Basic Fly Casting Tips, Tricks &
Here is a truth-regardless of how much you learn, or what level of
expertise you attain, all fly fishers experience good, bad, and mediocre
days fly casting. It is a phenomenon fly fishers share with golfers. The
difference is few fly fishers admit it while golfers do … The point to
be made is this-the bad cast is usually the result of an error somewhere
in the basic mechanics of the fly cast. Return to the fundamentals, find
the error, and fix it.
The Grip. Not surprisingly, gripping the fly rod is about like
gripping a golf club. Most skilled casters place the thumb of the rod
hand on top of the rod with the index finger immediately below the thumb
under the grip. The remaining fingers simply grasp the rod, securing it
in the palm of the hand. The thumb and index finger control the rod; the
remaining fingers are relegated to a supporting role. Don't bother
listening to arguments favoring other styles of the grip such as putting
the index finger on top. They are wrong!
The Wrist. Little doubt that you use the wrist in making the
cast. But having said this, be warned that the movement of the wrist
must be tightly controlled. To illustrate what the wrist does and when
it does it, do this: take a pencil and hold it in the rod hand as if it
was the slender grip of a fly rod. Point the forearm and wrist away from
the body in a straight line. The top line of the forearm is at the same
height as the thumb, forming a straight line with the wrist. I call this
the wrist's DE-COCKED position.
Now, without moving the forearm, flex the wrist raising
the pencil about 10°. The thumb is now angled slightly above the line of
the forearm. This is called the wrist's COCKED position. Now, hinge and
move the wrist between the de-cocked & cocked positions, and hold this
thought-the movement between the two positions must be tightly
controlled. There can be no sloppy flapping side-to-side, flopping up
and down, or any other wiggle of the wrist! Failure to heed this warning
will result in a poor cast!
To begin educating your wrist, I want you to learn a new
word -FLICKSTOP! Think FLICKSTOP when "flicking" between the de-cocked
and cocked position. FLICKSTOP is a controlled "flick" of the wrist
followed by the immediate and abrupt halt to all movement. The two
movements, the flick and the stop constitute the power stroke of the fly
cast. To understand the dynamics of the "flick & stop," think about
these examples of other flicks most of us are familiar with:
The ability to associate with one or more of these
examples of flicking the wrist, helps in understanding two very
important points: (1) how little distance the "flick" physically
travels, and (2) the micro-second in time it takes for the "flick" to
cover that distance. The "flick" is short and very, very quick! One last
point of amplification-with fly rod in hand, flick the wrist between the
cocked and de-cocked positions. Watch the rod's tip. Note that it takes
very little wrist action in the "flick" to move the rod tip several
feet. If the "flick" of the wrist moves the tip three feet or more, that
is too much. Try again.
- The flick of the wrist when launching a Frisbee.
- The flick of the wrist when popping a towel.
- The flick of the wrist when tossing a dart.
My Casting Drill. I teach casting a bit differently from others.
I think it is very important for you to feel the rhythm of the cast, the
flex of the rod, and see the impact of your arm and hand on the rod's
actions as quickly as possible. The drill I've developed has helped
others learn "the knack," of seeing and feeling the fly cast almost
By practicing and mastering the CASTING DRILL,
effective and efficient fly casting is not far away. It is, after all,
timing and rhythm that make the fly cast. Once the "feeling" of the fly
cast becomes etched in your mind, the other fine points of the
fundamentals are easy to add beginning with the stance.
- With rod assembled, strip out about 15 to 20 feet
of line from the rod tip. Then grip the rod, just as you would in
preparing to cast. Trap the fly line running between the reel and
stripper guide by placing it beneath the second or third finger of
the rod hand. This freezes the line allowing focused attention on
the DRILL. For now, the other hand plays no role.
- Position the rod to the front or side, elbow close
to the body, with the rod hand turned palm up so that the fingers
can be seen, but not the thumbnail. The tip of the rod should be
angled upward slightly to about eye level. Being relaxed and
comfortable is important.
- Now, put the rod into motion using the forearm to
move it swiftly back and forth from left to right. Use enough speed
to aerialize the line so that it smoothly follows the rod's motions.
