Fly Fishers' Republic

Overhead Cast
(Lesson 1)

April 23, 2006

by Sue MacNiven

As a fly casting instructor, I find that the most frequent comment I get (after – “Blimey you’re a woman!”) is, I can cast ok at short distance but it all goes to hell when I try to get distance!

My aim in writing this is to start at the very beginning so that you the reader can get something of value out of this information no matter what level of casting you are at. Even if you have been fishing successfully for a number of years, there are bound to be some bad habits that you have picked up along the way which affect the results of your casts. I had fished with success for 35 years before going through Instructors training, and believe me, the learning curve was immense, mainly trying to eliminate bad habits formed over the years.

I am not suggesting that you will want to perfect advanced casts to the extent that an instructor might, but perfecting the basics builds the blocks for more advanced casting.

My job as I see it, is to enable you, the client, to get the most enjoyment out of your fishing. That means being able to cast comfortably and effectively for a full day, without aches and pains and with minimal effort.

Way too much power and effortWay too much power and effort, look how high the rod hand is, and how stretched the arms.

I highlight the minimal effort, because as a rule and hopefully in the short term, most of my clients are men, and many are numbered among the “throw this bit of string as hard as I can, to get it to go as far as it can” brigade. I know that sounds like a broad sweeping feminist statement, but I have seen many women putting in the same amount of force, and the fact remains, LESS IS MORE. Next time you are at a local reservoir or stillwater take a look around at your fellow fishers. How many of them cast with the hand above head height, arm straight, waving in a broad “throwing” arc, finishing with a straight arm pointing at the far bank and almost chucking themselves in with the line? How many fishermen in boats do you see putting in so much power that the boat rocks alarmingly from side to side with every false cast? Count the number of false casts you see being made on the average cast, 6,7, or even more?

Now be really honest with yourself or get a friend to look at you cast and see if you can be counted amongst them.

The truth is, that the best and most effective casters use hardly any power, they look tidy and all of their actions are small and contained, they allow the rod to work for them. To allow this to happen we need to change our mind set somewhat and make sure that the basics are correct. I will start right from the beginning of the cast.

At this point let me qualify that a little, as at this stage we are not talking about tournament double haul open stance distance casting of over 30 yards.

Our aim is to lift the fly and line off the water as gently as possible with minimum disturbance and place it back on the water in the same fashion in a specific direction, generally straight and quite often for a reasonable distance, say 10 to 20 yards.

We are going to start off by aiming to cast a short distance, say the length of a weight forward head, ie. around 10 yards, but in good style and with correct stance and controlled loops.

Because we want the line to go out in a straight line we have to set ourselves up for the cast right from the start, with everything lined up to achieve that. This means that we point the lead foot, (the same side as our rod hand) in the direction we want the line to go, and put a little bit of forward weight on it. The rod will be gripped in the hand with the thumb on top, so that the reel is hanging directly underneath the rod, this means that the finger tips should be just visible. If you can see most of the bottom two joints of your fingers, your hand is twisted too far round, with your thumb nail pointing sideways instead of on top of the rod.

The pressure of the grip should not be so great that your knuckles turn white. Think of having a mouse in your hand, you don’t want it to escape, but you don’t want to pop its eyes out!

Now, tuck your elbow down to your side and line your thumb up with your shoulder and over your leading foot, rod pointing down to the water. This is called a closed stance. Pull the rod butt up against your forearm with your fingers and feel it there until you make the first stop.

To start the cast have the head (the thickest part) of the line out on the water in front of you, point the rod tip as close to the water surface as you can get. This starting point allows maximum bend in the rod from the very start of the cast to enable you to do less work. In order to maintain this bend, it is important that the rod does not stop from the start of the lift until you get to the first stop point. The aim of the lift is to get the line off the water as cleanly as possible, with as little water disturbance as possible.

