Fly Fishing Devon: Instruction & Guiding on Dartmoor Rivers

  • Fly Casting:

  • Key casting concepts

  • Casting faults

  • Diagnosis and treatment

Fly Casting: Key casting concepts, casting faults - diagnosis and treatment

These notes summarize the main points covered in casting lessons delivered by Fly Fishing Devon. The page outlines the purpose, strengths and weaknesses of several casts. The signs and symptoms that help to diagnose casting problems are outlined. Ways to overcome these problems are suggested. 

It will help your casting if you practise between lessons. These notes contain a number of suggestions on what to do if you experience a problem when practising a particular cast.  You can also use them to help you plan further lessons with Fly Fishing Devon. Always wear eye protection and a hat when casting a fly rod. These notes are not a substitute for qualified instruction. It's been said many times that you cannot learn to cast a fly rod effectively by reading about it. Fly casting involves developing a 'feel' for correct rod loading. By watching your rod, line and arm movements an instructor can help you develop your appreciation of the sensations associated with good and bad casts.  

Please do not feel intimidated by the long list of things that can go wrong with a cast. Bear in mind that one of the reasons for coming to see us is so that we can help you cast effectively. Instructors carry all this information around in their heads so that they can help you concentrate on developing an effective cast. Think of us as "casting doctors". We have been trained to help you. You don't need a medical degree to know where it hurts. But you do need a doctor to recognise the symptoms and suggest a cure.

Fly fishing is fun and it is important to keep a sense of proportion. At the end of the session, your instructor will highlight particular things that you should concentrate on to improve your casting. Do not worry if some of the terms, symptoms or cures on this page are a mystery to you. These notes are designed to cover a wide range of casting needs and problems. People vary in their casting strengths and weaknesses. You will recognise the points that we emphasised during your lesson. These are the ones you should concentrate on.

You can also use this list to decide on which cast or problem you would like to focus on in your next session with us.

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Preparation: Setting up rod & line

  • always wear glasses and a hat when casting
  • avoid practising your cast on a hard (concrete, tarmac etc.) surface which can damage your fly line
  • roll casts work best on water; you can practise overhead casts on grass
  • rest your rod and reel on a soft flat surface with the reel handle uppermost
  • bend a short length at the tip of the fly line back on itself before threading the fly line through the rod rings
  • avoid excessive bending of the rod tipwhen threading the line through the rings
  • it helps to clean your fly line with a fly-line dressing; dirty fly lines are difficult to 'shoot'
  • put a mark with a waterproof marker pen 30 feet from the tip of the line - this mark shows the length of line most rods are designed to cast optimally
  • you may find it more convenient to put this mark on the section of fly line that runs between the reel and the first ring on your rod
  • magnifiers that clip onto a peaked cap make it easier to tie knots
  • attach a practice leader with a piece (about the size of a pea) of wool or synthetic yarn in place of a fly
  • a short (7.5 feet) thick leader tapering to 2X (.013 inch) may help to reduce tangles
  • applying Mucilin grease to the leader and wool prevents them sinking and reduces surface 'stick'
  • carefully draw a rod's length of fly line through the rod rings and use a 'bow-and-arrow' cast to place leader and line on water 
  • pull off about 30 feet of fly line from the reel and drop it at your feet
  • swish the rod vigorously from side-to-side with the rod tip just above the water and use water tension to draw this line through the rod rings
  • use a roll cast to straighten the line on the water surface

The grip

Do not hold the rod handle too tightly. Imagine that you are holding a little bird in your hand. Relax your grip and let the rod nestle in your hand supported by friction. Only squeeze the cork during the 'power snap'. Try out various grips to find one that is comfortable and suits your casting 'style':

  • thumb on top - can encourage wrist break, but good for distance casts
  • index finger on top - can reduce wrist break and good for accuracy
  • Jason Borger's three point grip  - can reduce wrist break and good for accuracy
  • Paul Arden's cocked-thumb grip, can cause cramp but claimed to increase 'crispness' of the stop

The stance

When standing in a river, your stance may be restricted by rocks etc.