Concentrate! Watch the rod tip! Use peripheral vision to observe the
fly line. As the rod moves from side to side, observe how the rod
tip bends, and then straightens when stopped. Forcing the tip to
bend is called "loading the rod." Loading the rod gathers and stores
the energy that will be released when the rod's motion is abruptly
stopped. The tip springs forward releasing the stored energy, in
turn, launching the line. This process is otherwise known as making
- Now, add to the slower rhythmic movement of the arm
by "flicking" the wrist between the de-cocked and cocked positions
at the end of each back and forth movement. Focus on the rod tip and
remember-FLICKSTOP! By "flicking" the rod tip, the aerodynamics of
the line will change. The FLICK will cause a bigger deflection in
the tip and the STOP will instantly release the tip's energy. It is
the tip of the rod that casts the line. If you develop a rhythm to
the movement of your forearm complimenting FLICKSTOP, the line that
probably had been traveling in a sweeping oval, will now take on the
appearance of the fly cast-the line will form a loop - a tight oval
- as it flies back and forth. Should you lose your timing or rhythm,
stop and begin again.
- As your confidence grows, gradually extend the
amount of line in the air. You will, of course, need to adjust your
timing and rhythm as the rod is paused to allow the line to unroll
at the end of each stroke. Keep the line in the air. Begin each back
and forth motion at the moment the line begins to straighten.
Remember-watch the rod's tip throughout the drill.
- Practice the DRILL until it becomes second nature.
Why? For three reasons: First, the DRILL is a "miniature" fly cast.
To complete the cast, merely FLICKSTOP the rod and, as the line
unrolls and settles to the ground, follow-through by dropping the
rod tip toward the ground. Second, by extending the amount of line
in the air, the distance of the cast is being increased. Third, the
sidearm casting motion taught by the CASTING DRILL becomes a
necessity when mastering advanced casting techniques. More on this
The Stance. The proper stance for fly casting is relaxed and
open. Face the target at an angle - about 45° - with the open side
favoring the rod hand and arm. If you are right handed, this means the
right side is angled to the rear with the left foot advanced, loosely in
line with the target. For those of you who cast with your left hand, as
I do, reverse the setup as in the photo: right foot advanced and
parallel to the target line, left foot to the rear and angled about 45°
to the side.
The stance, like the grip, has a relationship to golf,
especially in the hips and legs-be certain the knees are bent slightly
and the hips swivel on command. A stiff position that prevents the body
from being freely in motion will ruin any chance of making the cast.
Being well balanced is important. The feet should be a comfortable
distance apart enabling a weight shift as the rhythm of the cast
Here is a very important point: a long cast requires the
use of the entire body, to include shifting weight and turning, just as
striking a long iron on the golf course or driving a baseball into deep
left field. Short casts, on the other hand, require little more than the
motion of the hand and forearm. In other words, the longer the cast, the
more the body comes into play to help make the cast. For now however,
that distance is short. Begin all casts with the rod tip low, close to,
or barely touching, the water. This means low! If your tip is pointing
toward 8, 9 or 10 o'clock, you are wrong! Learn now to PUT THE ROD TIP
Quick Summary. Thus far I've covered the grip, the wrist, the
casting drill, and the stance and made other general observations
regarding the cast. This FIGURE illustrates several of these points.
Don't forget, I'll be demonstrating with my left hand. If you cast with
the right hand, simply reverse the procedures. First, the rod tip is
down-that's always the starting point for making the cast. Next, note
the stance. It's relaxed. The feet are placed comfortably apart for
balance, and my weight has already shifted forward as I prepare to make
the cast. Also note that my hands are close together. The hands should
never become widely separated during the cast.
The Backcast. Emphasizing the critical importance of controlling
wrist movement, this is how the wrist plays out during the cast: with
the rod tip down almost touching the surface, and with the line straight
ahead from the tip, take up the proper stance. Now, turn the wrist to
the open position-this means turned, out or away from the body, about
45°, thumb out. It is the same position used in the DRILL.
