How to Spool a Fly Reel by Yourself
Updated: Nov 4, 2021
When purchasing a new fly reel in-store, most any reputable shop will offer to load it with backing and fly line using their spooling machine. This is a very convenient service for the sheer speed of it plus the peace-of-mind knowing that your reel should be rigged properly and with the optimal amount of backing. But, at some point there likely will come a time when you need or want to do it yourself. Luckily, it's really a piece of cake!
Here's the step-by-step process of how I set up a fly reel with backing and fly line from the very beginning...
1) Make sure the reel is configured correctly with either left or right hand retrieve. If not, consult the directions as each reel is different. With that done, mount it to the rod. The other remaining section(s) of the fly rod aren't needed.
2) Attach the backing to the spool; this may be easier with the spool removed. There's a few ways this attachment can be done, but I've always just used the good old Arbor Knot. When the knot is complete, make sure it's holding tight to the spool and trim the tag end nice and close.
3) Stick a pen, pencil, or something similar through the middle of the backing spool. You can get creative here, but I like to use a pencil and hold it at a nice even level using my feet as shown in the picture above. There's also many types of spooling machines/devices you can buy to hold the spool if you'd rather go that route.
With the backing coming off the underside of its own spool, begin cranking it onto the reel spool. While cranking, I apply some pretty firm tension to the backing with my fingers and take care to evenly guide it back and forth. Doing this packs the backing on very tightly and level so it won't dig into itself or go on lopsided. A glove can be helpful here to protect the fingers if needed.
Deciding how much backing to put on can be tough. If the reel takes 200 yards and the backing spool is 200 yards, that's easy, but if the reel only takes 165 yards that's a different story. Also, a reel's yardage rating can be inaccurate and different types of backing or even colors of backing are thicker than others (white is thinnest and typically what reels use for ratings) so keep that in mind. After years of spooling my own reels I find that I can eyeball it pretty accurately, but I usually start by putting on slightly more backing than I think I'll need just to be safe and because I can't stand my reels to be underfilled...even by just a little bit. Ultimately, whether or not the amount is ideal won't be known until after the fly line is also loaded on.
4) The reel should now be loaded with backing. Three things to remember before spooling new fly line to avoid line twists and complications are: 1) Leave the fly line on its original spool; don't take it off first 2) Don't wind the line off the side of the spool like you would when filling a spinning reel 3) Make sure the fly line comes off the bottom of the spool rather than the top. This gives the line a more direct line flow and line lay on the spool due to its natural memory.
Fly lines often come with some type of wire twist ties wrapped around the line. Rather than completely removing them from the line, just untwist them and fold the ends out of the way over the spool edge as shown above.
5) If the fly line has a built-in loop, I will make a LARGE Rapala Knot or Perfection Loop in the backing then stick this loop through the fly line's little factory loop.
Then I pass the entire spool of fly line through the big backing loop.
Once the fly line spool is through, this will join the backing and fly line loops in a "handshake" connection when pulled tight. If there is no fly line loop, I will typically tie the fly line directly to the backing using an Albright Knot.
6) Just like with the backing spool, I'll put something like a pencil through the middle of the fly line spool and reel the line straight off the bottom of it. While reeling, the line is guided back and forth evenly onto the fly reel under just a mild amount of tension.
Now is the time when it will become known if too much or too little backing was put on. If the reel becomes overfilled, I will strip the fly line back off, remove some backing, re-loop the two together, and reel the fly line back on again. Some folks actually will do things in reverse order by first loading the fly line then winding the backing on top of it. Doing this allows for an exact measurement of backing to fill the spool to the exact desired level. Then, everything is taken off and the reel is reloaded the proper way with the backing first and fly line on top. This is a very creative and precise solution indeed, but I just never could bring myself to go through the hassle of all that.
7) The fly line is now loaded and all looks good. I like to have a gap between line and frame about like what is shown above. A nice full spool just looks more proportional and retrieve speed will be maximized thanks to the large diameter of the line. An underfilled spool is certainly usable, but retrieve speed will suffer.
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