Roll casting has several functions to perform in the fly fisherman's repertoire. It can aid you in starting a normal cast, or stand in its own right as a relatively short range casting technique. On some small rivers and streams a roll cast is all you'll ever need to put your fly across the water.
When we started our fly casting lessons we had the line lying nicely on the lawn. It was easy to pick it up and get it moving. But if the line is buried in the water this pick up becomes impossible. We need to get the line out of the water before we start the pick-up. With your rod pointing down to the water so that the rod and line are in a straight line, gently move the rod from pointing to the front to pointing to the side and then pointing at two o'clock behind you, drawing the line out of the water as you go. The tendency is to lift the rod tip upwards and this is just what we want. You should end up with your upper arm horizontal and your forearm and the rod in a straight line pointing at that two o'clock position. If you get your retrieve right, this action should bring the rest of the line and your leader out of the water. Now an over arm roll will bring the rod back down to the nine o'clock position and the line will follow it in an arc to lie on the surface. This may be all that is required to lay the line back onto the water when fishing at close quarters.
Now imagine that you are using a fast sink line and you have just finished retrieving it through the water. You want to make another cast but this is impossible with the line still buried deep in the water. A roll cast is the way to get the line lying on the surface prior to lifting it off and starting a normal cast. As its name implies you roll your rod hand in a big circle and the rod and line will follow it ready for the pickup of the next cast. With a little practice you will be able to develop this technique so that the forward roll doesn't actually touch the water, but is immediately transposed into the first part of a normal cast, but the timing has to be just right to achieve this. The advantage of using the roll cast is that your line is removed from the water and a new cast is started all in one sequence.
The important thing to remember about all roll casts is that the line, when it leaves the water, should be beyond the point where you intend to finish the roll cast. Putting this another way, a roll cast is actually forming a loop with the line and rolling that loop slightly towards you. If the loop is closed, i.e. the loop will touch itself at some point in the process then it stands to reason that when the line crosses it will destroy the cast and collapse in a heap. To avoid this make sure that when you start the roll cast the line in the water is further away from you than where you intend to lay the line on the water when you finish.
Sometimes it may not be possible to make a full cast because of surrounding obstructions and again our roll cast can come to the rescue. To convert a short roll cast to a full cast is just a question of adjusting the forward movement. Instead of gently rolling the rod over so that the line falls back onto the water imagine you are making the final forward movement of a normal cast and push the rod forward with speed and gusto. This is the big push forward, accompanied by a haul if necessary. The line will roll off the water at speed and into a cast, using the water tension on the line to add extra power to the cast. Job done!
The roll cast is favoured on the big salmon waters where a back cast is made impossible by bank side vegetation. However, these big rivers demand big rods - some as long as sixteen or seventeen feet. You need both hands to operate these monsters. They come equipped with an extra butt piece below the reel for holding with your lazy hand (if it's holding the rod it's no longer a lazy hand - but I think you get the idea!). Of course, unless you're an octopus, you just ran out of hands to manipulate the line! The answer here is to use the forefinger of your rod hand to trap the line against the rod handle as you perform your manoeuvres. As you power forward with your final cast you simply let go of the line with your finger.
Finally, on a roll cast with a double handed rod, the flick on the forward cast that we created with the turn of the wrist is achieved by a sharp rotation motion made by bringing your lazy hand back towards your chest as you push forward with your rod hand. Lazy hand towards your chest, rod hand away from your chest. Again, it's one of those actions that need a little practice to get it just right, but - just as Rome wasn't built in a day - it takes time to put it all together.
When using a sink tip line on a double handed rod you'll find things are pretty heavy to handle and a roll cast will come in handy here too. All that weight is required in the sink tip to get the fly down quickly in a fast flowing river. By definition, the river will be fast flowing because that is when the salmon choose to run up to spawn. The technique is to cast the line with a roll cast, let it sink and then hold it in the current as it is carried downstream and across the current. At the end of the travel the line will pull the fly across the current and end up directly downstream from you.
