The Fly Fishing Dictionary
By popular demand, we’ve made our fly fishing dictionary available as its own page for your referencing pleasure. Look for regular updates as we come across terms we’ve left out. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you find that we’ve left something out! Special thanks to Orvis, Redington, and others for term suggestions.
Click a letter to jump!
Abdomen: The middle section of an insect behind the thorax and ahead of the tail. Can be thought of as the insect’s “belly.”
Acidity: The opposite of alkalinity, a measure of the level of acids dissolved in water. High levels are characterized by a low pH level and are detrimental to fish populations.
Action: Often puzzling for those beginning fly fishing, this is a term used to describe the casting and presentation behavior of a fly rod often described as fast or slow; equivalently, tip flex or full flex.
Alevin: A freshly hatched salmon or trout, with egg yolk still attached to the belly area. Can be a useful pattern to fish during the spring of fall spawning periods.
Alkalinity: The opposite of acidity, the measure of acid-neutralizing bases in water. High levels are characterized by a high pH level.
Anadromous: The technical term for a sea-run fish which is born in fresh water, lives in salt water, then returns to fresh water to spawn.
Arbor: The part of a fly reel where the backing then fly line is wound. Larger arbors increase rate of line pick up but decrease line capacity.
Articulated: A term describing a type of fly which is formed by joining two or more hooks or hook shanks together creating a jointed effect that imparts movement in the water and can reduce the lever effect.
Attractor: A fly which does not mimic any particular food source of a fish but which is designed to incite a strike out of reaction. A good choice of fly type for someone just beginning fly fishing and unfamiliar with different insects.
Back Cast: The portion of the fly cast when the rod tip and fly line are behind you. Some suggest never to watch a back cast while others suggest always to look.
Backing: Line spooled first onto the fly reel then attached to the butt section of fly line. It provides insurance should a fish take all the fly line off the reel.
Bag limit: See limit.
Barb: A protusion on a hook just behind the point to keep a fish from pulling loose. These are illegal on some waters.
Basket (or bag): Usually made of mesh or rubber, the portion of a net designed to hold the fish. Also can refer to the day’s catch during a fishing tournament.
Beadhead: A style of fly with a metal or glass bead right behind the hook eye intended to add weight and get the fly deeper.
Beat: A section of water assigned to a competing angler that he or she may not stray from during a given time in a European style fly fishing contest.
Belly: The middle “level” portion of a fly line. Also used to describe a bend in fly line laying on the water which catches current and causes drag.
Bend: The curved section of a hook which can sometimes be straightened by a large fish or snag. Can also describe a curve in a river, often harboring deep, fish holding water.
Blank: Usually graphite or fiberglass, this describes a fly rod without a grip or reel seat.
Blown-out: A term used to describe a stream or river which is out of its banks, though often used to describe high, off-color water. Many use this term synonymously with “unfishable,” though each angler’s definition differs considerably.
Biot: The short leading edge of a bird’s quill, usually found on a goose or turkey, used in fly tying, often to imitate a stonefly.
Bobber: See indicator
Bobbin: A tool used in fly tying to hold a spool of thread under tension for wrapping onto a hook.
Bodkin: A needle attached to a handle used as a general purpose tool in fly tying.
Boil: An uprising of water caused by a fish taking an emerger just below the water’s surface. Should not be but often is confused with a rise.
Boot foot: A style of waders where the wading boot is attached the rest of the waders. Offers all-in-one convenience, but not the same comfort or freedom of movement as stocking foot waders.
Booties: The foot section of waders which do not have built in boots. Generally made of neoprene. A common misconception is that feet get wet in booties, but this is not the case.
Brackish: Describes water which has a lower salt content than the ocean, often seen where rivers flow into the ocean.
Break off: The act of breaking the line connection between the fisher and fly. This can be done either by fish or by snag.
Breaking strength: A term used to describe the force required to break a length of line, usually measured in pounds or kilograms. Synonymous with the “X” rating of leaders and tippet.
