Fly line backing is not sexy (usually). It’s pretty basic stuff: a thin strand of braided Dacron or similar polyester product, meant to bulk up the “arbor” or center spindle of a fly reel, while also providing anglers with a lot of latitude if a fish makes a big run.
Back before “large arbor” reels were a thing, backing was actually kind of a technological innovation. The first fly lines were made of silk, you see. They needed to be reversed during a day’s fishing in order to dry out the front end, which would become water-logged. (Incidentally, this is the real reason why we have double-tapered lines). Once plastic fly line came along, there was no need to swap a line out to the reel each time we went fishing. That allowed anglers to question why the center arbors of their reels had such a narrow diameter. Coupled with new synthetic fibers that allowed for thin, strong line (also being used in the new plastic fly lines’ cores), bang presto, we had a movement on our hands. By increasing the diameter of the central arbor, a reel with a lot of backing on it also increases the amount of fly line which can be picked up with a turn of the handle.
But in the age of digital sales, backing also poses a problem, because it is typically sold to consumers only in small 100 yard spools (appropriate for a trout reel but not for increasingly popular larger game setups). If you need to spool up 300 yards of backing on a boat-anchor-sized reel like the Tibor Gulfstream, you’re going to need to go into the flyshop where they have a bulk spool. And that becomes a social problem, because chances are if you need a flyshop to spool a reel you already own, you didn’t buy the reel from them. (Most flyshops add backing with a fly reel sale as a courtesy and a sales incentive). Nothing says “eBay” like walking into a fly shop with a naked reel. And while fly shops would certainly prefer you to spend some money with them rather than no money, there are other limitations as well.
Most shops stock only one or at best two colors of backing. What if you want to go the Big Sexy with your big new reel? What if you want some of that awesome Cortland Micron backing in royal blue or hot pink? Are you supposed to just order a 1000 yard spool and use what’s left for clothesline?
This is where the internet gets awesome. Cortland has partnered with local fly shops and Amazon to provide you with the ability to ordered exactly the color, break strength, and amount of backing you need, all shipped direct to your door. The process is simple: look at your reel to determine the amount of backing and the weight you need to fill it up, pick out a color, and order away. Tiny elves dressed in trucker hats and flannel will unspool your order onto a shipping spool and have it at your door within days.
Ok, awesome, you’ve got your backing. Now what? You still don’t have the reel winding device, right? Never fear. This is not that hard.
Attach the backing to your naked spool by wrapping the loose end around the arbor twice, then tying a Duncan’s Loop knot. Cinch down the line and (thanks to the two turns around the arbor you wisely made, the reel will immediately start picking up line). Take the backing spool and drop it in a narrow lemonade pitcher or something that will allow it to unroll. You want this to be narrow enough to force the spool to turn, because pulling backing off the side of the spool will eventually result in twists on your line. Next, run the backing through a heavy book on a table — you want it to be fairly tense. Finally, mount your feel on the butt end of your rod and carefully wind the backing on evenly. Take your time and keep it even.
Two things to avoid:
- Do not allow the spool to wobble side to side. This will result in an oblong shape in your backing, which will eventually stack up and tangle. Keep the reel square as you wind and don’t rush it; and
- Be sure you are winding evenly out to both edges of the spool. This is good advice when fighting a fish too; if you leave a gap on the edge, the backing will have a place to cut into itself and again will eventually tangle.
How do you mount the backing to your line? You have two options. That depends on whether your line came with a welded loop at the end. If it did not, for anything under a 10 weight you can use a simple nail knot, and I’d recommend adding two loops so you can swap the line out more easily:
With lighter-sized equipment you can simply use a pair of Double Surgeon’s Loops linked in a loop to loop knot. Meanwhile, for anything heavier than a 10 weight I’d recommend the Bimini Twist loop knot, which looks intimidating but is actually very easy to tie provided you keep everything under tension. Not only is the Bimini Twist stronger, it also has a very straight architecture with a long smooth section to help it run through guides.
Whichever loop knot you choose, by all means use the loop to loop connection on the back of your line if it came with one. DON’T CUT THIS OFF. Welded fly line loops are (shockingly) the strongest knots possible according to our unbiased testing. They are so strong, I would prefer to make my own welded loop for heavier tackle versus trusting a nail knot to hold.
Now you’re good to go. By the way, I recommend the hot pink backing.