I found myself in a conversation the other day with a guy who is considering fly fishing and asked for my advice. He’s a trout fisherman but never fly fished. What struck me was when he said: “Fly fishing looks really hard”. His perception of “hard” centered around fly casting and suddenly fly fishing “looked” hard. True, casting a fly rod is different, but hard? Not really, it’s easy if you learn the 5 principles fly casting.
Is it easy to learn fly casting? Fly casting isn’t hard, anyone can do it if they learn and practice these 5 basic principles: Timing, Slack, Straight-line Path, Stroke, Power. Understanding these principles is the key to casting and will make fly casting easier. But the catch is, (no pun intended) it will take some time to perfect.
The good news is, while you are learning to perfect your casting, catching trout is still possible. The difference, in the long run, is the better your casting becomes the more trout you’ll catch. So getting better has a built-in reward.
Casting A Fly Rod Is About Feel Not Just Mechanics.
Ok, so everything I just said sounds complicated and technical, but in reality, it isn’t. When we first learned to tie our shoes it was technical and complicated but now it’s simple. What comes first in this case, is learning about how a fly rod works. Then, how to make it work for you to make fly casting easy. It is true practice will be needed to get good at casting but practice time is called “fishing” and if you enjoy fishing then you’ll enjoy practicing your casting.
Fly casting works by leveraging the weight (mass) of the fly line in motion with the bending of the rod. The unbending of the rod thereby casts the line when the motion is stopped. To learn fly casting is to learn how to perform an effective stop, better known as “feel”.
Fly casting utilizes both leverage and the bend or spring of a rod to cast the line. Leverage is the movement of the rod, of course, which propels the line back and forth. The weight of the line causes the rod to bend and when we stop the motion the rod returns to a straight position, casting the line.
All of this is subject to our ability to control it. This is what is referred to as “feel”. If you are a musician or an athlete, I believe, you can relate to this. (and if you are neither, don’t panic, you’ll develop the “feel”). Fly fishing is like playing an instrument or a sport. The more you “practice” the better muscle memory becomes which in turn develops feel and rhythm. The basic principles of fly casting describe “feel” as you will see here in the breakdown of the basic principles.
What Are The Basic Principles Needed To Learn Fly Casting?
- Timing – At the end of a back or forward stroke of the casting motion, a pause must take place. This pause lets the line unroll before continuing into the next stroke. The pause duration depends on line length and varies accordingly. The longer the line the longer the pause.
- Slack – Perfect casting ideally means no slack in the line. Slack elimination is the most efficient means of casting.
- Straight-Line Path – The rod tip must move in a straight-line path. This forms the most efficient, lease air resistant loops and doesn’t waste energy to direct the cast properly.
- Casting Stroke and Line Length Ratio – The stroke is the distance from starting position to the stopping position the rod hand moves and increases as line length increases.
- Power – Power should be applied smoothly and progressively with the strongest effort applied through the last half of the stroke. It’s the acceleration through the stroke.
Everything described above is relating to the motion and feel used to cast a fly rod. It may sound a bit intimidating but like I said earlier, once you understand these principles it becomes easy to cast a fly rod. We’re going to take a closer look at all of this so hang in there and you’ll be casting with ease in no time.
Find The “Grip” That’s Comfortable For You
There are two ways to hold or grip the rod for fly casting.
- One is to grip the rod so that your thumb is on top of the handle with your fingers wrapped around it.
- The second way is to grip the handle with your thumb to the side, kind of like the way you would hold a key to put into a lock.
An easy way to try these two methods is to find a suitable area and experiment a little with each. Hold the rod and go through the motion of casting. Do this first with no line run through the guides. Remember it’s all about feel, so choose a way to hold the fly rod you are comfortable with.
Once you think you have your grip, string line through the guides and do this simple exercise. Let out enough line to equal a little more than the length of the rod. Point your rod straight out in front of you so it is parallel to the ground. Bend your wrist up slowly towards you bringing the rod tip to almost 90 degrees from the ground. The line will drag along and hang from the tip. Flick your wrist out straight and watch what the line does. Repeat this a couple of times.
This flicking of the wrist is almost a whipping motion which in fly casting is something we generally stay away from. So to feel what it “feels” like is important. As you do this you’ll see that the line is “whipped” into motion. To cast more smoothly it’s more arm motion than wrist motion as this next exercise will help demonstrate.
How To Get A Smoother Cast?
Again, point your rod straight out in front of you so it is parallel to the ground. Only this time instead of bending and flicking your wrist keep it straight and bend your elbow to bring the rod tip up. Then push your arm out straight, kind of like throwing a dart. The line should react differently to this stroke as it is put into motion with more deliberate action.