Stripping the line back will retrieve it for the next cast, but sometimes it will be necessary to false roll cast the line several times to get it ready to cast again. The problem here is that you want to cast the line across and slightly upstream. It's all too much weight to get it from the downstream position to the upstream position in one false cast. To solve this, make a false roll cast, bringing the line part the way upstream. Then false roll cast again, bringing the line further upstream. Finally, false roll cast again and you should have the line in the right position to make your proper roll cast across the current. This is particularly important when using a double handed rod from a boat where your movements are constricted by the boat itself and the other occupants. A Spey cast can also be used to solve this problem of getting heavy line from a downstream position to upstream and we will come to that next.
There are many occasions where the back cast becomes virtually impossible because some unhelpful soul built a dam wall or other obstacle just where we want our back cast to go! This can be a problem on reservoirs where you want to fish from the dam wall, or when the bank-side vegetation is a little too close for comfort. Don't despair, there is a solution. If you go back to Lesson 1, you had a nice straight line on the wall at eye level and this gave a good level casting technique. But if you can't cast backwards then try and cast upwards! To achieve this all that is needed is a different trajectory for your back cast. Instead of following a straight line backwards, imagine the line on the wall is angled up at an angle of 45 degrees. Your arm starts off in the same position at the forward end of the cast but as you move your arm backwards you also move it upwards and that is exactly the trajectory the line will follow.
You still need to end up with your forward cast being moved straight out from you but the back cast ends by going nearly vertically upwards. You may not be able to put quite as much power into a steeple cast but you can still haul on the forward cast so you can still get a good distance to the cast. In fact, it will be necessary for you to put more power into the forward cast to compensate for the less power being used in the back cast. And you will have to speed things up a little because the back cast is moving up against gravity, which will tend to slow it down. It is obvious where the name came from - aim that back cast at the church steeple! This video shows a short clip of a steeple cast – with positive results!
BOW AND ARROW CAST
There is another way of getting your fly into a tight spot. It’s not exactly a cast as we have discussed so far in this chapter, but sometimes it may be the only way to get your offering in front of your prey. While it is euphemistically called the “bow and arrow cast”, I think it would better described as the “catapult cast”. There is no actual casting operation and this only works at close quarters, so there are limitations on its use and effectiveness. The idea is to have just enough line out of the rod tip to be able to pinch the point fly tightly between your index finger and thumb and put a bend in the rod. You must ensure that your pinch the fly at the hook bend or there is a real danger that you could end up embedding the hook in your finger when you release it.
Pointing your rod arm in the intended direction of flight you simply release the fly and allow the tension in the rod to do the rest. Of course, it will only fly a short distance - the length of line you were holding so this method is for use on small streams or for sight fishing where the fish is close in. These three videos should give a good idea on how to use this technique and the latter two videos also show that the system works!
One way of overcoming this problem of having to roll cast several times to get your line from the downstream position and ready to cast across and slightly upstream is with the Spey cast. This casting technique was developed on the grand River Spey. Wading in a big river and making several roll casts with the splashing that entails could scare off any salmon that you are stalking and will certainly be unwelcome to other anglers. The Spey cast also requires a lot less effort and time. The casting technique works best if there is a strong downstream wind to assist. Like all things worth doing well it takes a good deal of practice but the reward will be worth the investment of time and effort.
Having just completed a retrieve, stand facing across the river with the rod pointing downstream, so the rod will be across your body. Sweep the rod upstream and back on your casting side as if making a roll cast, so that it ends up at the twelve o'clock position on your rod hand side. It is essential that about 4 yards (3.6 metres) of line should still be in contact with the water and this friction with the water creates a tension that we want to take advantage of. The natural action now would be to make a forward cast across the river, and that is just what we do. The action of drawing the rod across your body needs to be one continuous movement and done with some force. This causes pressure to build up as the line is drawn across the water against the resistance of the water and that is the motive force behind this cast. You must ensure that the leader is past the line where you intend to cast before you start your forward cast or else the line will hit the rod as it leaves the water.
