Many fly fishermen struggle to cast. I am no exception, my casting is not always the best. Shorter casts, with light flies are fine, But my casts deteriorate rapidly at distances beyond about 40ft. I know what I do wrong, and if I concentrate I can even fix them. But bad habits are hard to break.
With a lot of practice, training, and time on the river everyone’s casting does improve, and with the right guidance, good habits replace bad. But, the reality of the situation, is that many fishermen simply do not have enough time to work on their casting. Some even struggle to get out fishing more than a few times per season.
So many fishermen will never be good casters, but that should not necessarily prevent them from catching fish. In this guide, I will provide some easy-to-implement tips which will help anglers catch trout no matter their casting ability.
1) Reduce the number of false casts.
Some fly fishermen love false casts, they stand out on the river their flies spend more time gliding back and forth than in the water.
Unless you are trying to dry a saturated fly or posing for a photo, multiple false casts usually do more harm than good. If you feel the need to do more than three false casts, you are probably doing too many.
Every false cast is another chance something will go wrong, often resulting in a cast that collapses in on itself. If I do not need distance, I usually try to avoid overhead casting as much as possible, the roll cast causes fewer problems and is a great tool for short casts.
- The longer a fly line spends flying through the air the greater the chance it will spook fish. It might not spook the fish you are targeting, but how about the smaller ones which you have not seen? Spooking one trout is often like dominoes, and the rest will follow in quick pursuit.
- More false cast increases the chance of wind knots, or accidentality tangling that tree branch 30 feet behind.
- Too often, one too many false casts eventually ruin the rhythm of the cast. Resulting in the line crumbling down into a mess.
Ideally, I try to load my cast on the pickup, include a haul to increase line speed and present my line on the first cast. For shorter casts, false casts are rarely required and I only seem to do them when attempting to cast further than my ability allows.
2) If you can not cast far enough, move closer
Imagine this, you spot a feeding fish about 70ft upstream. Maybe it is rising like clockwork sipping mayflies off the surface. It is a prime fish to catch.
The only problem is that you can only reliably cast out to 50ft, any longer simply turns into a disaster with tangled leaders and massive splashes as the fly line crushes down in a heap.
So rather than spooking the trout by piling line all around it, simply move closer as stealthily as possible. Yes, moving closer will risk spooking the fish, but turning the water to foam with inaccurate cast after inaccurate cast certainly will.
3) Stealth, stealth, stealth
While stealth, and remaining outside a trout’s vision of sight is always important. It is doubly so for as bad casters because we need to get closer to the fish than someone with more skills.
So learning to move as stealthily as possible is essential.
- Dress appropriately: I am not suggesting dressing up like an army sniper in a ghillie suit, but certainly give your clothing some thought. Avoid excessively bright and bold colors, and try to break up your silhouette with various shades.
- Stay low: Try and stay close to the ground, and avoid standing on high objects. Yes, getting high makes trout easier to see, but they can also see us easier.
- Use the surroundings: I love to hide behind structure while fly fishing. It could be a large boulder in the middle of the river, or some scrubby bush clinging to the bank. Anything to break up our form.
- Move slowly: Try and walk in a slow, calm manner. Avoid unnecessary jerky or quick movements.
4) Use properly balance gear
Do not make casting harder than it needs to be by using inappropriate gear.
Remember that the weight of the fly line is what casts the fly. The wrong weight fly line for the types of flies you intend to use, you will cause a lot of casting and control issues.
A 3wt line will cast better and give much better control when fishing a #20 dry fly than it will if attempting to cast a #1 streamer. Likewise, an 8wt will handle the #1 streamer much easier, and any control over that tiny #20 dry will likely be overwhelmed.
Using the correct leader/tippet combination for your fly is even more important than line weight. After all, when casting y the momentum from the fly line needs to travel through the leader to properly turn over the fly.
A thin leader, simply can not transfer enough inertia to properly turn over and present a heavy fly. So for ease of casting it is important to match the tippet diameter with the size of the fly you plan. So use 2X or 3X diameter tippet when fishing heavy nymphs or streamers, but when tieing on a #18 dry it is better to change to a 5X or even 6X tippet.
Unless the trout are super spooky, or the eye of the hook is microscopic there is usually no need to fish lighter than 6X even for the tiniest of flies.
– Leader length: The longer the leader the more difficult it becomes to cast. So if you are having trouble casting, it is better to make an accurate cast with a short leader than a crumpled cast with a leader that is beyond your capability to cast.
Sure an expert caster, might spook fewer fish when using a 12ft leader but that is only the cast for fishermen with the skills to present such a leader.
– Fly line color: Fly fishermen love to debate among themselves, and one of the biggest debates is about wither the color of the fly line matters. A highly visible line is easier to see, which can make casting easier. But it is also easier for the trout to see.
If you have the skills, to keep the fly line away from the trout then a high visibility fly line will likely cause few problems. If your casting is lacking, then why take the risk? Use a less visible line.
5) Shooting heads exist
Here is a tip for any dedicated steamer fisherman. Shooting heads exist and they cast like a bullet.
I personally like to use an integrated shooting head such as the ones found on the Teeny T-series of lines. I spend a lot of time standing at river mouths with other anglers, when using a shooting head I can easily match the distance of the top casters with a fraction of the skill or effort.
Shooting heads do have their limitations, they are nowhere near as precise, and I will never use one where the finesse of presentation is important. But for casting out, and stripping in big streamers they excel, and using them has greatly increased the number of fish I have caught.
6) Resort to other techniques
I am not suggesting getting out the spinning rod or baitcaster, but it is possible to catch trout on a fly rod without needing a full overhead cast.
The most well known fly fishing technique that does not require a proper cast is dapping, this is a technique where you allow the fly to touch the water without any fly line or leader getting wet. It basically involves just dropping or throwing the fly line out.
Do not get mistaken in the belief that dapping only works for small trout in small streams. I was able to trick a 7lb brown trout in a crystal clear New Zealand water doing exactly that. I have been targeting that trout over a period of a few weeks, but the layout of her pool meant it was nearly impossible to present a drag free fly without spooking her. She was always on edge and certainly beyond my skills at the time.
So I crawled along the river bank until I was opposite her lie, and simply threw a pheasant tail nymph just in front of her. Seconds later, she ate it.
7) Be patient, spend time just observing
In still water, or large pools trout are likely to cruise repeated laps along the same route. So unless something spooks them, it is possible to seat and wait and learn the exact path a trout swim.
In such a situation, it is possible to wait for the trout to be swimming well away and cast a fly out and just leave it there for the trout to intersect on its next route away.
By being patient and learning the trout’s routine, then it is possible to make your cast when the trout is furthest away. Even a loud, splashy done with little finesse will not spook it.
8) Learn to sight fish and spot more trout
For many anglers, who struggle with casting. Learning how to sight fish first, and targeting specific trout can do wonders.
There are many advantages when casting a visible fish, such as the ability to immediately attempt to correct any mistake. It is also possible to figure out how deep you need to be fishing. This reduces the number of casts required, which in turn reduces the chances of something going wrong.
Read this guide for more information on sight fishing, and how to spot more trout.