Breakline: A feature in a body of water where there is a dramatic increase in depth. Also used to describe the point at which two bodies of water meet, or where waves break in the ocean surf. In all cases, a feature which often holds feeding fish.
Brookie: Affectionate short term for brook trout.
Buck: A term used to describe a male of many species of fish.
Bump: Describes a fish briefly striking a fly or nudging it without eating it.
Butt (section): The back end of a leader line or fly rod. On a leader this is the part tied to the fly line. On a fly line this is the section attached to the backing. On a fly rod this is where the reel is attached.
Butter: A term often used to describe a brown trout, especially one that has taken on bright yellow coloration due to diet or spawning season.
BWO: A term used to describe a type of mayfly, short for “blue-winged olive.” The wings are blue-gray in color (see “Dun”) and the body is olive in color. Also used to describe a fly pattern colored in the same way which is often a good choice for imitating a wide variety of insects.
Caddis: One of the most commonly imitated insects by fly fishers. It looks like a moth when in flight and looks like a tiny sailboat when riding the water surface before flight.
Cape: A collection of feathers harvested from a bird’s back, commonly a rooster, and used in fly tying. May also refer to an entire bird skin and attached feathers, with or without the wings.
Cast: The act of propelling fly and fly line out away from the fisher.
Casting arc: The path the rod follows during the casting motion. An improper one is often the culprit of a bad cast and seen in many who are beginning fly fishing.
CDC: Short for cul de canard, the feathers near the preen glands on an aquatic bird. Oily, fluffy, and extremely water resistant, these are useful feathers for fly tying a variety of patterns.
CFS: Short for cubic feet per second, a term used to describe the flow of a river or stream and measured by a stream gauge.
Chute: Another term for a run.
Click drag: A simple system used on fly reels to provide constant mechanical resistance to unspooling line.
Cone head: Similar to a bead head but cone shaped and usually heavier and larger. Often seen on streamers.
Conventional: A term often used by fly fishers when referring to fishing with regular rod and reel.
Creel: A basket used to hold fish meant to be kept for consumption, or generally used to describe fish caught and not released.
Creel limit: A limit set by a government or other entity dictating how many of a certain species of fish may be kept and not released.
Cull: In fishing tournaments or contests, the process of releasing or removing the score from the smallest fish after catching a larger one.
Dacron: A polyester blend of fabric used to make lines. The most often used material for backing on a fly reel.
Dead drift: The goal of every fly fisher. Occurs when the fly is floating along in such a manner that it appears to have nothing attached to it.
Dink: Formally, a fish which is too small to be legally kept, or generally, a small fish.
Disc drag: An adjustable system on more advanced fly reels which uses adjustable friction between discs to add resistance to unspooling line.
Dissolved oxygen: A measure of the amount of oxygen in water available for use by fish. Colder water can hold more dissolved oxygen, which is why trout often die in warmer water.
Double haul: An advanced casting technique where the caster quickly pulls line in the casting motion to increase line speed and casting distance.
Double taper: A style of fly line which is tapered at both ends. Very useful for roll casting but bad for distance.
Downstream: Sometimes generically, “down.” Referring to movement or location in the same direction as the river’s current from the present location.
Drainage: A term used to describe the area from which runoff collects into a body of water, usually named for the river that carries the water.
Drag: A feature of fly reels to add resistance to unspooling line to tire and land a fish. Also refers to an unnatural motion of a fly in the water, commonly caused by having too much line in the water, that usually deters a strike from a fish.
Drift: The path a fly takes through moving water. A “good” drift usually minimizes drag and reaches the correct depth.
Dropper: A fly tied off of another fly typically in a two fly configuration. Commonly one fly is fished on the surface as a dry fly while the dropper is fished under it below the surface.
Dry fly: A fly that floats and is fished on the surface of the water usually to imitate an insect. Those beginning fly fishing often feel much more confident fishing these as they can be easily seen.
