Your casting skills determine how many fish you place your fly in front of and the time to work on these skills is not during the fishing trip of a lifetime. As a guide I get to help a lot of people learn how to cast, and over the years I have noticed several common problems that both beginners and expert casters encounter. Most of these issues have simple fixes. If you can identify these problems and fix them now, you will see results later on the water.
Change Your Grip
Your thumb is your strongest digit, and should always be firmly against the spine of the fly rod while casting. This maximizes power and leverage through the cast. Anglers who place their index finger here are missing out on a lot of power and accuracy. I see good fly casters making this mistake all the time, and many of them even argue that it is not a mistake in the first place. Once they make the switch, however, they cannot deny the advantages of the improved grip.
Tighten Your Loops
The signature of an excellent caster is the tight, candy cane shaped loop the line makes as it flies through the air. A tight loop is affected by air resistance less than a wide one, and therefore goes further and straighter. You can tighten your loops by tucking your elbow in to your side and keeping your hand on a “shelf” throughout your casting stroke. This means that your hand should travel more back and forth, and less up and down. The rod tip will do the same, and your loops should tighten right up.
Generate Line Speed
You cannot push line through the air; you can only pull it through the air. This means that the faster the line is traveling, the further and straighter it will go. Rather than forcing the rod back and forth harder and harder, try increasing your line speed by learning to double haul. Even a good single haul on your pick up and back cast is designed to generate line speed. With each back cast and forward cast, pull line down across your body with your line hand while simultaneously pulling line through the air with your rod tip. Once the line is traveling forward, let go. If your timing is correct, the line will shoot further and straighter. This takes some practice at first, but becomes second nature quickly.
Improve Your Accuracy
These days fly rod technology is centered around helping anglers cast further and more accurately. The first tip I have for improving your accuracy is to get a high end fly rod. Companies like Sage are always creating rods that improve accuracy in a variety of ways. Their new Konnetic Technology is the latest example of this effort, and the improvements are noticeable.
If a new fly rod is not in the budget just yet, there is still hope. Like in any sport, if you focus on your target, you are more likely to hit it. When you eye the tiny crack along the bank that you know is holding a beast, focus on that and nothing else. Look at the target and see yourself placing that grasshopper right in the middle of it. The fly goes where the line leads it, the line goes where the rod tip tells it to, the rod tip is controlled by your hands, and your hands do what your eyes see. You’ll catch a lot more fish if your first cast is an accurate one. With each inaccurate presentation that rising trout is likely to spook and that cruising tarpon will soon be out of range after a couple of misfires.
Practice Makes Perfect
You cannot effectively work on any of these tips while you are distracted by the possibility of fish. The time to work these kinks out is when you can pay attention to them one at a time in a practice friendly setting. Read “Why is it Important to Practice Fly Casting?” for tips on how and where to practice your fly casting. For some advanced practice look into our private instruction with expert casters by your side offerring insight and valuable knowledge.
Fly fishing season is already here in the Rockies and one of the best ways to prepare for it is to become a better caster. Improve your casting now and avoid an on-the-water meltdown later. Stop by Vail Valley Anglers before your next trip for a casting clinic with an expert caster for more tips and personal instruction.
Andy “Otter” Smith, Guide and Content Writer