Fly Fishers' Republic

Overhead Cast
(Lesson 3)

June 20, 2006

by Sue MacNiven

False casting! This is one of the hardest things next to double hauling to get right and it is the biggest killer of a decent cast because it is over-used.

Why use a false cast? It is used to extend line, and to dry out a waterlogged dry fly. It is the cast that we all see being used to good and poor advantage in equal measure up and down our still waters be they large or small.

It is often characterised (or perhaps I should say caricatured) by loud swishing noises arms swinging back and forth and big loopy lines getting bigger and rounder with each cast. It often finishes on perhaps the eighth or ninth cast with a loud exhale of breath sometimes with the word B****R at the end and a drop of the arms in disgust, followed by a furtive look around to make sure no-one has seen the mess of line 10 ft out on the water or heaped on the bank behind.

The way to perfect false casting is to have trust and faith in your rod and your own technique so that with as few false casts as possible you can extend from perhaps only a few feet of fly line to around 80 ft smoothly and easily, and have it land gently and accurately where it is supposed to be.

Again start off with the basics, give yourself about 10 ft of line in the water to start off with, we are not going to shoot line to start with, so no loose line is needed. Making sure that the lift off is smooth and with progressive speed and stops in the correct place each time we are going to make a normal cast. Instead of letting the line land on the forward cast, before it starts to drop past the horizontal point we are going to make another cast. We only let it drop on the second forward cast and follow through as normal.

The timing of this false cast is important, because we only have a short line aerialised the pauses between the stop points are short too. The aim is still to have taught line coming off the rod tip and for the line to be as straight as possible without the looping down of line associated with too long a pause and dropping of the rod tip.

So far you might have noticed I have not recommended looking at the line behind you to see when it is straight. There is a very good reason for this, namely that it is not easy for the beginner to watch the line without turning the body to a certain degree, this encourages a swinging action of the hand which takes the rod tip off track resulting in curving line.

When with an instructor this can be pointed out, but by yourself, cannot be easily picked up on.

If you watch how long it takes for the line to straighten on the forward cast, it will be the same on the up cast!

The biggest faults in false casting occur when the rod tip progressively stops wider and wider apart, creating bigger more open loops. Too many are used, losing control of great lengths of line. The power is increased as a result of a loss of taughtness in the line making it drop, and the arm is extended further and lifted higher to counteract the problem.

The word WINDMILL comes to mind.

To maintain control, stick to a maximum of three false casts, don’t be tempted to really¬†throw¬†the last forward cast.

When you can control the rod tip so that the line is coming over the rod tip and forming good quality straight U shaped loops, then start to introduce a shoot of line.

Go back to only one false cast, letting go of the line on the last forward cast, making sure that you put no added effort into the final cast. Next strip a little more line off the reel, so that you have perhaps a little looped on the ground. False cast again, this time, instead of holding the line with just the finger and thumb, cup your line hand around the line so that you can shoot around half of the loose line on the first forward cast, re-grip for the up cast and shoot the rest on the second forward cast and follow through.

This also means that as you release a little line on the first cast, the pause on the next up cast will be slightly longer, then as you release more line on subsequent casts the pauses get longer, so in effect the casting action appears to be getting slower, even though you are still accelerating the rod tip to the stop.

If this goes according to plan, you should have released all of the loose line without changing your casting action hardly at all, it should still have the stops in the correct place, the loops of line should still be U shaped, and horizontal both behind and in front. Your hand should still be coming up to ear level on the way up with the elbow pointing down.

Refer back to photo’s and diagrams in first lesson if need be.

If you lose the plot, go back to basics, get the action back, then introduce the shoot, then one false cast, then two false casts with shoot. If, after you think you have got it all sorted out, it starts to go off again, count how many false casts you are doing, don’t be tempted to put more that three in. There are other techniques such as the haul, which will give more distance, but will only work efficiently if the basic casting technique is good to start with.

If dry fly fishing, and the fly needs to be dried, the false cast can be employed but start with 2 or 3 short fast casts first to ping the water off the fly before starting to extend line. If fishing on a river or where there are wild spooky trout, keep the false casts away from where the line could spook fish if possible.


Safety Rules: These should be adhered to at all times when fishing or during casting practice - they are for your protection. Remember it is an adult's responsibility to set a good example for the younger generations. You will find a complete set of safety rules at the end of the first article.

Related articles:

Lesson 1
Lesson 2