Trouble with the Cast

If Hollywood made a fly fishing movie about you, what title would they choose?

Since A River Runs Through It has already been taken, I’d adapt the title of a recent Clint Eastwood film. At least I’d do this if I was honest. The movie is Trouble with the Curve. It’s the story of a baseball scout with the Atlanta Braves (played by Clint Eastwood) who tells the front office not to draft a particular prospect. The kid looks like a future star, but he has trouble hitting a curve ball.

If Hollywood made a fly fishing movie about me, a fitting title would be Trouble with the Cast. At least, that would fit the early decade of my fly fishing career. But with the help of my fly fishing friends, I’ve been able to overcome some of the struggles that are common to novice fly fishers.

Are you a candidate for a lead role in Trouble with the Cast?

Here are five common struggles and a couple solutions for each one:

1. Your casts lack distance.

There are two quick fixes if your casts come up short of your target.

First, flick your wrist. Practice this before you pick up your fly rod. Make a handgun out of your casting hand (index finger extended, thumb up, bottom three fingers pointing back at you). Now snap forward, then back, then forward, then back. That’s the action you want when casting your rod.

Too many fly fishers try to be graceful and end up waving their arms forward and backward. But a graceful cast is the product of snapping the wrists (like a baseball pitcher throwing that curve which troubles hitters).

The second quick fix is to make sure that your rod is parallel with the ground on your final forward cast.

I’ve watched a lot of fly fishers keep their rods pointing up at a 45-degree angle as their line shoots towards its target. But as legendary fly fisher Gary Borger observes, this creates “all sorts of shoot-shortening friction.” He even suggests lifting the rod butt as a way of keeping your rod parallel to the surface of the ground (or water).

2. Your casts lack accuracy.

Here are two solutions to inaccurate casting. They seem too simple to be true.

First, keep your eyes on the target. Yes, some folks have better hand-eye coordination than others. But it is remarkable how this simple tip enhances accuracy.

Second, point your tip at the target. It seems silly to make such an obvious point. But I’m often surprised how my casts go astray when I get lazy about this. As soon as I make a conscious effort to point the eye of my rod tip towards the spot where I want my fly to land (even as my rod is parallel to the ground as discussed in #1 above), my accuracy improves.

3. Your casts result in tangled line.

Once again, here are two adjustments you can make. First, stop false casting so much. The more you false cast, the more opportunity you give your line to tangle.

Second, make sure you allow your backcast to unfurl. A lot of tangles happen because fly fishers hurry from backcast to forward cast. This is a recipe for either snapping off the fly (the bullwhip effect) or for tangling line that has not had time to unfurl.

4. Your casts spook the fish.

One problem is that the shadow of your fly line spooks the fish. This is an easy fix. Stop false casting so much! That’s all.

If the problem is that you’re slapping the line on the water, then there is a simple trick to help your line land softly.

The trick is to pull your rod tip up at the last moment. Ideally, your rod tip is pointed at your target (#2) and that your rod is parallel to the ground (#3). At the last moment, make a slight upward pull on your rod. I like to think of it as a gentle hiccup. What this does is to stop the forward momentum of the line. It goes limp and falls gently to the surface of the water. This takes some practice, but it really does work.

5. Your casts get wrecked by the wind.

I have a sure-fire solution for this problem. Quit. Yes, just quit. Call it a day. Head for the truck and drive to your favorite restaurant. I’ve had some days on Montana’s Lower Madison where this has been the best option.

But there are some other alternatives to quitting for the day:

First, stop false casting. Yes, that’s a solution to a lot of problems, including wind.

Second, move in closer and shorten up your casts. If the wind is howling enough to make casting difficult, it’s also creating ripples on the surface which will keep trout from seeing your movements.

Third, a guide once told me to make a strong backcast and a softer forward cast. That’s the opposite of my instincts, so it takes some practice. But it really does work.

Now, when Hollywood shows up to make a fly fishing movie about you, your prowess at casting might lead them to title it Star Casts: The Force Awakens. At least you’ll put yourself in a better position to catch more fish.

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6 thoughts on “Trouble with the Cast

  1. about timing that back cast. Lefty Kreh used to ask you where you were from if you were in a casting class with him. Didn’t matter where you were from – he just wanted for you to use this mantra during the back cast. I was from Reno at the time – so the mantra was said during back cast – before you turned into the forward cast… “Reno is a good place to be from”- then forward cast. Unless you were from some place like upper Podunkistan….. this worked wonders for allowing that back cast to completely unfurl. Of course he was big on getting that back cast very high, too.

  2. All great tips. One thing that I will say is you can never practice enough. When I take out clients the biggest thing I notice is how badly some cast. You may be able to read the water and understand fly selection even tie the best knots but if you can not put your fly in front of the fish it will be a long day. I myself get into trouble sometimes. I am always taking out clients but rarely fish myself. I need to get out and practice more. Slow days on the river are great opportunities to practice casting. 10 minutes before leaving on a trip is a great time to practice. Waiting for your buddies to arrive or put on their waders is a great time. Practice basic casting for accuracy then for distance then work on roll casting for accuracy and distance. Once you master these then you can work on some of the fancier casts. Enjoy and tight lines.