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How Much Backing Should Go on a Trout Reel?

by Ted Upton

Question:  I’m using a standard reel for trout fly fishing, how much backing and fly line should be on the reel? Also if you don’t have the reel loaded with enough line will this have an effect on the range you can cast?

Cheeky Fly Reel with Backing

Upton’s preferred setup is a 5-weight reel with approximately 125 yards of backing and a weight-forward floating line.

Answer:  Knowing how much backing to spool onto a trout reel can be a tricky matter.  Reels come in many sizes and arbors and there’s more variety in lines today than ever.  Here are a few helpful hints I’ve learned over the years in the fly reel business.

Most anglers typically spool their reel with as much backing as possible while still leaving enough space for a fly line.  This approach increases the effective arbor size, speeds up the retrieve, and helps keeps line memory issues to a minimum.

Keep in mind, however, there’s no reason to over-spool a reel for trout fishing.  Most trout are not capable of taking a football field’s worth of line in a fight, and even if they could, many trout streams don’t offer the space for that kind of play.

When I am trout fishing, I prefer to use a large-arbor reel loaded with approximately 100-125 yards of backing and a 5-weight line.  Most large arbor reels will accommodate this set-up and the weight of the spooled up reel balances nicely with the newer lightweight rods on the market, a key factor in making long-range casts.

Don’t forget you can always lookup the reel manufacturer’s suggested line capacity for the model reel you are fishing.  There should be a line capacity table right on the manufacturer’s website or in/on the reel box.  The table will tell you how much backing a reel can hold with different weight lines and what kind to use (typically Dacron in the fresh and sometimes gel spun for added capacity in the salt).

Another great option is to consult with your local fly shop.  Fly shops spool up dozens of reels a day and employees often have a sixth sense for line capacity.  Fly shops also use a machine to wrap the backing tightly on the spool.  While you can certainly spool a reel yourself at home, the tighter wrap of a machine gets more backing on the spool and helps make sure the line doesn’t wrap over itself.  One hundred and twenty-five yards of backing won’t do you a bit of good if you hit a bird’s nest ten yards in.

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
Ted Upton is the Founder and CEO of Cheeky Fly Fishing. Founded in 2009, Cheeky manufactures high performance fly fishing reels, gear and apparel.
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  • Wayne McLemore

    As a tackle nerd with a half century of fly fishing experience, I’ve used, filled, and switched spools and backing beyond all computation. I don’t believe that trout have taken me seriously into my backing more than a half dozen times, and then not more than about fifty yards. Your mileage may vary, but not likely.

  • Ted Upton

    Spot on Wayne and one of the reasons I prefer to use large arbor reels. You get the benefits of an increased retrieval rate and a lighter weight setup with none of the down side. Small and mid arbor reels are an option, but all that tightly wound backing and line adds weight unnecessarily and can cause line memory issues. Line and backing can almost double the weight of a reel! It’s a rare (but exciting) day when a trout takes you deep into your backing. Any large arbor reel should provide more than enough backing capacity for trout and the vast majority of other larger species.

  • Cliff Graham

    Enough to fill it up with about 1/8″ left before it rubs.

    Its not that complicated.

  • Henry

    The problem with using a machine to put on backing IS because it DOES get backing on more tightly. IF you get well into the backing, you will not be able to get it back on as tightly and the fly line may not fit back onto the reel.

    Put the fly line on first, then that backing until, it is 1/4″ from the spool edge. You can use the outer most spool perforation as a guide. Then take it all off and reverse. The 1/4′ allows you to wind the line back on during fishing with some sloppiness and not overfill the spool.

    During stream or river fishing, that extra backing the fly shop can put on will likely not make a difference. The water pressure against a full fly line and the pulling fish will have broken the tippet before you get to that point.

  • Rusty

    Another way is to put the chosen fly line on first and measure the open area from the fly line to the outer edge where you desire to fill. Then remove fly line and add backing with the measurement taken rather than load both