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Back To Basics – Fishing Rod & Line Setup Guide

Published: 14th June 2020 | Author: Phil Ratcliffe

Back to Basics

Whether I’m out teaching or on a guided day with anglers, be it Stillwater or river I get asked many questions on a wealth of topics from all abilities.  Sometimes the very basics are forgotten, it’s all important that the foundations are put in place to build upon.  This is apparent when it comes to setting up either for the very first time as a total novice or as a fine tuned angler to improve upon what you are already doing.

This back to basics brief guide is by no means set in stone, it’s merely a suggestion to help you when spending time on the water.

Reel, Rod & Line Set up

To set up the reel use an Arbour knot to secure the backing to the spool;

The Arbour Knot

To attach the fly line to the backing there are several ways;

1. Use the pre moulded loop on the fly line and secure using a loop to loop connection with the backing line.

2. Use a tucked blood knot on the backing with the pre moulded loop – Ideal for Stillwater & Rivers. (Trout)

3. Attach a braided loop if the line doesn’t already come with one.

4. Use a Nail knot to secure fly line and backing. Utilising a Nail knot tool

The Nail Knot

Rod Set up

With the reel set up with left hand wind (Right handed caster) I prefer this, as it gives me the option of either playing the fish off the reel or stripping line to keep tension before reeling the excess line onto the reel.

To set up the rod its best assembling starting with the tip section and finishing at the butt section, then attach the reel. Ensure all guide rings are lined up correctly, adjust if necessary.  This will save you time and ready for passing the line through the rod rings.  Work from top down then from the reel up.

The easiest way to thread your line through the rod rings is to strip off the required amount of line from the reel and bend the end of the line over in a loop so it can be threaded through the rings with ease.  I see many an angler who have left tippet material attached to the end of line trying to thread the fine material through each guide ring and pulling the line off the reel whilst it’s placed on the floor. Resulting in a damaged or scuffed reel coupled with frustrations when a guide ring is missed or the line is snagged or dropped.

One of the most common causes of a broken tip section is holding the rod at the tip and pulling the line down, this will inevitably break the rod tip like a match stick. To prevent this, hold the top section of the rod mid-way on the blank and pass the line through the tip guide ring and pull out in line with the rod.  This will prevent any needless pressure being applied to the tip.

Line & Leader Set up

Now that we have the rod, reel and line set up, we need to turn our attention to the ‘business end’ of the set up. There are several options here, firstly if the end of your fly line has a welded loop already then you are ready to go.  You can either attach a tapered leader by loop to loop connection or if preferred tie on the desired length of tippet.  If you don’t have a pre-moulded loop, then by far the easiest way is to purchase braided loops that fix over the end of your fly line.  This is not everyone’s choice but by far the most convenient. Just ensure of a strong hold of the braided loop when you attach to the line, apply a touch of superglue to secure. 

Tapered leaders

 Tapered leaders come in a variety of lengths and breaking strains, dependent on the species you are targeting. Fluorocarbon and Co-polymer tapered leaders are placed between your main tippet and fly line, to ensure better fly turn over.  Tapered leaders can be attached by a loop to loop connection or by a nail knot. You can attach your fly if you so wish directly onto the end of the tapered leader by using a simple but secure improved clinch knot, or even a davy knot for very light tapered leaders or tippet material when utilising small flies.  It certainly has less bulk at the eye of the hook than the blood knot.

I prefer when using a tapered leader particularly for dry fly, to attach a section of tippet material to the end of the tapered leader.  This can be done by a three turn water knot. Eventually the multi changes of tippet material will shorten the tapered leader and will need replacing.  To prevent this a small tippet ring can be attached to the end of the tapered leader so multi changes of tippet material can be carried out whilst on the water.

Improved Clinch Knot

Davy Knot

The Davy Knot – See Video Tutorial HERE


We don’t always fish with a single fly, and a selection of flies can be used on the same leader. The point fly as it’s refereed to is the one at the end of the tippet material, then we can attach droppers off the main tippet, middle or top dropper if we fish a team of three flies.  Anglers can shy away from using several flies as they tend to get tangled during the course of the day.  This can be reduced firstly by altering your casting style and utilising a Belgian or oval cast to keep the team of flies apart. Tight loops when fishing droppers can be a recipe for disaster.

Not only that attaching the dropper is all important, here I will outline a tried and tested method for droppers that will keep them siting at 90 degrees from the main line and reduce the likelihood of tangles. 

This Half hitch will allow the dropper to sit at 90 degrees to the main tippet line and dramatically reduce any tangles.  I can honestly say that in all the time I’ve used this half hitch; I have never been snapped at the dropper knot.

A full range of Master Class CoPolymer and Master Class Flurocarbon Tippet material is available from Fulling Mill

Enjoy your time on the Water

All the best – Phil Ratcliffe – FM Ambassador as well as Sage Redington Pro Guide.


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