Reach that faraway target
or how to reduce fly-casting fatigue
by Randy Kadish
To be able to fly cast eighty feet or not. Does it matter? No, argue many dry
fly anglers. After all, since we fight drag by having slack line on the water, we can't
mend or set the hook with eighty feet of line out. But wait, insist streamer anglers.
Since we feel strikes by having tight line on the water, we can set the hook with eighty
feet of line out. Well, like they say: there are two sides to every argument. And
sometimes a third or fourth.
Consider this scenario: You're fishing a fast, rocky river, so instead of wading you're
making long casts. But you keep missing your targets. And even though it's the first day
of your fishing trip, you're already exhausted. Is there any way around these problems?
I'll answer the question this way: you show me an angler who can cast eighty or ninety
feet, and I'll show you an angler who can accurately and almost effortlessly cast fifty or
sixty feet. And so for four frustrating and often discouraging years I experimented with
long-distance fly casting techniques. Now that I have dramatically increased my casting
distance, I'd like to share those techniques with you. But before I begin let me say I'm
well aware of the "Lefty Kreh" method of long-distance fly casting. My purpose
is not to compete with that method, but simply to describe another, because I believe each
caster should experiment with as many techniques as possible and see what works for him or
Use a short piece of string or a rubber band for a fly. A long, nine-foot leader
will help reveal some of your casting defects. During each practice, try to focus on one
technique. Don't worry about putting all the techniques together until you feel good at
The long-line pickup
POWER STANCE AND GRIP
(I'll assume you're right-handed.) Start with your feet about shoulder-width
apart, a little closer for more power, a little wider for better balance. If you're
casting vertically put your left foot forward and point it at the target. Point your right
foot about thirty degrees to the right of the target. If you're casting off to the side,
point both feet a little more outward. Bend your knees and put your weight on the ball of
your front foot. To make a long-line pickup, bend forward and hold the line close to the
stripping guide. Point the rod at the water, with the rod tip about an inch above the
surface. Grip the rod lightly with a slightly bent thumb on the side or on the top of the
The back cast and downward haul
As a general rule, casting slightly upward will help keep your loops tight; so,
if there is no head or tail wind, aim your first backcast upward about thirty degrees. Aim
the rest of your false casts and your presentation cast slightly lower angle or parallel
to the water. (If you aim your presentation cast too high the belly of your fly line will
pull your cast down and kill it prematurely.) And remember: apply maximum force only at
the end of your presentation cast. However, at least four basic casting defects will cause
your cast to lose power, and therefore change your intended trajectory:
1. Starting your cast after, or well before, your cast has unrolled
and, in effect, shortening your casting stroke.
2. Accelerating your backcast haul too slowly. (Since there is no
backcast wrist snap, your hauling acceleration should be faster on your backcasts than on
your forward casts.)
3. Casting a weighted fly too hard. (When the line unrolls the fly
will pull it down.)
4. Shooting line without increasing the acceleration of your casting
stroke and your haul.
The forward, false cast and downward
haul finish position
ANGLE OF THE ROD
Some casters argue the vertical cast is the most efficient. Others disagree and
cast with the rod tip pointed outward. Besides, they say, this is a safer way to fish.
Maybe so, but in my opinion, if your cast is not under powered, and if you do not move
your rod hand in a convex motion and lower the rod tip from the target line, the fly will
not hit you or the rod.
The following casting defects will cause you to move your hand in a convex motion:
1. Pulling your elbow back during the backcast. (Your elbow should
move back only because of your rearward body rotation.)
2. Beginning your forward cast with your elbow behind your rod hand,
and therefore being unable to lead with your elbow during your loading move.
3. Breaking your wrist more than halfway during your forward-cast
power snap. (To prevent this, try to pretend you're hammering a nail.)
4. Lowering, instead of just rotating, your shoulders.
5. Stopping the rod too late in your casting stroke. (This sometimes
happens because of starting your weight shift before your casting stroke, or because of
quickly accelerating you backcast, but then not abruptly stopping the rod with a short,
6. Beginning your cast with your rod hand too low for your intended
trajectory. (For example: if you want to execute a cast parallel to the surface, you must
finish your back and forward casts with your rod hand at the same level.)
