How To Master The Tongariro Roll Cast
The Tongariro river needs no introduction and would have to be most famous for its winter fly fishing. High numbers of fresh run trout make their migratory run from Lake Taupo and upriver to spawn. The river offers plenty of great fishing water within its winter limits which I feel makes for a unique fishery here in New Zealand and throughout the world. The fishing on the Tongariro river can be super-hot at times where anglers can often be seen hooking and catching fish left right and centre on a given day. That said, it can also be the complete opposite where one can make many casts for little or no success in catching a fish.
One thing is for sure, the Tongariro river is a challenging and often demanding river to fish. Particularly for the overhead fly caster and the technique of upstream indicator nymphing. The Tongariro river really does require a lot of weight in your bomb fly to be effective in cutting through the water’s surface and its varied currents quick enough to reach the trout lying deep in the pools and runs. Spawning orientated fish are typically focused on the job of spawning and are probably less likely to move a long way to take your fly. This is where the heavily weighted bomb presented on a drag free drift will consistently put your fly offerings nearer the bottom and over the fish’s nose.
This heavy weight required, can take its toll on the angler’s body and by the end of a day’s fishing one can be left with aches, pains and even bruises from a wayward fly that has hit you during a cast. When you consider the physics, fly casting a heavily weighted fly back and forward repeatedly, does go against the grain. Naturally the fly wants to fall out of the sky while we do our best to keep it off the ground and water until the final cast. This can be an intimidating and a daunting task at times one that I was bitterly reminded of with my fair share of blows to the head and body courtesy of the wayward bomb.
Another challenge the angler faces is where a back cast is limited or not possible. These situations present themselves on both sides of the river and often the best fish holding lies are out of reach for the overhead cast due to the bushes and overgrown high bank behind. As the morning progresses fish can be pushed out and away from the inside lies where they find comfort nearer the other side of the river. Typically the fishing can slow, noticeably as the day lengthens and the out of reach lies, once reached, will continue to produce fish throughout the day.
When indicator nymphing we are continually working on perfecting the drift. This is a relatively easy task where making a large mend and or many micro mends one can achieve a drag free drift. However, presenting the flies in a way where they plummet down instantly into the water column with no resistance is much harder to consistently achieve. I feel this is a game changer due to your flies sinking from the get-go, maximising your drift and casting efforts.
Approximately 15 years ago a good friend and angling buddy, Herb Spannagel, showed me the “Tongariro Roll Cast”. I was blown away by what I saw and what the cast could do. Herb shared his expertise by teaching me the cast which he had spent countless hours perfecting. Herb has contributed his own piece to the already existing “Tongariro Roll Cast” which he went onto name for significance as a New Zealand born cast.
In my earlier days fishing on the Tongariro river I struggled with the casting and found it a bit of a chore dealing with the weight required. Fortunately, I was learning the Tongariro Roll Cast technique which was a welcome change which I have now mastered. The Tongariro Roll Cast is a super effective roll cast which uses a larger D Loop generated from the extra line.
I believe there is no better cast for dealing with heavy flies. Fatigue, aches and pains are reduced significantly as the cast requires a lot less effort to perform. Utilising the D loop has now opened the previously out of reach trout lies as it can be performed in tight places. The game changing fly presentation described above can now be achieved easily with a slightly under powered cast resulting in the flies landing close to the indicator with no resistance from leader and fly line.
Hopefully this is starting to sound enticing and that you are keen to learn a new cast!
Please note that this is not the easiest cast to master and one that you are not likely to tame overnight. With a bit of determination, commitment and some solid practice you too could be hitting the other side of the river with ease. An understanding to be able to perform a basic roll cast along with a strong forward haul are crucial fundamentals required to tackle the Tongariro Roll Cast.
The Tongariro roll cast is a water borne cast. The large D loop is formed from the extra line which loads the rod against its anchorage of bomb fly and leader. The following is a description of the phases required for mastering the Tongariro Roll Cast.
The cast is made up of four key phases and each phase plays a crucial role in the end result.
Right let’s get started. First up, watch this video so you can get a good visual representation of the stage of the cast. We'd reccommend opening it up in a new window and using as reference side by side to this written article. Additionally you can keep it as a link on your smartphone and bring it up riverside and a good refresher when you're giving the cast a crack.
Position: True right riverbank (note, video is from true left so the initial set up to align to your target is slightly different)
- Stand at the waters edge or in the water but no deeper than mid-calf height.
- With your right foot open, align your feet and hips in the general direction of your intended target.
- Rotate your shoulders so they are facing downstream and in the direction of your fly line on the water below you.
- You are now ready to start the cast.
- Tip: standing in any deeper water than outlined above will alter the dynamics of the cast and as a result, this will make the cast more challenging to perform.