You can see that this technique is dependent upon your position in the river. You want to cast slightly upstream and where this is depends on what way you are standing. It may mean that you have to cast across your body if you are standing with the river flowing away from the side you cast from. In that case your cast is across your body to get it upstream.
DOUBLE SPEY CASTING
This is a unique cast in that the rod and line starts off on one side of your body and ends up on the other. Start off doing the same as you would for a single Spey cast, but draw the rod and line up on the lazy side of your body leaving the fly in the water about 5 yards (4.5 metres) in front of you. Now the rod is rolled back across your body keeping your casting thumb level with your eye. So your casting thumb will travel from facing downstream, up and across to your casting ear and then across your face to your lazy ear before the forward thrust to shoot the line out. You can practice that action at home. The line that is still in the water will form a loop at your feet and this is what creates the tension in the line to give great power to the cast. From your casting ear you simply carry on as if you were making a normal cast, bringing the rod up and forcefully shooting the line out. Of course, while all this has been going on the line will have been trapped between your finger and the rod butt and this is the time to release the line and let it fly. Job done!
So this is effectively two roll casts performed one after the other and on opposite sides of the body, but without allowing the fly to leave the water in between casts. The easiest way to describe the motions involved is to imagine the rod making a figure of eight motion. And so do your hands. The whole object of the exercise is to form a loop in the line at your feet that is still in contact with the water and it is the pressure created by this loop ripping out of the water that generates the motive force for this cast. This action can easily be practiced by just imagining you are grasping your double handed rod with your rod hand directly in front of you level with your eyes. Now roll both hands into a big figure of eight, going across to your casting ear and then back and across to your lazy ear. When your casting hand arrives at your lazy ear, push both hands forward and away so that your rod hand ends up straight out in front of you and in line with your rod ear.
It sounds complicated but, as with all these techniques, once you have the idea the practice will fall into place. The thing to remember about this type of cast, as with all others, is to give the line time to straighten out after executing each part. Spey casting was specifically developed for casting while wading as it demands a great deal of space either side of you to accommodate the large movements of the rod.
You might want to be ready to reduce the volume before you watch this video from Loop - which is otherwise excellent.
This is a fine example of Spey casting – in slow motion to help you appreciate the necessary movements.
HOW LOOPY SHOULD I BE?
I mentioned in Lesson 8 the final act of a cast is a small flick of the rod at the end of the final push forward - just like flicking paint off a brush. Not only does this flick impart even more power to the cast, it has another very important function. At the moment you make this flick you still have the airialised line and leader moving forward from behind you, so this is the moment you are making the final loop in the line. The leader and backing are now both moving forward, one above the other. What this flick has done is create a gap between these two parts of the line as they fly out. Without that flick both the leader and the backing lines would be dangerously close to each other during flight and risk colliding with each other.
The initial thought would be to make this flick as large as possible to give the two parts of the line plenty of flying room. But we also have to remember the laws of physics and this time the law of air resistance is the one we need to take notice of. If we make a nice deep flick we will certainly be opening the cast and putting plenty of space between the two parts, but that will form a large loop flying through the air and all that line must push the air out of the way as it progresses. So a large loop will lose its energy more quickly than a tight loop as it pushes through the air.
Here's the rule of thumb: for distance casting keep the loop as small as possible by just making a short sharp flick; for accurate close-in casting make the flick much more pronounced. This more pronounced flick for close casting is almost like trying to lay the line on the water and that is essentially the object of the exercise. Experimentation is the order of the day - see how much you have to move your wrist in that final flick to create an open or a closed loop. The differences are actually quite subtle and you will be surprised at how much control you have mastered over where and how you place your flies on the water. Perversely in a very strong wind from behind you may want to open the loop somewhat for distance casting, as the wind will then be an aid to distance casting more than the resistance of the air holding the line back.