Dubbing: Fur or synthetic material wrapped around thread used to build volume (as in a body) in fly tying.
Dun: The adult stage of a mayfly as it leaves the water. Also describes a blue-gray color in fly tying materials.
Eddy: A section of water which flows at a different rate or in a different direction than surrounding water. Fish often congregate here.
Emerger: The stage of an aquatic insect between its nymph and adult stage which occurs as it approaches the surface to take flight. An important stage to mimic for fly fishers.
Eye: The loop on a hook at the opposite end of the shank as the bend where the leader or tippet is attached.
False cast: A usually overused motion of propelling the fly and line back and forth through the air before putting the fly in the water.
Fast action: A term used to describe a fly rod which is generally stiff, flexing mostly at its tip. Also called tip flex. Likely the most popular action, it offers the ability to cast long distances but makes delicate presentation more difficult.
Ferrule: The connection between pieces of a fly rod. Fly rods almost always come apart into two or more pieces.
Fiberglass: A traditional material for rod making. It flexes more than graphite and so is said to offer a slower action. It is useful for delicate presentations but bad for distance casting.
Fighting butt: An extension of a fly rod below the reel seat commonly found on heavier weighted rods used for fighting large fish.
Film: See surface film
Fingerling: A juvenile fish often stocked as a low cost alternative to stocking adults to establish populations.
First cast curse: A term used by superstitious anglers who have landed a fish on their first cast of the day to describe the bad luck that often follows.
Fish ladder: A generic term for a device or feature of a river or stream used to aide fish in passing an obstruction such as a dam or waterfall in their journey upstream, usually to spawn.
“Fish on!”: A term often shouted when an angler hooks a fish.
Fished out: A term to describe a fishery from which fishermen have removed all the fish. Used most often to describe a body of water that receives supplemental stockings of fish after most (or all) of the stocked fish have been caught and removed.
Fishing pressure: Describes the amount of angling activity a body of water receives. High fishing pressure is usually synonymous with picky fish.
Flex: Another term used to describe a fly rod’s action. Tip-flex is synonymous with fast action, while full flex is synonymous with slow action.
Flats: A wide expanse of shallow water, usually seen in a protected bay from the ocean, which holds many species of fish targeted by fly fishers.
Float: See indicator.
Floatant: A substance applied to a dry fly to keep it afloat. These come in powder and liquid forms. The liquid forms should never be applied to flies with CDC feathers. See CDC.
Floating line: The most common form of fly line. It floats on the water.
Flossing: See lining.
Fluorocarbon: An expensive leader and/or tippet material that is nearly invisible under water and readily sinks.
Fly: A generic term for a lure used with a fly rod. Often represents an insect of some kind.
Fly line: A special plastic coated rubbery line used in fly fishing. It is available in many forms.
Fly reel: A reel used in fly fishing to hold fly line.
Fly rod: A rod designed to cast fly line for fly fishing. Sized based on length and line weight. Sometimes called the “long rod” since they are usually longer than standard fishing rods.
Foam line: A term used to describe an area where foam collects in a river or stream, often located in a current seam. Indicates where insects and other debris collect in the current and is a prime fishing location.
Foot: Describes the extension of a fly reel that is clamped down to attach it to a fly rod, or can describe the extension off of a guide that is wrapped with thread to attach it to a rod blank.
Foul hook: To hook a fish anywhere but the mouth. It is illegal on most of the worlds waters, and fish caught in such a manner must generally be released right away. Sometimes hooking a fish on the outside of the mouth will also be considered a foul hook (see lining).
Fry: Fish which have just hatched from their eggs.
Frogs Fanny: The brand name of the most commonly used powder floatant. Thought to be a mixture of fumed silica and other materials, it is brushed into a dry fly to remove water and restore its floating characteristics.
Furled leader: An alternative to a tapered leader constructed by weaving together many fine strands of a material, often thread or monofilament. They generally cast better than tapered leaders, but sometimes are more prone to drag and/or spraying water during presentation, situations which can spook fish.
