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

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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6 thoughts on “3 Ways to Improve Your Fly Casting on the Flats

  1. Great summary of common mistakes! These are things I tell my students all the time, especially before going to the salt. One thing I would add is do not false cast more line than you can carry and form good loops. Consider marking your line here. This is your “launching pad”. Shoot line into your final back cast, and only your final back cast, then send your final forward cast. I have seen way too many casts blow up before they are even off the launching pad!
    Jonathan Walter, IFFF Master Certified Instructor

    • So only shoot line in your final back cast? I have pretty good success shooting line on the forward cast but I have trouble getting the timing right on shooting line during back casts too. I have been trying to shoot line on the back cast with each false cast, though, not just on the last back cast…

      Thanks in advance for any help!

  2. Exellent tips, I’ve found myself still doing this sometimes even though I’m aware. Mostly due to fatigue for the most part.

    If I could make a suggestion for an article like this, perhaps put together some video illustrating each of these points. For someone looking to improve upon there flats casting skillset some of this terminology may be lost. I think having a visual would be extremely beneficial. Some people have asked me how to improve on there cast when out fishing and it’s even hard for me to explain…boils down to watch me, now you go and then me offering tips while they are casting.

    Again great tips and keep cranking out articles such as these.


  3. Excellent article! Right on!
    I would add two suggestions:
    First, learn the “saltwater speed cast”, and practice (together with your suggestions) to perfect the technique. Either “google search” the “saltwater speed cast”, or consult an IFFF Master Casting Instructor to learn the steps to perform this very effective cast.
    Second, ALWAYS practice casting to a specific series of targets at known distances.
    The value of mindful casting practice cannot be overstated…

  4. Having just got back from my first salt water fly fishing trip, I can only say “amen” to your comments. Though I had a great time and had great assistance from my guide and the lodge’s casting instructor, I found myself repeatedly trying to muscle my casts when trying to reach fish at a distance. The best advice I heard was “slow down” your cast. I’ll definitely try to incorporate your last two points as well.

    I’ll also second what Kyle requested, and that is for a short video illustrating these points.


  5. Pingback: Tippets: Potential World Record Muskie, Flies for Oregon’s North Coast, Flats Casting | MidCurrent

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