A Common Fly Casting Fault

A Common Fly Casting Fault

Bernd Ziesche | Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Last week I realized someone asking for help about solving a casting fault on facebook. As you can imagine the answers not all were helpful! Since there are several causes possible here, be warned: This is going to be a long frontpage!

Let's first have a look on the original posting I found on facebook:

I think it's fair to summarize, that most of us came across this trouble at some point during our learning curve in fly fishing. For sure this problem still sometimes even can happen to some of the best fly fishermen.

Even though the question was more about this problem to happen post starting to shoot line, I like to differentiate between:

A) The problem happening pre shooting line (during false casting) and

B) The problem happening post starting to shoot line.

On facebook the most liked answer was one offering an old advice from Lefty Kreh:

"Form a ring with the index finger and the thumb of your line hand and let this ring guide the line at any time during the shoot."

Obviously this advice might help for B) (post starting to shoot line). In my opinion it's not the best advice, because it indeed may well help to compensate (yes), but not eleminate, the cause of the whole issue.

Something by the way I have realized within many books and DVDs about fly casting is, that what the text (books) or the voice (DVDs) sais does not always match with what the pictures prove the caster really was doing!

Have a look here (from Lefty's book):

In truth Leftly only was guiding the final part of the shoot thru his line hand shaped ring!

Because otherwise we loose some distance of course, which is exactly why I again do not like this advice as a general help! It all depends on what you want (need) to achieve in the end of the cast.

Oh, before some of you start thinking, that I dislike Lefty's book, let me tell you that my cat and I have two things in common: We both love to play with the fluff at the end of a fly line and we both love Lefty's book a lot!

After having read a lot of nonsense being recommended for solving the issue explained above on facebook, I decided to ask some of the best fly casting instructors and fly casting experts. Here is what some of them said:

Paul Arden:

Mostly it’s the haul angle or, in this case, where the line hand is holding the fly line in relation to the rod butt. Particularly so when the casting plane is tilted to the side. So he should keep the line hand closer to the other side of the body, away from the rod and not underneath the rod. It’s also possible that he is releasing too soon but even so it’s mostly rod/line hand angles that causes this to happen. I did see his video. He needs to get his rod tip down at the start of his stroke (and for the retrieve!!), in fact he should go through the video manual from the beginning. He’ll very quickly pass where he is now.

Thanks for your fine expert answer, Paul!

Stefan Siikavaara:

I am not sure without seeing that guy cast, and there can be several reasons. Here is one take on it. Angle of the haul is one possible cause. The "hands- together" part is not really that important. Often its better to have some separation between the hands throughout the whole hauling cycle. It can be a big advantage to do rod-hand work on the rod side of the body and line-hand work on the other side. Hands together hands apart might get you into releasing the line under the butt. Separation might help. It can improve length of action for both hands. It sure reduces those kind of tangles.
But this is guessing. Times I had students tangling the butt or the reel knob is when they have been taught to bring the hands close togheter. "Chasing the reel" I call it. Not only are they bringing the line close to things that might snag, reel and butt. But they also tend to swing the haul foremost with the shoulder in a semicircular motion. Opening the elbow joint on the backcast while "chasing the reel" and not closing it for the forward haul. The forward haul ends up being a shoulder swing, and that is much slower than the straight line a closed elbow setup that starts shoulder, elbow, wrist will give you.

When I thanked Stefan for his fine expert answer, he said:
This is all recycled Paul Arden stuff, I owe him my knowledge!
Thanks a lot anyway, Stefan!

Peter Morse:

I saw that too. Line hand too close to the body and shooting line uncontrolled is my view. The wind can do it too. I lost a big fish to it recently but that was a bunch slack leaping up off the deck.

Thanks a lot for your fine help, Peter!

Bart de Zwaan:

Looking at the problem, I would say it is a problem of slack line while casting. Which of course can have multiple causes.

Thanks for your fine thoughts, Bart!

And then one of the best adivices I read on facebook by James Evans:

I went through a phase of doing this. It's to do with how and when you release the line from the hauling hand. If your (rod hand) wrist is open i.e. when going for a distance cast it's easy for the line to get thrown into that gap and when the wrist closes you end up with the situation you've drawn. I'd reccomend a close-up, slo-mo video of just your hands when casting so you can see how it gets there.

Thanks for your fine expert advice, James!

In addition to all these fine advices I like to add some of my own experience:

When teaching beginners how to start in fly casting, I prefer them to use the index finger on top grip while turning the reel to the outer side for a moment (not forever!). This way they can lean a part of the reel + the reel seat against the forearm. Now there is no space left where the line can get behind the reel seat or the fighting butt (if the rod has one). Obviously this way the problem will never show up at all.

In addtion I like my students to keep the line between the middle and/or ring finger of the rod hand and the cork for a while (not yet using the line hand for holding the line). This way they can start without creating the typical slack line trouble between the line hand and the first guide. Thus there is much less risk of getting the line tangled around the reel seat or the reel itself.

In the next step (soon after we started) I will teach how to add slightly controlled wrist movements to best position the rotation of the rod within the casting stroke (along the rod hand path). Now we of course have to deal with creating space between the reel seat and the forearm making it possible to catch up the line. Teaching to keep the rod in one plane (not changing rod plane) during casting helps very well to avoid this.

After mastering the essential movements for the rod hand I will teach my students how to use the line hand. Avoiding slack line between the line hand and the first guide is of course very helpful not to catching the line with the rod butt. Still it can happen even when not having slack though. Especially by starting not to keep the rod in one plane only. Obviously when now concentrating on the line hand, students easily may again loose some control of the rod movement since we all only can focus on one key point at a time. Perhabs in a time when it almost seems one needs to have long blond hair and b.... to make it on a cover of whatever fishing magazin, I shall add this to hold true for women, too!

Like Paul and Stefan already mentioned it helps not to position the line hand exactly below the rod butt and instead to bring the line hand more out of the rod plane (or at least off to the line hand side) as I demonstrate in the pictures below to make it more clear.

According to my own teaching experience (for my first ten years of teaching) most beginners tend to wrap the line around the rod butt during false casting, while expert casters most likely have it sometimes happening during the shoot of line as Peter Morse mentioned. I don't want to be in Morsie's position when he has one of his big sailfish at the other end of the line while this happens - absolute nightmare!

In regard of teaching beginners I haven't seen this trouble in a long time now since my teaching steps are built up in a proper way to avoid this issue to ever come in during false casting.

By the way I don't keep my students from trying the thumb on top grip during the first lesson. Only I don't want them to start this way, because that grip makes it nearly impossible to close the space between the reel seat and forearm. That is because the bend in the wrist would be too big. For the index finger on top and the V-grip it works fine (to close that space) instead.

Ok, let's have a look at some pictures for further understanding:


For sure as soon as strong wind and/or highest possible line speeds come into play even the best of us cannot always avoid the rod butt to catch up with the line during the shoot. So let's hope it doesn't happen to you when the big fish decides to take your fly. Since I prefer to cast my fly to the biggest fish on as short of a distance as possible (for best control of a smooth presentation), there usually is room to use Lefty's old trick (guiding the line shoot with my line hand). You see: I don't disagree with Lefty, when it really matters! 

Great fly fishing to all of you!

All my best


Some pictures of the last days as always...