My #1 Fly Casting Tip

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Kyle Wilkinson

I give a lot of casting lessons through the shop and I’m still yet to meet an angler who doesn’t want to cast further and with higher line speed and power.

Most people I work with seem to think the key to a better forward cast is simply applying more power or casting “harder”. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Are there times when making a long cast (particularly into the wind) is going to need a little extra “umph” to get it out there? Sure. But this isn’t the only key to that success. In fact, it doesn’t matter how much extra power you give the forward cast, you’ll never get the results you want if you don’t do one key thing- make a perfect backcast.

I use the reference of golf a lot as well when teaching casting lessons. Not that I’m a great golfer by any means but I know enough to know that swinging the club twice as hard doesn’t make the ball go twice as far—trust me I’ve tried. The same is 100% true with a fly rod.

So before we jump into this handy little trick I’m about to share, if you only remember one thing from this message, let it be this. It is impossible to make a good forward cast if you make a bad backcast.

On almost every casting lesson I give, we easily spend at least 50% or more of the time just working on making a proper back cast. And while there are numerous nuances that I could dive into regarding this topic, this is how we always start things out. If you’ve found yourself frustrated by your casts, head to a local park and give this a try.

Strip out 40 or 50 feet of line and while standing with good posture and facing forward, make several false casts. Once you’ve made three or four and are carrying the line through the air it’s time to move on to step 2.

FREEZE on your next backcast. Once you’re certain the line is lying on the ground behind you, turn and look at it by twisting your body or taking a small step to the side.

Photo Louis Cahill

Photo Louis Cahill

What do you notice when you look at that line lying on the ground? Is it lying in a “J” or curved arc? Is it lying straight as an arrow? If you haven’t guessed by now, the ‘straight as an arrow’ path of the line is your goal.

When making a fly cast, your goal is to have the line traveling on a straight plane back and forth between you and your target. The only way to get your fly line to travel on a straight plane is make sure your fly rod is traveling on a straight plane. If the fly line on the ground behind you is doing anything other than lying in a straight line, this without a doubt means your rod is not traveling in that all-important ‘straight plane’.

I would be willing to bet the majority of you who try this will notice the fly line has some sort of curve to it, most likely wrapping around behind towards your non-casting arm/shoulder.

This is the most common result I see during my casting lessons and the reason for this being the case is simple. Most people can make their 20-30 foot ‘trouty’ casts (as I’ll call them) without much problem. When you start getting into the 40+ foot zone though, most people will start to add a little twist to their casting stroke, inadvertently wrapping their fly rod clear back behind them in an attempt to get more power. Without getting too off topic, lengthening your casting stroke is definitely a great way to add power/distance, however if it’s happening at the expense of good casting form then it’s only going to make things worse.

In summary, next time you’re at the park practicing your casting be sure to freeze on a few of your back casts. Pay attention to how the line looks lying on the ground and you’ll instantly know the degree to which you need to re-focus your attention on perfecting your back cast. Start making perfect back casts and I can guarantee your forward casts are going to look better than they ever have.


Kyle Wilkinson
Gink & Gasoline
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6 thoughts on “My #1 Fly Casting Tip

  1. Great tip and thanks. Any advice or pointers based on how the line is laying behind you? I.e., if it’s curved one way, you’re taking the rod tip back too far, etc.??? Thanks.

  2. Another great write up! I also use golf swing analogies when doing casting instruction.

    In particular I reference John Daily — his backswing is almost a complete 360 degree wind up and considered incorrect. Because it is incorrect, he’s John Daily though and he can do that swing very well. Borrowing someone elses words here, “He’s not a pro because he can do that. He can do that because he is a pro.”

    What Im trying to say is don’t be John Daily on the river, be more like Adam Scott.

  3. My problem is trying to speed things up…seems when I get all hot and bothered sight saying is when that wrap happens. I played a lot of baseball and we always talked “barrel awareness” knowing what angle that bat is sitting at. Harder you try to swing the more your twist….I always have to add that extra split second befirebi begin my forward cast, even with fast action rods… Patience and letting the rod do the work always pays huge dividends.

  4. I’ve been slinging string in the salt for the past 12 years. Three years ago I move to the Lowcountry of SC. At that time I could cast but not well. Since moving here, through our local fly shop and the local club, I have been able to attend at least 2 casting clinics a year and at very reasonable prices, some have been free. Look for and take advantage of all the learning opportunities that you can then practice with a large dose of honest self assessment.
    Thanks so much for this tip, I passed it on to a FFF Master casting instructor.

  5. Nice article. Another little aspect to consider is balancing the power of the back cast and forward cast. The best casters will use the same amount of power in their back cast as they do in their forward cast.

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