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How To Cast A Fly-Fishing Rod - Part 1

Learning to cast properly and accurately is absolutely essential if you plan to catch trout using fly-fishing gear.

The sport of fly-fishing could perhaps better be called fly-casting - because you can do a lot of casting per fish hooked. You will do a great deal more casting if you have not learned to find fish to cast to.

Not for the trout fishermen the luxury of casting out a bait, and waiting for a fish to find it. No, cast and retrieve, and repeat until a fish bites the fly or lure.

I want to make a plea that is something of a repeat; when learning to cast, learn the basics and stick with them till you can cast where you want to, with accuracy. The movements required to cast are simple, but it is really easy to screw them up by over-complicating things.

By far and away the biggest problem when learning to cast, and it is a particular problem with teenage and adult men, is the erroneous belief, and practice, that applying more 'strength' or 'power' to the cast will send the line further.

If you remember little else from what follows, remember this - casting a fly-rod is all about timing, and using the power inherent in the rod, not your arm and shoulder, to move the fly-line. Applying more 'power' or 'strength' to the movements will almost always lead to casting problems.

I believe that trying to learn how to cast from
books and videos is not best practise.

Here is why, and you need to pay attention to this:

It is not what you don't know that gets you into big trouble; it is what you don't know, you don't know.

Books and videos on casting will help you with what you don't know, but will do absolutely nothing to fill in the don't know what you don't know gap. That needs a skilled observer.

There are many people who have taught themselves to cast. A few have become good casters. Others have learnt with the help of friends, and have become competent casters.

Many fly-fishermen are like me – we learnt to cast by a combination of a friend's help, self-help, observation of others, and some advice along the way. Many of us who have learned this way may well now be able to cast nearly as far as we want, or nearly as accurately as we want most, but not all the time.

What is also true is that it has taken us years to achieve this. In fact most of us have learned, over a long time, how to cast our mistakes further or more accurately. What a waste of time!

What a waste of fishing time – because each time you cast too short, or too inaccurately, you miss a chance to catch a fish on that cast. Worse still – in some places when casting to visible fish in crystal clear New Zealand water, very often you only get one chance. Botch the cast and the fish bolts.

To learn to cast properly and effectively is not difficult, but it does require careful attention to a simple set of movements. It is nigh on impossible to see if you are performing those movements correctly yourself. So I think that it is best to learn under the guidance and observation of a skilled caster.

Casting School - Clubs

If you decide to take up fly-fishing, bite the bullet and go to a casting school if there is one available near where you live. Getting the basics right from the start will make the path to fly-casting expertise so much easier and enjoyable.

If there is no class nearby, join a local fishing club. Most clubs run instruction schemes. If neither are available get hold of a good caster and get them to run a beady eye over your progress.

Another option to help you see how you are progressing is to have someone video a few casts. You can then compare the video to a book or instruction video. This will often give you a much better idea of where you need to make adjustments.

Even if you have been fishing for a few years and are primarily self-taught, a session or two with a class or club, will iron out any bad casting habits.

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To get you started casting

Despite what I have written above about the difficulties with trying to learn to cast off books, going it alone at the beginning will give you a clear idea of what you need to learn. So here we go.

In very basic terms all casting actions, on all types of rods, for all types have fishing have a set of ‘principles’ that apply.

First principle: separate back & forward casts

When you cast a rod, any rod, you actually make two casts, a back cast and a forward cast, and to cast successfully you need to think and act on the forward and back casts as separate and distinct actions. (Actually that is true for all casts except fly-fishing where you can do several forward and back casts - but too often, far too many back and forward casts within the one cast.) The back cast is just what it sounds like; it is when the rod tip is moved rearwards taking the line with it. The forward cast is the opposite.

Second principle: the rod must be 'loaded'

fully loaded bow

It may help to think of a rod as the top half of a bow. When the string on a bow is pulled back, it ‘loads’ the bow. That is, it bends the bow, loading it with energy to straighten back up again.

In principle, the faster the bow straightens up the faster and further the arrow will fly. But to just cement this principle in place, the acceleration as the bow straightens up, is determined by how much the bow is loaded. Light load, low acceleration - heavy load, high acceleration.

loaded rod

So moving back to a rod, the more you can load a rod on the backcast the more the rod will contribute to sending the fly-line or lure on its way across the water.

When loading a rod you use ‘inertia’ which is the force an object exerts to stay exactly where it is or continue where it was going. So when the fly-line is out behind the rod, or the lure is out behind the rod, when you begin to move the rod tip forward, inertia tries to hold onto the fly-line or lure, and it is this inertia that starts the process of bending or loading the rod.

Loading a rod properly is essential to casting well; not loading a rod properly is a prime cause of bad casts and anger or frustration. And that is a matter of timing, not applying more strength.


Third principle: Acceleration
 (Start Slow – Finish Fast - Stop Dead!)

Once you have made the backcast and you are now moving the rod forward you need to ‘accelerate’ the rate at which the rod is moving forward. Now at the risk of getting too technical, I need to explain something. You will hear many fly-fishers who talk about the necessity for line ‘speed’. Too many of these fly-fishers are confusing speed (velocity) with acceleration (the rate of change in velocity).

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To stay up in the air as long as possible the line must be moving at a certain rate for as long as possible. So you start moving your arm slowly and increase the speed (accelerate) as you move through the cast. To achieve the maximum speed when you stop the rod and let the line go, you must accelerate the rod tip throughout the forward cast.

That is the rod tip must be moving at an ever increasing rate. If you achieve this, the ‘unloading’ of the rod as it straightens will add further acceleration, and your line or lure will travel where you want it to. Just like a bow adds acceleration to the arrow.

Fourth principle: where the rod tip goes, so does the line

This principle catches a lot of people out. If during the cast you point the rod tip towards the ground the line will follow.

So if you are doing a back cast and at the end of that cast the rod is pointing downwards, the fly-line will follow. At worst you could snag up in the bank growth and not realising you are snagged come roaring into the forward cast and turn your nice two-piece rod into a five-piece, or toss your line into an ugly bundle of loops on the water behind you.

When casting a fly-fishing rod, think of yourself standing up straight – directly above your head is 12 o'clock, you need to stop the base of the rod moving backward at around 1 or 2 o'clock, wait for the line to straighten out behind you, and then on the forward cast stop the rod at around 11 o'clock.

Now ‘stop’ is meant very literally. The forward movement of your arm, wrist and hand, must stop dead!

Think about using a hammer on a nail in the wall, it is that action, your hand stops dead. Think nail that cast!

The wrist should be locked rock-solid, throughout the cast, with the thumb pointing up the rod. Just before you bring the rod to a dead stop, apply a quick, sharp wrist-flick that when you stop the rod on the forward cast the thumb should be pointing to 1 o'clock.

[Part 2]

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