Beyond Fly Casting – The Ten Commandments to Fly Fishing

Beyond Fly Casting – The Ten Commandments to Fly Fishing

Tim Kempton | Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Maybe you have spent hours in the park and can cast nice loops. You have read all the books, watched all the videos and been to all the schools. You consider yourself proficient at flycasting and you can cast perfect loops. Maybe you can cast a full flyline. Some just like the soothing rhythm of casting…it’s a great way to relax and reset. Some like to catch fish on a fly…but can you cast to catch fish, if fly fishing is your ultimate objective? Fly casting is not fly fishing.

Just like a golfer who spends hours driving the ball as far as possible, but does not win games, fly casting gives great personal satisfaction, but does not always catch fish.  Proficient flycasting is only part of the journey to catching fish on a fly.  It’s also about line management, learning the short game, and the practical application of your casting skills, to the ultimate goal, to catch and safely release fish. 

It's about the never ending journey of learning the grace and beauty, and the art and science of both fly casting and fly fishing.

It’s about practice, practice, practise until it becomes second nature. It's more than muscle memory.  It’s all about practising the right stuff. What is the “right stuff”? I have spend thousands of hours practising casting and fishing. I am obsessive compulsive... there is seldom a day goes by when I don’t learn something new. I hang out with the best. I have made friends with good anglers. All this contributes to learning and practising the right stuff. I have caught some of the most difficult fish (eg free rising giant snakehead).  I strive to learn, and improve. I live to share the journey with all the like minded souls from around the world that I have had the good fortune to meet.

The following are ten key practical skills (the Ten Commandments)  that I have believe will take you beyond casting a fly in a park, to start you on the journey to becoming a proficient fly fisher.   I will share my thoughts about each of these as a weekly contribution to Sexyloops.

Tim's Ten Commandments

  1. Feel
  2. Tip Path
  3. Constant tension
  4. Make the first cast count
  5. Energised backcast
  6. Timing of power application
  7. Line management
  8. Casting in the wind
  9. Casting with non dominant hand
  10. Repositioning casts 




You have to be able to feel the flyline and the cast. Practise with your eyes closed, or wear a blindfold to perfect power application and timing.  Soft hands! Don’t grip the rod so hard that you choke it, and get calluses. 

Caress the rod and the line. Let the rod become an extension of your fingers. Watch the finesse of good machinery (excavator) operators... the controls are an extension of their fingers… hence the term finger tip control.  A good excavator driver can comb your hair! 

Good golfers, cricketers, tennis players, billiard players all have soft hands. They have feel.  In my horse competition days, we were taught to ride with soft hands.  As the world acclaimed horseman Ray Hunt said “the reins should be like silk in your hands”.  

Practice at night. It's amazing how much feel you can get. You can feel the rod loading along its length. You can feel the loop forming at the tip, and feel the timing for rotation and the haul. When you slip line, you can feel the line shooting out, when it is losing speed and when its time to start the forward/back cast.  

Hold the line in your line hand only with your fingers… it's amazing how much greater feel and control you have.


Another aspect of feel is in the retrieve.  Andy Mills describes “Feeding the Fly to the Fish” in his exceptional book “Passion for Tarpon”.  The retrieve requires feel if you cant see the fish and watch its behaviour. We have Australian bass in our local lakes. They sometimes school in depths to 30+’ and we fish for them with fast sinking lines (the old SA Striper IV). The bites are often very subtle, a few of my friends are skilled after many years and catch lots. Others like me have not yet got that feel…not that it's about numbers, but it is something more to learn.  Fishing for sailfish at Rompin in Malaysia is the same. The sailfish can come in hot on the teaser. Some will charge the fly, but mostly the sailfish will pick up the fly and move off.  We recorded underwater footage of sailfish feeding. They move like cats and seem in no hurry. We were using a 12wt Leviathan line which sinks quickly and it is often difficult to see the fish.  You have to be able to feel the fish as it moves away, give it line and set hook when the fish pauses.  Sailfish on fly can be frustrating.  

Strip striking is also about feel. We strip strike to apply more force to the line to set the hook, and also not to move the fly out of the strike zone. Trout striking does not work… there is no force on the fly and you will have pulled the fly at least 9’ out of the strike zone. Having set the hook, it's about feel to release the line in a controlled manner to avoid bustoffs.  Sometimes we are just not fast enough releasing the line. The fish wins!

Fly casting is graceful.  Joan Wulff broke the glass ceiling and proved that fly casting is not about brute strength. She is quoted as saying “You know casting is beautiful, it's graceful, it's feminine.”

Fly casting and fly fishing is about finesse… and finesse requires feel.

No-one can describe that feel to you – you have to experience it for your self. Practice!