Does Casting Technique Matter For Small Stream Trout Fishing?

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Louis Cahill

You can sure catch a lot of trout with no more than ten feet of fly line, but does that mean that casting doesn’t matter?

I had this conversation recently. I was fishing a classic, pocket water stream with a friend and at some point he asked me point blank why I was catching fish and he wasn’t. He was shocked when I told him the problem was with his cast. Neither of us had more than ten feet of line out of the tip of our rod.

It’s a problem that plenty of beginning, and even intermediate anglers have. Even with a very short line, poor casts make for poor presentations. the problem is compounded in tight quarters where your first presentation really needs to be your best. Flailing about in close proximity to fish is generally not productive.

One of the most common casting mistakes I see anglers make, when casting a short line, is using too long a stroke. Often, anglers will do this because they are struggling to load the rod. With the head of the line still on the reel, it’s impossible to load the whole rod like you would in a longer cast. The problem very quickly becomes one of line management. The long, and usually circular, casting stroke dumps the fly line on the water, making it nearly impossible to get a good drift. Especially in the conflicting current of fast pocket water.

Fixing this problem is super simple, and comes down to remembering the fundamentals of a good fly cast. Just shorten your stroke. Remember, the length of the stroke is proportional to the length of the line outside the tip top. When casting ten feet, or less, of fly line with a modern fast action rod, your rod tip may only travel a couple of feet. You only need to load the tip of the rod. This will make a nice, tight loop and allow you to deliver the fly and keep the line off the water.

In addition to making managing your line a breeze, your casts will be more accurate, which is of huge importance in pocket water. Treat every cast with respect, and focus on the fundamentals, whether you’re casting ten feet or a hundred, and you’ll catch a lot more fish.

Good casting technique also allows you to execute special purpose casts like reach casts and curved casts, which are great tools for the trout angler to have on hand. Again, it usually comes down to line maintenance and a good cast sets you up for success, even at short range.

So, here I am again, being your mother and telling you to practice your casting, but it really does make a difference. A few hours a week on the lawn makes a huge difference in the quality of your experience on the water. I’ve been fly fishing for 46 years and I still practice, in fact more than ever. After all, there is no down side to having a good cast.

Here’s a video I shot with my buddy Tim Rajeff, which details his recommended casting practice.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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5 thoughts on “Does Casting Technique Matter For Small Stream Trout Fishing?

  1. Amen, Louis. A shorter stroke also gives greater control and less likelihood of ending up in trees and bushes. Two other tips: Practice casting from one knee. And small stream casting practice with a shorter rod can also be done indoors.

  2. I almost exclusively fish smaller streams (Not by choice, just by location), and I have come to realize the importance of being able to cast 20 feet out in a tight spot will often reward a fisherman handsomely. happy to see you writing about it.

  3. It is not coincidence that Gary Borger and Lefty both wrote books whose title was ‘Presentation.’ Casting fundamentals enable nuanced presenting of the fly in all casting situations. Small stream examples are numerous depending on high water, low water, pocket fishing, overhanging limbs, etc. Different examples exist for Tarpon on the flats or Smallies in a riffle. The small stream is not an exception. Constant thinking and tweaking of presentation are the fundamentals of becoming a well rounded angler. Good article!

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