Gap (or gape): A measure of the width of the bend in a hook, the distance between the shank and hook point.
Gink: A brand name for a silicone-based fly floatant.
Graphite: The material from which the vast majority of fly rods are made.
Gravel guards: Flaps on waders which fit over wading boots to prevent gravel and debris getting into and destroying the booties of the waders.
Grip: The part of the fly rod designed to be held in ones hand. Generally made of cork and positioned ahead of the reel.
Guides: Loops, usually metal, attached along the length of the fly rod blank through which fly line is threaded. Also a term for someone who takes others fishing to help them catch fish for a living. The second type is often a great resource for someone just beginning fly fishing to learn.
Hackle: A generic term for a strand of feathers wrapped around a hook, often coming from a rooster. In many dry fly patterns, this is the part of the fly which sticks outward perpendicular to the hook shank.
Hanging: A technique of holding the offering out in the current at the end of a drift. With nymphs, this creates the illusion of an emerging insect. It results in strikes for all subsurface presentations, and is also the way to load the rod in the act of water hauling.
Hatch: An occurrence whereby a large number of the same species of insects emerges at once. This often results in fish feeding activity.
Haul: An action to load or more fully load a fly rod. Often used to gain casting distance.
Head: The most upstream portion of a pool, usually containing faster moving water and often below a riffle or run. This area is heavily fished and commonly holding feeding fish. Can also refer to a part of an insect, the part of a fly immediately behind the hook eye, or the end of a fly line.
Headwaters: Where a river or stream begins.
Hen: Term used to describe the female of many species of fish.
Hemostat: A pair of narrow pliers used in various situations, notably to remove a fly from a fish’s mouth or article of clothing.
Hole: Another term for a pool on a stream or river, a section of slow moving, deep water. Can also describe an indentation in the bottom in faster moving water which tends to hold feeding fish.
Hook: Curved, sharp steel wire used to keep a fish attached to the end of the line upon which flies are tied. Generally coated with bronze, nickel, or some other metal which does not easily oxidize or rust.
Hook keeper: A small metal loop above the grip on a fly rod used to secure a fly while still attached to the line for short journeys.
Ice out: A term for the melting of ice on a body of water, often occurring in the spring. Often used to describe the movement of many large chunks of ice from a river at once during warming temperatures which often collect at the mouth or at some other funnel point.
Indicator: A float that is attached to the leader or tippet used to detect strikes, maintain depth, and monitor drift. Also known as a strike indicator or bobber. These are helpful for teaching those just beginning fly fishing to fish with nymphs.
Inspection: Commonly seen when fishing a dry fly, the act of a fish following the fly as it drifts downstream, seemingly deciding whether to eat it or not.
Jetty: A feature, usually man-made and usually seen in the surf zone of an ocean, which protects the shore from current and wave action. These are big time fish attractors.
Knot: One of various methods of joining backing to arbor, fly line to backing, leader to fly line, tippet to leader, or fly to tippet. Can be one of the most intimidating prospects for someone beginning fly fishing.
Knotted leader: An alternative to a tapered leader constructed by knotting several lengths of tippet in order of decreasing diameter. Said to cast better and hold less memory than a tapered leader, they can sometimes hold water and spray it upon presentation which may spook fish.
Kype: A hook like growth of the bottom jaw of the males in many species of fish.
Lake run: A variation of sea run. Describes a fish who is hatched in a stream, lives its life in a large lake (such as North Americas Great Lakes) and returns to the stream to spawn.
Larva: An immature life phase of certain insects, including Caddis flies. Often a viable food source for fish if dislodged from the bottom substrate.
Lateral line: A series of sensory organs running along a fish’s sides used to sense vibrations in the water.
Leader: The section connecting the fly line to the fly, often tapered and made of monofilament. An additional length of tippet is often attached at the end of the leader to be attached to the fly.
