Q and A

Q. How much backing should I have on my fly reel for saltwater fishing?

A. As much as the reel can hold and still have plenty of space for easy adding of the fly line. This is so the effective diameter of the reel spool is larger, which means you get more line back on the reel with each crank of your hand. In all but the extreme case, this will put more backing on your reel than you will ever need. I’ve never been close to losing all of my backing to a fish, and of the saltwater flats fish, the closest I’ve come has been with a tarpon. Sure, I’ve had large bonefish that have made very long runs, but I never was in danger of reaching the end of my backing. I would bet that I’ve never had a bonefish run more than 100 yards of backing off my reel before I was able to turn it.

Do you know how far 100 yards really is? A number of years ago I was fishing for false albacore on Cape Cod. I hooked a nice one, and off it went. I was fishing from a jetty, so there was no chasing this fish. As the backing disappeared from the reel I started to worry, but in reality I still had plenty of backing on the reel (150 yads, if I remember correctly). When the fish suddenly stopped its run and turned, a small loop formed in the backing as I cranked it onto the reel. I just kept cranking and laid more backing over the loop that was eventually covered by fresh backing coming in. I landed the fish and called it a day. That evening I pulled the fly line and backing off the reel to get to the loop and rinse the line. I walked the line across a field next to the house to measure how far the fish had run (it had seemed like the fish had run for miles). The total distance was 75 yards. Not even close to spooling me.

Striped bass and bluefish certainly won’t spool you if you have a reasonable amount of backing and a properly set drag. As I mentioned above, tarpon can do it, but 99% of the time you’ll be fishing for tarpon from a boat, so you can follow the fish to retrieve line after it makes a long run.