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Ally Gowans - Learning To Fly Cast - Part 2

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Last time I recited the three essential rules for fly casting, these should be understood and observed, they are the fundamental physics behind all techniques. Remember to start with line and rod in correct positions, make smooth movements, especially accelerations and make perfect stops. Note that the line always follows the rod tip and when the tip is stopped the line projects in that direction. These physical laws cannot be ignored, they are natural and they are the foundation rules for casting.

Now let's examine the casts themselves, there are two distinct families of casts that encompass all fly casts, every cast is either a derivative of the Straight Line Cast or Roll Cast. In order to differentiate between them I give simple definitions below. Before attempting any of the more advanced casting techniques it is vitally important that the two basic casts are understood and learned, then they should be practiced until they become automatic. With such a good foundation expanding your skills to incorporate additional features is relatively easy. Without accomplishing a decent standard of basic technique your errors will compound and a messy and inefficient performance will result accompanied by frustration and fewer fish.


Beginners are urged to learn to fly fish with a general purpose single handed fly rod such as a 9 ft rod for a AFTM #5 or #6. Any rod that has nice progressive action will give the beginner the best chance of learning the timing that is essential in all types of fly casting and be capable of good all round performance. A quality modern floating fly line, either weight forward profile or double tapered and a length of reasonably stout leader material around 0.3mm diameter with a piece of wool to represent a fly will complete the essential items of tackle for learning to fly cast. It is possible to buy very cheap fly lines, most of these are inferior and may prevent inhibit your progress. Make sure that you have a good, smooth, memory free line to start with and that it balances your rod. A line that slightly overloads a rod sometimes helps beginners to feel what is happening and may be no bad thing to start with. It is strongly recommended that safety glasses or sun glasses be worn when using a fly rod to minimise the possibility of eye damage should you make an error.

Straight line casts

The family of straight line casts is based on the straight line principle (i.e. the line must be straight before starting each cast) and include overhead, side and backhand casts, all use the same straight line back cast followed by a forward cast. So to make one 'cast' the angler has to make two casts, one back cast and one forward cast with a pause in between to ensure that the line is straight again (usually in the air) before starting the next casting movement.

Roll casts

The roll cast family uses a different form of 'back cast', in fact it is not a separate back cast, it is an inherent part of the cast.

Instead of being a straight line roll casts use a tensioned curved loop of line called the 'D loop' because of its shape. Note however that the line is organised and the three fundamental casting rules still apply. No stopping of the rod during roll casts because if you do the line will fall, tension will be lost and the cast will fail.

The same air space should never be used twice either so the formation of the D loop is always in a different plane to the delivery of the cast. Roll casts include the Spey and Underhand casting techniques and are very important methods especially for river and salmon anglers.

Basics of good casting - Grip and stance


Recommended grip is with the thumb towards the top of the rod and slightly to the left of centre so that the 'V' between the thumb and the index finger aligns with the top of the rod. Your grip must feel comfortable and the diameter of the rod handle must be suitable for the size of your hand. (It is common to find rods with cork grips that are too large in diameter. I like to have the handle thin enough to allow my hand to encircle it without having to grip hard.) Alternatively the thumb may be placed directly on top of the rod and this is useful if additional pressure is needed to stop or drive a line particularly in a circular direction for roll casting etc. Another specialist grip is with the index finger on top of the rod and the second finger around the handle, the so called 'three point grip'.

Whatever grip you choose depends on what you find comfortable and many accomplished casters vary their grip to suit the cast being used. Examples of different methods of holding a rod are illustrated. It is essential to grip a rod firmly enough to ensure that it is under good control but it is a mistake to grip it too hard. By adjusting the strength of the grip during the cast it is possible to minimise unwanted vibrations at the extremities of movement, i.e. when it is stopped. With practice it is possible to learn to intensify grip as power is being applied and to relax between times to get a better 'feel' for what is going on. If the grip is too tight the nerves in the hand are compressed and sensitivity is lost so, for example, you won't feel the line straightening in the air behind and so you won't know when to commence the forward cast. Good casters 'feel' their way through each cast and control the line very smoothly.

The 'orthodox stance' is to put the foot below the casting arm's shoulder slightly in front of the other foot. Casting with the right hand therefore the right foot is forward. If the cast is being made backhanded i.e. using the right hand to cast over the left shoulder, the left shoulder and foot should be forward. Feet should be slightly apart giving a comfortable well balanced, relaxed and stable stance, allowing the angler to transfer body weight between the feet during the cast. This stance has the advantage of allowing the angler to cast a fly rather like he might throw a dart by aiming along the arm to so it is possibly the most accurate method of delivery.

The 'open stance' places the feet in the opposite relationship to the orthodox stance and so the left foot is forward when casting over the right shoulder. It is best used for distance casting, to enable the caster to turn his head to watch the back cast. It is essential the shoulder is not moved or turned during any casting stroke, only upper and lower arm and perhaps a little wrist movement is permitted. Foot placement is of course compromised in many fishing situations.

Ergonomics of casting

I am not an expert on this subject and offer what is I hope a common sense approach. One of the things that casting instructors do not have is the ability to know how another person's body works or feels. What I find comfortable you may find impossible and so rather than be pedantic about how you use your body let me simply explain some commonalities. Most of us do not like working with our hands held high or even with them extended from our bodies to the side. The further we stretch the less certain we are of accurate and smooth movement especially if accelerations and stops are involved and therefore for casting it is much better to adopt a compact and accurate style than a loose and sloppy style. Think about it this way, if you were to push or punch something where would your arm start? For most of us, employing our hands between waist and shoulder height and using the powerful upper arm muscles to cast provides the most efficient accelerating and stopping power. Wrists are very complicated joints and they are not well equipped with muscles, therefore using them in a limited manner to 'fine tune' actions is much better than depending on them.

Our next piece includes the casting clock and the nuts and bolts of learning the basic overhead cast.

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