Lever effect: The phenomenon of a fish coming unhooked when hooked on a fly with a long shank. The long shank works as a lever which pries the hook out of the fish’s mouth.
Lie: A likely holding spot for a fish in a river or stream.
Lifting: The action of a fly fisher who is fishing in an area with a high density of fish and setting the hook at the end of a drift, presumably in an attempt to foul hook one. Can also be an alternate term for setting the hook, or a method for fishing nymphs which imitates an emerging insect.
Limit: A term used to describe the maximum number of fish that can be legally kept. Often a term used by catch-and-keep anglers to reflect a successful day fishing.
Line weight: The size of a fly line used to match it to a specific fly rod. A higher weighted line is generally targets a larger species of fish and is used on a heavier, stiffer rod.
Lining: The practice of using a two-fly rig of easily visible flies to position the tippet connecting the flies in the fishes mouth, then setting the hook, creating the illusion of a fish hooked fairly. It occurs most frequently with large anadromous fish in small streams who are more concerned with spawning than eating. This is illegal in many areas, but widely practiced in others.
Loading the rod: Using the fly line to bend the rod and store energy needed to propel it in the opposite direction. Occurs in normal fly casting, and can be done through water hauling as well. Getting the feel for how to load a rod is a challenge for many beginning fly fishing.
Loop to loop: A method of attaching two lines with loops at the end together. Often used for connecting fly line to fly leader.
Matching the hatch: Picking an artificial fly to closely mimic the actual insects on a stream. This term can also be loosely used when describing the use of a fly that mimics a fish’s food source.
Mayfly: The most common type of aquatic insect. They come in many shapes, sizes, and colors.
Midge: A very small aquatic insect. These often make up the majority of a fish’s diet and are underutilized by fly fishers.
Memory: A generally undesirable feature of leaders and tippet to hold a shape instead of easily straightened out. Worse in colder temperatures, it is often remedied by pulling the line through a patch of leather to generate heat.
Mending: Adjusting the fly line immediately after a cast to account for differing current speeds and reduce drag during the drift.
Monofilament: A common, inexpensive material used for leaders and tippet that floats.
Mudline: A distinct line in water formed when sediment filled water meets clearer water. Often a feeding zone for fish.
Nipper: A tool resembling nail clippers used to cut monofilament or fluorocarbon.
Nymph: The aquatic form of an insect, making up a large portion of fish’s diets. They live on the bottom and swim towards the surface as they hatch into the adult form of the insect. Also describes a fly fished on or near the bottom or the technique of fishing those flies.
Offering: The fly or flies which the fisher is using in hopes of enticing a fish to eat.
Open loop: A phenomenon caused by poor casting technique often exhibited by those beginning fly fishing where the line travels in a wide path. It leads to decreased distance and poor presentation.
Palmering: A technique of wrapping feathers around a hook in tying a fly to achieve a desired effect.
Palming: A technique of resting the palm against the spool on a fly reel used to slow a running fish. This is used in conjunction with or in place of a drag system.
Parachute (hackle): Used to describe a fly which has had hackle wrapped horizontally around a vertical post of highly visible material such as hair or fur. An alteration made to small dry flies to make them easier for the angler to spot on the water.
Playing a fish: The process of applying pressure to tire a hooked fish so that it can be landed. It is essential not to over-play a fish if the intention is release it afterwards.
Polarized glasses: Sunglasses with a special treatment that reduces glare and allows a fly fisher to more easily see below the water’s surface.
Polyleader: A dense, heavy leader usually with a lead core and coated with the same material as fly line designed to get an offering deeper quicker without the use of a sink tip or sinking fly line or without adding additional weight.
Pocket water: Similar to an eddy, a term referring to a section of calm water in an area otherwise characterized by moving water, often behind a boulder or some other obstruction. A prime holding zone for feeding fish.
Pool: A deep, slow moving section of a river or stream. The majority of a stream’s fish population is here at a given time, but is likely resting and not actively feeding. Generally the main target of someone just beginning fly fishing.
