Fly casting can seem like a difficult art to master. Presenting a fly to a fish that's moving or casting accurately in windy conditions can be daunting. As with many challenges, practice can mean the difference between success and failure.
In this article we get tips from top fly fishing guides from both fresh and saltwater. They cover common fly casting mistakes and how to correct them. We also learn some recommended techniques to help make us better anglers.
One common theme we noticed was guides telling us that many anglers are too impatient when it comes to fly casting. This results in rushing or overpowering the forward cast. Read further to find out what problems this can cause and how to solve them.
Table of Contents
Hold That Backcast
If you think about the fly cast as if it were a house, consisting of a foundation, walls and a roof, the back cast would be the foundation, the solid base that everything relies on.
The back cast is where the majority of the line speed is built. This sets the tone for the remainder of the cast. Applying the proper force at the proper time is critical. If done correctly ALL of the line speed will be headed straight back and 180 degrees from your target.
That line speed now needs to be transferred forward, toward your target, that’s where the pause or stop comes into play. By stopping the rod solidly, with absolutely no movement, you allow that line speed you have built up to be transferred from a backward direction to a forward one.
It may sound easy but here is the problem: we don’t want to stop! In no other sport is there a distinct and extended stop between the back and forward stroke, therefore we don't know how to do it. We think we do, but we don't.
Fly Casting Practice Tip:
So, how can we train ourselves to hold our back cast the correct amount of time? The answer is in your pocket. With the advent of smartphones we now have easy access to high quality, slow motion video that can be an invaluable tool in solving this problem. As a standard part of my casting lessons I shoot 3 or 4 slow motion videos of my students, paying close attention to their back casts and stops, or lack thereof.
Upon review of these videos the students can actually see that their rod has never actually stopped moving. Using this simple technique you will quickly train yourself to hold that back cast and improve your casting.
The pause is a critical part of a roll cast or overhead cast. Since most of the guiding I do in western New York is steelheading in small to medium size streams, we almost always use a roll cast.
A lot of my clients have a difficult time remembering to pause or stop when they bring their rod up to their shoulder. It might seem unnatural to stop the motion of the rod but it is critical to properly load the rod and send the line in the right direction.
Pausing the rod and slowing down the upward stroke also gets you in the right frame of mind to control the cast before you start the downward stroke. Slowing everything down makes a huge difference and the pause is an important part of the roll cast.
Reduce false Casting in Saltwater
All too often, when an angler is sight casting to a fish, they make too many false casts. This takes time and creates commotion. By the time they are ready to present the fly, the fish has either moved out of range or disappeared altogether.
When fishing for stationary trout using small, high floating flies that require a delicate presentation, multiple false casts dry the fly, help you time the cast to the rise and are helpful. Trout routinely rise multiple times in the same spot.
Things are different in saltwater. Here, fish move quickly. Multiple false casts waste time and result in missed opportunities.
When fishing on the deck of a flats boat you should be ready to take your shot by having ten to fifteen feet of fly line out of the rod tip and by holding the fly in your line hand at the hook bend. When you want to take a shot, perform a quick roll cast, let the line pull the fly from your hand, make one back cast shooting a little line. Make your forward cast with a haul and shoot the line to the fish. If you need to gain a little extra distance, make one false cast then take your shot.
After you have taken the shot, and need to re-cast, make a PULD Cast: Pick Up, Lay Down Cast. Make this cast with a steady haul to get the line off the water and begin the back cast. Shoot some line on the back cast. Make your forward cast either with or without a haul, and shoot line to the fish. The surface tension of the water adds resistance to the pick up portion of the cast, bends the rod (loads the rod) more and let's you make a better back cast. The better back cast sets up a better forward cast. This is a simple, efficient cast that lets you cast farther, quicker and catch more fish.
Fly Casting Practice Tip:
Once you think you have the hang of it, try improving your accuracy. Your goal should be to consistently place a fly on a two foot circle. Start at 30 feet and work out to 50 feet. Attaining accuracy takes practice. Practicing in high winds and less than ideal conditions also helps you become a better fly fisher.
Don't Drop the backcast
Dropping the back cast is the biggest problem I see coming through my boat. I recommend to my customers that they imagine they are casting in the shower. With the wall beside you and behind you it forces you to tighten up your arm movement in tern training your muscle memory to make tighter loops.
Even better, to practice in the shower. Working a cast movement into a routine part of your day makes practice routine. Nothing crazy. A simple pick up and delivery with a haul. This will also help train your mind to accomplish your cast with less wasted effort. We all know a fly in the water catches more fish.
