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​An Introduction to Fly Fishing: Casting with the Overhead Cast

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Let's start with the statement of the obvious. Casting is one of the single most important elements of fly fishing.

Second, don’t try to learn to cast on the water. That’s right. It’s the worst place to try to learn how to cast. Rig up your rod, leader included, tie on a piece of yarn or clip the hook off a fly, and head out to your yard or a wide open space. 120 to 150 feet of space would be good.

I’ll try to give you some guidance and tips and tricks along the way. To get started, there are two types of casts you’re going to have to master. They are the overhead cast and the roll cast. The manner I’ll present it in, is for right handed folks. For lefties, I know the world out there is tough for you. My wife is a left. She tells me just to take instruction and do it the opposite. Heck, what do I know!

Overhead Cast

Lift and Flick…The Back Cast

Number 1 rule of the overhead cast: You need as much room behind you as you do infront of you. There’s exceptions to every rule; however, generally speaking, if you’re going to cast 50 feet in front of you, you need 50 feet of space behind you. Number 2 rule of the overhead cast: Your casting motion is from the 10 to 2 position.

Stand with your right foot forward and knees slightly bent with a comfortable balance between the two. If you’re a baseball player trying to swing the bat, you’re doing it wrong. Think bunting. Starting with the rod tip touching the lawn. Your elbow in a relaxed position by your side and the line lying directly in front of you, slowly raise your hand, lifting the line off the grass. As the rod nears the 12 O’clock position, speed up and flick the line upwards, squeezing the hand as you do so. I would like you to imagine that you are trying to flick the line vertically upwards above your head and behind you.

If done correctly, the line should gently lift off the lawn, then aggressively shoot behind you. When the rod is stopped the line will continue to travel over the top of the rod and form a loop. This is the casting loop. This loop travels through the air, constantly unrolling and the line straightens out behind you. You should feel the line “loading” through rod. This is an important step. To feel the line and energy transfer throughout the cast. I find it very helpful for beginners to watch the line, the take up, the loop, and the line as in unrolls behind me.

Pause…Yes, Pause!

As the line travel from in front of you to accelerating behind you, pause. Stop at the 2 o’clock position. This is the step that absolutely kills gear fisherman. You must wait at the two o’clock for the line to accelerate backwards. It’s important to remember, the cast in fly fishing is casting the line, not a weighted lure. The loop of line must travel backwards and fully extend before you start the forward cast. In a short cast, this happens quickly. In longer casts…..longer wait.

When you don’t wait long enough, you end up with a tangled mess at your feet. We all have done it, way more times than we care to admit. All part of the learning process. If the rod and the casting action sounds like a whip, you’re not on the right path. It’s a rhythm thing, not a brute strength of force thing.

The Forward Cast

So you must wait for the line to straighten. Some instructors teach you to wait for a 'pull' as the line straightens. I think this is a bad thing to teach. It encourages folks to drop the rod tip even more causing a whole host of other issues. I like to wait until things just start to “tighten up”. The line is a split second before it is completely unfurled behind you. You can gradually feel the increasing energy transfer throught the rod.

For long casts in particular, I am conscious of watching the loop straighten. I turn my head after I have made the stop on the backcast. I then return my head to the forward-facing position before making the forward cast. Once the line has just about straightened, you can start your forward cast. The way to make this is to slowly rotate the hand forwards and flick the tip.

The line should now travel forwards and over the top of the rod forming a loop. This loop will unroll and the line will straighten in mid-air. Stop the rod hard at the 10 o’clock position. This will insure the transfer of energy goes though the line.

Follow Through

When you see the line unfurling in front of you, slowly drop the rod tip and follow the fall of the line. This is the follow through. Be sure though, that you have a hard, positive stop at the 10 o’clock position. Don’t try pulling the line through the cast. Your best results are going to be that hard flick back, let the rod load, wait, hard flick forward, stop hard, let the line gently fall and follow the rod tip with the falling line.

Flycasting works by using the weight of the flyline to bend the rod like a catapult and then, by forcing the rod to unbend, it casts the line for us. Essentially, you want the rod to sling the line back, then sling the line forward. This is one of the reasons the line is so thick and heavy.

To recap here are the five components:

  1. The lift, which merges into
  2. The upward flick
  3. The pause
  4. The forward flick
  5. The lowering of the rod / follow through.

That’s it my friends. Next week we will get into roll casting. 

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