associated with nymphs, however can be a part of the fly, usually the area behind the head, mainly constructed with dubbing.
Tight Loop - same as narrow loop (see "narrow loop").
Tinsel - a thin silver, gold or brass-colored ribbon used in adding shine ton flies, often as ribbing or for fly bodies.
Tip section - the top section of a fly rod, smallest in diameter and furthest from the rod grip.
Tippet - the end section of a tapered leader; the smallest diameter section of a tapered leader; the fly is tied onto the tippet.
Trout Unlimited - non-profit organization dedicated to the protection and improvement of trout fisheries, with an emphasis towards wild trout.
Turn Over - words that describe how the fly line and leader straighten out at the completion of the cast.


Undercurrent - the flow of water beneath the surface which can be opposite the surface flow on stillwaters.
Unloading the Rod - unbending the rod. Transferring the casting energy from the rod back into the fly line.
Upstream - against the current of the river or stream.
Upwing flies - the Ephemeroptera order of flies, whose wings are nearly vertical and who possess two or three tails or setae.
Upwind - into the wind.


Vest - a fly fisher's wearable tackle box; numerous styles available; particularly important in wading situations.
Vise - tool used for holding the fly hook while materials are tied on.


Wader belt - an adjustable belt cinched near the top of chest waders to keep out water, particularly recommended as a precaution to the waders filling up with water in the event of a fall.
Waders - high topped waterproof boots; two main types used in fishing: boot foot and stocking foot; boot foot have boots built in, just pull on and go; stocking foot requires the use of a pair of wading shoes and provides better support and traction.
Wading Shoes - shoes built specifically to be worn over stocking foot waders; can be made of leather, nylon or other synthetic materials.
Wading staff - a walking stick especially adapted to provide stability to a wading fly angler when moving through fast or deep water. Some wading staffs are foldable and can be kept in a fishing vest pocket until needed.
Weight Forward (WF) - an easy casting fly line because it carries most of its weight in the forward section of the line; instead of a level middle section, like a double taper, it quickly tapers down to a fine diameter running line which shoots through the guides with less resistance for added distance; the most versatile fly line.
Wet Fly - any fly fished below the surface of the water; nymphs and streamers are wet flies. Also a traditional style of fly tied with soft, swept back hackle, and a backward sweeping wing; the forerunner of the nymph and streamer.
Wet Fly Swing - typical presentation method for fishing a wet fly. Cast the fly downstream and across, and then swim it across the current. Commonly used to imitate swimming mayflies, emerging caddis, and small fish.
Wind Knot - an overhand knot put in the leader by poor casting, greatly reducing the breaking strength of the leader
Whip Finish - knot used to tie off the thread when finishing a fly.


X - the original measurement used to designate diameter of leader material used in conjunction with a numeral, as in "4X". To determine the actual diameter of "4X" or any "X" number, subtract the numeral from the number 11 (eleven). The result is the diameter in thousandths of an inch. example, to find the diameter of 4X material, subtract 4 from 11 (11 - 4 = 7) thus the diameter is .007". Please note: diameter does not always correspond to breaking strength


Yolk sac - the membrane-covered food pouch found on the belly of a newly hatched fish. It nourishes the growing fish until it is able to feed itself.


Zinger - slang for a retractable device. Useful for hanging items such as nippers off your vest to keep them out of the way when not in use.
Z-Lon - trade name for a synthetic yarn used in making carpeting. Can be used for many purposes in fly tying such as nymph bodies, spent wings, and trailing shucks.

About The Author
Pete Danylewycz
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. Whether he's casting a line in a quiet freshwater stream or battling a monster bass, fishing is his true passion.