Find a comfortable stance:
  • stand facing the target with legs side-by-side - the square stance
  • stand with casting arm foot forward - the closed stance - may improve accuracy especially if your rod hand is held in line with your eye
  • stand with casting arm foot backward - the open stance - allows you to watch your back cast, move your rod hand to the side and make longer casts, but it may rotate arm and rod out of alignment
  • a wading staff gives confidence when wading rocky rivers
  • a lumbar support wading belt can prevent an aching back
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The roll cast

Roll cast uses:

  • when back cast is obstructed
  • roll cast a deeply sunk fly line onto the surface prior to an overhead cast
  • after line has been pulled off the reel and placed on the water in a heap
  • after casting upstream and retrieving slack line
  • after dibbling the fly back towards the boat when reservoir / loch fishing
  • it is a relatively safe cast - the fly is normally in front of the angler

Roll cast limitations:

  • distance that can be cast is limited
  • limited change of direction (maximum angle less than 45 degrees - beware of the "Bloody L" - Simon Gawesworth's term for an " L" shape in the anchor of line lying on the water surface after forming the 'D' loop)
  • relatively inaccurate
  • the fly is drowned as the line is drawn back to create the 'D' loop; this is a limitation when fishing the dry fly
  • requires water to create tension that loads the rod - difficult to practice on grass

Roll cast key concepts mentioned during the session

  • face the target
  • start with rod tip on water surface
  • draw line back slowly when creating 'D' loop and anchor point
  • tilt the rod slightly away from your shoulder
  • in the 'stop' position check the following positions:
    • your thumb should be pointing vertically up to the sky
    • your forearm should be in the vertical position
    • your elbow almost touching your ribs
    • there should be a gap between your wrist and the rod butt
    • your rod should be tilted backwards just past the vertical
    • your rod should be canted out from your shoulder
  • align 'D' loop and anchor point in line with target - the 180 degree principle - anchor and 'D' loop should lie along a straight line
  • direct forward cast inside anchor point - if line crosses it will usually tangle
  • roll casts utilise a fast 'snappy' wrist action
  • when you are learning to roll cast it can help to focus first on this snappy wrist action before adding downward arm movement into the forward stroke
  • start forward stroke relatively slowly by pulling down with your elbow and hand, this will tilt the rod forward
  • then accelerate the rod by adding the wrist action - pushing against the grip with your thumb and pull with ring and little fingers
  • imagine forcing the rod butt against your forearm to create a hard stop
  • ways of expressing the arm and wrist movements required in the forward cast include: "smooth acceleration to an abrupt stop", thump your hand down on a counter to demand attention from a bartender, power snap, pop/stop, twitch, flick, whump, "swat a fly with the rod tip"
  • a "bloody L" in the line will interfere with the forward cast landing straight, bear this in mind when changing direction
  • raise / lower the rod-tip stop point on the forward cast to vary landing position
  • at the end of the forward stroke your elbow should be close to your body
  • at the end of the forward stroke your forearm and elbow should form a 90 degree angle
  • do not throw your arm forwards during the forward stroke
  • aim high when shooting line

Roll cast key words may be used by your instructor during the session

  • lift rod vertically to 45 degrees
  • swing around the body to create the 'D' loop
  • check position of:
    • line (D loop) behind your rod and shoulder
    • hand - thumb vertical
    • rod - at 45 degrees to hand
    • anchor point - pointing at target
  • tap - calls to mind the idea of tapping a nail into a wall in front of the caster, other terms include 'power snap', 'wrist snap'
  • stop position

Roll cast faults: Causes and corrections

  • line tangles:
    • Caused by forward cast being directed over / across the anchor point. The forward cast should be aimed inside the anchor point i.e. the line lying on the water in front of the caster
  • line piles in front of caster:
    • Caused by forward cast starting with too much acceleration before ending too slowly.
    • Or, power applied too late in the cast causing line to unfurl / run out across the surface of the water.
  • line does not completely unroll:
    • Caused by insufficient energy / snap / power in the forward cast
  • the line hits the rod or caster:
    • The line is lying too close to the caster's shoulder - it should be about half the rod length away from the shoulder, tilt the rod away from the shoulder
    • Or, the rod is being brought forward too close to the caster - tilt the rod off from the vertical so that the tip of the rod is just inside the straight line made by the 'D' loop and the anchor point.
    • Or, a wind is blowing the line onto the casters rod arm.

Roll casting further

Line can be shot into a roll cast by releasing line during the 'wrist snap' element of the forward cast.

There are a number of ways to increase the distance achieved by roll casting.

