Casting fundamentals

When fly fishing in areas like this, it’s important to know the fundamentals of casting. (Photo by L. Woodrow Ross)

Fly selection and stream location are important aspects of fly fishing, but the ability to place the fly in the proper position and achieving a drag-free drift are also critical elements. Proper execution of these steps will assure more likely success.

Drift, don’t drag

Most aquatic insects do not create drag on the water. They drift freely and are at the mercy of the current to carry them downstream. An exception is when the insects drift while wings unfurl and dry before taking flight. However, most of the time, they drift freely in the current. 

Several methods will achieve a drag-free drift. One method is often called “high sticking.” This method involves casting upstream, and as the fly drifts downstream, the rod is lifted, keeping as much of the fly line as possible off of the water. This minimizes the effects of the current on the fly line and minimizes drag.

In addition, by lowering the rod as the fly drifts near or past the fly fisherman, the drift may be extended, allowing more time for the fly on the water, and increasing fly exposure to trout.

Another way to minimize drag is to execute a “reach” cast. Depending on which side of the stream you are fishing, as the cast is made, simultaneously move the rod in an upstream direction. This will impart an upstream curve into the line. The impact of the current on the line will be minimized, and a longer, drag-free drift will result.

Reaching out

Most of us have heard of the double-haul cast. As the cast is made, the non-dominant hand pulls on the fly line. This increases the speed of the line, thereby increasing the distance of the cast. This cast is more applicable to still water fishing, but occasionally useful in stream trout fishing. 

Stealth and quiet wading are more important in trout fishing, and the double-haul is not needed as frequently. But on some occasions, you’ll need to “reach out” for a trout. 

Dense Vegetation

Those who frequent small mountain streams are often faced with situations where they are surrounded by dense vegetation. This is when some special tactics are required. Two special casts are needed in those situations. 

The roll cast should be in every trout fisherman’s bag of tricks. It is executed by shaking out a significant amount of line at your feet. Some line should be on the water to create enough drag on the back cast to load the rod. The rod should be swiftly flexed to the rear and without pausing, immediately begin the forward movement of the rod. The movement should be vigorous and the line will “roll” and the fly can be placed properly. This cast will require practice to perfect.

Another cast for low, dense vegetation behind the angler is the steeple cast. This cast is executed by increasing the upward angle of the back cast. It works well where the vegetation is not very high (low bushes or high grass/weeds). Again, it requires some practice and concentration to master.

Final Thoughts

Having the proper fly line contributes to better casting. Most of my fishing is best served by using a floating, weight forward line which has superior casting quality. For those fishing small streams frequently, a double taper line is excellent where a lot of roll casting is involved. Also, after some wear occurs, a double taper line can be reversed on the reel to make use of the little-used part of the line. 

Learn about the various fly line categories: weight forward, floating, sink tip and full sinking. The sinking lines are designed for nymph and streamer fishing and would not be a good choice for dry fly fishing. Special auxiliary sink tips can be looped onto standard floating fly lines.

One tip for consideration, if you are having trouble getting the rod to “load” properly, is to go up one size on line weight. This often translates to easier casting. Loading is a reference to the weight and amount of flex in the rod when the line reaches full extension on the back cast. If the rod is not loading properly, the cast will not be as efficient.

In order to avoid frustration and to increase your success, learn to use the proper fly line and casting technique required by the type of water you frequent. Searching the internet will provide abundant videos demonstrating the proper execution of most of these casting techniques. 

Know the basics:

It’s easy to get caught up in the latest tackle, the fanciest flies, and the nicest gear available, but for fly fishermen, knowing the basics of casting is about as critical a skill as you’ll ever need.

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