Now, begin the backcast by lifting the line and, at the
same time, sweeping the rod up and to the rear. The sweeping action
should travel along an ever-increasing sidearm arc. The open stance
allows you to look to the rear and to pivot almost 90 degrees in the
direction of the backcast to watch what is happening. Do it! Look to the
rear. Watch the backcast! Apply power progressively. This means begin
slowly, but steadily, accelerating the speed of the cast. Be sure as you
make the backcast your upper body pivots to the left (left-handed) or to
the right (right-handed). If the line were straight at the beginning of
the cast, the fly moved immediately as you began the backcast. (I
suggest a piece of yarn in practice.)
Watch the tip of your rod. As the sweep to the rear increases, you can
see the rod tip is loading (bending). The arm and body are using the rod
as a long lever to drive the line up and to the rear. Neither the elbow
of the rod arm nor the rod hand pass above the level of the shoulder,
except at the very end of a long backcast. Stop the backcast at about 1
o'clock. Just how the backcast is stopped is critical to the success of
the cast. The time of maximum acceleration - maximum power - occurs at
the very end of the backcast. How? It's done by "flicking" the wrist
from the DE-COCKED to the COCKED position-and immediately locking the
wrist and stopping the rod abruptly. FLICKSTOP! Once cocked and locked,
the wrist remains in this position until the very end of the forward
cast. Locking the wrist into a firm position is extremely important. Do
not fail to heed this point!
Once the backcast has been stopped, allow the casting
arm to extend, or drift to the rear, without power applied. This is a
very important point: The "drift" will help you prevent a tailing loop
as well as extending the arc through which the rod passes. The greater
the arc the better it helps the cast.
In this FIGURE, I have completed a very long backcast;
in fact, as this image was captured and sketched, I am in the act of
"shooting" line to the rear. There are several things you should note in
viewing this sketch. Since I am making a long backcast, my entire body
comes into play during the cast. You can see my weight has shifted to
the rear and is on my left foot. My stance is open.
My body has pivoted in the direction of the cast. Because it is a long
backcast, I have fully allowed my casting arm to drift to the rear, and,
as you can see my rod hand is turned palm up-I can see my fingernails
but not the thumbnail. When practicing the backcast, if the thumbnail is
visible, try again. Seeing the thumbnail at the end of the backcast is a
sure way to know your technique is wrong. Among the most important
points to be noted in this sketch is the fact that I am looking back at
the cast. The result of not watching the backcast is usually a faulty
cast. In effect, it becomes a blind cast. Considering the ramifications
of wind, casting blind is stupid.
One other point-on a long backcast, where the entire
casting arm should be allowed to drift to the rear after the stop, stab
up as you execute FLICKSTOP. This simple act, slightly stabbing up with
your rod hand, will help prevent the wrist from "going over the top," or
cocking 45° or more. This is what I've done as evidenced by the short
piece of visible fly line just off the rod tip: it's going up and out.
Stop the cast with a stab up and out and the line will go up and out.
The line always goes where the rod tip stops. Do not let your wrist go
over the top!
The Forward Cast. At the end of the backcast the line should be
up and rolling out as the loop straightens - now is the time to begin
the forward cast. That's exactly what I am doing in this photo.
Importantly, the wrist is still locked in the cocked position. Begin the
forward stroke body just before the line fully straightens by pulling
your elbow back to the side of your body. Important: the elbow leads the
rod in the forward cast until power is applied (FLICKSTOP) at the end of
the cast. Sweep the cast forward on a more vertical plain than the
sidearm arc used during the backcast. In sum, the path of the back and
forward casts inscribe an oval when viewed from either above or the
You can see that I've begun to retract my arm and that
my elbow is still leading the cast. Already my rod hand is turning to
the vertical position, the overhead plane the forward cast will follow.
Note, too, my weight has shifted to a balance point between the left and
right foot as I begin to put my entire body into making the forward
cast. It is quite evident that my rod and line hands remain in
relatively close contact. Like a very good artisan at work on the
putting green who keeps the head down on the putt, I am still watching
to the rear.
