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Trouts Journal

Fly casting: basic tips and techniques, plus practice, practice, practice

Ivan Orsic / Feb 28, 2012

Meanwhile, every experienced angler knows all too well that there are good days and bad days. Casting a fly rod is a lot like playing golf: practice and more practice will hone the skill and make it more possible to replicate the proper movements time and again. Even a Phil Mickelson or a Lefty Krey, on his best day, shanks one into the trees. But they keep on practicing.

The object of mastering the cast in fly fishing, like the art of mastering the game of golf, isn’t to be perfect 100% of the time, but rather to minimize the flaws and mistakes. Once the participant figures out what works, how to control the club or the rod in various conditions and situations, the trick then becomes building a sort of muscle memory that will repeat the proper form over and over again without the mind interjecting too much. It’s the old adage: practice, practice, practice.

The truth is that fly casting can’t be taught in a blog post. Some of the basics can be addressed, and some food for thought can be brought to bear, but eventually the prospective fly fisher will have to put a rod in hand and give it a whirl. While most experts in the fly casting game have different points of view on how to approach the subject, to a person they agree on one point: hands-on experience and training under the guidance of an experienced teacher/instructor is invaluable. And, by the way, this is true for the beginner or the veteran (indeed, the highest ranked professional golfers probably have more professional instruction each week than most amateurs have all year).

The first tip on fly casting, especially for the beginner, is to find an instructor, take a class, or get an experienced friend to show you the way. The best place to learn the basics of the fly cast is on the river, of course, since it will present you with real-world conditions. However, casting ponds can be good instructional places, as can open space like a park. Just be sure to watch for people and obstructions, especially power lines and small children.

What follows are some of the tips and ideas we have gleaned from the world of fly fishing as it related to learning how to cast.

The gear

You must begin with the rod and reel properly strung - beginners should be shown how to do this at their “pro” shop. But nevertheless, you want to make sure the fly rod is lined up properly and that the line is fed through the guides in a straight line so it won’t cinch or knot.

The grip

Most experienced casters place their casting-hand thumb on the top of the cork handle with the thumb pointing forward down the shaft of the rod. Directly underneath is the index finger, with the remaining fingers grasping the rod so as to secure it in the palm of the hand. The idea here is that the cast itself is controlled by the thumb and the index finger – that’s where all the feel is from – with the rest of the hand keeping the rod handle in balance. Most experts believe that the best grip is a loose one, but the tightness or laxity of the grip will be determined by the strength of the line and the size of the intended catch. In other words, you’ll have to grip a bit hard for the higher-weight lines.

The wrist

There is a real divergence of opinion on the use of the wrist in fly casting. There are those experienced fly casters who believe the wrist and the forearm should act as if they are welded together, and there are others equally as experienced who believe that a controlled wrist flick is key to the proper cast. Either way the object is to use one way or the other – either fixed or flicked – as the main stopping and starting lever in propelling the rod (and therefore the line) in its proper motion, both back and forward, to exact the perfect cast.

The stance

As in golf, the right stance will pay off – but it can different between anglers. Some like to go with the square stance – feet planted firmly, about the width of the shoulders apart, toes pointed forward on a line toward the desired landing zone. Still others go with a slightly open stance, where the toes are pointed out just a tad with the stance open toward the landing spot. With the first the cast will go over the shoulder directly; with the latter the cast will go slightly across in the direction of the non-casting hand. Regardless of chosen stance, the caster should be loose and relaxed.

Finally, the cast

Once again, there are as many schools of thought as there are experienced anglers, but the one point most seem to agree on has to do with the length of the intended cast as it relates to effort made. For the short cast, movement is isolated mostly in the hand and forearm; the longer the cast, the more body motion will come into play. As in golf, the shorter shot requires the feel and control of the hands and forearm, while reaching the green in two requires body and hip momentum to power the swing and propel the ball.

If you’re a right-handed caster, you’ll use your left hand to hold the line and the line slack and act as a guide as the line goes forward (reverse this for left-handed casting). Some anglers recommend beginning the cast with the tip of the rod down – not high as in 9 o’clock or 10 o’clock. Others seem to suggest beginning high, and removing slack with the line hand. Going back, there seems to be consensus that somewhere between 1 and 2 o’clock is the optimum stopping point, and then moving the rod tip forward, again to an abrupt stop, somewhere between 11 and 10 o' clock. Accelerate the rod tip through each stroke, and come to an immediate stop at the end. The object is to keep the arc of the flyline in line with the rod and the direction of the tip. If the movement starts to get circular the cast will go from outside to inside, (or the reverse, depending on forward cast or backcast), losing line speed as a result of the “wobble.”

Now practice!

There is so much more to casting a fly line than this, and it changes with the length and flex of the rod, the weight of the line, the weather conditions, and much much more. But you can see from these few basics that what’s most important is the instruction your get, and the practice you do. Familiarity is what makes the heart grow fonder, contrary to popular belief.

For all of your fly fishing needs – including instruction, gear, flies, and camaraderie – look to the premier source in the Rocky Mountain West, Trout’s Fly Fishing, conveniently located halfway between Cherry Creek and downtown in the heart of Denver. For complete information call 877-464-0034.

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