March 29, 2000


The issue of which pound test backing to apply to your reel seems to be the point of some debate among many saltwater anglers. Without pontificating about the merits of one diameter over another, the number one criteria for selecting the proper size backing could be nothing more than the manufacturer’s recommended capacity of your reel. For most northeast inshore fly fishing this translates to 150-200 yards of 20lb test micron backing. Case closed, or is it?

As with many other aspects of the sport, modern technology has invaded the basic of all, fly line backing. We now enjoy a variety of choices in material; gel-spun, micronite, Teflon coatings, and fluorescent colors to mention a few popular alternatives. But are all these really necessary? What happened to good ole 20lb white micron?

Let’s take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of these various materials.

Gel-spun and Micronite: For anglers not familiar with these products, they are manufactured from high tech polyethylene fibers, their sole purpose being to enable the angler more backing capacity (because of their fine diameter) without sacrificing strength. They also maintain 100% of their durability when wet and are highly abrasion resistant and generally unaffected by UV, gas, salt, oil and detergents. They are, in essence, lifetime purchases. The most advantageous aspect of these products is that they can increase the backing capacity on most reels by 50-75%, welcome news to owners of undersized reels. While all this technical stuff sounds pretty good, there is a serious downside to their use. If not level wound onto the reel, as is the case when retrieving a large fish that has depleted a considerable amount of backing, gel-spun has a tendency to pileup and "bury itself, into itself," if that makes any sense, making it a serious task to reconfigure back onto the reel. Another important factor to consider is that this form of backing is very difficult to manage effectively with your hands and can actually cause burns particularly with aggressive "runners" like bonefish, false albacore and other big game species.

Final verdict- great product for adding additional backing capacity to undersized reels, but not necessary and may actually be a nuisance to use under most circumstances.

Teflon Coated Backing: A few years ago Cortland Line introduced a product called Saltwater Micron Backing. This material bridges the gap between conventional backing and micronite. It is yellow in color, offering good visibility under all fishing conditions and is treated with a Teflon coating to withstand the rigors of saltwater use. Another feature worth mentioning is that this material repels salt water and reduces friction and guide wear. The diameter is only slightly larger than most conventional backing and the cost is comparable to standard micron. I can honestly state that I have never witnessed rotting, weak spots, fraying or any other forms of deterioration even after years of abuse.

Final verdict- in my opinion this product only benefits the saltwater angler. Slick coating, virtually the same cost and diameter as micron, and a product that should last a lifetime.

Dyed Micron Backing: This form of fly line backing has been available for sometime now. In essence it is standard Cortland micron that has been dyed either bright orange or fluorescent yellow/green to offer the angler maximum visibility under varying water conditions. Because it is somewhat stiffer than standard white, it is exceptionally easy to splice or splice/loop and also maintains almost the exact diameter. Dyed micron is particularly handy for establishing "low backing markers" on big game reels, or to simply keep track of your backing by splicing varying colors along it’s duration, possibly at 100 yard intervals.

Final verdict- The cost is only a few cents more than standard white and offers the angler much higher visibility. One note of caution. Because the bright orange color tends to "bleed out" in time and discolor the abutting portion of a fly line, yellow/green would make a better choice. This event will occur even with popular mono-clear lines.

Never ever, under any circumstances consider the use of monofilaments or cotton based materials for use as backing. In time, mono’s tend to expand and contract under varying climate fluctuations and could possibly warp or crack a spool. This is particularly common with reels that are dye-caste, stamped or molded. Cotton based materials are very susceptible to UV, oil, grease, detergent and salt. They have a very limited life span and deteriorate rapidly even under fishing normal conditions.


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