They involve techniques that allow more line to be shot into the forward cast by:

  1. increasing the size and effectiveness of the 'D' loop
  2. and reducing line stick caused by a long anchor
  • Use a 'slide pickup'. Let line slip through the rod rings as you draw line towards you to create a bigger 'D' Loop
  • Reduce line stick. Adopt an open stance to smoothly transfer body weight from your back foot to your front foot at the start of the forward stroke. This 'rocking motion' overcomes the effect of surface tension on the anchor and slightly increases the size of the 'D' loop.
  • Speed up your cast. Slide the line across the surface to form the D' loop and make the forward cast as one continuous movement. This overcomes the problem of surface tension gripping the anchor point. It also creates a 'D' loop that is already travelling in the direction it will take when you make the forward stroke.
  • Introduce 'drift' into the roll cast. Do this by raising your hand upwards and backwards a fewinches as you complete formation of the 'D' loop and immediately before making the forward stroke. Drift widens the casting arc by moving the rod tip down. Raising your arm increases the size of the 'D' loop and decreases the length of the anchor. Drift and the forward stroke should merge seamlessly into each other.
  • Use a 'thrusted backcast' during formation of the 'D' loop. Make the drift with a flick or brief 'snap' of the wrist. Be careful to avoid lifting all the line off the water during this movement.
  • Put a haul into the 'wrist snap' element at the end of the forward stroke
  • You can combine two or more of these techniques to maximise the chances of shooting line into the roll cast
It may help to adopt a two-handed roll cast with your non-casting hand on the butt of the rod

Coping with wind

  • wind into the casting shoulder - tilt rod tip over opposite shoulder to make cast over that shoulder; twist the torso towards that side
  • head wind make forward stop low
  • tail wind - create the "D" loop in the horizontal plane, make forward stop high

Changing direction

  • one drawback of the roll cast is that it only permits limited change of direction (maximum angle less than 45 degrees - beware of the "Bloody L" - Simon Gawesworth's term for an " L" shape in the anchor of line lying on the water surface after forming the 'D' loop)
  • larger changes in direction require preparatory moves to reposition the anchor point. These "spey-casting-on-small-rivers.shtml" movements are described on a separate page
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Overhead cast / pick up and lay down cast

Overhead cast uses:

  • achieve distance
  • achieve accuracy
  • lengthen line through false casting
  • dries the fly through false casting

Overhead cast limitations:

  • requires sufficient room behind and overhead
  • potentially dangerous - the fly passes behind the angler

Overhead cast key words that may be used by your instructor during the session

  • lift - rod vertically until line clears water, do not allow slack to develop
  • tap - back and upwards along a diagonal line
  • stop - check rod position; if necessary allow line to fall to ground
  • pause
  • tap
  • stop

Overhead cast building blocks 

  • Casting stroke: The path taken by the handduring the cast
  • Casting or rod arc: The change in the angular position of the rod buttfrom the start to the end of the stroke
  • Stroke length: The distance the rod tiptravels within a given casting arc. Stroke length is directly proportional to the length of line being cast

Overhead cast helpful hints

  • always start the back cast with the tip of the rod close to the water surface to reduce slack line
  • try to start with a straight line in front of you; if necessary roll cast to straighten the line, or take a few steps backwards to straighten line
  • accelerate smoothly to a firm stop
  • stop the rod on the back cast when the fly leaves the water
  • stop the rod when your thumb brushes against / reaches the level of your ear lobe
  • pause to allow the line to unroll behind you
  • you may find it helpful on the back / up cast to think of the rod tip traveling up the wall of a house, and then up a pitched roof; but do not pause the rod on this journey
  • you may find it helps to concentrate on one thing at a time. For example, concentrate on the back cast even if it means allowing it to fall to the ground behind you; then rotate 180 degrees and make another back cast
  • concentrate on how the rod and line feel when you make a good cast - try to remember that feeling so you will recognise for yourself when you make a good cast
  • you don't need a rod to practice your casting. 'Pantomime' casts and engage in 'mental rehearsal' between casting sessions
  • expect things to go wrong, particularly at the start of each session. Persevere and your performance will soon 'warm up'
  • be prepared to seem to go forward two steps and back one step.
  • finish each session with an element you are good at

