Learning to Fly Cast...the concepts
First, a word of caution...I know that it will be tempting to jump on your browser and start looking for fly casting videos...I understand. However, I want to let you know that if you do this at this point, you will see many things that do not fully conform to what is written in the pages that follow and many of them are simply bad. Why?...because many of them are done by fly fishers that are not really qualified to teach. Having a video recorder on every cell phone seems to have created many "experts". They may be decent fly casters but you will see many of the videos that show either poor form and/or bad habits they have developed over time. The videos I will lead you to are all done by expert and fully qualified fly casting instructors. You will also see that there are literally several dozen different casts associated with fly fishing. Virtually all of these other casts are "specialty" casts and most are based on the principles of the basic overhead cast that we will be concentration on in these pages.
Concepts and "Rules" of fly casting. You should view concepts as being more general in nature. Concepts should be understood and stay in the back of your mind. Rules are more specific when it comes to fly casting...if you break them, there are consequences...usually, a bad cast. So, rules stay in the front of your brain as you learn. There are not too many rules but until you really learn and understand fly casting, you should do your best to follow as many of them as you can on each and every cast. No rule is necessarily more important than the next...they all matter.
Concepts of fly casting
Concept #1: "Weight". In all other forms of fishing, there is a weight, sinker or a weighted lure at the end of the line that helps get the "bait" or lure where you want it to go. In fly fishing, there is no weight on the end of the line (the fly weighs virtually nothing)...the weight is the fly line itself. You will understand this in the first minute you pick up a fly rod. You might think of it as throwing a feather instead of a rock...
Concept #2: "Loading the rod". You might think of this a you would shooting a bow and arrow...the more the bow bends as you draw it back, the further (and faster) the arrow will go. As the bow bends more and more it "stores" more and more energy (called kinetic energy)...the same energy you expelled by drawing the bow back. When you release the arrow, all of that stored energy is quickly released and the arrow flies. It is the same with a fly rod...as the rod bends (called loading), the energy you expend in your casting motion along with the weight of the fly line is temporarily stored in the rod and that energy is quickly released when you stop the fly rod at the end of the forward and back parts of your cast. This makes the rod work for you as opposed to against you...try casting a fly with a broom stick that does not bend. As you watch videos of fly casting, you will notice that good fly casters look like they are putting very little effort into their casts...almost casually moving their arm back and forth. When properly done, the fly cast should look this way because the fly rod is doing much of the work.
Concept #3: "Always keep your fly line under control". So, you have the rod in one hand right? What do you do with your other (off) hand? If you are fly casting, the other hand must have control of your fly line. There is no rule but your line control hand should be in a comfortable and natural position generally somewhere around your waist and in front of you. You can grasp the line with one or two fingers and your thumb (most common) and just tight enough so that the line does not slip through your fingers. Do not do what so many do and that is to control the line with your hand up by the casting hand...very unnatural. If you need your off hand for something else (scratching or bug swatting), just pinch the fly line between one or two fingers of your casting hand. Just relax and do not let the line get out of your control. Simple!
Concept #4: "The fly line always follows the rod tip". Perhaps this is the simplest of the concepts as the fly line is effectively "connected" to the tip of the fly rod during the casting motion. This concept is always true and that helps explain rule #2 below.
Rules of fly casting.
Rule #1: "Eliminate slack in your fly line". When ready to cast, your rod tip should be pointing a little downward or straight in front of you in the direction you plan to cast. There should be at least 15-20 feet of fly line (weight) outside the tip of your rod. It should be more or less straight. There should be no slack line (coils) between your line control hand and either the ground or the water. In order to comply with concept #2 (loading your rod), it is always best to strip or reel in any excess line that is just laying around at your feet or close by but you must keep some line outside the rod tip. In doing this, when you raise your rod to cast, the rod will load more quickly and efficiently. Just keep in mind that you need some weight in order to load your fly rod so keep 15-20 feet of it outside the rod tip but no coils or big bends/curves in that line.
Rule #2: "Always keep your rod tip moving in a straight line". This rule applies regardless of how you view the rod tip...from overhead, from the side, the front or rear. Straight is straight...not almost straight. To be honest, I do not think anyone can move the rod tip in a perfectly straight line but that is your goal. Not only does this make the casting stroke more efficient, it will also help prevent what you will soon come to know as a "tailing loop" and other conditions that can adversely affect your casting progress. There can be several reasons for a tailing loop but this is surely one of them and there will be a bit more on this later.
Rule #3: "Short line, short stroke...longer line, longer stroke". The length of your casting stroke is important for several reasons you will come to understand. The length of your casting stroke is defined as the distance the tip of your fly travels from the stop point on the forward cast to the stop point on the back cast. If the casting stroke is too long, it will cause wide and slow loops and it will make it more difficult to get you fly line to straighten in both the front and back casts. It is a natural tendency to lengthen your casting stroke as you try to increase casting distance. If you keep your casting stroke as short as possible for the amount of line that is in the air, your loops will be tighter. Tight (narrow) loops are good...wide (open) loops are bad. This is always true.
Rule #4: "The pause". At the end of both the front and back casts there needs to be a slight pause before you start the other half of the casting stroke. This is to let the fly line that is in the air straighten out. As the amount of line in the air gets longer, the pause needs to be a little longer. If there is still a loop in the line when you start the rod in the opposite direction, you will lose line speed and it will be more difficult to keep the rod loaded...(concept #2). It the pause is too long, the line will lose all momentum and want to drop to the ground or water and then trying to recover will cause you to break several of these key rules especially #3 and #5. It will take time and practice to learn what the proper pause is for your casting stroke. It is dependent on the amount of line you have in the air and the speed of the line as it travels back and forth. On the front cast, it is easy to see if your pause is right as the line is in front of you. There is nothing wrong, especially when practicing, with looking back over your shoulder to also see the line on the back cast. Although I have not mentioned it, the front cast and the back cast should look and feel the same. The other thing about the pause is that it needs to be sudden and quick. Not like pumping the breaks on your car...more like hitting a concrete wall
Rule #5: "Acceleration". I have saved what I feel is the most difficult rule for last. Do not confuse speed with acceleration. Although they are closely related, the difference is important. Speed should be thought of as a constant rate of movement. Acceleration is increasing speed...just like pressing on the gas pedal of your car. When fly casting it is very...as in VERY important that the acceleration of the rod as it moves from a pause at either end of your cast be smooth and and steady. Start slow and keep increasing the speed or accelerating the rod until it is again in the pause position. As you accelerate your cast, you steadily increase to load on the rod (concept #2) and it bends more and more until you reach the end of the stroke with the sudden pause (rule #4). If your acceleration is not smooth and always increasing throughout the cast, the rod will not load efficiently and the loop will be affected in a negative way and you will have to work harder as the rod is dong less work.
You are making progress...learning to fly cast is a "process" click here for the next step...
For those of you that just cannot put up with more reading and no action, here is the link to the page with the links to the videos and articles I find to be the best for a beginning fly caster. I would especially like to credit Orvis and Peter Kutzer for their many fine videos on fly casting. Also, a shout out to Joan Wulff for her really great videos. Click here to find these quality videos and articles...