Casting is your biggest challenge as a fly fisher. Sure, fly selection is important. So is reading water. However, if you can’t cast, you can’t catch fish. Improve your casting and you’ll improve your catch rate.
Before you hire a guide or take fly casting lessons from your local fly shop (both are great strategies), here are some “short” adjustments you can make on the fly (pun intended). Trying these immediately might lead to immediate casting improvement.
Shorten Your Casting Distances
I am continually surprised at how many trout I catch with casts of 10 to 15 feet. This is true even in big rivers like the Madison in Montana or the Yellowstone in Yellowstone National Park. If you are struggling with accuracy, limit your casts to 10-15 feet. You will find plenty of fish within this range.
Don’t forget that a lot of the fish in the river live and eat right next to the bank.
Shorten Your Arm Action
Some fly fishers cast like symphony orchestra conductors. They wave their arms, and sway their upper. Perhaps the “shadow casting” scene in A River Runs Through It has inspired this technique. However, all you need to do to make your rod work for you is to flick your wrist.
Practice this before you even pick up your rod: Make a pistol out of your hand (index finger pointing forward, thumb pointing up). Snap your wrist down, then snap it up. Do this over and over. It’s the motion you want to use when you pick up your fly rod to make a cast.
You can move your arm as you flick your wrist. But think of yourself as a baseball catcher trying to throw out a runner attempting to steal second base. The key to a strong throw is the flick of your wrist. The same is true of casting a fly rod.
You’ll be shocked how easily the line shoots out with minimal effort when you put some snap in your cast.
Shorten Your Stroke
I’m still an advocate of viewing your fly rod as a hand on a clock (with apologies to those of you who have long since ditched clocks with ‘hands’ for digital models).
Begin with your rod pointed straight up in the air at the 12 o’clock position. Then, snap it back to 11 o’clock and snap it forward to 1 o’clock. In reality, your back cast may take you to 10, and your forward cast may take you to 2. But if your rod extends to 9 o’clock on your back cast, your fly line is likely to hit the water or the brush.
In my experience, the most egregious casting errors involve the back cast. So concentrate on it. The forward cast usually takes care of itself.
Note that the point of the 11 to 1 approach is not hitting the precise numbers on an imaginary clock. Rather, you are trying to shorten your stroke. If your back cast is too long, your cast will lose energy—not to mention the problems you’ll create by slapping the water or snagging the brush behind you.
Limit the Number of False Casts to Improve Your Casting
The more false casts you make, the more chance you have of snagging brush, creating tangles, and spooking fish.
Why, then, do fly fishers (myself included) make so many false casts?
I’ve pondered this question and have a couple of answers: First, we want our casting rhythm to feel “right.” It may take several false cases to get into the right rhythm. But trout do not award style points for your casting. Nor does the right rhythm guarantee a better cast. Second, I suspect the biggest reason for more false casting is the fear of a wrong landing. So we keep casting our line back and forth in the air.
However, the best fly casters make one back cast and then place the line on the water on the forward cast. There are, of course, exceptions. As long as I’m not false casting over the water, I will make a few false casts to dry out a water-logged dry fly. Also, if I’m making a longer cast, it may take me two or three extra casts in order to let out a sufficient amount of line.
However, as already noted, to improve your casting, shorter casts ought to be the rule — not the exception.
Less is often more. These short adjustments may seem rather simplistic. But they work. They can lead to more effective casting, which leads to catching more fish. So remember, shorten up for success to improve your casting.