Cast Like a Pro
Basic Fly Casting Tips, Tricks & Techniques©
by Doug MacNair
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.
1 Getting Started
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!
Flickstop. 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 flick of the wrist when aunching a Frisbee.
- The flick of the wrist when popping a towel.
- The flick of the wrist when tossing a dart.
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 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—so 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 demands.
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 DOWN!
My 6-Step 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 immediately.
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 the cast.
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 later.
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.
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.