ADVANCED CASTING TECHNIQUES
If you've got this far without causing too much damage or injury then you have mastered most of the techniques for casting your fly in virtually all circumstances. But there will always be the odd time when you would like just a bit more control of a situation so here are some ideas that will help. This is all about line control during the casting action, so don't try any of this until you are totally confident with your casting abilities and you can understand the subtle nuances that are needed to make different casting techniques.
THE S CAST
You will probably have already come across the idea of mending the line when fishing across a current. The object of the exercise is to make sure the line in the faster centre current of the river is always behind the fly which is in the slower current across the stream. This is achieved by lifting the line off the water and flicking it back upstream - if necessary several times - during the passage of the fly over the trout lie. Another way to solve this problem is with the S cast.
If we cast straight across the river then the line in the faster current will cause this drag almost immediately as it gets washed downstream. What we would like is more line in the middle of the stream that can be used to unwind, leaving the fly in the slow flow unhindered. How to achieve this is the challenge. And the solution is relatively simple once we think about it. When casting we would normally think the job was done once we had executed out final flick to create the loop in the line that separates the leader from the trailing line.
Now, once you have made your flick, try moving the rod rapidly from side to side as the line flies out. You are creating a series of S shapes in the line. When this lands on the water, it will not land in the nice straight line that we are used to but will look like a snake lying on the water. As the line moves down the stream this excess line will straighten out into a wide loop, leaving the fly behind. This does mean that you have more line between you and the fly and you should compensate for this if a fish takes the fly, by not only lifting into the strike but also pulling in the excess line with your lazy hand.
Small side to side shakes create small curves in the line, while larger, more pronounced shakes, will create wider curves and give more line. You can even determine where you want the extra line to be. If the faster current is near you then only give those shakes when most of the line has already flown. This will create curves close to you and conversely, shakes given as soon as you shoot the line and then stopping the rod will create curves near to the fly. Even with this technique you may still have to mend the line and it is a question of judgement whether this casting method is more useful than simply mending the line.
THE OVER CAST
The effect of this cast is a little like the S cast, in that the object of the exercise is put out a little excess line to compensate for drag. However, this method is much more subtle and gives only a small amount of excess, concentrated in the leader. So this method is much more suited to small streams than the larger rivers and open waters where the S cast is the order of the day.
You will need to have slightly more line out than the distance to the intended point of contact. The cast is made more forceful than necessary and the line will shoot out and bounce back when it has taken up all the line available. The strength of the cast determines how much the line bounces back, but with a little experimentation what this does is causes the flies and leader to bounce back a few feet, putting excess line near the flies. This excess can then be allowed to wash out with the current, obviating the need for mending the line, which might be unhelpful and easily scare the fish in a small stream.
THE CHANGE OF DIRECTION CAST
Occasionally you will come across the situation where there just seems to be nowhere to make a cast. All that vegetation behind you beckons your flies and line, waiting eagerly to snag them. But that vegetation stops at the water's edge, so we could use this water margin as a free area if we could just get the line moving up and down the bank, prior to casting it across stream. And that is not so hard as it seems.
You won't be able to cast the line directly across the stream as this would be too much of a change of direction, but we can certainly get the line out into the water. Start with some forceful false casts up and down the river bank. When you are ready to make the final forward cast, turn and face across the river and shoot the line out across the water. A strong haul on the line will assist with this final forward cast. The line will follow the direction of the rod across the water, but some of the power will be lost because of the change of direction. However, this technique can put you in touch with some good fish that other anglers have left alone because of their apparent inaccessibility.
The actual angle that the line makes with the water's edge is likely to be more like 60 degrees or so, rather than the 90 degrees that you would hope for. But if you think about this, it can actually be an advantage. If you position yourself so that your back casts are going upstream then your final forward cast over the water will also be upstream and you flies will land upstream - which is not a bad thing, although you will need to immediately mend your line to bring the rest of it in line with the flies.
