Gel Spun Vs Dacron Backing For Fly Reels


Name: Chris Norton
Email Address:
Subject: Fly fishing
Message: Hey Guys I have a few friends that have switched the backings on their reels from dacron to gel-spun. What is the big difference between the two? And what is your preference?
(Sent via Saltwater Experience Fishing Blog)


Hi Chris,

Great question!  There are actually a couple of answers to this one.

Old school flyfishermen will remember when the Billy Pate Tarpon was the reel of choice.  It was bulletproof, but kind of heavy.  The trend at the time was to have a short, wide reel to increase capacity.  Reels were made smaller to decrease weight but there was a problem with capacity.  Dacron was our choice of backing and it had a pretty big diameter for the strength.  It was hard to get enough 30 pound backing on a reel to keep from getting spooled. 

Seeking out new materials, we found that Gel Spun was far thinner for the pound test and we could get more capacity with this stuff.  That solved a problem we were having but there were still other issues.  With a reel like a Billy Pate Tarpon or an original Abel 4, the arbor was tiny.  As the backing was dumped from the reel the diameter of the arbor went down fast.  When the fish stopped running, we began collecting the line on a spool that was basically the size of a thread spool and we would frantically reel in line until the arbor size was increased to help collect more line on each revolution. 

Soon reel design started to change.  Some companies tried multiplying reels.  While a multiplier was a great idea, they just didn't ever really take off.  Abel came out with the 4N which was a narrow, taller model.  The backing would build up the arbor size quickly and we could recover more line faster.  Gel Spun also helped to allow the fish to run farther without decreasing the size of the arbor as much as Dacron. 

Using this approach, we were just creating an artificial larger arbor reel with extra backing.  Next came the Tibor reels that actually were large arbor reels and this changed reel design forever.  Now, pretty much every reel is a large arbor and for good reason.  They are a better design.

You could easily use Dacron on a modern reel and still be light years ahead of the way we used to have to do it, but with Gel Spun backing or simply braided line, you can get exceptional strength out of a tiny diameter.  This means that you can use smaller, lighter reels to accomplish the same task, making casting an 11 weight feel like casting an 8 or 9 weight rod.

I now use braided line on my reels, but I use a pound test far more than I would ever need simply to stay attached to a fish.  My tippet is usually around 20 pound test, the fly line breaks around 30 usually, but I routinely use 50-100 pound braided line.  Why do I do this?  I found that the super thin, 20 or 30 pound braided line was so thin that it was hard to handle with a fish on and actually could get buried in the spool if it was not wound on tightly enough.  I moved up in pound test and never had another problem. 

Using lighter or thinner diameter line will keep the already super large arbor of today's reels, much bigger, longer with a big run making it much easier to recover line fast.

I encourage the use of Gel Spun or braided line.  I hope this answer helped you.

Let me know.

All the best,

Tom Rowland

Fluorocarbon to Mono Knot For Freshwater Applications


Name: Michael Kolivosky
Email Address:
Subject: Fresh water mono to fluorocarbon line.
Message: I fish in the Great Lakes. It is often gin clear. What would you recommend for the length of a fluorocarbon leader, the best mono to fluorocarbon knot, and the length of leader? Thank you. Will I get an answer in my email or this site?
(Sent via Saltwater Experience Fishing Blog)



Hi Michael,

If you are fishing in gin clear water, why not just spool up with 100% fluorocarbon?

We routinely fish braid and have gotten almost completely away from Mono or Fluorocarbon main line, but I do see applications that make alot of sense for using mono or fluorocarbon.  I would first think about spooling up completely with fluorocarbon and see if that helps. 

Many may not know that Fluorocarbon line actually sinks much faster than monofiliment so there are situations where you might not want all fluorocarbon line.  In this situation, I would use braid and a short fluorocarbon leader.  I amd not familiar with your fishing area like I am in the Florida Keys, but there is likely a reason that you need to use Mono main line and a fluorocarbon leader.

In this situation, I would tie a blood knot to attach the mono to the fluorocarbon.  Here is a video

(If the video is not displayed, please click here)

I hope this video helps!

Let me know if it works for you and send me a picture of your giant.

All the best,

Tom Rowland

Flyfishing For Tarpon


Luke B

Mar 21st, 7:46pm

Hey Tom I was gonna post on your blog but just thought I would ask on this. We are having a hell of a time the last four years actually catching tarpon on the fly rods. That what we started going down there for. Both my buddies I go down with we guided in Montana so we know how to fly fish just needed some pointers on getting them to eat a fly. When should I use a natural color fly or when would I use a bright color fly. Or does it matter that much. The problem is I keep tying all these flies and nothing has been consistent besides the palolo worm flies I tied up and we were lucky enough to catch the hatch on the right day last year. Just any tips or pointers would be great. Thanks Tom.


Hey Luke! 

I can certainly sympathize with you.  Tarpon can be easy or the most difficult fish to catch on fly.  It sounds like you have had some luck, but you are looking for more consistency. 

I will give you my advice, but I will also preface that advice by saying that if you were to ask another guide or angler, he may give you the opposite advice...and you know what...both might work equally as well.  Tarpon fishing changes and certain spots fish differently than others.  So take all advice you get with a grain of salt, go try it where you are fishing.  If it works, keep doing it, if it doesn't then discard it and try some different things.

When you are guiding in Montana, the difference between a size 16 and a size 18 fly may not look like much to a rookie, but you know that it can mean the difference between matching the hatch perfectly and actually catching fish to not matching it at all and catching nothing.  Size and shape are also crucially important and a fly change could mean the difference in a big day or just a few fish.  Flies are important in tarpon fishing as well, but I would say that presentation is more important.

