3 Ways to Improve Your Fly Casting on the Flats

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3 Ways to Improve Your Fly Casting on the Flats. Photo by: Louis Cahill

By Kent Klewein

About ten years ago, I embarked on my first international saltwater fly fishing trip, with a couple Texas boys I’d previously met while chasing peacock bass in the Amazon.

The saltwater trip took place down in Mexico, specifically the Ascension Bay area. Our primary target fish were bonefish but we kept a constant lookout for permit and tarpon. The two born and raised Texas boys had grown up fly fishing in the salt, and they both had more than enough testosterone, ego, and skill to handle the demanding fishing conditions. I on the other hand, had never experienced first hand the difficulties that saltwater fly fishing brings. I really struggled with spotting fish in an unfamiliar environment and managing my presentations in 25 mph winds. I’ll never forget the humbling feeling of defeat after our first day of fly fishing on the flats. My counterparts landed a dozen bonefish a piece while I only managed to catch one. Just about the entire trip I was plagued with the feeling of being under-gunned on the water. The wind totally kicked my butt and I missed numerous opportunities because I couldn’t cast far enough to consistently get my fly to the targets my guide was calling out.

At the time, the only problem I saw in my fly casting was I didn’t seem to have nearly as much power in my casting stroke as my buddies. That was true, but the real problem was I didn’t have the competency to diagnose what I was doing wrong and neither of my buddies did either. All they kept saying, over and over to me, was I needed to work on my double-haul.

Man, I wish I could go back in time, and relive that fishing trip in Mexico. I now know, I had three major flaws in my fly casting, and my double-haul wasn’t one of them. Below are the three problems I had on that Mexico trip with my fly casting. Each are areas newcomers to saltwater should pay close attention to and practice before they head down on a maiden fly fishing trip to the salt.

1st Problem: I tried to overcome the windy conditions by speeding up my casting stroke and casting with obnoxious amounts of muscle.

Good technique and timing can input far more power into the casting system than sheer muscle and effort. Casting as hard as I could worked against me ten fold. I wasn’t allowing the rod to do the work and I lost control of my casting stroke in the process. Both of which, ended up opening up my loops and keeping me from consistently laying out a straight leader on the water during my presentation. Lastly, all that muscle made it really challenging for me to stop my fly rod abruptly, and that didn’t allow me to smoothly and efficiently transfer the energy that I loaded into the rod during my forward cast or back cast.


Instead, I shot out all my fly line during my initial false casting, and didn’t do so on my final back cast. When you shoot line on your final back cast, it increases the amount of fly line into the system, and gets the head of the fly line moving and gaining momentum. That extra weight from the increased fly line and the momentum of the head moving away from the angler, will pre-load the rod when all of it straightens out on the back cast. When the final forward cast is timed correctly (started exactly at the moment when all of the fly line straightens out on the back cast) it will greatly increase the overall line speed and power generated into the casting system, because the angler will be able to load the rod deeper and smoother during the final forward cast. Plain and simple, an angler will be able to increase the distance they can cast a fly, and it won’t require any additional casting effort.

3rd Problem: I wasn’t allowing my fly line to completely straighten out on my final backcast.

Instead I was starting my forward cast prematurely, and all the fly line that failed to straighten out on my final back cast, was instantly turned into slack. All that slack sucked a significant portion of the power out of my fly casting, and it also greatly decreased the distance I could reach with my fly on the flats. It also gave me some tailing loops issues. You can get away with some slack in the cast when casting short distances or fishing in calm conditions for trout, but when you visit the salt, it’s crucial for you to keep the slack out of your fly casting with good timing. Always remember you cannot begin bending or loading your rod until you eliminate all slack. That holds true during the initial pickup of fly line and during all facets of the casting stroke.

Keep it Reel,

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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11 thoughts on “3 Ways to Improve Your Fly Casting on the Flats

  1. Amen, Brother Kent
    Now if you just re-title this post 3 ways to improve your fly casting when fishing for bass, we could get the anglers with no salty dreams to also pay attention.
    Getting a good straight , slack free pick up is so important, as is learning to shoot on the back cast. These tips will help even when casting streamers on a mid sized river.

  2. And just as true for the seatrout fishing on the coasts of Scandinavia! One more thing, I think also the correct length of the leader becomes more important to create a tight loop on long casts and windy conditions.

  3. Nice Kent. An additional point, not as major as your three but true nonetheless, is that using all that superfluous muscle instead of timing tires you out quickly, creates mistakes, and erodes your ability to make a good cast when you need one. Not to mention making the trip exhausting rather than exhilarating.

  4. This will be my first true bonefishing trip to the Bahamas and I want to do good. I am practicing 2 times weekly but I know it only counts when you are there. Thanks for the advice, just hoping I don’t embarrass myself on the trip.

  5. Thanks some good pointers. Could I add by saying that in my short time on the flats, and mangroves, one of the most useful parts of one’s casting “armoury” is being able to deliver good side casts. They are in my humble opinion a damn useful cast for three reasons.

    – It keeps the rod out of a fish’s line-of-sight.

    – It helps in reducing the impact of the wind.

    – Especially with mangroves you can “skip” the fly under the overhanging mangrove branches and structure.

    I practice this cast a lot and I feel it has helped me in the salt a lot.


  6. Pingback: Short Casts 09.19.13 | Orvis News

  7. Good reminders, particularly the point about trying not to overmuscle your cast. Might also try stalking closer to the fish if the wind is stiff (like it seems it always is on the TX coast). If you can’t make a long shot into the wind, try making a not-so-long shot. This is getting a little off-topic, but another helpful skill on the flats is being able to make casts to fish on your backcast. The wind isn’t always going to be head-on, and flats fish move, or don’t always pop up in front of you. It’s different than trout fishing, where most of the time you expect a fish to be in a particular spot. Adapt! Improvise! Have fun!

  8. Great advice, Louis. I mention the same things to my guests all the time, especially #1 and #3. These are HUGE.

    Given that fly casting is merely “unrolling the line”, it depends on a definitive STOP. Muscling it into the wind is a sure fire way to ruin that essential element. It’s like trying to pull a punch. A fast but not powerful punch can be stopped quickly, but if you put everything into it you won’t be able to stop suddenly.

    As a good friend of mine used to remind me, “Cast into the wind the same as you would if there was no wind at all.”

    It always reminded me of that kid in The Matrix with the spoons. “Do not try to overcome the wind, for that is impossible. Only realize the truth… there is no wind.”

    I always hated him for his smugness (and superior casting ability).

    I will add that a huge mistake of beginner salties is raising the arm/elbow to cast. This is where the sidearm cast really is useful—it makes us keep our elbow down and on a single plane. This is probably the most common “fix” I have to mention so folks can even get in the ballpark. After they feel the difference in power we can talk subtleties.

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