Fly Fishing Devon: Refining a Roll Cast to Improve Accuracy

Tom Rosenbauer's book is useful for anyone starting to fish for wild brown trout in West Country rivers

He has this to say about the roll cast:

Most anglers think the roll cast is used more often than the overhead cast in small streams, but its utility is overrated, ...It's hard to make the roll cast as accurate as a short overhead or side cast, and accuracy is one of the prime tenets of small-stream trout fishing.

Tom is right. It can be difficult to make a roll cast that lands a fly accurately. And accuracy is important on our small rivers. Hopefully this page contains some pointers to overcoming the problem.

The roll cast has one fundamental weakness. The basic roll cast is not an efficient way to make even relatively small changes in the position of the flyline on the water.This inevitably leads to poor control over where the fly lands.

If you want to "cut-to-the-chase" have a look at this video in which the anchor is repositioned to be in line with the target. Think 'micro Double Spey cast'. This subtle manouevre helps to prevent a 'tracking' error - a possible reason for inaccurate roll cast presentations.

If that was 'gobblydegook geek-speak' read on for a fuller explanation and to see me make an 'unforced error'!

Video by Zoe Latham

Learning the Basic Roll Cast

As casting instructors we advise anglers to align their 'D' loop and anchor point with the target. This is known as the straight line principle: the anchor and 'D' loop should lie along a straight line. The next video shows the basic roll cast.

Limitation of the Basic Roll Cast

Fly Fishing guide and instructor Tim Rolston made this point
Roll casting has a serious drawback though, you can’t change direction and without modification you would simply keep placing the flies back in the same spot.
Tim makes a valid point - the critical word is 'modification'. Here is one of several possible modifications.

Learning to Change the Direction of a Roll Cast

Once the basic roll cast has been mastered the next step is to introduce a way of making a large change of direction. For example the Double Spey cast is a useful technique when fishing down-and-across for brown trout and sea trout

The next video shows how this involves swinging the rod to and fro across the body to reposition the anchor to be in line with the target.

How to Increase the Accuracy of a Roll Cast

This final video shows how adding very small Double Spey movements are used to make adjustments to align the anchor with the target. Think of this as a 'micro Double Spey cast'. This subtle manouevre helps to prevent a 'tracking' error - a possible reason for inaccurate roll cast presentations

This version of the video also includes an error that I made spontaneously. The Double Spey movements I made did not reposition the anchor. The D loop was moved but I left the anchor at the position it had reached at the end of the downstream drift. Casting guru Simon Gawesworth terms this the "Bloody L" - the D loop and anchor lying on the water in an " L" shape.

This resulted in the line falling as a curve on the water which was the result of my tracking error. I should have checked the position of the anchor on the water before making the forward stroke.

Video by Zoe Latham

What can you learn from my mistake in that video ?

Firstly we all make casting mistakes. Don't beat yourself up about it !

My mistake shows how easy it is to misjudge the amount of angular change you are forcing on the fly line. The problems mount as the weight or air resitance of your fly and length of your anchor increase.