Presentation: The act of putting the fly on or into the water in hopes of triggering a strike by a fish. Doing so delicately is often the key to not spooking fish and a major challenge for those beginning fly fishing.
Pupa: An insect in transition from larva to adult, often important for caddis hatches.
Put-and-take: Describes a fishery where adult fish are stocked with the intention of anglers catching them and keeping them for consumption.
Quill: The stem from which the feathers have been removed, often from a peacock herl, used in fly tying.
Redd: An area of cleared gravel or sand where spawning fish deposit their eggs. Be careful not to step in them during the spring and fall!
Refusal: Occurs generally while fishing a dry fly where a fish rises to take a fly and turns away after getting a closer look. Commonly occurs at the end of an inspection and caused by drag.
Reel seat: The section of the fly rod where the fly reel is meant to be attached. Generally has a threaded ring which locks the reel into place.
Retractor: See zinger.
Riffle: A section of water moving swiftly over small boulders or gravel.
Rig: A term used to describe the collection of hardware and flies presented to the fish. Synonymous with offering.
Riparian: Describes an area of or pertaining to a river or stream bank. Often used when discussing access privileges for fishers.
Rise: The act of a fish taking an insect or well-presented fly off the water’s surface. Identified by the ripples that occur and not to be confused with a boil.
River right/left: Used to describe sides of a river or stream. Refers to the left or right side of a river when facing downstream. Especially important for navigating tricky obstacles in a boat or raft, or for describing the location of a memorable catch or experience!
Roll cast: A casting technique employed in brushy or thick areas that does not employ a back cast. The rod is accelerated from just behind the caster’s head then stopped abruptly, sending the offering outward.
Run: Sometimes called a chute, this is an area of moving water often found between riffles and pools and is a prime fish feeding zone. Fish move to runs to feed and tend to hold behind rocks or in bottom indentions to conserve energy. Can also refer to a hooked fish swimming forcefully away from an angler for a period of time, or a large fish migration, usually with the intention of spawning.
Saddle: A collection of feathers taken from the center of a bird’s cape such as a rooster, used in fly tying.
Scud: A small freshwater shrimp abundant in many streams and rivers, especially tailwaters.
Sculpin: A small, bottom dwelling fish which is a major food source for larger fish in many fisheries.
Seam: A line between two currents of differing speeds. One of the best places to target when searching for feeding fish.
Sea-run: Layman’s term for an anadromous fish. Describes a fish that hatches in fresh water, lives its life in the sea, and returns to fresh water to spawn.
Setting the hook: A lifting motion used to drive the hook into a fishes mouth in response to a strike.
Shank: The straight part of a hook between the eye and the bend. Usually where materials are tied in a fly.
Shock leader: A section of heavy leader material made from monofilament, fluorocarbon, or wire designed to prevent break offs from the strike of a large fish and/or teeth.
Shooting: Propelling fly line through the guides of a fly rod at the end of the forward stroke of a cast. More length of line via less backcasting is the aim here.
Shooting head: A short, single tapered fly line used for easier line shooting. Often interchangeable, allowing a single line to be changed from floating to sinking with ease.
Shot (split shot): A generic term for small balls usually made of lead, tungsten, or tin designed to be crimped onto the leader or tippet to get an offering deeper.
Sink putty: A material, usually infused with lead or tungsten, which is molded around the leader or tippet to get the offering deeper. An alternative to split shot.
Sink rate: The rate at which a sinking fly line sinks.
Sink-tip fly line: A type of fly line where the tip section sinks to allow an angler to get the offering deeper, while the rest of the line floats.
Sinking fly line: A type of fly line which sinks to allow an angler to get the offering deeper.
Sipping: An act of repeated gentle rises, indicating a fish feeding on the surface of the water, often used to describe a fish eating midges.
Skunked: A term used to describe a day or other period of time out fishing without catching any fish.
