Fly Casting for the Beginner...
There is little that gives me more satisfaction than helping to introduce someone to a pursuit that has given me so much over so many years...I guess you could say that this website is a way for me to "pay it forward". I will warn you, fly fishing can become a bit addictive and can have an impact on your bank balance if you let it. It is certainly possible to learn to fly fish on a budget and I hope to help guide you in that process. So, to become a fly fisher, you must first become a fly caster. As you read this section, do not be deterred by its length. There have been numerous books written just on fly casting so consider this the highly condensed version. I believe that reading and generally understand the information offered below should come before you start watching videos of fly casting so you have a better idea of what you are watching. You will find numerous videos as you move through this section so just be patient.
I am not a "Certified" fly casting instructor but I was taught by one of the great fly casting teachers of our time...Mel Krieger. I have taught many people...adults and kids how to cast a fly rod. I have also watched many of them as they made their first efforts to fly fish so I have seen both the real happiness of successes as well as the "agony of defeat" of many beginners. The ability to cast a fly 20-40 feet is most often the difference between success and frustration or, worse...failure and the decision to quit before even getting started. So, if you have not yet gotten this point, learn the basics of casting and be able to apply them before you ever attempt to get on the water. It will be critical to everything that follows and will determine your future as a fly fisher. Be. patient...a fly fisher is not made in a day.
As I have stated several times, fly casting requires time and practice. If you are like many people I know, you are in a hurry to go fly fishing. The very best and fastest way to learn to fly cast is to get yourself a casting instructor/teacher that has experience teaching fly casting. There are fly casting schools and clinics in many areas that are typically taught by certified instructors...this is the best way. Other ways you might find good help is through a local fly shop or through a local fly fishing club. There are even dedicated casting clubs like the Golden Gate Angling and Casting Club in San Francisco and the Oakland Casting Club. This article and the associated links are probably the next best choice. You might have realized I have not mentioned your buddy or neighbor or your uncle...my concern about suggesting them is simple...the vast majority of fly fishers are not especially good casters and almost all of us (me included) have developed bad habits over time. Unlearning a bad habit is way more difficult than learning properly the first time.
Dozens of books and hundreds of videos and probably thousands of articles have been written and produced just about fly casting. I have read a number of the books cover to cover and read many articles and watched way too many videos in my time. Many of these books, articles and videos are excellent and well worth your time down the road. What I find troubling with much of this information is that the authors or video makers assume some readers/viewers preexisting knowledge of fly casting. I suspect I have also been guilty of this in the past. In this article, I have tried to assume no prior knowledge of fly casting. So, if you already know, or think you know, a little about fly casting some of what follows may seem repetitive or a contradiction of something you may have learned. My goal here is to help someone who has zero experience with a fly rod learn enough to make a 25-40 foot basic overhead cast...nothing more.
So let us begin...by the way, there is a test at the end of this section. It is a pass or fail test. The question is "Did you really enjoy your first day of fly fishing?"
Note: 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. 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 they 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 pretty specific when it comes to fly casting...if you break them, there are consequences like 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 to 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". 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 and 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 extremely important for several reasons you will come to understand. The length of you 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 cast 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 mo.re 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.