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February 28th, 2000

By James Castwell

The line that goes on your fly reel first, that's backing. For some situations you probably don't need it, but for most you do. If you are fishing small streams, tiny flies and little trout you don't need to have more than the fly line you fish with to handle anything you catch. However, if the fly-line does not mostly fill your fly reel it would be better to add some backing under the fly-line.

Your reel, when filled near the top, will make larger coils of fly-line if you use backing. This will make taking the 'kinks' out of it easier. Many fly shops sell small spools (50 yds) for this purpose, twenty or thirty pound will not make any appreciable difference here.

If you are going after bigger game, consider using some backing that will end up as an extension of your fly-line. The 'big-boys' can empty your reel fast sometimes and you will need backing for that purpose. At this point I will stress the use of a good knot connecting the fly-line to the backing and also the backing to your reel. So far I have never seen anyone loose all of the line and backing to a fish, but I have seen fly-lines part company with backing due to a poorly constructed 'line-to-backing' knot. I like the Albright for the backing-to-line connection. For the reel end, use the Arbor knot. You may wish to coat the knots with Plio-bond or something to make them go through the guides better, that is a personal choice with pros and cons about coating knots.

Now let me go a bit further into this subject. Please do not use some old spinning line for backing. It will stretch and compress sideways and burst a fly reel. Use the line designed for backing. Here is something else to consider. If you use twenty pound backing you can get more on the reel. Seems like a good idea but can cause problems. If a fish runs fast back at you and you crank furiously it is quite possible to not have the backing wind on nice and tight. Also, it can pile up on one side of the reel some and then tip over and jam. The smaller diameter the backing is, the more likely it is to jam. For this reason I do not use the ultra-thin braided spinning lines either. Some guys do and seem to like them, go figure.

So there you stand, two hundred yards of backing on your reel and it is jammed tight at fifty, not fun. The fix for that is to use thirty pound backing which is larger in diameter and less likely to jam. That of course means you will either be able to have less backing, or will need a larger reel. This stuff can get rather involved as you can now see.

Personal preference comes into it too. Teflon coated, yellow, orange, white, or which color is best? For instance, when a fish is screaming out with your fly-line and half your backing is cutting thru the water behind him, how much is your drag increased by this? The thicker the backing the more drag for any given amount of backing ripping through the water.

Color? At least get a different color than your fly-line so you can easily see the difference between them. It can be a relief to see you now at least have your backing back!

What do I do for bigger fish? I have settled on twenty pound Teflon coated. It is a bit of a compromise as I use the same for bonefish and silver salmon. I like the narrow profile of twenty for cutting through the water. A bonefish with two hundred yards of backing can bust off rather easy if the backing is thirty pound.

As for the silver salmon, well they spin and run right at me a lot, but I try to remember to keep an eye on my reel and not wind on loose line. Remember too, the backing going out at a zillion mph can cut your fingers like a razor, be darn careful when winding it back in and the fish decides to change zip-codes. It has happened to me and will happen again I am sure.

This should cover most of the questions about backing, but if you have any, be sure to ask on the bulletin-board on FAOL. A word of caution here, the subject of backing has sparked many an episode of disagreement and offers to settle them in an un-gentlemanly manner. ~ JC

Till next week, remember ...

Keepest Thynne Baakast Upeth

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