Slot limit: A regulation that prevents harvesting of fish within a certain size range, usually used to bolster population by protecting fish at their prime spawning ages.
Spawn: The act of a fish laying and protecting eggs, done on a redd. Can also describe a clump of eggs which has drifted out of a red, or a fly pattern designed to imitate same.
Spey: A type of fly rod and casting which utilizes two hands and a very long fly rod.
Spinner: The stage of a mayfly after the dun has molted whereby the insect lays its eggs on the water’s surface and dies.
Spinner fall: A term used to describe the scene when hoards of spinners flutter down from the trees, usually just before dusk, to deposit their eggs and die. It often results in pods of rising fish gorging themselves on the expired insects.
Spooked: A term used to describe a fish or group of fish which has been frightened by human presence, water disturbance or something else and has ceased feeding activity.
Spool: The part of a fly reel which spins and holds the fly line and backing. Many fly reels have removable spools for easy transition from one fly line weight or style to another.
Spring creek: A term used to describe a stream or river which gets its flow from an underground spring or aquifer. Underground features buffer out temperature swings, acidity, and sediment which might otherwise be present in a stream fed by runoff.
Soft hackle: A style of fly used often to imitate an emerging insect. As opposed to hackle generally used on many dry fly patterns, this fly uses a more limber hackle often from a hen, grouse, duck, or starling that is tied swept back over the shank towards the hook bend.
Steelhead: A migratory rainbow trout, technically sea-run, but also a term often used to describe lake-run rainbow trout.
Stockingfoot: A type of waders whose feet are in the form of booties, usually made from neoprene. Require the addition of a separate pair of wading boots, but offer better freedom of movement and more comfort than boot foot waders.
Stonefly: An aquatic insect that lives in rocky streams and requires high water quality, characterized by wings that fold over the body. An important food source for many fish.
Stream gauge: A device, generally maintained and monitored by a national geologic survey which measures current water conditions, notably the flow rate. Useful in determining fishing conditions before getting to the body of water.
Streamer: A large fly often tied to imitate a prey fish.
Strike: Occurs when a fish takes your offering.
Strike Indicator: See indicator
Strike zone: A region in a body of water, usually referring to depth, where the likelihood of a strike from a fish is highest.
Stringer: A device made of metal or rope used to hold fish destined to be harvested, generally by threading through the bottom jaw or gill plate. Never put a fish on a stringer that you intend to release!
Stripping: Retrieving line by pulling it through your fingers instead of winding it on a reel as in normal fishing. The standard method for line retrieval in fly fishing, and a common technique of imparting movement to a fly to entice a strike, especially in still or salt water.
Stripping basket: A basket held on an anglers waist used to hold fly line which has been stripped in and is not out the end of the rod.
Substrate: Describes the composition of the bottom in a body of water or part of a body of water.
Surface film: A region in the very top of the water column where many insects collect. Fish feeding in this zone often appear to be taking insects from the surface. Can also describe the appearance of the water’s surface due to surface tension.
Swing: A technique whereby the current is allowed to create a belly in the fly line then straighten the line, leaving the offering hanging in the current. Often results in strikes during the swing and at the end.
Tag (end): The short piece of excess line left after tying a knot.
Tail: The part of a fly hanging out over the bend of a hook.
Tailout: The most downstream portion of a pool, usually containing faster moving water and just above a run or riffle. Often a good place to find feeding fish.
Tailwater: A term used to describe a body of water below a dam, usually referring to one below a bottom-discharge dam. Characterized by unpredictable flows, consistent water temperatures, and high fish populations.
Take: The action of a fish siezing a fly. Synonymous with a strike.
Tapered leader: A leader made of monofilament of fluorocarbon that tapers from thick to thin from its butt to tip section. The most commonly used leaders in fly fishing.
Terminal tackle: Generically describes items meant to go on the end of a line, including sinkers, indicators, hooks, etc.
Terrestrial: A land based insect that has ended up in the water. Examples such as ants, beetles, and grasshoppers are major food sources for fish.
