By Spencer Durrant
Fly casting is the main difference between fly fishing and conventional fishing. Fly casting is, I think, the hardest skill to learn for new fly anglers, especially if they fished with conventional rods beforehand. But fly casting isn’t some mystical art form that defies mastery.
I’m not an expert caster. I’ll never win a distance casting competition. But I can often get my flies where I want them, and that’s the definition of successful fly casting. If you can deliver flies on target, without spooking fish, that’s all that matters. The rest is just window dressing.
Today, we’ll look at a few different tips I use when guiding that have helped my clients improve their casting.
Tips to Improve your Fly Casting
Before we dive into the tips, I just want to reiterate that the only way to really improve as a caster is through practice. Back when I first started fly fishing, I practiced casting on my front lawn a ton. I still throw casts on my front lawn, trying out different rods for gear reviews (or testing the rods I built myself).
So, even if you can’t get to the water for some casting practice, a lawn will do just fine.
1. Feel the Rod
The first thing I try to teach new fly anglers about casting is that they need to pay attention to the feedback they receive from their fly rod. Fly rods are designed to give anglers more feedback than conventional fishing rods. This feedback allows you to get a feel for the correct timing of your casting.
In particular, you need to pay attention to how the rod feels at the end of your front and back cast. When you move your fly rod forward or backwards, your fly line follows in a loop. As those loops straighten out, the balance of weight and energy shifts, creating a noticeable difference in how your fly rod feels in-hand.
I call this “feeling the load” of the line. If you can feel the load, you know (without looking at your fly line) that the fly line is straightened out and it’s time to move into the next casting motion. For example, if you pay attention to how your rod feels when your fly line straightens out behind you, you’ll know without needing to look that it’s time to move the rod onto the forward cast.
As you pay attention to the feedback from your fly rod, you’ll be able to nail the timing you need in order to execute accurate casts.
2. Go Easy With It
A common theme I see in folks new to fly casting is that they’re far too forceful during the casting process. Fly rods, unlike conventional fishing poles, don’t need very much effort in order to get them to perform. Soft, deliberate movements are all you need to get fly line moving in tight loops overhead.
Instead of putting all your strength into the fly cast, focus on keeping your form good, your tip straight, and finding the rhythm of the cast. You’ll be surprised at just how little effort it takes to make an effective fly cast.
3. Track the Tip
If you’ve read any reviews of fly rods, you might have read about rods that “track” well. Tracking refers to the movement of a fly rod’s tip during a fly cast. The rod tip should travel in a straight line – both vertically and horizontally – between the forward and back cast.
Now, some fly rods an inherently good at tracking, due to their construction. But you can ensure your rod tip tracks straight by watching it during your cast. If you find that you’re not getting casts as accurate as you’d like, watch the tip. If it’s tracking straight, your casts should be straight, too.
4. Forget the Rod
Sometimes, it’s helpful to set your fly rod down and focus only on the mechanics of a good fly cast. Effective fly casting is really just good, crisp movements of your arm and wrist. If you’re struggling with your cast, set the rod down and just make the casting motions with your hand. As you do this, you’ll develop muscle memory which will in turn help you lock in what you need to do in order to be a better fly caster.
5. Slow Down
The most important tip I give to clients and new anglers is that they need to slow down. While today’s fly rods are faster than those of yesteryear, they’re not line rockets. You’re not here to shoot line at high speeds towards a fish. Doing that is a surefire way to spook fish, actually.
Slow your casting down. Take the time to pay attention to every part of the fly casting process. As you slow down and examine what you’re doing, you’ll notice that you’re better able to feel the load of the line and determine how to best improve your casting.
Fly casting is tons of fun, and I think it’s part of what makes fly fishing itself so addictive. Becoming a good fly caster is less about mastery of some arcane set of guidelines, and far more about practice. Once you have a casting motion down that allows you to feel the load of the line, and that delivers flies accurately to your targets, continue to perfect and polish that motion.
Oh, and don’t forget to practice fly casting. I still do, and I’ve been fly fishing since I was six years old.