Now that you used more arm motion than wrist motion did you need to adjust your grip? You’ll find as you progress through this exercise what grip you are most comfortable with and which works best for you. This exercise helps develop sensitivity and touch. It is also a fundamental way to get the line into motion by learning how to “lift” your line into motion. But most importantly, this exercise helps you learn how to eliminate slack. Slack elimination is the 2nd principle to fly casting.
Fly casting is about subtlety and it doesn’t take much to move the line. Once on the water, everything will be controlled by the fly rod and that is controlled by the hand holding the rod. Over time you will develop a “certain touch” a “feel” to the point it will become something you will take for granted.
What is Casting Rhythm?
False casting is what I think most people visualize when they think of fly fishing in general. The back and forth motion of the angler getting line out so the fly lands in his targeted location. Casting rhythm essentially is the back and forth motion of false casting. This is where most people struggle when learning to cast.
Newbies have a tendency towards “whipping” the line back and forth as they cast. But instead of “whipping” the line it’s more a subtle action of keeping the line in motion by pulling and pushing. This pulling and pushing of the rod as you feel the line’s weight against the tip is casting rhythm. The rhythm requires a pause before starting into the new direction of either the pull or the push. The “pull” referring to the motion of going into the backcast and the “push” is the motion of coming forward.
Casting for me is lifting the line off of the water cleanly into motion back behind me and coming forward to reset my fly into a given location. Sometimes I may keep my line in motion, back and forth several times as I readjust for distance or placement. Sometimes it’s back once and forward once and done. It doesn’t mean I have to false cast any given number of strokes to be a good fly caster. Casting is cleanly getting the fly to a given location. Casting rhythm is the feel and timing of the cast.
What is “The Pause”?
“The pause” is a key component to casting and casting rhythm. This is where a lot of anglers struggle with their casting. Being patient with the pause is the trick to mastering “the pause”.
So what is “the pause” anyway? The pause allows the line to “load” for the return stroke. After a stroke is completed either forward or backward, the line loop unfurls in an attempt to straighten out. The energy or weight of the line bends the rod tip in that direction “loading” the rod. The pause requires timing because you are waiting, in a sense, for the line to finish unrolling before starting the rod back into the opposite direction. Each stroke direction needs the caster to wait or pause in order to go into the opposite direction as I already mentioned.
The timing is learning when to start the next motion. When the stop occurs the caster “feels” the energy tug and times his next motion to occur near the end of the line’s unfurling. Pause too long and the line loses energy creating slack. Don’t pause long enough and you “crack the whip” as they say, meaning a snap to the line and a loss of smooth motion. In addition, as you add more line to the cast the “pause” duration changes and more power is needed to complete each stroke.
Again, this back and forth casting motion is known as “false casting”. This procedure is used to lengthen or shorten the cast in order to measure the distance between you and the location you plan to place the fly accurately. It is also used, in the case of dry flies, to help dry them.
As we discussed, fly casting involves five basic principles. To put this together and have it make sense, imagine you’re standing in a stream and you see a nice trout rising, sipping the water surface. You pull some line off the reel and put your rod in motion. The first thing you have done is eliminated slack. Next, each back and forth motion requires pause and timing. To reach this trout, you add an additional length of the line (casting stroke and line length ratio) to your cast. You also add more power and acceleration to your strokes to compensate for the added line weight. All the while keeping a straight-line path in order to land your fly in its targeted location.
Now I know some guys who take their fly casting to an art form. They are able to cast a fly and drop it in a paper cup 40 feet away. But believe me, that’s not the average fly guy and it isn’t me either. But, I have often cast a fly to have it drift into sight of a rising trout for him to take and when you can do that well that was a good cast.
Fly casting becomes easier over time. So the more you fish the better at casting you will become. Don’t get discouraged because above all else the process of learning should be fun. Trout fishing has a built-in reward to it. When you do it right, you catch fish.
How to Practice Fly Casting?
Practicing your cast while kneeling on the ground. This is a good drill to learn for keeping your fly line up off the water. Additionally, it develops a good technique for sneaking up on trout in wild streams. Plan on wading really deep water? Try casting while sitting flat on the ground.
How Can I Improve My Casting?
It takes time, practice and some knowledge of the theory behind fly casting to become a good fly caster. It’s a little like being a proficient musician. 5 simple tips that will help improve your fly casting.
- Slow down and concentrate on good form.
- Use less power.
- Vary your casting arc and stroke length.
- Tracking Line. Practice casting your line at a front target on your forecast, and a rear target on your backcast.