7. Casting with your elbow too far out from your body.
8. Having your right foot too far back or pointing too far outward.
But in the real world of fishing, even the best casters make imperfect casts; so I
recommend wearing sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat, using shorter leaders, and casting
heavy flies with the rod tip out to the side. To simplify my descriptions I'll assume
you're casting vertically. (If you're casting to the out to the side, adjust your rod-hand
position more outward and less upward.)
Hands together at the end of back
First, remove all slack from line. Slowly start your cast by lifting your elbow,
and moving the rod in sync with your rearward weight shift. Slowly tighten your grip. (If
you started the cast with your shoulders about forty-five degrees to the target, do not
move your right shoulder back more than a few inches.) When the rod butt reaches twelve
o'clock to the target line, quickly increase your acceleration - I call this my power
acceleration - and execute your haul. (More about hauling later.) For maximum power, keep
looking straight ahead. When the fly comes off the water, abruptly stop the butt at about
one o'clock. Your weight should be on your right heel if your rod position was vertical,
on the outside of your right foot if your rod position was out to the side.
Ease up on your grip. (Some casters feel they increase their power by rotating their
forearm and palm outward during their backcast so that they can then execute their forward
power snap with a sharp, twisting motion.) On your next backcast, you'll lower your
trajectory, but since you'll also rotate the imaginary clock face, you'll still stop the
rod butt at about one o'clock, with your forearm still at about twelve o'clock. If you're
casting vertically your right elbow should be a few inches behind your left shoulder, and
point outward at an angle of about sixty degrees to the target. Your wrist should be at
about eye-level. If your loop turns sideways or swings open, you moved the rod in a
curving motion or pulled your elbow out and back on your backcast.
HAULS AND DRIFTS
The more line you are false casting the faster and longer you'll have to haul.
If you're using a weight-forward line, begin your cast with most of the belly of the line
outside the rod tip. Once you've retrieved enough line to start the cast, pull off about
three feet of line from the reel. (This will help keep your line from tangling.)
Start your backcast. Keeping your hands at the same level, accelerate them upwards
during your loading move. Begin your power acceleration and your downward, backcast haul
at the same time. Haul at an angle of about sixty degrees the water; so that at the end of
the haul your line hand is at about eight o'clock. (To lengthen your haul, execute it at a
steeper angle.) Haul hard enough to keep your loop tight, but if you haul too hard in
relation to the acceleration used on your casting stroke, you'll add slack, probably near
your line hand. To avoid this, slow down your haul and speed up your stroke. Stop the rod
and haul at the same time. Immediately begin your upward haul at the same speed the line
is unrolling. (If you still add slack, your downward haul was too long, or your cast was
under powered.) Do not prematurely move the rod tip back! When the fly passes you, turn
your head, but not your shoulders, and watch the line unroll. As you give line back, move
your line hand up to, but not passed, your rod hand. Not moving your line hand up far
enough may cause you to begin your forward cast by moving your rod hand before or faster
than you move your line hand. Since this will add slack between your hands, you won't
fully load the rod, and your cast might collapse. And remember: the stronger the wind you
are casting into, the shorter you should haul.
To make a long, presentation cast you must add a drift move after your last back cast.
So, keeping your wrist stiff, your elbow in place, and your shoulders level, move your rod
hand back, but not passed your rear shoulder. Slightly break your wrist, and lower the rod
to between two and three o'clock. (If you added slack you probably drifted too fast.)