Overhead cast refinement

Drift and creep

  • Drift or 'follow through':
    • drift is an example of good casting 'style'
    • drift is executed after the rod has been stopped on the back cast; the rod is slowly drifted in the direction of the back cast after the rod has been stopped
    • drift is executed in different ways by different casters
    • Lefty Kreh moves his hand backwards horizontally which moves the rod tip back and down
    • Jerry Siem opens his wrist to move the rod tip down
    • Joan Wulff lifts her arm which moves the rod tip back and down
    • drifting is the 'cement' in a 'continuous tension' cast where drift is still noticeable as the caster shifts their body weight in preparation for the forward cast
    • drift widens the casting arc by moving the rod tip down
    • drift increases stroke length by moving the hand and rod backwards
    • drift can occur on the back and forward cast. However, the term 'follow through' is usually used to refer to drift on the forward cast
    • follow through involves extending the casting arm and pointing rod at target; this may reduce friction between rod rings and fly line which can increase distance achieved by the cast
    • Steve Rajeff advocates follow through "via wrist turnover, following the stop"
    • think of drift and follow through as "fluid movements relaxing into the direction of the cast"
  • Creep:
    • drift and creep are opposites
    • an undesirable feature; reduces potential length of casting arc and stroke length
    • the rod is moved in the direction to the upcoming stroke before the line has straightened and then the rod is stopped 
    • can introduce slack and unload the rod
    • can be caused by the caster moving the rod forward, or the tip of the rod bouncing forward after an overpowered cast
    • the term 'creep' is normally used to refer to rod movement prior to the forward casting stroke. However, the beginners tendency to raise the rod tip from the water surface and pause before making the back cast also reduces potential stroke length and introduces slack, and is therefore an example of creep
  • Slide loading:occurs after the stop on the backcast, involves shooting line into the backcast with simultaneous forward movement of the rod; said to preload the rod at the start of the forward cast. Should not be confused with creep. Unlike creep the rod is not stopped after slide loading.

Overhead cast faults, causes and corrections

  • line fails to straighten on the forward cast. Can be caused by problems on the back cast or forward cast.
    • Back cast problems:
      • rod tip raised too far off water surface at start of cast, causes "J" loop between tip and water; compromises stroke length
      • wrist break causing line to drop on the back cast - a potentially serious problem.
      • Try the following:

        • index finger on top grip
        • Borger three-point grip
        • think "stiff wrist"
        • look at your wrist as you cast
        • pull back with ring, middle and little finger to brace rod against forearm
        • tuck rod butt into shirt sleeve to get 'feel' of a stiff wrist
        • hold rod butt against forearm with non-casting arm
        • rotate rod through 180 degrees to place reel against forearm
        • make up / back cast in front of face, touch tip of nose with thumb / forefinger
        • make a cast in the horizontal plane, laying line on ground at end of each forward and backward stroke
        • just make the backcast, allow line to drop to ground, turn around 360 degree, walk backwards to straighten line, repeat backcast
        • cast with just the top rod section
      • pause too long causing line to drop on back cast
    • forward cast problems:
      • weak or absent 'power stroke' / 'acceleration to a stop' on forward cast line lands in curves on the water
      • too much force on forward cast causing line to bounce back and land in curves on the water after the stop
      • rod stop position too high - line lands in curves on water
      • rod stop position too low - end of line and leader crashes into water in a heap
      • shooting line before the 'stop' on the forward cast - line fails to straighten
  • whip crack noise during forward cast:
    • insufficient length of pause after back cast before commencing forward cast
    • or caused by insufficient power on the back cast which results in the line not straightening, consequently the line is drawn around the 'U' at great speed.
  • line hits caster on back cast:
    • caused by wind onto casting arm, or rod not tilted off to the side,
    • or tip not on water at start of cast causing slack in the line, or pausing between lift and application of power causing slack to develop,
  • line hits caster on forward cast:
    • caused by low back cast, due to starting forward cast with too much power,
    • or the line is too heavy for the rod, or too much line in the back cast, or the rod is 'sloppy' all of which can cause the line to drop on the back cast
  • 'whooshing' noise during back cast:
    • caused by too rapid an acceleration during the early phases of the back cast, look out for the line being ripped off the water surface and throwing up spray.
    line lands with a splash:
    • caused by aiming too low on the forward cast,
    • or releasing line too soon on the shoot, or 'bowing' the body towards the water on the forward cast,
    • or starting the forward cast with the rod hand held too high e.g. above the head,
  • tailing loops:refers to crossover of the upper and lower legs of the unrolling loop
    • it is the opposite of too wide a loop
    • can produce 'wind knots' or tangle the line
    • caused by the tip of the rod dipping below 'the straight line path'
    • often due to the application of too much power
    • reduce power; think 'smooth' application of power
    • try relaxing the grip on the rod after 'power snap'
    • allow your back cast to straighten before starting the forward cast
  • There are a number of casting faults that result in tailing loops:
    • FAULT: overpowering the forward stroke, CURE use less force on the forward cast, think 'smooth application of power'
    • FAULT: lack of forward 'loading move' (similar to overpowering the forward stroke or starting the power stroke too early). CURE: 'Slip loading' - maintainrod butt angle constant and only rotate the butt - to apply power - at the end of the stroke
    • FAULT: casting arc is disproportionate to rod flex, CURE; adjust casting arc to rod flex
    • FAULT: stationary elbow with snapping wrist, CURE raise elbow on back cast, and lower the elbow on forward cast;
    • FAULT: carrying elbow straight back and forwards on back and forward cast, CURE raise elbow on back cast, and lower the elbow on forward cast;
    • FAULT: back cast too high, forward cast too low, CURE: lower the back cast
    • FAULT: forward power stroke started too late causing tailing loop on forward cast, CURE: start power stroke sooner in the forward cast
    • FAULT: punching the forward cast by moving the arm forward, CURE don't make the forward cast straight forwards.
    • FAULT: forward stroke begun too soon (also known as 'forward creep'),CURE pause to allow the back cast to unroll before making the forward stroke; learn to 'drift'
  • line twists:symptom is a series of twists in the line which appear between the reel and the stripping guide (first rod ring), caused by the back and forward casts not being made in the same vertical plane. The rod tip travels in an elliptical path

