Fly casting tips (1-15)


You can’t do any fly fishing without doing some fly casting. These fly casting tips will help you. In spite of this obvious truth, about ninety-eight percent of all fly fishermen never take the trouble to learn the fundamentals of good fly casting.

Fly casting is easy (with these fly casting tips), if you get the fundamentals right. To do this you only need to know what those fundamentals are and to practice them enough so you can do what you know. It’s as simple as that. Here are the fundamentals:

1- Pick up the line with a smooth accelerando (start slow and finish fast) movement of the rod. You pick the line up—not back; the spring of the rod will put the line back. The cast starts (with the line tight) with your forearm parallel to the water and the rod at an angle of 22 1/2 degrees above the horizontal. During this movement your hand, arm and rod are all going upward.

2- Stop the back cast abruptly when your arm is vertical and the rod is 22 1/2 degrees back of the vertical position.

3- Pause long enough at the end of the back cast for the spring of the rod to throw the line high into the air above and behind you. This pause must be long enough for the line to almost, but not quite, straighten out in the air. It is absolutely necessary that this backcast be kept high. By this I mean that the line must extend high and straight in the air above and behind you—at an angle of at least 22 1/2 degrees above the horizontal.

4- The forward cast is again an accelerando movement. Start it slow—forward, not down; finish fast—forward-and-down—with a sharp pressure of the thumb at the end.

5- Stop the forward cast when the arm is parallel to the water and the rod 22 1/2 degrees above the horizontal. At this point the spring of the rod will straighten the line out flat along the water. You just let the line drop the last two feet through the air by itself.

This forward cast is for a delivery cast—one in which you let the fly light on the water. For a false cast, such as you use regularly in dry fly casting, you stop the forward cast earlier, when the rod is 45 degrees above the horizontal, let the line straighten out in the air in front and then make another back cast before the fly or line gets low enough to hit the water.

These are the fundamentals of the overhead cast. There are a lot of things I can tell you about how to learn to carry them out most easily.

In the first place, you’ll probably say: “This guy Steel must be a nut to expect me to measure an angle of just 22 1/2 degrees in the air—especially that half a degree.”

Well, it isn’t so hard because from the horizontal to the vertical is 90 degrees, a quarter of a full circle. 22 1/2 degrees is just one quarter of this 90° segment.

You’ll find, in doing it, that it’s a lot easier to judge a 22 1/2 degree raise of the rod than it is a 15, 20, or 25 degree raise. Take a pencil in your hand now and try it. Wasn’t I right?

In learning fly casting, don’t worry about whether you have a pool or pond or river or any other water to cast over. You can learn just as well, and perhaps even better, on a lawn, in your back yard, in a convenient school yard, or even in a gymnasium.

A beginner who has never fly cast at all can learn more easily on a lawn than on water because his line and leader won’t sink at the start of the cast. Actually, you can learn almost any place where you have about fifty feet clear in front of you and about forty feet clear behind you. Of course, you need enough room overhead for your line to clear at the top end of the back cast.

Allright, here go with the fly casting tips.

Fly casting tip 1

Thinking through your cast

In learning to fly cast well, the first thing to do is to think through every correct action you are going to make in one complete cast. This is good common sense if you remember one basic thing: every physical action you make is performed by muscles that are either consciously or subconsciously controlled.

Before a muscular habit is learned your mind must consciously be educated by repeated mental consideration of the exact movement, or movements, that will correctly execute the physical action you want. After the conscious mind has been correctly trained, it is then easy with a little practice to train the subconscious mind to take over the job; in a very little while, you have a habit formed of doing this physical act correctly and without even thinking about it.

That’s the way it is with fly casting. Learn to think the action through correctly. Know what you want to do, why your own actions will bring the results needed in casting a fly properly, and you will have mastered the fundamentals of good casting. Then you can do it anywhere—on a lawn, stream, lake, or tournament casting platform.

Fly casting tip 2

How to start

Now the next fly casting tip. Let’s suppose you are in the center of a lawn ready to cast. Clip off the point and barb of the fly. Pull out twenty-five feet of line and leader on the grass. If you are right handed, take the rod in your right hand, pointing forward with the reel on the lower side of the rod. Grasp the butt of the rod with your thumb extended along the upper side.