Phase 1: Aligning with the new target
This is the most complex phase of the cast. The cast begins at the end of the drift. This is where the line swings in towards you once the drift is complete.
- Firstly, strip in any excess line.
- Sweep the rod tip forward upstream a few feet from the water in circular motion across the body.
- Finish with your arm across the body just below chest height with your rod tip pointing into the riverbank.
- Now unwind, sweep the rod tip back in the same path and roll the line out in the direction of the new target. The roll is performed the with a straight arm. (think of Elvis).
- With your target now chosen, anchor bomb positioned and fly line just settling on the water.
- Draw the rod tip back straightening everything out and finishing with an extended arm pointing behind you just below chest height.
- Tip: This is one continuous motion and requires constant tension with the line throughout the manoeuvre.
Phase 2: Slipping extra line
This is unique to this cast. The extra line is used to form a larger D loop which bends the rod deeper. This results in greater velocity with a more energetic loop which pulls the bomb out of the water and into flight with ease.
From the finishing position described above.
- Sweep the rod tip forward and track down the path of your target. At the same time slip extra line through the rod and onto the water. It is best positioned on top or just to the right of the existing fly line that is in line with your target.
- Tip: Keep the slipped line in front of you and not too far ahead. Avoid throwing the line over your indicator and anchor point.
Phase 3: Forming the D Loop
Extra line is positioned on the water and the rod tip is pointing at the target.
- Draw the line from the water back towards you with the rod tip tracking just inside the target line.
- Once the rod tip has passed the right shoulder accelerate with a slight dip and kick the rod tip back and up.
- Finish with both rod and hauling hands stopping at head height.
Phase 4: Delivery
Note: The forward cast is the final movement. The success of this phase relies heavily on the three other phases. These must be performed well for the best result.
- D loop is formed. Hands are up and ready to go.
- Lead with the rod butt forward in a straight line with your trajectory slightly up. At the same time haul positively through the stroke finishing with your rod tip stopped high.
Below are listed the common faults along with the details of how to remedy these problems.
Fault 1: Excess anchorage
Loop is being held back and fails to unravel completely leaving you with a cast that runs out of power prematurely resulting in a dud cast.
Problem: Lack of power
This is caused by excessive anchorage or stick resulting in excess fly line laying on the water preventing the D loop from becoming airborne.
Fix: Pull your anchor (indicator) closer to you so that there is less line on the water.
Fault 2: Lack of anchorage
Problem: Blown anchor
The bomb comes flying out of the water while the fly line bounces around and fails to stay on track and reach the target resulting in a dud cast. This is caused by a combination of insufficient anchorage from the fly line and the cast being subsequently overpowered.
Fix: Leave your anchor further out allowing for more resistance. This will assist in maintaining adequate anchorage.
Fault 3: Inconsistency
Experiencing mixed results with a lack of consistency in achieving an efficient cast. This is due to poor timing of the forward cast. The D loop must be completely air borne before the forward cast is made.
Fix: The indicator is your reference point. In phase 1: your target is chosen already so there is no longer a need to look at your target. After the extra line has been slipped on the water focus on the indicator for movement. When the D loop has fully formed the indicator and fly line will move jerking backwards slightly now is the time to make your forward cast.
Here are my basic recommendations of equipment best suited to the Tongariro roll cast:
Rod Length: 9’0”- 9’6”
Weight: #6 - #8
Action: Medium – fast action.
Fly Line: Floating.
Taper: Weight forward.
Weight: Two-line weights above the rod number will give the best results.
Indicator: Yarn-dense medium sized of which is well treated and attached to the fly line or leader. Avoid large budgie style indicators. These are a hindrance due to their large mass causing more resistance in the air which holds the cast back. They also easily become waterlogged and heavy and unlike the overhead cast the Tongariro Roll Cast is less effective in removing water from the indicator. This is why its crucial that your indicator is of a smaller size and well treated.
Leader Length: Maximum of 14 ft from the end of fly line to the bomb fly.
Bomb Weight: Applicable 0.6gm – 1.6gm maximum fishing weight recommended.
Below is the set up I use for the Tongariro roll cast and is the ultimate match.
Reel: Lamson Remix 3.5
Fly Line: New Airflo Superflo TRC
By following the steps outlined above along with a bit of determination and commitment to practice you will be well on your way to succeeding in learning the cast. Practice is your best friend, repetition while developing muscle memory are very important components for success. Be patient, stick at it and eventually you will make a good cast. Take note of what made that cast better and work towards repeating this. With small adjustments along the way naturally you will progress by closing the gap between a good and bad cast while becoming more consistent. The Tongariro Roll Cast equips the angler with many benefits and qualities outlined above in this article. I hope that you too can benefit from achieving this new technique.