Learn to cast a fly: Part 1

Part one: Know your fly lines

British Fly Casting Club Secretary Mike Marshall discusses the basic fly lines and their uses, to help you become a better fly caster and master accuracy when fly casting.

For those new to flyfishing, fly casting is simply casting a weight as in other forms of the sport.

However, the fly angler’s fishing weight – a plastic covered line (metal impregnated on sinking lines) is very flexible, so we must understand how to cast it properly.

Heavy lines, such as those rated 10, produce more casting power and are therefore absolutely perfect for large pike flies and when fishing in strong winds. For stillwater, fishing lines rated 7 deal with most fishable conditions, leaders and flies, whereas a line rated 5 may be better for delicacy on rivers where shorter casts are required.

You must always match the weight to your line to the line rating of your rod to gain maximum performance, maximum distance and maximum accuracy. If you fail to do this, you'll only end up making matters worse when you're fly fishing.

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1 OVERHEAD CASTS need the line to be straight to the rod tip, transforming it into an effective weight to bend the rod. Upon straightening, the line is accelerated in the opposite direction and shot out by casting action, which can only be done if a hairpin shaped “pulling” loop is formed, where the rolling energy at the front of the loop pulls the line. Being flexible the line cannot be pushed, so, no pulling loop means no cast. Lines are tapered for about 10ft at the leader end, thus reducing weight and casting energy to prevent it slapping the water.

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2 ROLL CASTS rely on the line weight in the “D” loop behind the rod and the drag of the line still in the water to load the rod and, once drawn into this position, a normal cast is performed. This cast is very useful for removing line from the water prior to recasting and where there’s no room for an overhead backcast.

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Mike Marshall's line is straight on the back cast ready to move forward

The rolling loop (weight) pulls the fly line forward after the forward cast

The basic fly lines and their uses

SHOOTING HEAD LINES These lines have a heavy casting section, or head, attached to a running line that may be level fly line or a length of monofilament. The head itself is usually about 30ft long, can float or sink and usually has small loops on both ends to attach the running line and leader.

These are the easiest lines to cast when cut 25 to 30ft long and produce the greatest distances when cut 37 to 40ft long. Usually sold at 30ft; longer ones must be cut from a double taper line because, due to being a symmetrical line, you can cut two shooting heads from one line.

The mono or braided nylon running line is very durable, but can be shortened slightly – by cutting and re-attaching - behind the head when roughened by wear. Casts can only be made when the shooting head is drawn back very close to the rod tip – the running line has no weight to form a pulling casting loop. As for long leaders and three flies – don’t go there!

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Q WHY ARE THEY EASY TO CAST?

AWith the whole comparatively short line just outside the tip ring, the final cast shoots the

line out, while the nylon running line produces minimal cast-shortening drag.

WHEN TO USE A SHOOTING HEAD LINE

● Teaching a beginner to shoot line.

● Helping casters overcome injuries such as tennis elbow.

● Boat fishing fast sinking lines at depth, they’re easier to lift out of water.

● Casting to distant fish from the bank.

● Where the back cast space is very limited.

● In a wind from behind.

● When a reel is small a shooting head will always fit.

WHEN NOT TO USE A SHOOTING HEAD

● Where accuracy and delicacy of presentation are needed, they don’t land quietly

and are easily blown off course in a side wind

● When casting in still air and into wind – due to the long shoot and minimal

running line drag, they do not straighten and tend to land in a heap.

WEIGHT FORWARD LINES Most weight is in the thick belly – the 30ft section just behind the front taper. The rest of the line is quite fine diameter running line.

These are basically shooting heads with plastic covered running line. Weight forwards have head lengths in the 37 to 40ft range, which suit the average caster, other 45 to 47ft ‘long belly’ lines require very good distance technique. Overhead and roll casts should be made with most of the back taper in the tip ring as the thin running line has little weight and cracks if repeatedly cast within the tip ring.

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Q WHEN WOULD YOU USE A WEIGHT FORWARD?

● When teaching experienced anglers to shoot line, particularly

those with a naturally short casting movement. ● Where the back

cast space is limited. ● For all general fishing with backwind.

● Where casting accuracy and presentation are not vital.

● When fishing with quite light leaders and small flies – the

underwater line drag is small.

Q WHEN WOULD YOU NOT USE A WEIGHT FORWARD?

● When casting in still air and into wind – due to the quite long

shoot and small running line drag, they do not straighten well and

‘land’ untidily. ● When casting to individual fish since the back

taper must be drawn back into the tip ring to recast, so time and

range are lost.

DOUBLE TAPERS A floating line with a casting taper on both ends and no running line. The tip and forward taper and the thick belly are duplicated on the other end. These are the most difficult lines to cast due to the running line being heavy belly, which means shorter shoots and more drag. However, they provide the best accuracy and presentation in normal conditions and good performance in difficult conditions. A long, smooth, casting stroke is needed for distance, but there is no head length to worry about, so any castable length outside the rod tip will do. They can be reversed if the leader end becomes worn, but they are bulky so a suitably large reel is a must.

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Q WHEN WOULD YOU USE A DOUBLE TAPER?

● When accuracy and presentation at distance are important, particularly with long leaders and three flies.

● When best performance is required in dead air, into a wind or across a strong side wind.

● When long roll casting. 

● When casting to rising or sub surface fish this line can, without shortening, be lifted from

the water and immediately cast again.

Q WHEN WOULD YOU NOT USE A DOUBLE TAPER?

● Where the back cast space is limited – these lines require the most space.

● When using very small hooks and fine leaders – the underwater drag is greatest.

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