The speed needed to do this is critical. It should start slowly and increase progressively to the stop. If you look at the tip of the fly line as you lift, the line should come off the water in a straight slanted line to the tip of the rod. If you can see a curve in the line with the belly sagging toward you, the increase in speed is not enough. If you get a great upsurge of water and a loud swish noise you have started too fast. We want the line to come over the tip of the rod and be heading skyward behind you, not heading to the bank and bushes.

So where and how is the first stop going to occur? Many people use a clock face analogy, (11 oclock and 1 oclock), and without being in front of you to demonstrate, it is probably as good as any. Though what I look for in the stop is hand and arm position. If you stop the up cast when your thumb is pointing straight up in the air, elbow pointing down, tucked into the side and forearm vertical, thumb still in line with the shoulder, it should be correct (Figure 2 & 3). When looking forward at this point a glance sideways should just see the thumb level with the eye. If you stop the cast here and look up at the tip of the rod it should be just past the vertical. Good casting also relies on straightness of the cast. So keeping the thumb tracking on the same plane without turning the wrist or arm will aid good loop shapes and help prevent tailing loops which can result in the hook catching the line and forming wind knots (should really be called bad casting knots).

Good position view from side and backGood position view from side and back

One of the faults most commonly cited in fly-fishing could now be occurring. If at this stop point you haven’t bent the elbow enough so that the forearm is still at an angle other than vertical and you allow the wrist to cock back, letting the butt of the rod fall away forward from the forearm you have created the dreaded wrist break (Figure 4). The effect of this is that the thumb points backward, the rod tip follows this trajectory and the line heads towards the grass and you have a wide open loop of line flopping down behind. Another way of getting the same effect is by swinging the elbow forward so that the hand comes back to the ear and the underside of the upper arm ends up parallel to the ground.

The dreaded wrist break and moreDreaded throwing actionFigure 4 shows the dreaded wrist break. If you look where the hand is and how little room it has left to travel forward for the forward stroke. This will encourage a throwing action with the arm pushed forward Figure 5 & 6.

The next part of the cast is the pause, this is in order for the line to unfurl and straighten behind you, so the longer the line you are casting, the longer the pause, and vice versa. The line should not drop down much past horizontal. If you miss-time and come forward too soon you will hear anything from a sharp whip crack to a dull thwack noise. If on the other hand you wait too long, the line will slow down and start to fall, making it highly likely you will catch bank, fences or yourself. So the aim is to maintain tension in the line through the lift, the stop and into the forward stroke, which again accelerates in speed to the stop at around 11.0 clock with the elbow still pointing down and bent so that the thumb is at about 60┬║ from upright. As the line straightens out in front of you and starts to drop you follow through with the rod tip to water level ready to retrieve. The stops are very definite and much higher than you might think. The reason that we stop so high and firm is to enable the loops of line to form tight u shapes, this aids casting into and against wind.

To go a little further into loop efficiency, the shape that the rod tip makes in the air has a direct bearing on what happens to the line. Bear in mind at all times, that wherever the rod tip goes, the line will follow. Try playing about with the rod for a while and watch what the line does. If your rod tip follows an arc between the two stopping points, look at the shape the loops form.The direction of the arrows shows where the line is going to end up going, it is mechanics we are talking about here, not brain surgery.

The direction of the arrows shows where the line is going to end up going, it is mechanics we are talking about here, not brain surgery.The direction of the arrows shows where the line is going to end up going, it is mechanics we are talking about here, not brain surgery.

It therefore follows that the straighter the line the rod tip follows between the two stop points the straighter the line will go. If you watch your hand through the cast it tells you far more than watching the rod tip will, because it is a much smaller movement and is easier to see without having to move your body, with the attendant risk of twisting and throwing the rod tip off track.

When you get to the point of double hauling and distance casting, this straight movement between the stop points is crucial as the stop points move further apart on the same plane, without opening up the arc. More of that later.

So to sum up:

Basic Faults cause and effect:


These should be adhered to at all times when fly fishing, these are for your protection and remember as an adult it is our responsibility to set a good example for our children.

Related articles:

Lesson 2
Lesson 3