The thumb should lie flat along the upper side of the handle of the rod. Grasp the rod firmly between the thumb and the index finger with the handle of the rod flat across the palm of the hand. The lower end of the rod handle rests firmly against the heel of the hand. The rod is supported by the thumb and index finger. The other three fingers are merely closed over the handle to support and strengthen the grip when necessary. The pressure points are the underside of the thumb, the inside surface of the index finger and the heel of the hand.

Fly casting tip 3

Wrist action grip

If you happen to be one of those fishermen who have, through years of practice, become accustomed to using a wrist action in fly casting, and your wrist is strong enough to stand the heavy strain of all day casting, then grip your rod with the thumb at the side of the grip. In this grip the pressure points are the side of the thumb, the side of the index finger, and the heel of the hand.

The wrist action cast is more tiring and harder to learn for fly casting than a full or free-arm action.

This man casts mostly with an arm movement, merely moving the wrist as a minor part of the action.

The fundamentals of fly casting are the action and rhythm of the rod and line. These fundamentals may be achieved by either the arm or wrist action.

The so-called wrist-action cast is really a combination of arm and wrist action. I advise the arm action cast because it is less tiring and easier to learn with the same amount of practice. It is also much more simple to get a high back cast with an arm movement made without bending the wrist.

Got the picture? Dozens of fly casting tips to go

Fly casting tip 4

Body position

Let’s return now to our beginning caster. The best position of the body for fly casting, for a right handed caster, is with the right foot a little in advance of the left and pointing in the direction of the line. The weight should be on both feet, the right shoulder forward and the body erect. After you have learned the fundamentals of fly casting and can execute them by habit you’ll find you will be able to cast from a lot of different positions, as you do in wading a trout stream or sitting down in a boat or canoe; but in the beginning, better stick to this “best position.”

Fly casting tip 5

Arm and rod position

The upper part of the right arm should point downward, with the elbow slightly advanced and the forearm parallel to the ground. Hold the rod, as I told you before, at an angle of 22 1/2 degrees above the horizontal.

There is one important point for the beginner to remember. In fly casting, the right elbow should become the pivot of the rod, the hand is the socket, which, with the wrist firmly controlled, makes the forearm and the butt of the rod act as one continuous part of the rod.

Fly casting tip 6

The lift

For this fly casting tip, raise the tip of the rod steadily and vertically upward (on water this brings the line to the surface of the water and starts it moving towards you), and without stopping this lifting movement, convert it into a powerful upward-and-backward motion of the rod to a definite and considered angle of 22 1/2 degrees back of the vertical. At this point your forearm should be vertical (the 12:00 o’clock position many call it).

Fly casting tip 7

Accelerando movement

I want to emphasize that this upward and backward lifting motion of the rod must be an accelerando movement. It starts slow and finishes fast. If you start the cast fast and then finish it with a slow motion, as most beginners do, the line will come back too low—maybe hit you in the face or hit the rod—and the line will flop weakly down behind you on the back cast. This will cause a big, round, floppy loop in the line on the forward cast. Your fly will go up in the air but not far out in front of you and the line will fall down in a bunch.

About that time you’ll think fly casting is the bunk and want to quit. But don’t get discouraged. Just stick with these fundamentals I’m giving you and you’ll wind up as one of those fly casters other fishermen come miles to see.

Fly casting tip 8

Back cast

Be sure that at the end of the back cast you stop the arm and rod sharply and firmly. In this whole upward and backward lifting motion the wrist is kept firmly controlled and not bent backward like a hinge. This bending of the wrist is the chief fault of beginners—and one most mediocre casters never get over. It spoils the power and rhythm of the lift in the back cast and, by letting the rod go back of the 22 1/2 degree angle at the end of the back cast, makes the line go too low behind, take a big, floppy loop, and thus ruin the forward cast.

In order to overcome this wrist-bending fault, your attention should be concentrated on your forefinger and thumb during the lift of the back cast and during the abrupt stop of the rod at the end of the back cast. If you think of squeezing your thumb and index finger firmly together it will lock your wrist and prevent the wrist-bending fault. With practice this will become a habit and you will forget all about it.

Keep on practicing the back cast until it is consistently high and straight and fairly smooth. A good back cast is the most important single element in fly casting. Without a good back cast you can’t have a good forward cast. But with a good back cast you will nearly always get a good forward cast. Happy with this fly casting tip?

Fly casting tip 9

The pause

The length of the pause at the end of the back cast must vary with the length of line used. The longer the line the longer the pause required for it to straighten out in the air behind you. In many cases, it has helped beginners to have them say aloud, as they start the back cast, “Up-and-thumb.” At the word “Up” they start the lift, or pick-up, movement. The word “and” comes during the pause at the end of the back cast when your arm and wrist must be held still and rigid while the line straightens out behind.

