The Virtues of a Sidearm Cast in Saltwater Fly Fishing

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Louis Cahill

Sometimes you’ve got to come at a problem from a different angle.

I’m a sidearm caster by nature. I think it’s in my DNA. I threw a baseball sidearm when I was a kid and I’ve cast a fly rod that way for as long as I can remember. It was a necessity on the streams where I learned to trout fish. Under the heavy canopy of trees and mountain laurel you find in the southeast, it’s the only effective way to reach the fish and keep your flies. I literally had to teach myself to cast overhead for situations where it’s a better technique but my sideways cast has served me well in the salt.

Here are a couple of reasons that I feel a sidearm cast is superior for saltwater fly fishing.

It’s one of the most effective ways to deal with wind. Wind is not a uniform movement of air. There is a turbulent zone near the water that moves slower. The higher your line is off the water, the stronger a wind it travels in. Keeping your line close to the water takes advantage of the turbulent zone to make for easier casting. The sidearm cast also allows you to straighten your line closer to the water, within the turbulent zone. This means your fly is not as likely to be blown off target by the wind.

In a moderate wind, off your casting shoulder, a sidearm cast uses the length of the rod to keep your fly at a safe distance. If your line speed is high enough you can manage this in a surprisingly stout wind. The sidearm cast is also an important component of the Belgian cast. This cast will handle even stronger winds.

In addition to fighting the wind, a sidearm cast is less likely to spook fish. You can cast slightly off angle and work out line without the fish seeing your line in the air, or its shadow on the water. This extra stealth makes a big difference with spooky saltwater species.

The sidearm cast also makes a more delicate presentation. When the energy of the cast is dissipated, the fly drops for a height of only a few feet. An overhead cast will fall from much higher and make a much bigger splash. Add to this the common problem of too much residual energy in the cast and the difference is pronounced. In a sidearm cast this energy is directed parallel to the water. In an overhead cast it is directed downward, adding to the force of gravity.

If you aren’t using a sidearm cast for your saltwater fly fishing, you should give it a try. Get out and practice on the lawn. Work on developing the line speed you need to keep the line traveling nice and level. Before you know it you’ll be catching more fish in the salt.

Read more about this technique and see some instructional videos.

Better Posture for Line Speed

The Need for Speed

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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9 thoughts on “The Virtues of a Sidearm Cast in Saltwater Fly Fishing

  1. Some great points Louis. I’ve always had more of a side-arm or 3/4 cast when since I started fly fishing. There are only a few scenarios, mainly when trout fishing or sometimes bass fishing, where I’ll actually cast a fly over my head. When it comes to casting into the wind, you’re damn near forced to cast sidearm. And like you mentioned, I typically use the belgian style cast and it works great for me.

  2. Glad to hear that I’m not alone in my less-than-upright casting style. Also born of tight places, it just feels more relaxed and natural. Thanks for the validation, Louis!

  3. Essential cast for saltwater flyfishing in the mangroves, or rather I should say under, the mangroves!

    When trying to get very close to the mangrove edge the overhead cast is coming on a trajectory that will more often than not get caught in higher mangrove branches. The sidecast is great for bouncing, skipping a fly under, or close to, the edge of the mangroves. A bit like a bass baitcaster sidearm casting and skipping, bouncing the lure under various obstacles!

  4. Good advice and valid points all. Saw Lefty Kreh demonstrate the side arm cast many years ago in Tampa, and I have had it in the arsenal since then.

  5. Pingback: Tippets: Sidearm Casting, Mining on the Salmon River, Warm Waters Moving Fish | MidCurrent

  6. Hi guys, just got back from Antigua fishing for the first time on the fly mainly for permit but also tarpon in a lagoon. My guide was Nick Williams who, after my casting overhead for tour and sea trout in rivers and lochs for over 30 years,introduced me to side casting as per this website. To say the least I am astounded that I never have seen this done before and was seriously surprised how effective it is, especially in the winds of the Carribean. Still got to get good at it but Nick Has put me on the right course to some extremely good techniques and websites such as yours to allow me to study, practise it and hopefully get back to the Carribean and be at least competent and stand a chance this time with the permit. Many thanks for your very interesting and informative site. Pete

    • I am researching learning how to improve my sidearm cast. In Lefty Kreh’s large casting book he recommends the side arm casts for SW and for people with shoulder problems. He focuses on using the hips and a knees to create the torque for the cast. There is an article in the book by a sorts physician for casters with shoulder problems. Hope this helps.

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