Cast Better: Casting in the margins

In the first part of this casting series, Nick Hart says we don’t have to cast to the horizon to catch trout

Anglers crave excitement. We love the anticipation of it all, the adrenalin rush when a fish takes and the exhilaration of a hard-fighting trout. But there is far more to our game than merely topping up the fishometer. Flyfishing for trout is all about problem solving. Just think of the thought processes we go through to outwit what is a relatively unintelligent quarry! It all begins with tackle options as we peruse endless catalogues and websites in the hope that somewhere we will find ‘the edge’ that leads to ever more enjoyable sessions. This is of course the whole reason to go fishing in the first place, enjoyment.

But the rich tapestry of flyfishing cannot be ours for the sake of a few financial transactions. Years of experience will be required to guide us through the infinite scenarios we might find ourselves in. Water conditions, the hatch, climate and many other factors all play their part in formulating these varied situations. Our response is to deliberate over fly line choice before turning our attention to the fly box. Then, once set-up, our first presentation must be sent toward our fish in the hope that it happens upon our offering without any hint of suspicion. It is at this point that some anglers may fail and so often it does not come down to their tackle or tactics; the problem is their casting.


Casting is fundamental to success but, nevertheless, it’s often overlooked by many anglers. Rarely do I encounter a customer dropping by the tackle shop who sparks a conversation regarding casting; instead they will quiz me about the latest rod technology, killer fly or method that Ihave come across. These aspects of our sport are all important of course but, without the ability to cast, this knowledge is redundant, £500 rod in hand or not! So I have decided to do something about this frustrating problem in the form of this “Cast Better, Fish Better” series.

To begin we resist the temptation to whack the line as far as we can and instead head to a small stillwater for some casting in the margins, 30-yard horizon seekers are not the only way to catch a trout!

What is stalking?

UNLIKE many forms of flyfishing which call for blind casts to be made, stalking requires an angler to visually locate a fish and then make a presentation to it, often at close range. Stalking is a popular tactic with small water big-fish specialists but it is possible to stalk fish on most clear water venues, even reservoirs. Hunting down a trout and then watching as it sucks in your artificial before charging off across the lake is one of the truly magical flyfishing experiences. Arm yourself with the recommended gear and have a go, but practise the casting techniques!

Stalking tactics can be employed with a variety of tackle although your choices should be predominantly based upon the size of fish you expect to encounter.

RODS A nine-foot 5wt set-up suits most small waters.That’s fine if fish are to be taken, but if hooking specimens to release, step-up to a nine-foot to 9ft 6in for a 6wt line.

REELS Disc drag reels should be used to control the explosive runs often experienced when fish are hooked at close range.

LINES Floating lines are often used with heavily-weighted flies, however sink-tips and clear intermediates are also well worth trying.

LEADERS Fluorocarbon is a must for clear water stalking and it is worthwhile either buying knotless tapered leaders or learning how to construct a tapered leader yourself to improve turnover.

ACCESSORIES You'll need a big net if you expect to stalk a double-figure fish but the most essential items are a hat with a brim/peak (baseball caps are ideal) to reduce glare and a decent set of polarised sunglasses to help spot fish. Ahat and sunglasses are essential protective wear.

STALKING BUG A purpose-designed fly, very heavy and easy to spot. The Caterpillars are heavy goldhead lures with movement, available in a variety of colours.

STALKING LEADER Shorter leaders are easier to control when stalking. Long leaders are more likely to touch the fish, causing them to spook. Choose six-foot of 8lb fluorocarbon tied to six-foot of 6lb fluorocarbon. Water knots are used for connecting leader. Or use a commercial knotless tapered leader of between nine to 12ft.

STALKING FLIES There are many flies ideal for stalking. Many of these flies are weighted to reach the trout’s cruising depth quickly and incorporate a bright colour or strong silhouette to help the angler track the fly while in the water. It is possible to stalk trout with imitative flies.


Stalking bugs: These are usually bright so they're easier to spot and weighted in order to sink through the depths to the cruising depth of patrolling fish. Many have marabou tails to provide that all-important movement.

The Casts

Cast 1 - Roll from the hand

AN ideal cast when traversing the shoreline looking for feeding trout and also a great way to start any session, enabling the line to be flicked out on the water with no fuss. Roll casting from the hand is only suitable for short-range presentations but with practise becomes a useful technique for quickly positioning a fly in the margins.

Grab the fly behind the hook point and barb, but don’t hook yourself upon making the cast!

Meanwhile allow the line to fall outside the rod and create a big capital ‘D’ shaped loop behind you, with your elbow gently tucked into your side, your thumb upright and in line with your eye.

You can now wander along the bank, looking for a fish to cast towards, although be careful not to catch the line up in vegetation while doing so.

When ready to make the cast, smoothly accelerate the rod and, as you feel tension/load upon the rod tip, release the fly.

Cast 2 - Standard roll cast


THIS is a great short-range technique and perfect when time is needed to spot a fish, position yourself and make the cast. The lack of line moving in mid-air is beneficial and less likely to spook fish. When roll casting, the ‘D’ loop and line lying in the water must be facing its target and never angle the rod across the line during the forward stroke or it will tangle. Areal benefit is that, after the initial presentation, the rod can be lifted to fish the fly, which in turn readies the rod for another roll cast. If a fish takes, roll cast forwards to hook it!

Start rod tip low to the water, elbow resting at your side and thumb or forefinger on top of the handle.

Smoothly lift the rod tip, sliding the line across the water and aiming to create a ‘D’ loop hanging outside the rod. Your thumb/finger should be in line with your eye for correct positioning.

Now wait until a fish comes close before accelerating smoothly forwards, aiming for a definite stop. This causes the rod to load against the ‘D’ loop and the water tension acting upon the line.

Incorporate a standard retrieve after the fly has reached the desired depth or form another roll cast which will cause the fly to lift enticingly in front of the fish and accelerate away from it, often provoking an attack.

Cast 3 - Tension cast


THIS is a useful technique when you need to quickly reposition a fly in the margins after it has been refused or if a previous cast was off target. Using water tension to help load the rod, this cast is simple to learn and is frequently used when fishing moving water to throw heavy bugs such as Czech Nymphs. Another benefit of the tension cast is the ability to surface large flies and present to the quarry with one movement, unlike the roll cast which may need several strokes to accomplish the same result.

Imagine that the line laying on the water is your usual overhead back cast ensuring that it is straight, meanwhile position your rod tip close to the water’s surface and angle your hand, palm up. When you’re ready to make the cast, smoothly accelerate feeling for tension upon the rod as the line drags against the water. Stop the rod, allowing a loop to form as you would for an overhead cast. With practice this cast can be performed from many angles.

Also in the Cast Better series...

1. Casting in the margins

2. Camouflage your casting

3. Distance casting

4. Casting teams of flies

5. Casting in the wind

6. Reaching a tight spot

7. Good presentation at distance

8. Make your own shooting head