Tim Kempton | Tuesday, 19 January 2021

You have to be prepared to make the cast. A lot of fish are not stationary like trout, and often there are times, when by the time you have unstrung the fly, the fish has moved on. Or the line gets caught in a bush, or you are standing on the line, or it is caught on your clothing or the reel handle...

Line management is seldom taught but essential for all forms of fly fishing.

Learn how to be prepared to cast to the fish 

  • Learn how carry the fly and the line when walking along the bank of a river or lake. I have recently become addicted to carp and hunt them from the bank. Like bonefish they are constantly moving. You have to be ready to make the shot, so you have to carry some loops of line, and the fly in hand. You can carry loops around each finger on your line hand. Practice releasing line from each finger and shooting at targets at all angles. Make the first cast count.


  • Sometimes you have your fly/leader/flyline strung so that it does not get tangled, which often entails the leader being looped around the reel and the fly hooked into one of the guides . For many fish however you need fast release of fly and flyline to make the cast, and looping the flyline around the reel can slow down the process.  For this type of fishing it is preferable that the flyine is outside the top runner, and that the leader is less than 9’ so that the fly is close to the butt. Some people secure the fly into the cork butt. Personally I don’t favour this, and I find the fly keeper that is standard on some rods works for me.  Alternatively have the fly in one hand, and loops of line in the other hand. Find a technique that works for you, but keep it simple.


  • Learn how to carry line when wading. Use a stripping basket if necessary.
  • Learn how start the cast. You maybe walking fly in hand, with the flyline/leader connection outside the top  ring, and you see a fish. Look behind for a clear cast. Move into a  better spot if necessary and if possible. Roll out the fly away from the fish. You can wiggle line out, or false cast away from the fish until you get the distance then present the fly. All movements must be subtle to avoid spooking the fish.
  • Long leaders.  Long leaders (18+’) are often used in New Zealand.  Carrying and starting these is a topic in itself. One comment is that unless you have a friend/guide to help land the fish, the flyline/leader connection must be wind on using knots such needle knot or a super glue knot that pass easily through the top guide. Nail knots, loop to loop and surgeon knots can get caught on the top runner and can cost you a fish. 



After you hook the fish


  • Learn to manage line on a fast running fish. Turn the reel away from your line hand to prevent the line wrapping around the reel handle, or rod butt. Separate your hands...lift the rod hand and lower the line hand.  Use your line hand to feather the line onto the reel.  Avoid shirts with buttons, or anything the line can get caught on, because it will. Watch the line, don’t watch the fish until the line is on the reel. 
  • Learn to manage line on the deck of a skiff ..avoid the famous foot brake. Watch the line, not the fish until the line is on the reel.
  • Learn to set the drag and leave it. Remember that fly line in the water will give added drag.
  • Learn to wind with your intelligent (dominant) hand.  Managing the reel takes dexterity. Holding the rod does not,  as you will soon find with fast running fish.  Most people cannot wind either efficiently  or fast enough, or manage or feather the reel with their non dominant hand…they end up winding the rod around the reel.  Ignore the dogma about which hand you should wind with…that is a trout tradition. Do what feels natural and works for you.  



Safety – Finger guards

Fast running fish like sailfish, marlin, tuna, tarpon, queenfish, permit will strip off a flyline in seconds. This can cause serious line burn. Backing line is usually braid, and will cut through your fingers to the bone if you are not careful. You can buy, or make finger guards made from lycra. 

They are simple to make, and saves a lot of sore fingers. They also reduce abrasion when you are casting and retrieving for extended periods. Barramundi in Australia are known as “the fish of 1000 casts”, and stripping the line back over your line finger all day becomes unpleasant.  Some lines like the Sharkskin series are highly abrasive.


Stripping baskets and line clips

There are many types of stripping baskets, line mats and line clips to help hold the line, especially under windy conditions.

They all have advantage and disadvantages.


Boating.   With our fisheries in Australia, when boating under windy conditions we often use collapsible laundry baskets with a piece of plywood or foam in the bottom fitted with silicone nozzles to hold the line.  On occasion we also use fly line mats to hold the fly line on the deck.