Test: An alternate term for the breaking strength of a tippet or leader.
Thorax: The section between the head and abdomen of an insect. Can be thought of as the insect’s “chest.”
Tight loop: The signature of a good fly cast. The fly line moves in a narrow sideways “U” shape, cutting through the wind and completely straightening out at the end.
Tip top: The very top section of a fly rod. The most often broken piece.
Tippet: Often used to describe the thinnest tip section of a tapered leader which is attached to the fly, also represents a length of monofilament or fluorocarbon which is tied onto the end of a leader to lengthen it.
Toad: Term used to describe a large fish, often a largemouth bass, but can apply to any species.
Trace: European term sometimes used when referring to a leader.
Trailer (hook): An extra hook attached to the end of a fly that aims to hook fish which strike behind or partially miss the lure.
Tube fly: A style of fly tied on a thin tube which fits over the eye of the hook or the line just above the eye. Once a fish is hooked, the tube is free to slide up the line and away from the fish. This is a way to avoid lost fish due to the lever effect.
Tungsten: An expensive dense metal used as a faster sinking, less toxic alternative to lead. Often seen as split shot, bead heads, cone heads, or infused in sink putty.
Turn over: A term used to describe how a fly line and leader straighten at the end of a cast.
Undercurrent: A current near the bottom traveling at a different speed or direction than the one at the top, making a dead drift very difficult.
Undercut: Describes an area in which the current flows into the bank such that the bank hangs out over the water. This is a prime holding spot for fish as they are generally safe from predators and hot sun here.
Upstream: Sometimes generically, “up.” Referring to movement or location in the opposite direction of the river’s current from the present location.
Vise: A clamping device used to hold hooks for fly tying.
Wader (wading) belt: A belt worn on the outside of waders to prevent them from filling up in case of immersion. Sometimes also worn as a form of lower back support for a long day on the water.
Waders: Worn on the outside of clothing to keep an angler dry while fishing. Can be made out of a variety of materials and are available in stocking foot or boot foot.
Wading boots (shoes): Boots with either a felt or rubber sole that are made to be worn with stocking foot waders. They drain water quickly, and provide traction and protection when walking in water.
Wading staff: A staff of some sort carried by fishermen wading in slippery or challenging streams and rivers used as a steadying device to avoid falling.
Water hauling: The act of letting the force of the current load the fly rod to perform the next cast. Avoids using backcasts and increases efficiency when nymphing.
Watershed: See drainage.
Weight forward line: The most common and easiest casting type of fly line. The majority of the line’s weight is at the tip which quickly tapers to a thin diameter for shooting through guides, making for easy casting of long distances.
Wet fly: A traditional type of fly designed to be fished in the middle of the water column tied on a long-shanked hook and often fished using a swing method. May also generically describe any fly fished below the surface.
Whip finish: A technique used to knot off the thread when finished tying a fly.
Wind knot: A term used to describe a knot which has formed in the leader due to bad casting form or windy conditions. Often a malady of those beginning fly fishing, it greatly decreases the breaking strength of the leader.
Wing case: An area on the nymph stage of aquatic insects where wings begin to form as they approach adult stage. This area often shows up as a different color or can remain attached as the insect emerges, so it is an important consideration for fly tying.
Wing dam: Man made earth, log, or rock feature in a stream or river used to deflect current and improve fish habitat over time.
Winterkill: Fish deaths caused by oxygen depletion under ice in the winter.
X: Paired with a number, used to describe the diameter (and essentially breaking strength) of tippet. 0x is the thickest and strongest on the X scale, while higher numbers indicate thinner tippets. Also used to describe the diameter of the thinnest part of a tapered leader.
Year class: Describes the collection of fish of a certain species hatched during a particular year. Strong year classes indicate good fishing in future years.
Zinger: A spring-loaded retractable device often attached to the waders or fishing vest of an angler for easy access and automatic replacement of tools such as nippers.