How to Stop the Dreaded Fly Fishing Birds Nest

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BY Kent Klewein

Does this look familiar?

Just about every angler has created this tangled artwork at some point, some more than others. I’m pretty good at untangling knots because I get more practice than the average angler from my guiding, but even this one required me to break out a fresh leader and completely re-rig. If you find yourself untangling knots more than you’re fishing, try fixing the problem by following these five helpful tips.

1. Watch your forward cast and backcast when false casting.

“In the film A River Runs Through It”, Jerry Siem (one of the casting stuntmen) never watched his backcast. It’s important to note that his fly casting skill level ranks among the best in the world, which allowed him to get away without doing this. It’s also pertinent to point out he was casting a single dry fly in the movie scene, not a tandem nymph rig with split-shot and a strike indicator. Could he have made the same casts in the movie with a tandem nymph rig without tangles, of course he could, but that doesn’t mean every other angler out there should try to mimic him. The majority of the best casters in the world watch their backcast, especially when they’re fly fishing in areas where casting room is limited. Your first step to limiting the number of tangles you create on the river is to watch your forward and backcast diligently. Your timing will be better, you’ll find you won’t need to make as many false casts, and you’ll keep your flies out of the trees and bushes.

2. Cast with grace, not with power and muscle.

Many fly anglers out there cast their fly rod much harder than they need to. So hard in many cases, that they end up overloading the rod and also get a out of control sling shot effect with their flies. Let your fly rod do the work by executing a smooth pick up of the fly line starting at the 8 o’clock position (rod tip close to the water), then begin loading the rod by smoothly accelerating the fly rod between ten o’clock and 12 o’clock. Make sure you’re stopping your rod quickly for both your forward cast and backcast, not slowing down to a stop. This will have your fly rod stopping at its fastest point at the end of the casting stroke, which will transfer your power effectively from the fly rod down through your fly line. Focusing on these casting mechanics will help you cast more graceful, and you’ll find it much easier to keep your fly rod traveling in a straight line path, and that will allow you to form efficient loops. Slow down and don’t rush your cast either. Left Kreh, is one of the best fly casters in the world at demonstrating how to make a graceful cast to get the most power out of a fly rod. If you want to see what I’m talking about just search him on YouTube.

3. Make sure you’re pausing long enough in between casts.

So you’ve managed to accomplish the first two steps with ease, but as you work out more fly line that’s needed for longer presentations, you begin to feel your fly cast falling apart. Chances are, if this is happening to you, it’s because you’re not lengthening your pause between casts as you work out more fly line out the end of the rod tip. The more fly line you cast, the longer it takes for your loops to straighten out. This is a very common problem among novice fly fishers, who often maintain the same length pause whether they’re casting 20 feet or trying to cast 50 feet. Again, make sure you’re watching your forward and backcast as you work more fly line out, and always match length of your pause to the amount of fly line you’re casting. Focusing on this area of your cast will eliminate the majority of your tangles.

4. Widen your casting stroke slightly so your loop size becomes wider.

You can really cut down on creating tangles if you widen your casting stroke slightly. Your loops will become larger, and you’ll be able to get away with more imperfections in your casting stroke, which will make it more difficult to create tangles.

5. When possible water haul and roll cast.

If you don’t have to make long cast to pull off good presentations and drifts, try using a water haul or roll cast. Both casts do not require a backcast and that will decrease your chances of creating tangles by 50%.

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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13 thoughts on “How to Stop the Dreaded Fly Fishing Birds Nest

    • I believe he means creating more of an arch with the tip of the rod. That will open your loop. Not something to try in windy conditions.

    • Yep, pretty sure that’s what he is referring to. A longer stroke/wider angle equates to a bigger loop (because the tip displaces farther vertically, if I’m not mistaken). Not what you are normally after but helpful for chuck-and-duck rigs.

  1. Although I hate when this happens… as I untangle, it forces me to slow down and take a few breathes and reflect on how I ended up here. (usually something like: “stop trying to cast the entire line, jackass”)

  2. Not sure why I am seeing two thingamabobbers on this rig??? The flies I am seeing do not appear to be that heavy. Try a different rigging.

    In general, I have found thingamabobbers will create an unbalanced rig. So lob and lift type casting will be best for this individual not traditional dry fly casting when using that float device.

    Give a try with other float devices for a more balanced rig you might be pleasantly surprised or even with no float using a indicator nymph line.

  3. 6) Do the only sensible thing – stop force feeding trout
    and give up nymphing. Ha!

    As Lee Wullf stated,

    “Of the three classifications of fly-fishing, surface fly-fishing is the most difficult way of taking trout. With surface fly-fishing all the fish have to be brought to the surface for the fly, and all the deep flowing water is sanctuary for the fish. Any trout caught by surface fly-fishing leaves the sanctuary of its own volition, and unless it leaves, it cannot be caught. This eliminates the drifting of a fly right into the trout’s holding level and almost right into its mouth, so that simple curiosity as much as hunger may cause it to mouth the fly. In my opinion, trout should be entitled to the sanctuary of deep water.”

  4. Yes, to water loading your cast as often as possible. Learn to toss a good roll fast (Checking it Red’s Fly Shop YouTube video.). Second, consider a floating line that can handle Spey types of casts vs always having to overhead casting. Not the top answer, but adds to your casting bag of tools.

  5. Pingback: Tippets: Veterans Fly Fishing Yellowstone, Managing Line Tangles - Pesca y Bits

  6. Just me, but I’d rather dry-fly or not catch. Too many lakes and not enough time, and it’s all good. Love all the comments………dryflyaddict

  7. These tips are absolutely helpful for an impatient and clumsy fisher like me. No matter how hard I tried I still get the tangled net mess, and yes like you said I spend more time unraveling tangles than fishing, which really takes the fun out of the activity. Your number 2 tip hits close to home because I’m not particularly graceful while fishing Lol. Will try this next time and bring feedback. Thank you!

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