Shooting Line In The Backcast Is A Skill Every Fly Angler Needs

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

There are a lot of moving parts in a fly cast.

There’s a lot of talk about the double haul and the tight loop, and there should be, they are hugely important skills that every angler should practice. It always surprises me, however, how many experienced anglers can’t, or don’t, shoot line in their backcast. I’m also surprised I don’t hear more about it.

I consider this simple technique essential for every type of fly fishing. The efficiency of working out line on both ends of the cast translates to more fish in hand in almost every situation. I don’t remember when I started casting this way. It’s a habit I’ve had for as long as I remember. I do remember when I became aware of its importance.

I was working with my friend Bruce Chard who was teaching casting to some anglers new to saltwater fishing. I picked up a rod and made a cast. Bruce stopped the group and pointed out that I was shooting twenty feet or so of line on every backcast. I wasn’t even aware of it but his point was spot on.

“He’s going to reach the fish in half the false casts,” he told the group. It’s nice to be told that you’re doing something right but for me it was just instinctive. The fly cast is symmetrical. It makes no sense to shoot line on your forward cast and not on your backcast.

Here are a few of the reasons you should practice this technique if you’re not doing it already.


Reaching the fish in fewer casts is always a good thing. If you’re on the flats, you can hit moving fish faster. If you’re streamer fishing from the boat, you will hit twice the holding water. Less time casting and more time fishing, it’s that simple.

You’ll spook fewer fish.

False casting over fish is a great way to spook them. Trout or tarpon, it doesn’t matter. Fish don’t like line flying over their heads. Fewer false casts decrease the odds of spooking fish. What’s more, the best way to avoid false casting over fish at all, is to shoot line on your presentation. If you shoot twenty feet of line on you presentation, then your last false cast is twenty feet from the fish. If you shoot twenty feet of line on the backcast, prior to your presentation, your last false cast is forty feet from the fish. See my point?

It helps load your rod.

Shooting line on your backcast gives your rod a better load for the forward cast. More line out of the tip means more weight to load the rod. In addition, the inertia of the free running line adds to the energy that goes into the rod. You get a deeper load and a stronger forward cast.

It reinforces good form.

A good fly cast is symmetrical. Way too many fly casters carry bad habits from years with a spinning rod. They try to muscle the forward cast and create tailing loops or shock waves that creat slack. Shooting line on the backcast reinforces the idea of symmetry. It makes your whole cast cleaner.

It improves backhand presentation.

When presenting the fly on the backcast it’s important to be able to effectively shoot line on your delivery. This helps prevent spooking fish as well as taking the energy out of the fly and landing it softly. If shooting line on the backcast is part of your normal cast it just comes naturally.

Practice shooting line on your backcast and I promise you’ll catch more fish and be a better all around caster.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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14 thoughts on “Shooting Line In The Backcast Is A Skill Every Fly Angler Needs

  1. Spot on! I like to think that anyone watching me from a distance won’t be able to tell that I’m fly fishing because I don’t make excessive false casts like the guys in the TV commercials. When I’m Bass fishing I find I can make one back cast (shooting about 10 feet of line) and get right back on the water. Efficiency! In this case it isn’t as much about distance, but your point about loading the rod is not generally understood. That 10 foot shoot will load the rod deeply on the first back cast letting me come forward again and shoot more line out and back to where the fish are.

  2. I’m with Steve on this one. I just about always slip line on my backcast. And I also enjoy the fact, especially when bass fishing and saltwater fishing, that I can pick my line up off the water, make my backcast , and slip some line to load my rod well enough to make another presentation…all in one motion without making any false casts. The less false casts I have to make, the fewer flaws I have in my cast, and it helps reduce fatigue at the end of the day. I often slip line on both forward and back casts depending the distance my fly needs to travel. This also keeps my false casts to minimum. Even with a 90ft cast, I can typically keep my false casts limited to one, maybe two. And like you said Louis, it drastically improves your backhand presentations. My backhand immediately became 100 times better when I started slipping line on my backcast consistently. Great tip!!!

    • Well, I tell people who ask me to help out with their casting to decrease their amount of false casting. The less they false cast, the more time the fly is on the water.

      As Steve and Justin said, the longer line on the back cast ensures that you’re ready to cast the delivery forward cast with one back cast.

      You do need to wait a bit longer before starting your forward cast. Otherwise you’re ‘reading up’ the stroke on your forward cast.

  3. This is a technique I like, but don’t use often. To be honest, I usually shy away because I think it’s “bad” technique. I’ll start doing this more often. I do love efficiency!

    • Kyle,
      I’ve had an FFF instructor (quite some time ago now) tell me the same thing. It’s “poor technique”, and that I should only shoot line on my forward stroke. I’m not an FFF instructor , so I can’t say, but maybe he was taught that slipping line on the backcast is bad form. I dunno. All I know is that it works for me and helps me tremendously with my presentations. I see Vasili (below) has been told the same thing. Maybe this is standard teaching for FFF, or other casting schools? Can anyone confirm that? I’d be intersted to know what the school of thought is behind that.

  4. Well there you go, I’m doing something right and didn’t even know it!

    By using the water to load my rod on the back cast, I often find I have so much power and line speed going backwards that letting a good bit of line slip out the back door is almost instinctual.

  5. Like the other guys, I shoot line in my backcast a lot. I found it really improves my casting and fishing. I also do this when using double-handed rods with over-head casts and found it critical to shoot line on my backcast to achieve distance since a double haul is removed from the equation when using two-handed rods. Great post, and excellent advice!

  6. Took a class and the instructor said “only shoot line on the forward cast” i was like, ok. Awhile later it just started happening as i got better, helps alot

  7. Shooting line on the backcast works great in many situations for me, in the salty waters and on the bigger rivers. Its important to note though that it will get you in trouble on the small tree lined rivers and streams where slipping the backcast means picking the fly out of the branches behind. Often in my case, this is when a big trout is feeding hungrily on the other side and ends badly.

  8. Pingback: • Fly Fishing: Shooting Line On the Backcast – Connecticut Saltwater Fishing

  9. It’s a very useful recall. Thanks. I often forget that. Even I’m not by a large river, the fact of minimize false casts is a good way…!
    Baudin from France

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