You should be able to make your cast with a minimum of back casts. Back casts should be used solely for increasing distance. Ideally it should be: the pickup, a slip to increase distance and then the forward cast to the rising fish, two casts if the first slip on the back cast wasn't enough. Also, most anglers spend too much time with their casts in the air. You are not fishing for flying fish.
An indicator rig is usually made by attaching a round float to the leader. For trout, float is usually a ½ inch in diameter. The indicator helps an angler detect strikes that can be very subtle.
I teach my clients to cast an indicator and multiple fly rig using what I call a "U Cast" or "Sling Cast." When you initiate the back cast start on the outside of a U, keeping everything in a straight line then as the rig gets fully behind you "sling it" around and bring it to the inside closer to your body. This will keep the rig from tangling on itself.
Fly fishing for Mr. Redfish in Deep South Texas can be an exhilarating experience but also very frustrating. Everyone can use casting tips from time to time but not everyone thinks about line management while casting, especially on the bow of a skiff when the wind is blowing!
Imagine a group of tailing redfish at eleven o'clock at 40ft. with a perfect cast and your line gets tangled.... That sucks! One thing most anglers make the mistake of is having TOO much line off the reel. Have as much line off then reel as you can handle. No need for the Hero shot at 100ft.
Plus less line, the less you need to manage. A stripping aid or a bucket works great in these situations. Line tamers will hold your line on the bow and keep it from getting tangled on the infinite obstacles on a skiff. At least it seems that way when the wind is blowing!
Hope this helps!
Also, listen to your guide. Believe me, he or she, wants you to catch fish more than you want to!
Use Shooting Heads
A shooting head is a line setup in which a section of heavier line is connected to the front of the running fly line. One can also buy pre-made shooting heads in which the heavier front section is built in. The heavier forward section of line makes it easier to cast further and with less effort.
I would recommend for casting shooting heads and/or sinking lines in salt water.
- Use a vertical roll cast rather than a side arm roll cast so you can get the shooting head to the surface easier.
- Do not attempt to cast until you have the line straight in the water in front on you.
- A shooting head casts best when the transition between the shooting head and the running line is in the upper ⅓ of the fly rod.
- When bringing the line off the water, “snap” it off the water to get the weighted line moving faster.
- Furthermore, slow your cast down so the weighted line has time to load up your rod tip.
- Also, be sure your stops are crisp and sharp, particularly the last forward cast before laying the line on the water.
Tips for beginners
For beginning fly anglers, it can be hard to learn the coordination required to handle the rod and line hands simultaneously. To help, beginners should learn to cast using just the rod hand to start with. Concentrate on casting with just the rod hand until you're able to get your fly out to a target about 40 feet away.
Once you get accustomed to this and develop some muscle memory is the casting arm, you can then bring in the line hand. This will allow you to eventually progress into the double haul.
When fish are easily spooked it may help to add an additional foot or 2 to the leader. Too short a leader can cause fish to be swim away due to the disturbance or visibility of the fly line impacting the water. Also, in these scenarios, try to keep voices and noise down.
Controlling Loop Size
A common casting fault is a large loop. The ideal loop should be a foot or so high. To achieve this the rod should travel through an arc of 90 degrees. If this is done a nice tight loop will be the result.
If the cast is more than 90 degrees, then the loop will be very large. The result is a limit to the length of the cast because the large loop takes up all the line speed. This what I refer to as a cast where the rod goes from horizon to horizon.
If the rod stroke travels less than 90 degrees a tailing loop could be the result. And we all know that will cause wind knots is your leader.
So, if your loop is to big, limit the angle that your rod travels through. If you are throwing tailing loops, extend the angle that your rod is traveling through. You don't have to think about this very hard, just make the right adjustment when you see your loop. Your result will be a nice tight loop and more line speed for longer casts.
As with many hobbies, improvement comes with practice. Luckily, practicing fly casting can be a reward on its own. Going to a park or stepping out into your yard for some fly casting practice can be both a great way to get active and also help improve your casting out on the water.
Don't be afraid to look silly casting in the grass, the time spent could lead to a great catch that you can be proud to share with your friends.
Also, adding structure to your practice can make it even more productive. For example, create a two foot diameter target to cast to and vary the distance. How far you can consistently hit the target. Try for a goal of none out of ten tries.
Whether you have some existing problems with your casts or are starting from scratch, there are techniques you can add to your fly casting practice that can pay off big on the water.