Flying Right
  |  First Published: July 2011

My emails are telling me that there are a fair few QFM readers that like the concept of fly fishing but don’t really know how to go about taking up this very different yet interesting pastime. It all comes down to knowing what’s required and how it works.

Tackle designation

To start with, remember that the fly line and fly rod are a team. They need to match each other in designated weight (wt; which is the assigned power system for fly rods, not line class like conventional tackle), and then match the weight of the outfit to the job at hand.

The smaller the fish targeted the lighter the outfit generally used. I have rods from 3wt up to 15wt in my racks; the smallest for real tiddlers, the largest for a marlin I aspire to catch one day. To ascertain the weight of a rod look on the butt as it will be marked with a # insignia right next to the number.

To have an insight into how rod weights differ take a look at the two fly rod butts shown in Fig.1. The fly rods are the same length at 9ft (fly rods have imperial measurements) but there’s obviously considerable difference in the thickness of the actual butt sections protruding above the cork grips, which may also vary in size as rod weight increases. The slimmer of the two butts is that the 5wt and the other is a 10wt.

The 5wt weight rod is ideal for smallish bass and similar, while the 10wt is good for a bruiser of a barra. The 5wt can still take a larger bass, or say a trevally, but an 8wt rod would be better suited, unless the little rod was in the hands of real expert. Overall, when buying tackle consider its proposed use.

Trout fishing requires very light rods (5-6wt) as this is a delicate form of angling where gentle casts catch the fish. In South East Queensland an 8wt outfit will handle larger bass, flathead, trevally, tailor, tarpon, but if going north for barra, or out into Moreton Bay after tuna or mackerel, then a 10wt makes more sense.

Fly lines to fly rods

All fly rods require the equivalent weight in fly lines, or the caster is going to have a very hard job getting that fly line to travel any distance at all (see Fig.2. for different flying methods). Not surprisingly, a 5wt fly line reveals it to be a lot thinner, and over all lighter, than its 10wt counterpart because it’s the mass of the fly line that loads the rod to propel the fly to its target. Depending on the skill level of the caster, the fly might go anywhere between 20-45m.

Your fly line will also need a leader, the connection between the end of the fly line and the fly. It needs to taper like the fly line and can be connected with either a nail knot in lighter tackle or a braided sleeve for the heaviest gear.

right fly, right job

Not to confuse the issue, but fly lines are all around 30m in length but come in several different styles. Some are meant to float, others to sink at different rates and others might well have a sink tip, the remainder of it floating. All are for different tasks.

Trout fishing is 90% floating line work, bass fishing is either floating or sinking lines in action at different times of the day, and barra and bay work will usually see a slow sink line on the reel. The sink tip line is a great all rounder and is handy for flathead in the salt water, and saratoga, bass and barra around weed beds and similar.

The reel

Today’s fly reel remains an unsophisticated component. It has a direct wind system, most come without any gearing, and the drag can be as simple as a click arrangement or with genuine inherent power courtesy of a more involved system of drag washers.

When buying a reel, think of its anticipated use. Hard fighting and long running fish, such as tuna, mackerel, and so on, demand a large fly reel with a powerful drag and be salt water quality. The same reel could even double for barra as well.

Big reels for big fish need to hold considerable backing line behind the fly line; smaller ones can get by with 50m quite adequately. Backing can vary from Dacron for a small reel to strong braid (50lb), where setting up a reel for fast moving pelagics, or barra, for outright brawling tactics requires everything to hold together at all cost.


Successful fly angling comes down to the selection of correct tackle, plus an ability to cast. I can’t stress enough of how important it is to learn to cast properly. One, even two, articles would not do this subject justice, but DVDs can offer initial instruction and an understanding of what needs to take place to cast successfully. I believe there is no substitute for personal instruction, so join a fly fishing club or at least associating with other fly anglers. Tackle stores usually have contact with the various fly fishing clubs and can steer the budding fly angler in the right direction.

Lastly, don’t be hesitant. If you are ready to tackle fly angling the very first step is to talk to someone who knows tackle and then acquire the appropriate gear. From there, it comes down to plenty of casting practice – remember this can be done on grass if water is not handy.

Good luck!


Two fly lines of different weight showing different join methods for the leader: the top one (10wt) is connected with a braid sleeve, the lower one (5wt) with a nail knot coated with Pliobond to keep it smooth.


The different rod weights are easily seen. The thicker one on top is a 10wt and the lower one a 5wt.

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