I only have 6-8 flies that I have tied for my tarpon season.  Sure, I mess around on the vise and tie up all sorts of creations that I hope will unlock some aggression in the fish, but the truth is that I use light and dark Keys style flies, light and dark Steve huff Ballyhoo flies, Worm flies and light and dark Toad style flies regularly.  With those flies, you can probably get a fish to bite. 

I tie them larger and smaller for different situations.  I would like to be able to tell you exactly when to put on a large one or a small one but the truth is that you have to experiment for yourself.  When the fish get tough to bite, try something opposite of what you are doing...sometimes it works.  If you are getting rejection after rejection on tiny light colored flies on the oceanside, what harm will it do to try a big black one?  Sometimes it works.

More importantly, however is the presentation.  Could you go down a size in your shock tippet?  I am routinely using 40 lb fluorocarbon now.  When I started guiding, guys used 100 lb Mason.  Could you tie smaller, more compact knots?  Could you throw a longer leader?  Could you use a clear fly line?  Every one of these things can help catch more fish if used properly. 

I say used properly because some people make the mistake of going to a clear line but then they have no idea where their fly is.  This is not good.  I'm sure you are a good caster and can keep track of where the fly is with a clear line, but many can not.  If not, you would be better with a conventional line.  Also, with leader length, only go as far as you can turn over effectively.  This obviously changes with the weather.  Calm days allow long leaders while the wind sometimes has us cut back the leader length.

Lastly, work on developing the best angle for presentation.  Trying to position the boat so that you are getting the fly in front of and keeping it in front of as many fish in the school as possible for as long as possible will definitely result in more bites.  right angle shots will catch fish and some days that is what seems to work best, but the highest chance of a bite on ocean movers is to get the fly in front of as many fish as possible and keep it in their face as long as possible.  make it super easy for them to eat it.  If they have to go out of their way or leave the school, the chances go down. I have seen days where moving the boat 10 feet to the left or right made a big difference in the number of bites we got.  Of course, as the tide goes in or out, the depth changes and you will need to continue to move the boat to maintain the same angle on consistently moving fish.

There are many exceptions to all of this.  Those are just my thoughts off of the top of my head.  Get out there, try many different things.  Continue to experiment and take notes on what worked and where, exactly, you were on the tide cycle.  Then try to replicate that again tomorrow.

I hope this helps!  Don't get frustrated.  Everyone is having the same trouble.  Fish with confidence and don't give up.

All the best,

Tom Rowland

How To Tie The Slim Beauty Knot

The Slim Beauty Knot was created by Simon Becker and myself in a small apartment in Key West in an attempt to eliminate the Bimini Twist from our tarpon leaders and create an easier, faster and more compact tarpon leader.  We had returned from dinner at The 5 Star Cafe in Key West.  It has since closed, but that night will forever be remembered because our waitress had nicknames for all of us.  They all started with Slim.  One was Slim Slick, another was Slim Daddy and she called me Slim Beauty.  Pretty funny.

When this knot started to work, we decided it would be called the Slim Beauty. 

Since that night, the knot has literally spread around the world in an impressive grass roots, word of mouth campaign which is even more interesting when you factor in that it made it around the world before the internet! 

It is a great knot that has all kinds of uses.

Here is a step by step instructional video on how to tie the Slim Beauty.  If it does not display, please click here

Troubleshooting The TR Knot


Garry ritter
TR knot
Tom, my question is when tieing the TR knot what kind of leader do you suggest using? i 've been trying to use 80 lb. mono in trilene big game but when ending with the uni-knot the uni will not seem to sinch down . enjoy watching your show, give my best to Rich!
(Sent via Saltwater Experience Fishing Blog)


Hey Gary,

Sorry you are having trouble with the knot. 

I have gotten away from using real heavy mono since the advent of Fluorocarbon.  I find that I can use lighter leaders and still land most of the fish that I want to catch.  I used to use 80 and even 100 pound mono leaders for tarpon, but now, I am using 40 or 50 pound fluorocarbon in its place. 

Fluorocarbon is definitely easier to tie with and to straighten than mono.  I am not experiencing problems with cinching down the uni with lines of this size.

To properly cinch down 80 pound mono, you are definitely going to need pliers.  I really dont know if I could cinch down an 80 pound 4 turn uni with my bare hands and would probably not get it quite right with gloves on either.  To get it pulled down right, you need pliers and gloves.  When you get it pulled that tight, the braid may not slip easily through the tightened knot and could cause you additional problems. 

I think that you should try this knot with a little lighter fluorocarbon at first and then work your way back up to finessing the 80 pound mono to pull down properly.  I suggest 50 pound Vicious Fluorocarbon to start with.  You may also find that the 50 pound satisfies your fishing needs just as well as the 80 lb did, but with less diameter (which = more bites) and less trouble getting the knot to pull tight.

Let me know if this helps.

Tom Rowland

Bass Tackle For Redfish?

Bass Tackle For Redfish?

Can I use quality bass fishing equipment to fish for red fish?

Most bass tackle will work just fine for redfish.  Alot of redfish situations are found in brackish water, rather than full salt, however there are certainly many situations where you will be fishing in pure saltwater.  I had the opportunity to fish with the guys on Sweetwater TV recently and they had all freshwater tackle.  It worked well for us, but there are a few things that you will want to watch out for:

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