Fly Casting Basics

czechs fly fishing

In fly casting, the weight of the bait pulls the line on the reel. In fly fishing, the weight of the line pulls the fly toward the fish. In fly fishing, you must learn to use the rod to cast the weight of the fly line. You can do this quickly with the following five basic principles of fly fishing:

  • The fly line (and the fly) go in the direction the rod tip points during the cast.
  • Good fly fishing is not about strength, it is about timing. You need to practice casting timing to become a good caster. How much practice? At least 15 minutes a day to become a good caster in a month.
  • Proper rod movement and stopping are fundamental to good fly fishing. The caster loads energy into the rod during the casting motion. The rod releases energy into the fly line on the cast. The caster loads a little energy (a short, low-energy motion) at the top of the rod for short casts; he loads a lot of energy (a short, powerful motion) in the middle and bottom of the rod for a long cast.
  • Casting arcs (the arc the rod makes in the air during casting) in fly fishing are small for short casts and large for long casts.
  • Stopping the rod after the casting motion is critical to the formation of the casting loop, and allows the rod to unload, thus releasing the line.

Fly fishermen rarely need to cast more than 50 feet, but becoming an efficient caster in long-distance can improve all of your casts. You must learn to cast short (30 feet), and then practice at longer and longer distances.

You can’t learn fly casting from a book. You have to do it. The more you practice, the better you will get. Practice on grass or in a pool. Casting while fly fishing is not practice. Practice allows you to focus on casting fundamentals without distractions.

Getting Started

The best way to learn fly fishing is with an experienced instructor. Ask a friend or relative, or find instructors at fly fishing schools or fly fishing club stores. If one isn’t available, take your balanced rod, line and reel to your backyard. You’ll need at least 120 feet (60 meters in each direction) of unobstructed grass.


Mark your fly line with an indelible marker on the 30 feet. The marker will indicate the amount of line you have when casting. Also place caps or some other object on the grass 30 and 60 feet away from where you will stand. The markers will help you develop the sense of distance that is critical in precision fly fishing casting.

The grip

Hold the rod firmly in your casting hand and place your thumb on the top of the rod handle. When learning to cast, keep the rod handle low and in line with your wrist and forearm. In this way, the rod will remain parallel during casting. If the rod comes out of parallel during casting, the tip moves too much, and the line follows the tip, wandering and spoiling the cast. 

Stand on the grass with your feet slightly apart. Remove the line from the reel. Tie a 9-foot leader to the end of the line with a pipe knot and tie a small piece of line to the end of the fly tip. Take about 20 yards of line off the reel and lay it in the grass to the right of where you are standing (left if you are left-handed). 

Make sure that the fly line is set properly on the grass and not in S-curves or you will not cast well.

Using a horizontal side cast, move the rod tip forward from right to left (left to right if you are left-handed), and watch the fly line form a loop and unfurl to the left and then settle into the grass.

Using the arm and a wrist motion together (the way you would have thrown a frisbee backwards), cast the line repeatedly back and forth in back and forth throws. The formation of loops is the intent of your cast – the tighter the loops, the better the cast.

As you move the rod back and forth, keep your wrist steady and stop the rod abruptly after each movement. Stopping the rod allows the line to form a loop at the rod tip. It also allows the rod tip to discharge the energy in the line efficiently. The energy in the rod is transmitted to the line. You must stop the rod with both forward and reverse casting to become a good fly fishing caster.

Aiming the cast

For short casts, aim about 4 feet above the water (or grass). As your casts get longer, aim higher to allow the line and fly more time to reach the target. Learning to aim accurately is a hallmark of expert fly-fishing casting. You should spend considerable time practicing aiming and striking targets in the grass.

By following the practice steps, you should be able to teach yourself how to cast the line, leader and fly from 15 to 30 feet in your first hour of practice. Now you can present a fly to a perch or pan fish in a pond or fish in a stream or ocean.

Here are some helpful tips when practicing casting or when fly fishing:

  • Wear protective eyewear (polarized sunglasses) to avoid eye injury.
  • Demand yourself to achieve a greater (measured) distance in casting the line only after reaching a certain proficiency in shorter distances – 15 meters, then 20, then 30 and so on.
  • Watch your casting and criticize it.


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