THE ANGLED CAST
It is sometimes beneficial to put a bend in the fly line rather than casting directly at a fish. For example, there may be several fish in a lie and casting directly to them would line the water and scare them; or you may have an obstruction between you and your prey that prevents a direct cast, such as a rock in the water.
To overcome this problem is relatively simple, once you have mastered the idea that the line goes where the rod tells it to go. When making this cast you initially aim your flies at the intended point of contact, but as the line shoots out move the rod horizontally in the direction you want your line to curve. As the line flies out the front part will still aim towards your prey, but the rear part of the line will form a curve, effectively creating an angle between the fly and the main part of the line.
Obviously, the direction in which your move your rod determines the angle you put in your line. Moving the rod to the right will create a left hand curve and vice versa. You can determine just how severe your curve is going to be by when and how you impart the sideways movement. A quick flick at the start of the shoot will create an almost right handed bend near the leader, while a more gentle and prolonged movement will create a long slow curve to the line.
It's so easy to sit in the comfort of your home and read just how easy it is to cast your fly line and watch it as it sails off to the middle distance. Unfortunately, the reality of standing on the bank or sitting in the boat and trying to make the darn thing go can be a little different! Let's see if we can cure a few problems before they get out of hand.
The Line Hits Itself As It Passes In Midair
This is a common beginners fault - so don't worry. In all the training exercises the objective was to get the right movements from the word go. Now comes the fine tuning. The reason the line crashes into itself is that the forward and back casts are in the same plain - they get in each other’s way. We need to keep them apart.
Let’s go right back to the wall where it all began. Remember how we moved our thumb along the line on the wall to keep everything nice and level? Try doing that again, but this time I want you to introduce a slight rotation of the forearm between the forward and back casts. Notice this is still not a wrist movement. So you can see what's happening, start with your hand in the fully forward cast position. Rotate your forearm so that your thumb is pointing slightly towards the wall rather than sitting bolt upright. Bring your hand back as if you were making a back cast. Now, when your hand reaches the end of its travel - it's back behind your ear - and you get ready to make the forward cast, simply rotate your arm back to the upright position so that your thumb is now standing to attention.
These movements are subtle. A slight twist of your forearm will translate to a movement at the rod tip of a foot or so - don't overdo it. The effect of this rotation of the rod on the different strokes of the cast is to move the line going back further away from your body than the line coming forward. It keeps them apart.
This instructional video shows clearly how the line can be managed by angling the rod away from your body on the back cast and towards your body on the forward cast to create this space between the line going back and the line on its forward trajectory.
I End Up With Knots in My Leader
This is a similar problem to the one above. This knotting tends to be less obvious than the disaster that happens when the line meets itself coming back. No matter how hard you try, you will always get the odd knot in your droppers. They are waving around all over the place during each cast so it is inevitable that they will get in a mess from time to time. These knots are called wind knots and you should keep an eye out for them when examining your flies between casts. But a knot in the main leader is an indication that the leader met itself somewhere during the cast, so try the same solution as above to keep the leader away from itself during the cast. It's easy to feel the crash when the main line makes contact. The problem of the leader making contact with itself is more subtle, so make an occasional check of your entire leader length.
The Wind Forces the Line into My Body
One of the first things you learn about casting a fly is how much effect the wind has on proceedings. While it is possible to power a cast forward into the wind, a line cast with the wind blowing from the same side as the rod will always have the same disappointing result - the line is always being blown towards your body rather than away from it. Sooner rather than later you are going to have a close encounter with one of your flies!
The ideal place to have the wind when casting is behind you and blowing slightly from your lazy side - the first place you should feel it is on the back of your lazy ear. That keeps the line away from your body and gives maximum assistance when the line flies.
In a boat it is a simple task to make sure that you anchor so that you have the wind where you want it in relation to the area you want to fish. On the bank it can be a little more problematical. In the sections on fishing techniques, we discovered that the fish have a tendency to feed upwind or downwind - you have to find out which! That can put the bank angler in the position of having the wind on the wrong side - the wind is blowing onto your rod side rather than your lazy side.