In the foregoing photo, I have started forward following
an overhead or vertical plane driving the rod and line forward. The
moment of greatest acceleration will be at the very end of the forward
cast. You can see my hands are still close together, and my arm is
retracted from the extended position. At this point in the cast, my
forearm is almost vertical. The wrist remains locked in the cocked
position. My weight is shifting forward. Importantly, I am still
watching my line, just as you should do. As I continue the cast and
begin my acceleration, the rod begins to load.
In this photo, I have driven the rod forward along a near vertical
plane. My hand has turned from the open to vertical position. Turning my
hand is important because my thumb, on top of the rod grip, is critical
to giving me absolute control in applying power. Remember this: to
maximize your cast, inscribe an oval pattern in the air. Take the rod
back along the high sidearm path and drive it forward using the near
vertical or overhead thrust. This image was taken at the very moment I
am doing FLICKSTOP - flicking the wrist back from the cocked to the
de-cocked position - and "shooting" the line forward.
I am now nearing the end of the casting sequence. My weight is shifted
well forward and having completed FLICKSTOP, my wrist is returned to the
de-cocked position, as the fly line shoots forward. My rod arm is now
fully extended, as I follow-through, and the line loop is well forward
and out of view. Note the straight line of my rod arm and hand in the
final position. Again, note my hands remain in close proximity, one to
the other. Why do I still have line in my line hand if I am "shooting"
it forward? The answer is that the line is passing through an "O" ring
I've formed with the thumb and index finger. This allows me to maintain
line control at all times. It is a desirable habit all fly fishers
should imitate without conscious thought.
Keep this firmly in mind-there is no reason for the rod hand to ever
rise above the line of the eye at any time, except to follow-through (or
drift) at the end of a very long backcast. Stop, if you find yourself
reaching up. This error usually results when the caster decides to
"help" the rod achieve a little more distance. It is a silly error that
everyone makes, especially when they begin to tire. Instead, try to
accelerate and apply power smoothly as in the backcast. Do this
gradually and increasingly until the moment of maximum power at the end
of the cast - the very fast "flick" as in FLICKSTOP. How do you apply
maximum power in such a short distance? It's easy-it's done by
"flicking" the wrist back to the original de-cocked position, locking it
and stopping the rod immediately, as in the backcast. Depending on the
intent of the cast, wind, and other physical factors, stop the rod at
about 11 to 10 o'clock.
Remember this-if you stop the rod between these points, the rod tip will
continue to spring forward (deflect) until all of the stored energy is
released. As soon as the fly line's loop passes the rod tip, however,
you can follow-through dropping the rod tip to the water without
affecting the flight of the line. The objective is to be ready to fish
as the line settles to the water.
I have reached the end of the cast or, if you prefer,
the start point for the next cast. The rod has been dropped so that the
tip of the rod almost touches the water. I am ready to fish. My balance
is restored and I've assumed my normal relaxed stance after making the
To Learn the Fly Cast, Follow this Set-Up Routine. Since
you will be learning new body movement, Rote memory is a great way to
fix in your mind what you should be doing. Unfortunately, I won't be
with you when you practice the art of the fly cast; YOU, however, ARE
FULLY CAPABLE OF SELF-CRITIQUE-PROVIDED YOU CARRY THIS BOOKLET OUTSIDE
WHEN YOU PRACTICE. Remember: no practice, no competency. When checking
yourself out, follow these steps:
What went right? If all went well, your cast formed a beautiful loop in
the fly line that unrolled perfectly. It is tribute to your grip,
stance, low rod tip, attention to watching the backcast and, most of
all, executing FLICKSTOP.
- With the rod safely lying on the grass, strip off
about 20 ft. of line and lay it out straight in front of you.
- With the rod at your feet, assume an open position
to the target line that allows you to easily pivot in the direction
will make the backcast. Do not place your feet too far apart. The
position should be totally comfortable.
- Pick-up the rod at the reel seat and take up the
grip, but in doing this, DO NOT RAISE THE ROD TIP. Leave the rod tip
in contact with the grass. If you lift the tip, you no longer have
direct contact with the fly; instead you have slack-the kiss of
death to the fly cast.
