Want to become a better caster?

By MFO’s own Patrick Straub

Rookie and experienced anglers often struggle with pinpointing errors in their cast. From a beginner fumbling with their line-hand to an experienced angler fighting a nasty tailing loop, these six elements to a good cast will improve your cast or help you trouble-shoot a faulty one.

As with any casting instructor, personal style plays a large role in how the information is presented. Despite how different an instructor’s style may be, that doesn’t change the principles of a good cast. Here are our six “not-so-secret” secrets to a good cast. Many books have been written about the perfect cast. These principles are merely given as a general guideline to what makes a good cast.

  • The Pick-Up. Before any cast is to be made, the rod must be moved-up off the water, or “picked-up.” This causes any additional slack to be taken out of the fly line before the rod is moved back into the second part of the cast, Part Two, The Backcast. The principle of getting slack out of the line is similar to a coiled garden hose with a sprinkler at the end of it—the sprinkler isn’t going to move in any direction until the hose is completely uncoiled and in a straight line.
  • The Backcast. The second part of the cast begins just slightly after the Pick-Up. A very, very slight pause occurs just after the Pick-Up. After this very slight pause the rod is accelerated quickly into the Backcast. The hand holding the rod, or rod hand, is thrust backwards to a point in which the thumb on the rod hand shouldn’t be back any further than one’s ear. At this point it is also crucial that the wrist doesn’t “break.” By “break” we mean not adjusting or shifting the bottom of the palm of the hand so it turns outward or upward or forward. It should remain facing downward the entire time—as if you were trying to grasp a cup of water in your hand and toss it behind you, but not spilling it on your shoulders or back. The acceleration necessary is a speed-up and stop, allowing a bend to be placed into the rod. This speed-up and stop is crucial to cause the fly line to move and accelerate through the air, ideally following the path of the rod tip. Once the rod has been stopped at the end of the Backast, the line, just as it did during the Pick-Up now must have time to straighten. 
  • The Pause at the end of the Backcast. This is probably the most often made mistake by beginning anglers. Once the rod is accelerated during the Backcast, a slight pause is required to allow the fly line to straighten-out behind the caster. When first learning it is not a bad idea to turn your head and watch the fly line. Once you see the line straighten, then you can go onto the step, 4, the Forward cast. In time you will be able to “feel” the rod give a little jump in your hand. You might also be able to feel the rod tip vibrate a little bit as well. This vibration is caused from the fly line hurling back behind you, carrying inertia. Because the rod tip is stopped at the end of the Backcast, the inertia from the fly line causes the rod to kick a little bit. When you feel this kick, the fly line is straight behind you. The Pause at the end of the Backcast is crucial—the line must have time to straighten otherwise bad things happen. Additionally, the longer the cast (or the more fly line you have out) the longer you must pause before you go into your Forward cast. 
  • The Forward cast. After you have paused on the Backcast then it is time to accelerate the rod forward—naturally, because that is where the fish most often are located. The Forward cast is a speed-up and stop motion by accelerating the rod forward. When learning it is a good idea to watch the path of the rod-tip to ensure it is traveling in a straight line from when you stopped and your Backcast and then began to move forward. The path should be on a straight line, but the direction of the line should be angled slightly down and towards the water. Imagine the cable on a gondola or chairlift. The cable is straight the entire time, but the over the course of the gondola ride or chairlift, the cable slowly angels downhill. Just like the Backcast it is crucial to have a speed-up and stop acceleration. The motion is similar to flicking an apple of a pencil—not something you do every day, but, you get the idea. Once you have accelerated and stopped, the rod tip will have a similar feel like it did on the Backcast—a vibration or a kick. At this point the fly line should be hurling through the air in a nice loop. If it isn’t you’ve missed any of these first four principles, and it is time to regroup and start over. Don’t worry. The fish is probably still there. 
  • The Pause at the end of the Forward Cast. Part Five is crucial when false casting or adding line to increase the length of your cast. Just like you did at the end of your Backcast, you must pause slightly to allow the fly line to straighten out in front of you. This pause is a key element for having a good Lay-Down (Part Six) or having a good Backcast (if you are false casting or adding line). 
  • The Lay-Down. Once you have Paused at the end of the Forward Cast and the fly line is straight-out in front of you, slowly lower the rod tip by lowering your rod hand. This is done in rhythm with your casting motion. The Lay-Down serves to allow the fly and fly line to fall onto the water at the same rate. If the previous Five Principles are executed properly, then the Lay-Down should be an attractive thing to look at. If it isn’t practice, practice, practice.

These six principles offer a general guideline to increasing your success. They are not set in stone and this is, obviously, not the only way to understand these principles. There are many great books and DVD out there to help…we just thought a little refresher might be nice. If this articles causes you to practice your casting stroke while sitting at your desk—then we’ve done our job! And, don’t worry about the funny looks you get from your co-workers….screw ‘em you’ve got thoughts of a big trout eating a dry fly on your mind!

About the Author
Patrick grew up fishing the Gallatin, Madison, and Yellowstone Rivers near Bozeman, Montana. After he graduated from Beloit College in Wisconsin, he returned to live near Yellowstone National Park where he began writing and fishing full-time. Today, Patrick lives outside Bozeman at the foot of the Bridger Mountains where he fishes and skis full-time.  He is the author of the following:
The Orvis Pocket Guide to Streamer Fishing
Montana On the Fly: An Angler’s Guide
Montana: An Explorers Guide
The Frugal Fly Fisher: Bending the Rod Without Breaking the Bank
It Happened in South Dakota
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing But Where Afraid to Ask (2012)