Improving Your Water Haul Cast

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By Justin Pickett

Fly-Fishing around tight canopy can prove challenging, and, here in the southeast, there is plenty of it.

Rhododendrons dominate the banks, along with wise, old Hemlocks, Oaks, pines, and many other bushes, shrubs, grass, and flowering flora. Because of this, I often do my best to take them out of the equation by changing my casting technique to best suit each situation.

One of the casts that I use most often, when tight banks and overhead canopy are staring me down, is the water haul cast. It’s the perfect cast for keeping you out of trouble for a few good reasons. For one, It takes the back cast completely out of the equation, eliminating the possibility of getting hung up in the trees and bushes that lurk behind you. As well as keeping your cast close to the water’s surface, which keeps you relatively safe from most overhanging obstacles. On the other hand, if not executed correctly, the water haul can prove frustrating and getcha worked up in a hot minute.

When it comes to mistakes made with the water haul, there are a handful of problems that I see consistently when I’m guiding clients.

Problem: Your cast is piling up and is well short

During the passive phase of the water haul, you are allowing the flow of the water to straighten your fly line and leader, downstream from you, which pulls against your line, leader, and flies which transfers energy to the rod blank. This step loads the rod and gives you the stored energy needed to make the cast. What I see happen most often is that when the angler begins to make their cast, the rod loads up and then slingshots forward, but the flies only sling a few feet out of the water, or maybe not at all.

The first thing that often happens here is that during the time it takes to straighten your rig and load the rod, your flies fall to the bottom of the streambed, and if you’re fishing with an indicator or a dry fly, the hydraulic force of the water presses the indicator/dry fly into the water’s surface, if not below the surface. When this happens, the water flow is creating more resistance and energy than you have stored in your rod. The end result is often what I described above. The energy stored in the rod isn’t enough to overcome the forces of the water against your rig and your flies aren’t able to well…fly. The solution to this issue is simple, though. As you prepare to straighten your rig, move your rod tip a few more inches downstream and let it come tight. As you become ready to cast, raise your rod tip slightly and move your rod tip forward those few inches that you added on. This will bring your flies up in the water column, greatly reducing the water’s resistance against them. If you are fishing with a dry (especially larger flies) or an indicator (especially thingamabobbers), focus on trying to “skate” them across the water for a few inches before attempting your cast. This breaks much of the surface tension and allows for an easy, well executed cast.

The second reason that your flies will pile up while attempting a water haul is because of the introduction of slack into the system. This happens when the angler has done everything right and just before they execute their cast, they move their rod tip downstream and then begin their cast. This does two things: It kills the energy that was loaded in the rod; your flies drop back down into the water, which equals greater resistance. So it becomes exactly like the situation I discussed above, only worse, because now there is zero stored energy in the rod. It’s hard for some folks to overcome because the back cast is essentially ingrained into our muscle memory. You have to resist the urge to move your rod tip downstream and trust the cast. The first step in setting up for a water haul is what replaces the back cast and loads the rod. This is one of those casts that is best practiced on moving water, but can be simulated in the backyard as well. My suggestion is to make a few practice casts well downstream of your intended target until you’ve got it down.

Problem: Poor accuracy

A lot of my clients initially struggle with their accuracy when performing the water haul cast, but fortunately this is easily remedied with a little practice as well. The most common problem I see with my clients is (for a right hander) that their flies tend to travel well left of the intended target and fall short. This is simply because the angler isn’t stopping their rod tip when the cast is completed. Whether they are trying to “help” the flies along, or just out of habit, their rod tip continues to travel towards their left shoulder (this would be the right shoulder for a lefty). Remember that your flies will always follow your rod tip, so in this case the flies land well left and short of their target. The easiest way to fix this is to simply stop your rod tip when it points at your target. It may be a rock, a tree, a twig, or a flagpole, but when you stop, your rod tip should be pointed at that target. As long as the wind isn’t howling into your face, your flies should land on target and at the intended distance.

Problem: Your Flies Are Crashing Into You

This is likely because the angle between the starting point of your flies and your target isn’t along a neat, straight-line path. The thing that I most often see is that the angler will plop their flies in the water just about anywhere behind them and try to execute a water haul cast to a target. They can focus so much on the target that they forget about where their flies are and don’t realize that they themselves are between their flies and the target. They’ll also often find their flies are crashing into the rod, and flying everywhere but where they are intending them to go. If you find this is happening to you, check the path of your cast. If you are starting your flies behind your back (as a right hander), but your intended target is somewhere off your left shoulder, then the straight-line path for those flies just might smack you on the back of your head on their way to that target. You might also find that, given the same scenario, your flies will fall wide right in an attempt to avoid hitting yourself. The path of your cast can be easily manipulated for optimal performance by changing the angle at which you hold the rod tip (which will slide your flies over in the current), and finally by turning your dominant shoulder towards your target. Make small corrections initially, as it doesn’t take much change in angle to make a big difference.

The next time you’re on the water and need to present a good water haul cast, remember these tips in order to sort out the kinks. It will save you wasted time untangling flies from tree limbs, and keep your flies in the water longer!

Justin Pickett
Gink & Gasoline
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3 thoughts on “Improving Your Water Haul Cast

  1. Pingback: The Other Water Haul | Fly Fishing | Gink and Gasoline | How to Fly Fish | Trout Fishing | Fly Tying | Fly Fishing Blog

  2. I might add that to make an accurate cast, your flies should start 180 degrees from your target. If the seam you want your flies to land on is more toward the opposite bank, begin with the fly behind you toward near bank. Not sure that makes a whole lot of sense…

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