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What Is Fly Fishing Backing?

Backing confuses new fly fishers, as it is specific to fly fishing. Other fishing types don’t use backing in their rigging systems. So what exactly is fly fishing backing?

Backing is a thin braid spooled onto your reel before your fly line goes on. It offers extra insurance for when a big fish takes off on a big run. Since fly lines are only 90-100 feet long, they can’t accommodate these long violent runs from fish. With 100-300 yards of backing spooled onto your reel, you can rest assured that the fish won’t “spool” you. Once a fish takes all of your fly line, you still have lots of backing to work with.

Backing also fills up a reel to its capacity. Arbors on reels are designed to hold a fly line, plus a certain amount of backing. Most trout sized reels can hold 100 yards of backing, plus the fly line. Saltwater reels can hold 200+ yards of backing.

Dacron Backing vs Gel Spun Backin

Dacron Backing is the most common type. It is available in 20 lb and 30 lb strengths, which works for most applications. It is also the cheapest type of backing, and per yard the pricing is hard to beat. Dacron is a polyester fiber that is extremely durable – it won’t rot or wear out. It is quite rare that you’ll need to replace your backing. I like 20 lb dacron for most trout applications, and 30 lb for streamer fishing and saltwater fishing. Usually it costs $15 or less to outfit a reel with dacron backing.

Gel Spun Backing is primarily made from polyethylene fibers. It is available up to very high strengths – 65 lbs or more. Although it is much stronger than dacron backing, it is much thinner in diameter. You can fit a whole lot of gel spun backing onto a reel. This makes it great for saltwater fishing where you’ll need more backing for larger fish. One downside is that gel spun is very expensive. It can cost over $50 to outfit a reel with gel spun. Also, due to its thin diameter, gel spun has been known to cut fingers when fish are taking a big run. If you get your hand near the backing, it can definitely slice you.

How To Determine How Much Backing To Use

All reel manufacturers will have a spec sheet which tells anglers what the reel is capable of holding. For example, a trout reel may say WF5 + 100 yds. This means you can put a weight forward 5 weight line on and 100 yards of 20 lb backing. For a saltwater reel it may specify that you can put 300 yards of backing on.

If you decide to use 30 lb dacron, the capacity will obviously decrease since 30 lb has a thicker diameter. 30 lb dacron will fill up a reel much faster than 20 lb.

If you decide to use gel spun backing, the capacity will increase since gel spun is so much thinner.

Make sure to refer to the spec sheet before you put on backing. If you underload or overload a reel, it can cause problems with functionality. Overloaded reels won’t spin correctly, because the fly line is rubbing on the reel. Underloaded reels will decrease your retrieval rate. For each turn of the reel, less line is retrieved because you haven’t fully spooled the reel. Bad retrieval rates make it harder to land big fish.

How To Spool Backing Onto A Reel

It is possible to spool a reel by hand, but there are disadvantages to this. By having it done professionally with a line winder, the backing will be much tighter and smoother on your reel. I highly recommend taking your reel to a fly shop to have this done. It is a very quick process and you will definitely be more satisfied by the end result. Although this service can be free, I highly recommend buying a few flies in exchange for the service. It is just good etiquette.

The video below shows how to knot the backing onto your reel. Once you have this done, simply spool the recommended amount of backing onto the reel. This method in the video works well, because it cinches the backing onto the reel. It is quite easy to learn and I prefer this method over others.

For attaching your backing onto your fly line, simply tie a surgeons loop in the backing. The rear end of most fly lines will have a welded loop. You can use this loop-to-loop connection to complete the system. If your fly line does not have a loop at the rear end, you can tie a nail knot to attach backing to the fly line.

My Top Backing Pick

My favorite backing for all around trout fishing is Rio’s 20 lb Dacron. It is also available in 30 lb for streamer rods and saltwater setups. I use it on all of my trout reels, and I have for years now. It is competitively priced, and provides years and years of use. Rio is one of the original line manufacturers, and they have really perfected their product. The cool thing about this model is that it comes pre spooled with 100 yards of backing – perfect for most trout reels. Instead of needing a yard counter or a line winder, you can just spool it on!



Backing is a pretty simple thing that all fly fishers use. Although it may be tempting to set up your reel at home, I highly recommend going to a fly shop and having it done right.

Of course if you’re pressed for time, putting on backing at home can work. I have definitely done my fair share of this over the years.

For most trout anglers, dacron backing is plenty strong for many applications. For hardcore saltwater folks, gel spun can be really beneficial. Just make sure to watch your hands and fingers!