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Methods of Fly-Casting

Updated on October 4, 2009

In fly-fishing, the angler casts the heavy line, assisted by the flexing of the rod; and the nearly weightless fly, connected to the line by a tapered monofilament leader, merely goes along for the ride. He can cast dry flies, which float on top of the water; wet flies, which sink; or other lightweight flies, which will remain near the surface of the water, such as artificial nymphs, streamer flies, and bucktails (which produce a darting action to attract the fish as the line is pulled in), tiny popping plugs (which cause ripples on the water after a slight jerk), or bass and trout bugs. Natural and artificial baits and lures in the smallest sizes can also be cast, but the efficiency of the tackle decreases if weight, even as small as a split shot, is included in the lure or on the leader.

Photography by Justin Johnson
Photography by Justin Johnson


Fly rods come in two or three sections, with an overall length of 6 to 9 feet. For all-around fly-fishing a rod measuring 7 1/2 or 8 feet is best. Rods are made from split bamboo, fiber glass, or tubular steel. The fiberglass rod is the most durable and by far the most popular today.

Reels are of two main types: single-action and automatic. In single-action reels the spool makes one complete revolution with each turn of the crank. The automatic reel operates by a spring mechanism that rewinds the line automatically. These features, which make it possible to retrieve the line quickly, account in large part for the popularity of these reels. Beginners usually find the automatic reel easier to use, but most experts prefer the single-action reel.

Fly lines are of three different types: level, double tapered, and weight forward. The level line is of uniform thickness throughout its length and is used to cast wet flies and streamers. The double-tapered line is thinner at both ends and is used to cast dry flies because it lands more lightly on the water. A dry fly floats on top of the water; a wet fly floats below the surface. When long casts are required or when bass bugs are used as lures, a weight-forward line is best. This line has a heavier and thicker forward section, which provides needed weight for distance or for heavier lures. Fly lines are numbered according to their type, taper, and weight, and they should be carefully chosen to suit the rod.

Since fly lines are relatively thick and heavy, they create a splash as they strike the water. The splash is easily seen by fish, and it may frighten them away. To prevent this, a nylon leader is attached to the end of the line. The leader is lighter than the line and may be tapered or level. A tapered leader is considered best, and most anglers carry several leaders of various strengths and sizes in lengths of from 7 1/2 to 12 feet.

The lures used in fly-fishing consist of artificial flies made from feathers, hair, fur, wool, tinsel, and other materials tied to small hooks. Flies are made to resemble insects and small fish.

Methods of Fly-Casting

Of the several fly-casting methods, the overhead cast and the roll cast are most important. In both, the rod is held lightly between the thumb and the lower three fingers. The forefinger remains loose, to be used for other purposes. About 15 feet of line should be pulled from the reel. If more line is off the reel than is needed to make the cast, the section to be cast should be held between the thumb and fingers of the hand not holding the rod, and excess line reduced in whole or in part as required during the forward part of the cast. The wrist must be rigid, so that all the action will be by bending the forearm at the elbow. Beginners should not use the upper arm or flex the wrist until they become more proficient. Because most fish are caught at distances of not more than 30 feet or so, beginners should avoid trying to handle too much line. Specialists can cast 150 feet or more.

The overhead cast (with the line extending outward on or near the surface of the water) merely consists of raising the forearm upward to the vertical in an accelerating motion, pausing a second or two to give the line time to extend backward to its full length, and then pushing the rod forward with another accelerating motion before the line has time to fall. In the forward part of the cast, the aim should be at a spot 3 feet above the target, rather than at the target itself, thus allowing line and leader to straighten out properly and to drop lightly on the water. Beginners should use no more line than they can control. With more experience it will be found that extra line (off the reel) can be shot forward during the final part of the forward cast by releasing it from being held with the fingers of the hand not holding the rod.

The roll cast is made when there are obstructions behind the angler that would make the overhead cast impractical. It also is used to pick up line before changing direction in overhead casting. There is no back cast in the roll cast. To make it, as much line as is convenient should be cast out by using a sideways cast in the easiest direction. Extra line off the reel should be available to shoot out. The rod should be raised slowly until the line extending from it is looped slightly behind and away from the shoulder of the rod hand, with the rest of the line in the water. The forward part of the cast is made by sharply pushing the rod forward and downward. This causes the line in the water to follow the loop, which was extending downward, with the result that the whole line rolls out in a big loop extending itself forward. The power of the push of the rod forward and downward will shoot out some of the extra line, the amount depending on the power of the cast. A properly made roll cast will force line out straight to a surprising distance.


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