On false casts, unless you're trying to change trajectories, shorten or eliminate your
drift, and therefore reduce the risk of adding slack. On your presentation cast, haul as
hard as possible, and concentrate on stopping the rod and letting go of the line at the
same time. (Momentum should force your line hand well behind your front thigh.) To make an
effective backcast haul, I find it helpful to visualize a loose rope connecting my rod and
line hands. When I stop my rod, I imagine the rope completely tightening and stopping my
The presentation cast finish position
FORWARD AND PRESENTATION CASTS
We should start the forward cast just before the backcast completely straightens
out and tugs on the rod tip. (The heavier my fly the earlier I begin my cast, especially
my backcast.) To start your forward false cast, keeping looking over your rear shoulder
and push off your back foot. With your wrist locked, begin your forward cast in sync with
your body rotation. (Watching your rod hand during the cast will help keep your body from
getting ahead of your casting arm.) As you accelerate the rod try to feel it loading. Move
the butt to twelve o'clock to the target line. Begin your power snap and haul. Abruptly
stop the rod and haul when the butt reaches about ten-thirty. Ease up on your grip. Your
right shoulder should be slightly ahead of your left. Your weight should be on the ball of
your front foot.
If you want to finish your forward false cast in position to increase the length and
power of your backcast you can:
1. Speed up your forward false cast (if you get a tailing loop slow
down your haul) and end your cast with your weight on your toes and with your right
shoulder well ahead of your left.
2. Execute your cast parallel to the water so that you'll begin your
backcast with your rod in a lower position.
3. Add a drift move by slightly lowering the rod tip. As soon as you
finish the cast shoot up to about eight feet of line. (As the line slides through your
curled fingers keep moving your line hand up so you'll be able to reach your rod hand
before the cast unrolls.)
To make a long presentation cast, begin with the rod drifted back, then push off your
back foot and move the rod forward and upward. As you rotate your body, keep moving the
rod butt perpendicular to the target line. When your arm is about three-quarters extended,
execute your power snap and haul. Stop the rod when your arm is fully extended and your
body fully rotated. Your front leg should now be straight, and all your weight on your
front toes. To reduce friction between the line and the guides, immediately raise the rod
butt a few inches. Do not lower the rod tip from the target line!
Finally, if you do everything right and finish the presentation cast with your arm
fully extended but you still can't get the fly to turn over, add line tension just before
your loop unrolls by raising the rod tip, or by beginning the cast with a little less line
off the reel than you want to cast.
To make a long roll cast, start the cast just before the line stops moving.
Overhang is the amount of running line between the rod tip and the belly of the line.
As you increase your overhang you must also increase the acceleration of your casting
stroke and haul. If you use too long an overhang your loop will not turn over. If you use
too short an overhang the belly will pull your line down and cause the head to land in a
ball. Experiment to find the longest overhang you can handle, but keep in mind: the more
long, false casts you make the more you risk adding slack; so once the belly of your line
is outside the rod tip, try to make your presentation cast after your second backcast. To
increase your overhang use a heavier, stiffer rod, or a line one weight lighter than your
rod, or a shooting-head line. Or be daring: learn to shoot line after your last backcast.
Some common causes are:
1. The rod tip is moved in a concave path because too much force is
used early in the casting stroke.
2. The casting stroke is too narrow for the action (bend) of the rod.
3. Executing a presentation cast with too short of an overhang.
Are harder to cast and, at high speeds, can hit and damage some rods. Therefore,
to fish below the water's surface, I use lighter flies and full-sinking lines. If your
loops are still too wide, try a faster acceleration on your casting stroke and haul, and
an earlier stop on the imaginary clock face. If that doesn't work, shorten your overhang.
IF YOU DECIDE
Whether it is necessary to learn to cast eighty or even ninety feet and endure
hours and hours of casting trials and tribulations is up to you. But if you decide it is,
try not to get discouraged. Long-distance fly casting, like hitting a good tee shot, is a
lot harder than it looks. Luckily, however, studies have shown that frequently visualizing
proper athletic techniques is often more effective than practicing them. For us older
guys, isn't that something to be grateful about!?
HOW MUCH LINE DID I SHOOT? I use the counting method. For example, if I fully
accelerate my casting stroke, then shoot line for as long as it takes me to say one
thousand, I know I shot almost ten feet of line.
By Randy Kadish, USA 2003 ©
Randy’s historical novel,
The Fly Caster Who Tried To Make
Peace With The World, is available on