Learn To Cast Fast
by Gary Borger
When I began fly fishing in 1955, I had no other fly fishermen to teach me, no schools or videos to assist my learning. I had to teach myself. Thus began my continuing quest for ways to visualize the casting stroke and simplify it as much as possible. It wasn't until 20 years later that I found the ultimate solution.
In 1975, Mel Kreiger, Jim Gilford, Frank Gray and I met in West Yellowstone, Montana, to discuss the teaching of fly casting. As the four national directors of the Fenwick Fly Fishing Schools, we wanted to standardize what we taught and simplify our instruction.
Mel announced that he had developed a method by which he could teach the Double Haul to anyone in 15 minutes. Our skepticism turned to enthusiasm when he proved it by demonstration people who had never cast a fly line could do the Double Haul. People who had been trying to learn it for many years suddenly saw the light.
Mel's method? He taught the Double Haul motions without the rod until the students knew them. Then, and only then, were they permitted to use the rod and line.
When I saw what Mel was doing, I knew immediately that this was the way to teach all fly casting techniques. The student could concentrate solely on perfecting the arm motions without being intimidated by the moving line. Because after all, it's the arm movements that direct the rod movements. If the arm motions are correct, the cast will be correct.
Practicing without the rod is the key to learning any new cast, as well as for unlearning bad habits. Practice without the rod until the movements are habitual, then pick it up and make the new cast.
Learn The Basics
All fly fishing casts are built around the basic casting stroke. It is an easily mastered motion that uses gravity to assist in the cast. Once learned, fly casting changes from a nightmare to a sweet dream.
Begin by standing relaxed with your arms hanging normally at your sides. Bend the forearm of your casting arm up until it is parallel to the ground.
This is the beginning position of the cast. Point your index finger forward, curl your other fingers into the palm of your hand, and lay your thumb on your middle finger. Your index finger represents the rod, and where it aims, so eventually will the rod.
The first half of the basic stroke is a back and upward movement called the backcast. Raise your hand back and up in a smoothly accelerating motion until it's even with the side of your face, then stop abruptly. Note that in order to get your hand beside your face, your elbow has to swing slightly forward and up.
As you stop your arm, allow your hand to tip back (at the wrist) until your finger is pointing backward about 30 degrees past vertical. It is very important that the finger stop at this position. Do not allow it to tip any farther back.
The second half of the basic casting stroke is a down and forward movement called the forward cast. To start, just allow your elbow to fall back to its original position. As the elbow drops, the hand will move down and forward in a karate chop motion. Keep your wrist still as you make the forward cast, stopping abruptly with the forearm at a 45-degree angle to horizontal. Let your hand flip forward at the wrist as you stop at the end of the stroke.
Don't swing your hand out to the side during the basic casting stroke. Standing with your casting arm next to a wall will help you make the correct movement. Your hand should move parallel to the wall on both the backcast and the forward cast.
That's it. Learning the basic casting stroke is no more difficult than making a karate chop. But just because you can perform the movement correctly doesn't mean you are ready to cast just yet. Repeat the basic casting stroke slowly and carefully, watching and refining every aspect, until you can do it without thinking about it.
Don't rush this critical phase of the learning curve. Remember, practice makes perfect. I recommend making 50 to 100 strokes once each day for a week. But if you practice wrong, all it will make you is perfectly wrong.
When you're comfortable with the movements of the basic casting stroke, practice it with the butt section of your fly rod, with the reel in place no line. Hold the rod the same way you held your hand. Curl your fingers around the grip, lay your thumb on top of the grip and extend your index finger along the side of the grip.
Now, try the casting motion with the rod fully assembled, with the reel, but without the line threaded through the guides. If it feels awkward, go back to the rod butt and practice some more.
Take note as you practice to make sure the rod stops in the correct positions on both the backcast and forward cast. If you can't do it repeatedly, go back and practice the basic casting stroke without the rod.
When the casting stroke with the complete rod and reel feels comfortable, thread the line through the guides and about 15 feet beyond the rodtip. You should have a leader attached to the line, but don't count it as part of the line length.
Now, when you begin, pause just a second after completing the backcast to allow the line to extend rearward, then start the forward cast. Work with this length of line until it feels comfortable, then extend the line five more feet and continue practicing until you can comfortably cast 25 feet of line. Now, you're ready to hit the water.