Fly Rods for Beginners: Your Step by Step Guide on Casting Your Rod

fly fishing rod with a coil and flies lie on old, wooden boards

Anyone fascinated with the history of electronic technology has to be equally interested in the development of another tech. Not in a strict one to one, but steps are the same and that is fascinating.

Fishing is one of those things that fuzzies up the border between hunter/gather societies and agriculture. You can imagine the arguments through antiquity of the power users of nets and spears versus the artistic renderers of fly rod and reel.

Fly fishing has a rich and storied history. So, take a moment to learn more.

Don’t worry, you can get back to your Netflix list later (or carry it with on a trip to a river).

Fly Rod Basics

Even though the kit may seem simple from the outside, fly fishing isn’t for the light-hearted. It isn’t the first place most fishermen of the modern age start for a reason. While it was developed before the more well-known rod and spinning mechanical reel, the nuance in equipment exceeds its later cousin.

Much like investing in a Mac or an all-in-one setup for a computer, the sum total of parts is weaker than the individual components.

A fly fishing kit uses a more simple reel, it is meant to bring the line in, but it has a looser catch that lets you roll out line bit by bit. The line is heavier, so you have to consider its weight when casting.

The rod is also springier and has fewer connections to the line. The length of the rod is important but the weight is less so. Unlike the basic carbon fiber of a mechanical rig, fly rods differ greatly in composition from wood to composites to synthetic material.

Many people start with basic fly rods in the form of fly rod building kits before customizing and shaping their own pieces.

In addition to the rod, equipped with a reel and line, you need flies and hooks. Hook shape and size differ from one fish to the next, just like mechanical rods.

Flies, however, are not really like bait. You use flies to attract a fish, sure, but the motion of the fly and the look do the work unlike the scents of live and mass produced baits.

Casting 101

Fly casting isn’t as simple as throwing your arm forward and calling it done. The are four main steps to getting fly casting down.

First, you need to understand the load on the fly. This is the mass of the fly and the line that will propel things forward when you complete a casting motion. While a good cast will naturally tug at the line it won’t pull more out. You need to keep a controlled amount of line to fly fish, rather than shooting for distance.

The load isn’t just the fly and the line, the materials of the rod also come into play. A flexible rod will throw farther than a rigid one.

The second step rests in your grip on the rod. To control the flex of the rod, you want a grip that is light and in the right position. Further up the rod gives more control, further down gives more whip.

Wrap your fingers around the rod as if you were holding a golf club. Keep the grip and the reel under your forearm for control. Your other hand should be lightly gripping the line to keep it from tangling.

The third step is in the backswing. Start with the rod level with your waist or angled just above. Pull back on the rod just beyond the curve of your shoulder and a bit past your head.

This is the first half of the casting action and is meant to be done in a 1-2 punch. Keep the rod lined up with your forearm. You want control and a level swing to avoid tangling.

Finally, you want to cast forward. The exact moment to cast forward changes with your line load and rod. This part takes the most practice as it shifts and builds on the progress of the other steps.

You want to cast forward when the line leaves the rod and slacks. This slack is going to give you the momentum for your whip-like movement.

Cast towards your targeted area and stop the motion of the rod when it is pointed upright between you and the target. Keep your wrist taught and don’t bend it forward beyond the plane of the rod.

Let the line flow from your other hand.

The motion should feel much more like a whip and you should always feel some tension in the line. If you feel too much force or no weight, you don’t have a good line load.

Casting 102

Now that you have the basics of the back cast down, you will want to practice and get a feel for it. You will know you are there when the mechanical motions stop being bullet points in your mind and become physical memory.

Before you go, there is a second casting type to learn. The rolling cast builds on the motions and information of the first. You want to use a rolling cast when you are in tight quarters and don’t have a full range of motion.

You may be blocked by trees, reeds, or in sharing room with other fishermen.

The rolling cast keeps the fly and line much closer to your body while in the first set of motions before the forward cast. Be mindful of the hook while learning this casting motion.

Follow through on the first two steps to load your line and grip your rod. When going for the third step, the back cast, you will instead angle the rod to the side of your body.

This is going to give you the same distance and torque as the back cast, but it shifts the arc of your rod to the side. You are working with less space so you want to jerk more in this step to load the line with energy.

When done properly, you should see a nice d-shaped loop of line coming off the top of the rod.

From there you cast forward as normal, just be sure to level out the motion to avoid slicing the line and landing to the side of your target.

Find Your Niche

Now you have everything you need to get started (like a fly rod) in the world of fly fishing. The depth and creativity of the sport have been sources of lifelong pleasure for many.

If you like this article and are looking for more check out our other how-tos.


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