False cast

False cast uses:

  • drying the fly
  • lengthening line
  • changing direction - in steps of about 45 degrees

False cast limitations:

  • excessive false casting scares fish

False cast key words may be used by your instructor during the session

  • tap
  • stop
  • tap
  • stop

Shooting line

Shooting line uses:

  • increasing length of line outside the rod tip

Shooting line key words may be used by your instructor during the session

  • tap
  • shoot

Shooting line faults, causes and corrections

  • line fails to shoot, caused by releasing the line before stopping - or too long after stopping  - the rod on the forward cast

Reach cast

Reach cast uses:

  • use a reach cast if a fish is lying in relatively slack water on the other side of a strong current. Reach to the left or right according to the direction of the main current.
  • use a reach cast to avoid 'lining' fish that may be lying between you and your target fish
  • use a reach cast to present a fly to a fish lying 'behind' an obstacle between you and the fish
  • when sea trout fishing with a 'wake fly' in a slow current, a reach cast can be used to create drag.

Reach cast key words may be used by your instructor during the session

  • shoot line into forward cast
  • reach

Slack line cast

Slack line cast uses:

  • allows for 'drag free drift' e.g. when fishing a dry fly downstream. The current will take out the wiggles in the cast without causing the fly to drag

Slack line cast key words may be used by your instructor during the session

  • shoot line into the forward cast
  • wiggle rod tip from side to side
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Double-haul cast

Double-haul cast uses:

  • to achieve distance
  • casting into a headwind

The double-haul increases line speed and increases rod loading through friction of line on rod rings - i.e. it increases the bend in the rod

Double-haul Limitations:

  • can be difficult to learn this cast

Double-haul concepts:

  • Four learning steps:
    1. false cast with hands together
    2. haul into forward cast and shoot line
    3. haul into back cast
      • bring line hand back to meet rod hand,
      • let line fall on ground or onto water
      • check that line falls in a straight line.
    4. put it all together; haul on back cast, hands together, haul on forward cast, shoot line
  • up / down elbow movement
  • rod 'drift'

Double-haul key words may be used by your instructor during the session

  • return
  • haul
  • return

Double-haul faults: causes and corrections

Don't try to learn to double-haul until you can perform the basic overhead cast.

  • slack line between hand and stripping ring; caused by a weak back cast, or failure to 'give back' line on the back cast - by moving line hand up to the rod hand - at the correct time.
  • rod and line hand not together at start of forward cast; cure by practicing back cast with both hands touching
  • hauling on forward cast too late / early; haul should be made during the 'acceleration to a stop' / 'power snap'.
  • hauling on back cast too late / early; haul should be made during the 'acceleration to a stop' / 'power snap'.

The next videos show roll and overhead casting after instruction. Double-hauling is demonstrated by our colleague Neil Keep. Neil joined the West of England Tournament Casting Club at the age of 15 where he was coached by one of the worlds top casters, Simon Gawesworth, and went on to take part in various competitions across the country and in Europe.

Single haul into the forward cast:


  • to cope with a headwind - wind blowing onto your face
  • single hauls increase line speed
  • single hauls increase rod loading - i.e. increase the bend in the rod

Single haul into the back cast:


  • to cope with a tailwind - wind blowing onto your back
  • single hauls increase line speed
  • single hauls increase rod loading - i.e. increase the bend in the rod

The results of fly casting instruction

This video opens with a client putting a roll cast to good use coping with a relatively narrow river with surrounding bankside vegetation. The next section features a client learning to double haul on a wide stretch of the West Dart.

Double hauling by a master

In this video double-hauling is demonstrated by our colleague Neil Keep. Neil joined the West of England Tournament Casting Club at the age of 15 where he was coached by one of the worlds top casters, Simon Gawesworth, and went on to take part in various competitions across the country and in Europe.

Fly Fishing Devon: Instruction & Guiding on Dartmoor & South Devon Rivers

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