Fly Fishing Lingo 101

When you walk into a fly shop or a gathering of fly anglers for the first time, often times the confusing aspect of the sport isn’t the gear or the fishing, its the lingo. Often times sounding like a completely foreign language, “drop this off that”, “dead-drift it” to a new angler’s ear this all sounds like nonsense. Previously, that lingo took time to learn and understand, but we’re here to curate a constantly growing, quick-reference guide of some of the most common fly fishing words or phrases that may leave a new angler scratching their head in bewilderment.

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Definition: “a tributary stream of a river close to or forming part of its source.”

Any time an angler refers to fishing the headwaters of a river or stream, they’re usually referring to poking up small tributaries on the hunt for wild fish, usually trout! It’s an easy term to use to avoid giving away a favorite tributary of a river while explaining where you caught that huge wild trout!


The term “tailwater” usually refers to a creek, stream or river that is flowing out from a dam. Many tailwaters are phenomenal fisheries, as the temperature of the water leaving the reservoir is typically temperature stable, creating the perfect opportunity for trout and other fish to feed year-round and grow large!


Used whenever you are fishing streamers, a strip-set is a method used to hook a fish once it eats your fly. All you have to do is keep stripping in your fly in with the rod low, pointed towards the fly until you feel the weight of the fish throbbing at the end of your leader. A strip-set ensures that you pull the fly horizontally through the trout’s mouth and buries the hook in the corner of the mouth.


A trout-set refers to when you simply lift your rod above your head once a fish takes your fly. Often times you hear someone say “Why did you trout set?” when you lose a fish on a streamer.


No, we’re not talking about David Harbour’s character in Stranger Things. “Hopper” refers to any time you are fishing a dry fly that mimics a grasshopper. Often used in the phrase, “Hopper-dropper” which refers to when you suspend a nymph below a bushy dry fly.


Refers to any time that you suspend a nymph below a dry fly, one of the most effective ways to cover water anywhere trout swim.


A dead-drift is any time that you allow your flies to drift freely in the current. Used whenever another angler is describing how they were fishing their flies.

Dry Fly v. Wet Fly

While seemingly easy to differentiate, dry flies float and wet flies get wet, this is one of those little nuances that may be difficult to understand out the gate, especially if you are speaking to an older angler. “Wet flies” typically refer to unweighted emerger style flies swung across the current, as opposed to any fly that gets wet.

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When referencing streamers, “articulated” simply means that the fly is made up of multiple sections connected by wire or linked in segments. Articulated streamers have more movement than their single-hooked compatriots.


If you hear another angler referring to the big brown trout they hooked while fishing “meat,” they’re bragging about fishing streamers, not throwing actual meat into the water, although we think that might work too.

We’ll be updating this list regularly, so be sure to check back in anytime you run into a fly fishing turn of phrase that doesn’t make sense to you, and please toss any terms you’d like us to define in the comments!

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