5 Essentials of Fly Casting

Do you need to learn to fly fish...again?

The season is well underway, but have you got into a good fly casting rhythm yet? You've probably worked out a few quick fixes for the odd issue that might be getting in the way of presenting a fly well. Yeah?

This is all well and good to get you out there and fishing but to truly up your game there will be a time to address any faults before they exposed to a much more obvious level, especially once heavy flies and indicators are added to the equation.

For those of us that tend to hang up the fly rod over the winter season – once you pick the rod back up again for the start of the new fly fishing season it will most likely feel like you’re learning to cast a fly rod all over again... until you whip out the casting band aids that will get you through another season, without addressing the inherent issues at hand.

It’s much the same for any sport where coordination and fluidity is required to make something work, if you have the basics cemented well then the rest will fall in place – if they aren’t, then you’ll be forever chasing your tail trying to make your fly casting work consistently.

So, with that sermon over, here are my five fly casting essentials that will see you set up well for any fly fishing situations you’ll experience not only in New Zealand and Australia, but anywhere in the world.

The Five Essentials Of Fly Casting



Although all of the five essentials are important, this is by far the most important principle for a caster to understand. In a fly cast, the fly line follows the direction traveled by the rod tip. To create a tight loop (which is preferable for both distance and accuracy) the rod tip must travel in a straight line. When we refer to a straight line we mean both a straight line when viewed from the side (this is referred to as the casting arc) and also when viewed from above (birds eye view) which is referred to as tracking.

In regard to the casting Arc: If the rod tip travels in a wide arc (convex) then the resulting cast will form a wide open loop. Conversely if the rod tip travels in a concave arc then the cast will form a tailing loop. And lastly as stated before, if the rod tip travels in a straight line then the cast will result in a tight loop.

In regard to tracking: if the rod does not track in a straight line from the start of the stroke to the stop at the end of the stroke, then the cast will not transfer maximum energy into the fly line.

Mike Davis Fly Fishing New Zealand


One of the other factors to consider in maintaining straight line travel of the rod tip is the flex of the fly rod during the cast. When a rod is deeply flexed (or bent) it is much shorter than if it is extended. Consequently, when making a cast, the amount the rod is flexed needs to be compensated by altering the casting arc. If it is not compensated for the rod tip will travel in a concave path and create a tailing loop. Compensation is done easily by increasing the size of the casting arc as the length of the cast is increased. In other words, with a short cast only a small arc is required but with a longer cast a larger arc is required.


Unlike throwing a ball, fly casting has an equally important backward movement as it does a forward movement. In other words the back cast is not just a wind up for the forward cast, it is in itself a cast. Consequently it’s important for the caster to unite the front and back casts with good timing. This is done by pausing at the end of each stroke to allow the casting loop to straighten out in front of (on the forward stroke) or behind (on the backward stroke) the caster. As the length of cast increases the time taken for the line to unravel will increase and as a result the length of pause necessary will increase.

Simms Fly Fishing How to cast


The application of power is also very important in maintaining the straight line travel of the rod tip. If power is applied too early in the casting stroke, the rod will bend deeply and then partially recover causing the rod tip to travel in a concave path resulting in a tailing loop. Proper application of power during the casting stroke is when the tip of the rod is accelerated throughout the cast and is finished by a stop at the end. The result is the rod continues to load (bends more) during the cast and at the end of the cast when the rod is stopped, it unloads (straightens) and throws the line.


Finally when making a cast it is important to minimise the amount of slack in the line. Many new casters make the biggest mistakes in this area when making the initial pick up. In this circumstance the line often lays on the water (or grass) in loose coils, these coils are slack line. In order to make an effective pick up these coils must first be straightened, if they are not straightened first a large portion of the energy used during the pick up is used merely for straightening out the line versus casting it. Poor timing, incorrect power application and a non straight line rod tip path can all introduce slack into the cast.

Simms Fly Fishing How to cast

One of the final areas where slack is often introduced is with casters learning the single and double haul. To ensure slack is minimised during hauling it is important to maintain a tight line during a single haul and adequate line speed to absorb slack line during a double haul.

The 6th essential is to enjoy yourself!


And while COVID has bought its obvious challenges to the average fly fisherman getting out on the water, one upside is the excellent fly casting video series of Lockdown Lessons courtesy of Federation of Fly Fishers Certified Casting instructor and Southland guiding icon, Chris Dore.

If you're at all interested in becoming a certified casting instructor yourself then check out our blog post where Gus Lapin goes through the process.





Rene Vaz, Manic Tackle Project founder, got his start as a school kid tying flies for tackle stores. By the time he’d reached University to study fisheries biology he was working in one of those stores, writing and photographing for the leading Australasian fishing magazines, competing as the youngest member of the NZ fly fishing team and teaching fly casting on the rugby field close to his house.