Like most types of fishing, fly fishing can be as complicated or as simple as you want or need it to be. Whether you have just started fly fishing or are a longtime professional, you may be looking for new fly-casting techniques to tuck away in your proverbial angler’s box.
One thing to keep in mind when you’re fly fishing is that no matter what advice you hear or read, the true measure of a fly casting technique’s usefulness is if it’s helpful to you. You’re going to be the one using these techniques, so even if it’s the #1 technique in the world, if it doesn’t work for you, don’t use it!
Grab your flies, your lines, and your waders, and get out on the water to test some of these essential fly-casting techniques.
Here’s a quick overview of the types of fly-casting techniques we’ll be covering.
|Type of Cast||Difficulty||Situation/Environment|
|Basic Fly Cast||Easy||Generalist; any “normal” environment|
|Basic Back Cast||Easy||Generalist; most “normal” environments|
|Roll Cast||Easy||Tighter environments like streams and brushy beaches|
|Water Haul Cast||Easy/Medium||River/boat fishing; fishing upstream|
|Sidearm Cast||Medium||Shaded stream fishing|
|Double Haul Cast||Medium/Hard||Windy days and heavy rigs|
|Steeple Cast||Easy/Medium||Minimal space behind you for a back cast|
|Tuck Cast||Medium||Nymph fishing|
|Bow and Arrow Cast||Hard||Tighter environments like rocky streams and bushy beaches|
Whether you’re a beginner or a professional, it may be useful to brush up on the fundamentals of fly fishing before you tackle some more complex fly casting techniques. First, let’s look at the two basic fly casting techniques that will form the foundation of your fly fishing skills: the basic fly cast and the basic back cast.
1. The Basic Fly Cast
This is the most basic of fly casting techniques. It is simple and easy to execute, but if you don’t practice it and keep it in mind, you might find yourself slipping on fundamentals in more complex fly-casting techniques.
Here’s a simple basic fly cast how-to:
- Hold your fly fishing rod out in front of you.
- Using either your forearm or your wrist (personal preference) swing the rod over your shoulder.
- Abruptly stop at a perpendicular angle with your shoulder.
- Pause for a moment to let the line unravel behind you.
- Swing the rod back down and stop at its original position.
- The line should fly out onto the water smoothly!
Take a look at this YouTube video from Orvis to see the basic fly cast in action:
2. The Basic Back Cast
The back cast is less of a specific way of fly fishing and more the motion you do with every other fly casting technique. Knowing which cast to use depending on your environment can be very helpful for a successful fly fishing trip.
|Situation/Environment||Type of Back Cast||How-to|
|Open area (salt flats, clear river banks, etc.)||Normal back cast||Typical swing up and back, abrupt stop, pause to let line straighten|
|Closed area (brushy banks, forested area, etc.)||High back cast||Same motions as a normal back cast, but accelerate faster both ways and stop at a higher point to make the line swing back higher and shorter|
Orvis has an excellent YouTube tutorial on the basic back cast so you can see an angler in action:
3. The Roll Cast
The roll cast is an alternative option to the back cast. It is simple to learn and offers you a good option when you’re fly fishing in even tighter areas than what the high back cast can handle. This might be the most essential cast for beginner anglers as well.
The roll cast is built for small stream fishing as well as tight areas. You should always know the roll cast, especially if your favorite fishing spots are smaller, more hidden ones.
Roll cast how-to:
- Start with the line on the water and the tip of your fishing rod behind you. Your hand should be next to your ear and shoulder.
- With the rod angled out slightly, swing steadily.
- The line should catch and roll from front to back and then swing out into the water.
As you probably notice, the main difference between back-casting and roll casting is that you start with the rod at your shoulder. Instead of having the line roll out behind you and then snap back into the water, you’re starting with minimal space. This allows the roll cast to be used in tighter quarters.
You can also watch this tutorial from Orvis to get a better understanding of this cast:
With those basics practiced, you can move on to more complicated and/or niche fly-casting techniques!
4. The Water Haul Cast
The water haul cast is a fly casting technique that doesn’t utilize the back or roll cast. Instead, you’re using the surface tension of the water to give you some pull when you cast. This is the perfect technique if you like river fly fishing. This is a great technique for beginners as well.
Here’s how to do it:
- To begin, let your fly get pulled downstream. You want to let the line drift on the water until it’s as far as it can go. This is to maximize the surface tension on your line.
- Lift your hand slightly to break the tension on some of your line. Make sure the fly stays on the water.
