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Fly Casting Basics: How To Cast A Fly Rod

The fly fishing casting method differs from other types of fishing. It requires a unique technique and takes a lot of practice to get right. In this guide, we’ll explain all the fly casting basics, including:

  • how to cast a fly rod
  • how to play a fish
  • how far you need to cast when fly fishing.

The fly casting technique: preparing to cast

The fly casting technique differs from the standard fishing technique in several ways. Rather than using your entire arm to arc the rod through the air, you’ll rely on a smaller movement that centres around your elbow.

First: the fly fishing stance. Stand sideways with your rod in your preferred hand. Place the opposite foot — usually your non-dominant foot — forward. 

Hold the rod in your dominant hand as though you’re shaking someone’s hand. Put your thumb on top of the grip, as far forward as possible. The fishing line will follow your thumb, so this is a useful visual guide.

How to cast

Imagine your elbow is at the centre of a clock face. Your head is at 12 o’clock and your feet are at 6 o’clock. Place the rod tip on the water at the 7 o’clock position. 

The upcast/backcast is just as important as the downcast/frontcast when fly fishing. Draw the rod up and back to the 1 o’clock position, just behind your head. Watch your line as you do this; when the line above you is straight, flick your elbow forward 90 degrees to the 10 o’clock position in a quick motion, as though you’re throwing a dart.

If you don’t time this movement correctly, your fly may snap off — you’ll hear a distinctive popping noise if this happens. So watch your backcast to help you time the cast correctly.

How do you end a fly cast?

When your arm hits that 10 o’clock position, stop the forward movement quickly. Let go of the line after your arm stops moving. The line will be propelled forward by the movement in the direction of your thumb, and settle on or in the water (depending on which fly you’re using).

Rest your rod tip on the water and tuck the line under your index finger on the underside of the rod grip, pulling in any slack. This helps you retain control of the line.

Watch: fly casting basics

How to play a fish

When you feel a fish pulling on the line, hold the fly line firmly against the rod grip with your index finger. Lift the rod tip out of the water. Maintain this position while you use your non-dominant hand to reel in the extra fly line. Minimise slack in the line to stop the fish escaping the hook.

When the fish pulls, guide it in the opposite direction. Repeat this until you feel the fish start to tire. Eventually you can lift the rod and guide the fish into your net.

Practice catch-and-release wherever you can. A no-touch catch-and-release tool can help minimise harm to fish when they’re caught.

Should you cast upstream when fly fishing?

In most cases, you’ll cast upstream when fly fishing. Casting upstream allows the current to carry the fly back towards you. Fish often feed into the current — especially in eddies and small areas of calmer water — so positioning yourself behind the fish means you can better aim your cast, and avoid spooking the fish.

Downstream casting can be a good option in some circumstances. But you’ll need to modify your technique to create more slack in the line as the current carries the fly away from you.

How far should you cast when fly fishing?

There’s a lot of debate around how far it’s necessary to cast your fly. Many anglers aim to cast as far as possible. But this isn’t always necessary, especially if you’re fishing narrow streams or rivers. 

Essentially, you only need to cash as far as the fish are. If you can see trout feeding 30 feet away, you’ll only need to cast this far, even if you can manage a 60-70 foot cast. 

 If you’re interested in learning how to cast further, this Orvis video shows you how to add distance to your fly cast:

More fly fishing basics

New to fly fishing? Find out how to get your technique and tackle box up to scratch with our other articles:

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