You start the forward cast with the saying of the word “thumb.” This little trick of auto-suggestion helps not only with the timing of the pause between the back and forward casts but helps to concentrate your attention on your thumb —which actually starts the rod forward.

Fly casting tip 10

Forward cast

This fly casting tip is again an accelerando movement. You start it slow, with a sort of spearing motion as if you were going to thrust the rod point-first into the sky in front of you and at a level of little higher than your head. This slow start and spearing action gives your forward cast unusual power and drives it through rough wind and bumpy air conditions. It also is the greatest guarantee of the narrow loop of the line in the forward cast that is the universal sign of a good fly caster.

Without any pause, the forward thrust of the rod is blended into a forward-and-downward motion of the forearm, hand and rod until the forearm is parallel with the ground and the rod held at an angle of 22 1/2 degrees above the horizontal. Just before the end of the forward cast, a sharp pressure of the thumb on the rod handle puts a finishing zip into the cast.

The rod should be stopped firmly at this point so that the line, leader and fly will roll in a narrow loop straight out towards the place you want the fly to light. From this point on you let the rod and forearm sink down easily and smoothly to a position where the rod is parallel with the water and the forearm a little below that.

Fly casting tip 11

Fly delivery

It is important that you should not make the mistake of “putting the fly down under power” for this fly casting tip, as the tournament casters phrase it. The idea is to straighten the line, leader and fly out flat with the fly about two feet above the water (or lawn) and then let it drop straight down. Do not drive the fly into the water. You’ll scare all the fish out of that section if you do.

Fly casting tip 12

False casts

Dry fly casting makes it necessary to make a number of false casts in the air to dry the fly and line. These false casts are also used to measure the distance you want to extend or shorten your line, and to change the direction or character of your cast.

The way you make a false cast is to stop the forward cast when the rod is at an angle of 45 degrees above the horizontal. You pause then just long enough for the line to straighten out in front—no longer—and then make another back cast. The line should extend forward in these false casts in a straight line and with a narrow loop. It is just as important to keep your back casts high and straight while false casting as on a delivery cast.

In learning to cast, it is better not to practice too long at a time. At the very beginning, about five minutes’ practice is enough. Rest a few minutes, then try it again. Your muscles don’t learn anything when they are tired.

In the beginning, you can set the correct motions, angles and timing of the cast in your mind by repeating them at intervals with just a pencil in your hand. You’d be surprised how much the proper training of your mind has to do with your future success as a fly caster.

Fly casting tip 13

Wrist-action fly casting

If you are one of the fishermen I mentioned earlier who are too set in their ways of casting with a wrist-action to be able to change, don’t worry about it. For you, the next fly casting tip. Use the wrist-action grip I described before; be very sure that you do not bring your rod back of 22 1/2 degrees behind the vertical position. The rod positions for this cast are just the same as for the arm-action cast. However, in making the back cast, be sure you stop the upward movement of your arm whenever your bending wrist movement has brought the rod to the stopping position, 22 1/2 degrees back of the vertical. Otherwise you will get a low back cast which will spoil your forward cast.

In the wrist-action cast, the final flip just before the end of the forward cast is made with the wrist instead of by thumb-pressure.

Fly casting tip 14

What you cast

One important fact explains much of the difference between fly and bait casting. In fly casting you cast not the fly but the weight of the line. The rod acts as a spring. In order to bring out the power of this spring, the weight of the line combined with the impulse given the rod by the caster’s hand must bend the rod. The reaction of the rod to this bending is what casts your line—both in the back cast and the forward cast.

You don’t really cast the line at all. You just put the right bend in the rod at the right time—and your rod does the rest. If you’ll consider that fact carefully you’ll understand many of the mysteries of fly casting.

Most beginners try to cast with too long a line—and try to lengthen their line before they have thoroughly learned the correct form with a short line.

Accuracy is more important than distance in fly casting. More fish are caught with a line under thirty-five feet than over that distance. So get your casting form right first before you do anything else.

Fly casting tip 15


After your casting form is correct and automatic, the next thing to learn is accuracy. Place some kind of target on the lawn or water. Floating rings thirty inches in diameter make the most useful targets. Old bicycle rims are all right. On the lawn, cardboard targets cut in a circular shape are good. Practice casting at these targets, still being careful not to get away from the casting form you have learned.