- Clock your casting target. You want to know exactly where you’re casting before you break the tension on your fly.
- Lead the rod and cast it to your target. The surface tension should provide some pull and slingshot your fly upstream.
The water haul may sound somewhat complicated, but it’s pretty easy in practice. The main thing to get down is where you angle your cast.
When done right, the water haul cast lets you cast further and with greater accuracy. It’s a great fly casting technique to know, and if you’re a river fly fisher, it’s practically mandatory.
You’ll struggle to find a more efficient upstream fly casting technique than the water haul cast.
Take a look at Orvis’ tutorial on YouTube for the water haul cast:
5. Sidearm Cast
The sidearm cast is an evolution of the roll casting technique, and allows for getting flies under overhanging trees or bushes.
The goal of the sidearm cast is to roll your rig quick and low so that it can fly up under trees or brush that may be crowding the water. If you’re fishing in shady waters, this can be extremely useful.
Here are the basics of this technique:
- Start in the same position as a basic cast.
- Swing out at an angle as close to parallel with the ground as you can.
- Pause and let the line unravel.
- Swing back and cast the line under whatever you’re fishing under maintaining the same angle as the backcast.
As you can see, the sidearm is almost identical to the basic fly cast but performed sideways. This fly-casting technique allows the line to be cast almost parallel to the water, allowing it to fly under any trees, docks, rocks, or other obstructions you might be fishing under.
Watch this YouTube video from Orvis to see the sidearm cast in action:
6. The Double Haul Cast
As you might well imagine, wind can be a grave enemy of fly fishing—even more so than normal fishing. If you’re out casting on a particularly windy day, you’ll want to have the double casts in your mental fishing box.
The double haul cast is for heavier rigs and windier days. It’s a basic modification of the regular back-casting technique that allows for greater tension, force, and speed to overcome any weight or wind difficulties.
This fly-casting technique can be difficult to master. Have patience and keep casting!
- You’ll start with a standard fly-casting technique.
- On the back cast, haul your slack line to tighten the line and bend the rod.
- On the forward cast, haul your slack line again.
- Rinse and repeat to get a feel for the force you should apply to your hauls.
As you can see, the motions of tugging your rod and hauling your line may be difficult to get down at first, but once you’ve nailed it, the double haul is an excellent fly-casting technique to increase your ability to cast distance, and into the wind.
Never again will you be at the whims of the weight of your rigs or the windiness of your fishing spot.
Here’s a video of this technique being done by an experienced angler:
7. Steeple Cast
The steeple cast is essentially the more extreme cousin of the high back cast. The goal of the steeple cast is to allow you to cast high and short to cast effectively with minimal space behind you.
Follow these steps to steeple cast:
- Perform a back cast with a very steep trajectory, around 90 degrees.
- Stop your rod abruptly at around eye level.
- Lower your rod towards the water, making your line cast out and down. Avoid putting too much strength into this motion, since your fly is essentially dive-bombing the water and you don’t want to scare off potential bites.
This cast is basically just the higher high-back cast, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to master. It can take time to get the downward force down on the cast, though, so make sure you practice.
Orvis has a great YouTube tutorial of the steeple cast:
8. Tuck Cast
If you’re a nymph fisher, this fly casting technique will be your go-to. The goal of nymph fishing is to get your nymph to the bottom of the water as quickly as possible, and the tuck cast is the technique for that.
Here’s the basic technique:
- Perform a normal fly cast.
- Just before the line finishes unfurling, tuck the end of the rod up slightly. This will buck the line and send the nymph down into the water much quicker than it would normally.
This fly-casting technique is mostly used by nymph fishers.
Watch an experienced angler from Orvis do the tuck cast in this video.
9. Bow and Arrow Cast
Built for precision, the bow and arrow cast is a tough one to master, even for experienced anglers. The bow and arrow cast is designed to reach tight spots in streams you might not be able to reach with a basic cast.
These are the basic steps you’ll follow for this cast. It can take a while to master the technique, but the precision is well worth the effort.
- Grab your fly line in your non-dominant hand. You should have a length that hits just above the cork grip.
- Point the tip of your rod at your target. You might need to do some maneuvering to do this.
- Once you are lined up with the target, pull the fly line back to near your ear and release.
Here’s a video tutorial of the bow and arrow cast from Orvis:
Max DesMarais is the founder of Hiking & Fishing. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. You can read more about him here: hikingandfishing/about