- The grip has been previously discussed. Be sure
that your thumb is on top of the cork grip with your index finger
beneath the grip. Your wrist is in the DE-COCKED position.
- Turn the rod hand about 45 degrees from vertical so
that you can see the finger tips of your fingers, but only the side
of the thumb, not the thumbnail.
- With elbow close to your body, begin the backcast
slowly and, at the same time, pivot your upper body in the direction
of the cast using your hips and legs.
- Accelerate the cast with increasing speed until
your rod hand reaches a point about 90 degrees from where you began
the backcast. At this point, execute FLICKSTOP. Remember: THE
QUICKER THE FLICK AND THE STOP THE TIGHTER THE LOOP AND THE GREATER
THE LINE SPEED. This is the power stroke of the fly cast.
- If you have done this properly, you will see the
line going up and out and the loop of the fly line as it unrolls.
You will also see the edge of you thumb-but not the fingernail!
- If there is no LOOP, STOP! Do not go further
because it is a waste of time. Start over and follow the guidance
- If there is a LOOP, go forward …
- Just before the line fully unrolls on at the end of
the backcast, begin the forward cast movement, SLOWLY. (A failure to
follow this guidance leads to a "wind-knot", better described as a
- As you move the rod into the forward cast, be sure
the casting elbow leads the rod until the final moments of the cast.
Watch the cast!
- As you make the forward cast, begin pivoting your
body back to its original position.
- With the elbow leading the rod and returning to the
side of the body, the speed of the forward cast is increased. It
ends when you unload the rod with a FLICKSTOP at about 11 o'clock,
but be sure to follow-through dropping the rod tip until it is once
again returned to the fishing position-close to the water.
- Simple? Yes! But the obligation is yours-keep this
booklet close at hand. Read it over and over again until you have
memorized what's been said. Practice the techniques, stopping when
you foul-up and beginning again at the point where you made a
- Remember: The Munchkins told Dorothy: "The best
place to begin is always at the beginning." Simply follow the Yellow
Brick Road. If you do, know this: you will master the cast.
What went wrong? Sometimes it doesn't go right. Instead
of a perfect loop, the end result is a non-loop. A non-loop looks a
little like this depiction. Non-loops are typically caused by one or
more of errors: (1) passing the rod through too long an arc; (2)
dropping the rod tip too low at the end of both the back and forward
casts because of a limp wrist; (3) not driving the rod with sufficient
speed to cause it to bend or load. Correct these errors by narrowing the
arc, controlling the wrist and stopping the rod immediately after the
There is also the problem of the Tailing Loop. To some degree, it stays
with all fly-rodders throughout their casting life. If you do not think
it a problem, be advised-it is! The first time those little teeny-tiny
knots show up in the end of the tippet, know that you, too, have been
bitten by the evil tailing loop bug. Most folks call them "Wind Knots."
They are, of course, anything but that. The truth is the first time the
rod is "jerked" forward into making the forward cast, that jerky start
will leave the mark of the tailing loop. Jerking the rod unevenly
applies power at the wrong time forcing the rod tip to sharply dip. The
dip results in the rod tip following a concave line during the cast.
Where the rod tip goes, the line will follow. The tailing loop is always
lurking, waiting to tell a fly caster the sad truth: "You did bad!" Over
the years, the average fly fisher repeats this error many times. The
lesson is obvious-do not jerk the rod forward when beginning the forward
A tailing loop can also result if the backcast and
forward cast travel along the same plane. Avoid this circumstance by
following this guidance-backcast using a high sidearm stroke but do not
allow the forward cast to follow the same line; instead follow a
slightly different track that's a bit more vertical. In other words,
allow the strokes of the back and the forward casts to follow a slightly
oval. With experience and practice, modifying the casting stroke will
become natural depending on the specifics of the cast desired.
From experience, I know that if you will follow these
guidelines, you will become a fly caster in very short order. Please
know that advanced casting techniques have deliberately not been
mentioned. And for a good reason … Mastery of the basics is a