Jun 21, 2012

Guide to Successful Nymph Fishing - The Cast

Roll cast
Previously in our Nymph Fishing Series, we covered The Setup. Now that we’re all strung up and ready to fling the flies out there, let’s take a look at how best to cast such an unforgiving system.

Anytime you add a lot of weight and/or numerous flies and indicators to a leader, traditional overhead casting becomes more difficult. When fishing dry flies we have learned that tight casting loops build line speed and accuracy, but while casting multiple nymph rigs, we need to think differently. Because of the uneven weight distribution between fly line and fly, anglers really need to be careful not to get into a tangled mess. Ok, let’s go over a few key concepts that hopefully will keep us tangle free and allow us to efficiently get our flies where they need to be.

1) Slow Down the Casting Stroke
When you think about it, there are three elements that help to load a fly rod: Weight, Stroke Speed and Timing. As far as weight is concerned, the heavier the fly line, the more the rod will flex. When this is the case, we can actually take a little off our stroke speed – we can slow down and rely more on the weight of the line to load the rod. When you add a bunch of weight in the form of split shot and multiple flies, this needing to slow down becomes intensified. Furthermore, by slowing down, we allow the rod to flex deeper down the rod blank. The deeper a particular rod flexes, the broader the outgoing loop of line will be and this is exactly what we want. Broad casting loops will help us keep our line and flies and split shot tangle free.

2) Arc the forward and backstroke
When casting dries or light wet patterns our rod tip needs to travel in a straight line from front to back and vice versa. This keeps our loops thin, focuses the outgoing energy and allows the line to maintain momentum moving forward. This is not what we want when nymph fishing! The path that our rod tip should take on the back and forward strokes should be more oval or rainbow – shaped. The broader our arc, then the broader our loop will be. We want a nice open loop that is just large enough to stay tangle free. Additionally, we really need to stay smooth in the transitions of the cast. So when we change direction on the stroke from front to back and vice versa, we must start slow and accelerate very smoothly. Typically, an abrupt stop on the forward stroke at the height of your acceleration will unfurl the fly line aggressively. But don’t do this when overhead casting complicated nymph rigs. Here, we want to slightly continue the arc forward after releasing the line on the forward stroke. Having a little follow through will keep the line from sling-shotting forward and getting tangled or possibly, shattering your rod tip!

3) Eliminate False Casting
Do not false cast; it will only bring you suffering and it is not necessary. One should really embrace the water-loaded cast. What is meant by this? A water loaded cast is one that utilizes the inherent tension created from line sitting atop or beneath the surface of water. When we pull our line up off the water for our back cast, an enormous amount of tension and thereby, flex in our rod, is created. We come back and then forward, but we should lay down the line to the water on our forward stroke. If we haven’t achieved the desired distance, then we repeat. Continue to shoot more line on the forward stroke until you have reached your target water. What makes the water-loaded cast so great is the efficiency. Because of the massive load created, many anglers can reach their target water with only one back stroke and one forward stroke! It is especially useful when dealing with heavy flies and a short amount of fly line outside the rod tip. But one should note, that setting up the cast so that the backstroke is at a 180 degree mark from the target as well as making for an easy lift up off the water takes some initial preparation. When fishing from shore, our casting angle typically quarters upstream so that we can get our flies down into the water column and maintain a drag-free drift. Normally, the end of our drift ends up at a point downstream from our position. This is not always the case, but let’s cover this one first… Actually, what we really need to do here is talk about the roll cast. So let’s do that and then we’ll come back to the actual fishing scenario.

