The techniques of casting a fly rod is a process. As with anything in life, you are going to need to practice to get better.

To be a good caster, you need to understand the physics behind casting, or the basic principles of fly casting, so you can make whatever cast you require: into the wind, with high bushes behind you, under an overhanging branch, or whatever.

Using the proper casting technique for each situation can make or break your success. In fact, your presentation is the most important aspect of fly fishing–and it all begins with the right cast. There are three keys to making good casts, beginning with a smooth acceleration, stopping the rod at the right time, and keeping the rod tip tracking in a straight line as you move it. Positions are not as important in fly casting as the timing and application of power to and from those positions. Perfecting your cast should start with indoors, your backyard or a park, before getting on the water. This allows you to just focus on the techniques of solely casting, rather than trying to catch a fish at the same time.

Understanding the Fundamentals of Fly Fishing

The main difference between casting a fly rod from conventional angling rods is the fact that you do not have any weight on your rod. When you cast a spinning rod, you usually do so with the aid of a weight and a heavy lure, so that allows you to target a specific location on the water and get your lure there. In conventional angling you use the reel to retrieve the line after each cast, and the speed of the retrieve and rod tip movement controls the action of the lure.

In fly fishing, you use a fly and the weight is carried in the fly line. Fly fishing requires you to “load” the rod before each cast. Loading the rod is the process of casting backward to gain momentum or energy to cast forward. In fly fishing, the reel retrieves the line only when you are landing a fish or when you are finished fishing. Between casts, you retrieve and control the line with your hands. It is the rod that does the work, and so you really do need to understand how flexible your chosen fly rod is in order to enable the rod to cast the line

As a general rule the more flexible a rod is (this is referred to as a slow action rod) the more slowly you need to move, and the stiffer the rod is (a fast or tip action rod) the faster you can move. Beginners tend to move too quickly with jerky movements, and so a faster action rod creates fewer problems and tangles while you are getting to grips with basic casting techniques. Try to use the same rod while you are learning the basic casting techniques. Once they are mastered you will find it easier to adjust the timing of your casting to different rods if you are going to use more than one rod for different types of flyfishing - salmon or sea trout fishing for instance.

Where to Practice before Getting on the Water

1. Practice indoors - You can practice indoors anywhere and at anytime permitted by purchasing a casting rod or making your own practice rod. I have included a few links to assist with making a casting rod.

  • How to Build an Indoor Fly Casting Practice Rod | Gone Outdoors | Your Adventure Awaits
  • Make The Straight Line Practice Rod: Video | Fly Fishing | Gink and Gasoline | How to Fly Fish | Trout Fishing | Fly Tying | Fly Fishing Blog
  • 2. Practice on the grass in your back yard or the park – Practicing on a grassy area with lots of open space and free of trees, provides you a great option now to put your indoor casting practice techniques to work with your full rod setup. The reel weight, line weight and rod weight should all be balanced in order to make an effective fly cast. Start with a balanced outfit and your life will be much easier as you get into this.

    Where to put your Feet

    Face the target, with feet shoulder length apart and standing in a relaxed manner.

    How to hold the Rod

    Before we start - Right-handed casters will hold the rod in their right hand and pull line off of the reel with their left hand. Grip the rod on the handle with your fingers around the grip and with the rod handle resting against the underside of your wrist and forearm, and with your thumb on the top of the rod handle. Right handers generally wind the reel with their left hand. Lefties do the opposite of righties.

    How to hold the Line

    Start with some line out on the water straight in front of you. The length of line should be 1-2 times the length of the rod (20′ range), and keep all of the extra line on your reel to remove distractions.

    To prevent extra line running off the reel by holding the fly line still in the left hand (if you are right handed) which should be approximately level with the waist. Alternatively trap the line against the rod butt using the index finger of your casting hand.

    One of the most important things to remember when you start your back cast is to make sure your line is straight out in front of you and does not have a lot of slack or bends on the water. The less slack (bends and squiggles) you have when your line is on the water the more effective your cast will be.

    The Back Cast

    The back cast should be a single, continuous, smooth and swift motion. Start with the rod tip pointing at the line in the water. You do it by lifting upward slightly and rotating your arm back. For a novice angler, watch your rod tip as you make your back cast. Begin the cast by raising the rod slowly to the 10 o’clock position and increase speed up to the vertical position (your thumb should be level with your ear, and the rod handle should be vertical and lying almost against the wrist). You should notice a V-shape between your wrist and the butt of the fly rod.

    Pause and allow the line to straighten out high overhead and behind. You should stop your back cast when your rod tip is just past vertical (12 o’clock position); this is the point where you transition back into a forward cast. This is the 2 o'clock position.

    Where things go wrong…

    Fly casting is all about timing and a 1/2 second can make all the difference. When it is straight you'll feel the total weight of the line pulling the rod. This is what is called the "load". Understanding and feeling this “load” will come with practice. Notice that where you point your elbow is where the direction the line travels.

    Once you pick up the rod and line with a smooth acceleration you will need to stop (pause) the rod when you come to the point where you transition back into a forward cast. When you’re in this position watch for your line straighten all the way out behind you. If you don’t pause for a second here and let the line load up, you’ll hear a snap on the forward cast. That’s your leader and fly snapping against each other. If you wait too long on the backcast your line will drop behind you and may hit the ground. Fly casting is all about timing and a 1/2 second can make all the difference.

    The Forward Cast

    After you have made that quick pause and loaded up the rod, you can now make a forward cast. On the forward cast bring the line forward 180 degrees from the backcast around eye level. Begin the stop (pause) of the forward motion at the vertical point and follow through to 10 O’clock (the stop) and shoot the line out. Don’t be afraid to really shoot the line out and accentuate the motion if needed. After the line shoots out in front of you, and lands on the water, drop your rod tip down to the water to finish up the cast. You are fishing and can follow your fly. Tip, the rod tip should never be dropped until the line has shot out.

    Other Casts

    There are a bunch of other casts you will learn eventually like the roll cast, side cast, spey cast and the list goes on and on.

    False Casting

    When you want the line to go farther you have to repeat the back cast/forward cast process multiple times without the line touching the water. This is called false casting. Each false cast you will pull more line off the reel and gradually feed it up with your left hand. Your arm should be at your side when casting. Try holding a book under your casting arm. If you can cast without dropping the book you are doing it right. This is the basic fly fishing cast.

    Roll Casting

    Learning how to roll cast is often one of the first lessons for a beginning fly angler. It’s a casting technique that anglers of all skill levels use on a routine basis. Even though it’s easy to learn, the roll cast works in a variety of situations. Whether you need to avoid branches or snags on your back cast, or you’re looking to land a fly in a tight window to an actively feeding trout, you’ll find a use for the roll cast.

    One of the greatest casters of all-time, Joan Wulff shares her secrets to becoming a successful flycaster for life. Progressing very quickly from basic introduction to advanced techniques, these video clips offer useful tips for anglers of all skill levels.

  • ONE ON ONE WITH JOAN WULFF | R.L. Winston Fly Rods (winstonrods.com)
  • Practice, Practice, Practice

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