There are two solutions to this problem, though neither are perfect answers. Firstly, many fly fishermen develop the ability to cast using either hand - ambidextrous casting! Obviously, if you change hands then the wind in relation to your cast will have the opposite effect and will end up on the correct side of the cast. This is the best solution, but will take some getting used to. Just when you thought you'd got this casting thing cracked - now you have to start all over again with the other hand! Life is never fair!
The other way to solve this problem of having the wind on the wrong side is to turn round and cast the other way! Hold on, I here you say, if I turn round then I'm facing the land, not the water. Quite right! But now the forward cast becomes the back cast and vice versa. That sounds even more complicated than learning to cast with your other hand. But actually, it's a lot easier than you think. Everything is just the same, except you have to remember to haul and let go on the back cast. Try it - you'll be surprised at how easy it comes to you if you have the right casting technique to begin with. The very best way to finish off this reverse casting technique is to make all your false casts facing the wrong way and to turn round at the final moment to cast towards the water. This involves making the final forward cast towards the land and then turning your body while leaving your rod hand where it is. This will put your rod hand across your body, so your final cast towards the water is from across your body. The timing has to be just right and the turn of your body should be made as the line is straightening out so you are ready to shoot it out over the water just as it straightens.
The Line Makes Contact with the Water or Bank behind Me
This could be simply a question of passion! Unless you put some power into that back cast then inevitably the line will lose enthusiasm and end up hitting the deck. Many people will happily put lots of power into the forward cast because they can see what's happening, but seem to forget that the back cast is equally important. The other reason that the line grounds out behind you is because you are dropping the rod on the back cast. You let your wrist come into play and your rod is no longer vertical. This goes right back to Lesson 1. You need to keep the rod upright and not let it dip as it goes back. Try the trick with the handkerchief tying your rod to your forearm to help sort out this problem.
The Line Cracks like a Whip
That's exactly what's happening. The crack is the result of the end of the line changing direction at high speed - just like a whip. This will probably result in the fly being broken off if you don't correct the problem. At the very least it will weaken the leader at the fly and risk line breakage when a fish takes. You need to be patient and let the line straighten out before you start the next part of your cast. But don't wait too long or the line will fall to earth. Complicated, isn't it? Not really, it's only about getting the timing right. Remember to watch the back cast as well as the forward cast and you should soon stop that crack.
The Line Won't Pick Up to Start the Next Cast
When using weighted lines or heavy flies they want to sit down in the water, while you want them to come out of the water. This disagreement is called gravity and water resistance. It can be made even worse by surface tension - that force that tries to keep water and air apart. The answer here is less force, not more. It is essential, when using heavy lines or flies, to make a gentle roll cast to clear everything out of the water before starting the next cast. Then, before everything starts to sink into the depths again, it is easy to pick it up off the surface to start your next cast. But leave it too long and you'll have the same problem again as the line/flies sink back into the water. So the roll cast needs to be made when you are ready to make your next cast. As mentioned earlier, you can actually incorporate this roll cast into the start of your normal cast by not allowing the line to settle back onto the water, but instead turning this into the first part of your normal cast.
This pick-up is not such a problem in flowing water because the act of pulling the line towards you at the end of the retrieve will pull the line and flies upward in the water and this effect is assisted by the flow of water. But big weighted flies will still want to stay in the water, so you will still need to do your gentle roll cast to get them sitting on top of the water ready for the next cast.
The object of casting is to get the fly to where the fish are likely to be. Using a shooting head to begin with will definitely make this task easier. I see no reason why you shouldn't make this learning curve as gentle as possible by starting with a shooting head. You can progress to full line casting as and when the necessity arises - and after you have caught a few bagfuls of fish! In time you will work out the sequence of events and the techniques involved in casting. Don't let your initial failures put you off. A great deal of satisfaction will come from catching fish on a well cast fly - it's something to aspire towards. Practice really does make perfect! A final video showing an angler who is accomplished in all the techniques and is prepared to show it off to the camera!