4) Roll Casting Rules!
A roll cast is another water-loaded cast that is done without an actual back cast. Unlike overhead casting where the line unfurls out behind us on the backstroke, the roll cast keeps the fly line out in front of us (or to our side depending…) with a certain amount of line on the water and the rest in the air – which hangs off our rod tip before our forward stroke. Basically, the technique is as follows. Just like a traditional cast, you need to eliminate all slack in the line so that the line draws tight against the rod. If you have too much line out the rod tip, pull line in until the kinks are gone and the line holds tight. Then slowly work the rod tip from the water to a 2 o’clock position up behind your head. This motion will pull your fly line and your flies towards you through the water while storing up tension in the rod. By slightly rounding out this motion to 2 o’clock, you will build more load and also keep your line from getting tangled on the forward stroke. Once your rod tip has reached 2 o’clock it is time to accelerate forward. The forward stroke should start slow and then build acceleration to an abrupt stop at 11 o’clock. Now if you have built enough energy for the amount of line still stuck on the water, it should sail on out there. But the key to getting a good cast really comes down to the length of line in the water. If you have too much, then the line will stick, if you have not enough, then the line will blow out and all tension will be lost. We’ll call this amount of line on the water, your anchor. Essentially, it anchors the tension in your rod tip on your forward stroke. So getting the anchor to the correct length is very important. So if we are casting a lot of weight, then we will need a short anchor – maybe just a short length of leader. The higher and further behind us we position our rod tip, then the shorter our anchor will be. Conversely, the lower and more in front of us we raise our rod tip into casting position, then the longer our anchor will be (light flies without split shot). Our best roll casts have will build adequate load on the backstroke, and maintain the load forward when the correct length of anchor remains on the water. Please note: roll-casting longer lengths of line require a faster, more vigorous forward stroke, while short lengths need only minimal effort – depending of course, on weight. Throughout the cast, pay careful attention to the amount of line touching the water as you start the forward stroke and play around with it – finding just the right length for your particular setup.

So if you are still awake, let’s get back to the casting scenario. Let’s say that we are on the river-left side of the river (left-if we are looking downstream). You step in and start to work line out the rod tip. We want to cast upstream. When you have wiggled enough line out of the rod tip, simply lift your rod tip up over your left shoulder so that just the split shot and the flies are barely submerged in the water and gently roll the line forward to a stop at 11 o’clock. Hopefully you were able to work more line out on the cast and now we are able to start thinking about casting our patterns for a drift. Draw your rod tip back for another roll cast, making sure that the line is tight to the rod and repeat the roll cast to your intended target and releasing any additional line you wish to shoot. When the line lands we can either start our drift or choose to cast again if we are not where we wish to be. Now that our line is upstream of us, we can now draw back and roll cast off our right shoulder towards the intended target. I prefer the roll cast here, but if you have the room behind you, this is a perfect time to shoot line with an overhead, water-loaded cast. Remember, one back cast and one forward cast. No false casting.

So let’s say that we like where we have casted (quartered upstream) and we start our drift… the line is slowly drifting downstream and when it gets about even with us the indicator dips and we set the hook. Nothing there. Now we want to recast upstream. The flies and weight are deeply submerged, so we must slowly lift the line up til our flies are about free of the water and gently roll the line upstream. If we haven’t shot the necessary amount of line on this initial cast, repeat making sure that there is no slack in the line as we stroke forward. Slack is our enemy, so eliminate it by pulling in excess line and/or drawing back smoothly to eliminate the kinks.

Another great way to get the line out there is used when the line is laid out downstream of us and is (at the least) close to a 180 degrees from our target. This happens naturally when we have finished a drift completely to the downstream side us. In this case, let the current draw the line tight to your rod tip, strip in just a bit of line (if necessary) to make it easier to lift, and then starting with your rod tip close to the water – gently accelerate up over your shoulder to the 11 o’clock stopping position towards your intended target. Basically, this mimics the stroke from back to front but the only difference is that you have used the water behind you to load the rod and your starting position is close to the river. Often times, if my line is not completely laid out downstream making this cast an easy option, I will roll-cast the line downstream (off my right shoulder) until it is lying straight and tight, to which I am then able to flick the line upstream to my target. If I wish to use this method to cast line further out into the river, then I need to lay my line more towards the bank behind me to get closer to a 180 degree angle from my target. I can do this if I have the room behind me and if so, I can do small roll casts off my right shoulder to lay it out tightly in this direction before starting my forward cast.

Once the line is out there, I can always lift and recast. I can roll cast off either shoulder, depending on the angle of my cast and the present position of my line in the water. I can roll cast the line out and then use a water-loaded overhead cast if I choose. The whole key to casting these setups is using the tension that is created with the water. Stay smooth and deliberate with these setups. We don’t need tight loops, as the weight on the leader will help carry the line if it is slung appropriately! By embracing the roll cast, we are able to fish in more places effectively.

Stay tuned. In the next segment, we’ll dive deeper into presentation.



  1. Really informative article. Describing the arc as a rainbow is right on. So many times I see folks out there trying to cast their nymph rig with a ton of lead just like a dry fly. Nymph fishing is effective but folks need to know the cast is not "a river runs through it"... It's more like "improvise, adapt, overcome"...
    Thanks for the words!

  2. Thanks for your comments. It is indeed, a very dynamic world out there. and you're right about Pitt & Family being on an entirely different program!

  3. This is the third time I've been to your site. Thanks for sharing more information.
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