** Note ** This article is a full re-write of a previous article titled, The Backing Barrel. Now, many years later, new ideas and new materials deserve a fresh look.
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A simple piece of Dacron, tied in a barrel, is a visible and sensitive addition to your tight line and euro nymphing rig. The versatile Backing Barrel serves as a stand-alone sighter, especially when tied with a one-inch tag. Better yet, it draws your eyes to the colored monofilament of any sighter and enhances visibility threefold. The Backing Barrel adds a third dimension of strike detection, with the Dacron flag just stiff enough to stand away from the line but just soft enough to twitch upon even the most subtle takes.
Better Than Tag Ends and Bunny Ears?
For many years, it’s been common practice to leave the tag ends of colored monofilament unclipped on the sighter, or more accurately, clipped at about one-inch in length. Some anglers even add more knots to the sighter in the ongoing effort to improve that elusive visibility of the colored lines in our rig that we try so hard to see.
These tags, sometimes called bunny ears, are a modest improvement. But they come with a cost. The stiff tags tend to catch the tippet while casting. And the more tags you have, the more tangles come your way. Instead, a single Backing Barrel with a one inch tag, tied somewhere in the middle of the sighter, catches the tippet far less, simply because it is softer.
The Dacron is thicker and brighter, and it’s much more visible than a piece of monofilament. When added to the straight sighter, it’s a wonderful tool.
So why doesn’t everyone recommend something like the Backing Barrel?
Because it’s not competition legal. And almost everything written and taught about tight line nymphing is center-focused on euro nymphing styles that follow FIPS competition rules, where nothing may be attached to the leader but the flies themselves.
These kinds of restrictions are an unnecessary handicap for every angler. And only a small fraction of fly anglers — those who compete — need follow such rules.
What About that Wax?
Seeing a straight sighter is a common problem. So the always-resourceful-and-creative angling public has come up with solutions for many years. The latest trend is Skafars Wax. It’s a neon paste or wax that can be applied to any tippet, where it sticks until it’s wiped off. This idea sprouted from the competition scene because, again, anything attached like the Backing Barrel is not permitted.
I’ve used Skafars Wax. It certainly makes monofilament more visible. But it’s nothing like the Backing Barrel, which is not only more visible but adds the third dimension of strike detection. The wax that I used was also not temperature stable, so it was too warm and pasty in the summer and too hard in the winter.
In short, the Backing Barrel is a better solution for me.
Origins and the How-To
I took the idea for the Backing Barrel from the gear fishing world, where carp and bass fishermen sometimes use pieces of string to mark their lines for depth.
I use 20#, orange Dacron backing attached with a sliding stopper knot. It’s really nothing more than a Uni Knot.
Sometimes I clip the tags close, leaving just the barrel. But most times I leave the up tag hanging like a flag, for even more feedback about the drift. That short tag changes everything. It draws my eyes to the straight sighter and shows up in almost any light conditions. And as I drift the flies through a seam, the small tag twitches, jiggles and rotates, providing unique feedback about the flies below.
** Note ** You must tie the barrel TIGHT. Don’t be a sissy. Grab one end with your forceps and the other end with your teeth, then pull until very tight.
Not Just Any Backing
I’d like to tell you that any backing will do. And, in truth, the fact that most fly line backing is not up to the job is what has kept the Backing Barrel an underground industry solution.
I use 20#, orange Dacron backing for my barrels. Gudebrod is my favorite, because it is crazy bright and because the weave is very tight. Importantly, then, it does not fray. Almost every other backing frays over just a few hours of fishing. So you no longer have a tag, but a fluffy piece of shredded Dacron instead. However . . . Alex Argyros pointed out that you can make any Dacron backing work if you singe the end with a lighter. That’s a neat trick — it works.
And now the sad thing: Gudebrod went out of business, and their backing is very hard to find.
But . . . my friend, Jeff, found that Orvis Dacron is nearly the same as the Gudebrod. The backing does not fray, because the weave is tight — just like the Gudebrod. I have a spool of the Orvis backing now. But I feel compelled to mention that I also have an older spool of Orvis backing, and it is not the same. It frays like the rest.
Does It Add Weight / Cause Sag?
Tight liners are often obsessed with the weights and measures of their rigs and anything attached to it.
So it’s fair to be skeptical of the added weight of a piece of 20# Dacron. I’ve had a few anglers tell me that the Backing Barrel causes line sag. But I disagree. Let’s quickly look at the facts.
20# Gudebrod is just under twice the weight of 1X Rio Bi Color Sighter material.
Almost twice as heavy? That sounds bad. But hold on. We’re talking about a 1.25 inch piece of Dacron here. When the barrel is tied and the flag is trimmed, that’s a very short length of Dacron that we’ve added to the line. And it’s equal in weight to 2.5 inches of 1X mono. So, in truth, the Backing Barrel adds the equivalent sag of casting 2.5 inches further away without the barrel. Seriously, that’s it. What about water weight? Well, I didn’t take the time to calculate that, and I’m not sure how I could. But, sure, the Backing Barrel can gather a tiny amount of water and add to its weight. I’d guess that it might not even register a difference on my gram scale. But if any of that bothers you, then don’t use a Backing Barrel.
I use a Backing Barrel with Troutbitten Thin and Micro Thin leaders all the time, and there is no noticeable sag.
The Bonus Feature — A Slidable Stopper
I also use the Backing Barrel as a knot that I can slide and move. When tied tight, the barrel holds snug on nylon or fluorocarbon material and only moves if I purposely slide it. I often mount a backing barrel on a portion of my tippet while dry-dropper fishing. Then I add a dropper loop of mono around the standing line, above the barrel. When I want to adjust the rig for depth, I simply slide the barrel and tag up or down, creating a slidable dry-dropper system.
The backing barrel is also a key element of the slidable Thingamabobber rig that I use often. Someday, I’ll dedicated a post for that excellent hack.
A Sighter for Your Sighter
I fished a tight line nymphing system for many years without a sighter. Instead, I relied on the end of the fly line to indicate strikes. Sometimes, I added small orange sleeves along the leader to serve as a visual cue for where my leader was, and I suppose that was my first sighter.
But when the popularity of euro nymphing hit, the biggest game changer for me was the addition of a colored piece of line before the tippet section in the leader. Why weren’t we all doing this before? I wondered. Because a visible sighter shows everything: depth, angle, speed, strike detection and more.
Then I quickly realized what everyone does — that seeing the sighter was too challenging, too often.
The Backing Barrel changes all of that. And with a short piece of Dacron tied in a series of barrels, the visibility and strike detection is unmatched.
Fish hard, friends.
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