How to Stop the Dreaded Fly Fishing Birds Nest

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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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16 thoughts on “How to Stop the Dreaded Fly Fishing Birds Nest

  1. I have, unfortunately, wrapped up as many as three flies into the dreaded “birds nest” but never two thingamabobbers…

    Secret nymphing technique, or REALLY bad day?

    • Probably crossed lines between the guy in the front of the boat and the guy in the back. The guy in the front can’t see behind him facing downstream, so it’s up to the guy in the back to time his casts to avoid that from happening.

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  6. Kent, my casting is getting better as I practice, but once in a while (normally, while fishing), my fly hits my rod on the forward cast. What am I doing wrong? Thank you!

  7. I m not that great at rod handling so I’ve resolved to reel in all my line And hook my fly to a or hook holder when I have to move more than a step or two, or when I’m changing flies or whatever. I cant tell you how many times I’ve changed my dropper, for instance, only to look up and discover that all that ham-handed rod shaking has tangled up my line, bobber, lead fly, whatever…

  8. This is the one thing that has scared me more than anything while learning to fly fish. I guess hooking myself is bad too. I am definitely in agreement with using a smooth a cast instead of power.

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