Distance Casting Tips
Most fly fishers become interested in improving their casting distance shortly after they’ve learned basic casting and find the need to reach fish that are beyond their distance abilities. For many, casting to a 40’ target is an elusive goal and casting an entire fly line is an impossible dream. The following distance casting tips are intended as a learning guide to those seeking to cast farther.
Fundamentals are critical to successful distance casting.
Learning and applying the fundamentals of casting mechanics is essential to learning how to improve distance for all distances. The farther you are trying to cast, the more sensitive the cast becomes to errors in the mechanics. Learning the five essentials of fly casting is a key component to mastering good casting skills. In my classes, I tell my students that these essentials are the Rosetta Stone of fly casting; master them and you will unleash the mystery of good fly casting. Bill Gammel’s excellent video, “Teaching Yourself to Fly Cast – Learning the Essentials”, is a great starting point. In your fly casting development, the first goal to achieve should be well formed loops with a single handed cast to a distance of about 35 feet. Try to shy away from the use of a line hand and or the double haul until this initial goal is achieved.
It’s important for fly casters who are working on improving their distance that you understand that you cannot have a poorly executed 30’ cast and expect to have a well executed 50’ cast. This may seem obvious, but it’s amazing how often I work with students who are trying to cast 50 feet before they can cast well with 30 feet of line.
All improvement has to start at the distance where you are executing good loops on both the forward and back cast. If that point is 15 feet, then that’s your starting point. By the same token, if it’s at 50 feet, then that’s your starting point.
A successful 100’ cast is a result of excellent combination of rod tip path, casting stroke, timing, and power application and hauling speed.
Method to improving distance casts.
Improving the distance in your cast requires patience and discipline. A step by step approach which, starts near the point where you are successful and progresses incrementally forward, is a good method to use in your practice. Specifically, you should start working from the point where your cast is relatively strong; where you are casting consistent tight loops on the forward and back cast. From that point, add an extra one foot of line to your cast, striving to achieve the same consistent tight loops. Don’t move to the next length of line until you have achieved this goal. This will ensure that you’ve developed the proper muscle memory for each length of line. When things fall apart in your cast, carefully evaluate the mechanical aspects of the cast and make the appropriate correction. At some point, you may need someone to observe your cast and help you assess what isn’t working right. Use of a video camera can be very helpful. Hiring a qualified casting instructor at this point will also make a difference.
As you progress to different lengths of line, you are going to have to add new elements to your cast to make it possible to carry more line in the air and shoot more line through the air. Elements like the use of drift and the double haul. Each element will cause you to make adjustments to your cast, which will result in plateaus in your skill development. Most important, progress slowly; overcome the temptation to add extra line to the cast until you’ve mastered the previous lengths of line.
Line speed and tight loops
Tight loops are loops which are a foot and a half to two feet in width. While a loop below a foot and a half is tight, it usually is bordering on a tailing loop and shouldn’t be the goal. Tight loops are important to distance casting because they are more aerodynamic; they present less surface area for the forces of nature to act on.
Line speed in the context of this discussion, is the speed the line needs to keep the fly line airborne until the fly has reached the target point. It also needs to be sufficient to defy the gravitational and environmental forces that act on a fly line during the cast. This means that the line speed will have to increase more as more line is carried during the cast.
There is a point during the distance cast that you may be physically limited by the amount of power you can use with your casting arm. The speed of the haul plays an important role at this point. One of the challenges presented to someone who is casting long distances is to keep long lengths of fly line beyond the rod tip. The amount of line that someone can shoot without using a shooting head is limited about 10-30 feet. This means that if you want to cast over 100 feet, you’re going to have to carry 60-80 feet of line in the air. There are plenty of forces working against you, even in place where there aren’t any environmental factors. Line speed becomes a critical factor in fighting the effects of gravity on that length of line. Once you have maximized what can be accomplished with your casting arm to achieve the power needed to overcome gravity, you have to add additional line speed with added speed and distance to the haul with the line hand.
Using the incremental method described above, you need to practice varying the speed of your haul for each length of line that you’re carrying.
One of the factors that impacts the distance cast is the timing of certain events during the cast. When you need to shoot line, the timing of the moment to shoot is important. If line is shot too early or too late, the line won’t shoot as far as you’d like. The time to release line is at the end of the casting stroke, when the rod butt is stopped and the energy transfer moves from the rod to the fly line. If you release line too soon, the rod will unload too soon and the cast will be not be as good as it should be. If you release line too late, you’ll lose the benefit of the unloading of the rod and you’ll be releasing line some time after the maximum load.
Timing of the haul is important too. If you don’t haul at the right point during the casting stroke, you won’t get the maximum benefit to line speed and rod loading. This timing includes not rushing the reset part of the hauling process. Many people will haul and reset too quickly, causing unnecessary shock waves down the line as it’s unrolling. It also prevents them from getting the desired line speed increase.
Relaxed and efficient
There is a tendency for fly casters to use too much power during the cast, especially during the forward cast and when trying to achieve greater distance in the cast.
Be sure that you’re not fatigued when you are working on your distance. Muscle memory is so important in the improvement of distance skills that you don’t want the errors that will result from fatigue to affect the muscle memory development. If you’ve really worn your arms and shoulders, rest for a couple of days and let the muscles repair.
Drifting is done after the backcast or forward cast are completed. The rod hand is reached, slowly and smoothly along the same path the cast travels. The drift doesn’t add any additional energy to the cast, but it repositions the rod and line. This helps to extend the casting stroke.
- Drifting helps improve timing, allowing the loop to completely straighten out during the backcast. This gives you more time.
- Cushions the tip of the rod, by removing some of the recoil effects caused by very abrupt stops.
- Helps position the rod better for the forward cast.
- Helps avoid tailing loops when casting very tight back cast loops. Buffers the effect of the counter flex of the rod.
- Allows the backcast to straighten out more full
Watch your backcast
Starting your forward cast too soon is a major factor impacting your ability cast farther. Watching where your line is positioned before you start your forward cast will help improve distance. However, you have to make sure that you time when you start to watch the backcast. Watching it throughout the entire cast, during the casting stroke phase, can cause the rod tip to rotate out of the straight line plane, affecting the overall quality of the loop. Wait until the end of the casting stroke, after the rod has finished the acceleration phase. At this point, you won’t impact the rod tip path.
These guidelines are by no means comprehensive, but they will help you focus you learning process while you seek to achieve more distance in your cast, whether it’s a 40’ cast or a 100’ cast.
Distance Casting Tips