5 Alternative Fly Casts You Should Learn

For those just getting started in fly fishing, it’s rare to require more than a simple forward-and-back or roll cast to get a good presentation and catch fish. That said, eventually there will be times when the standard casts just won’t cut it.

Maybe a fish is under a dock, or there’s a cliff behind you and no room to backcast. In these cases, knowing a couple advanced techniques can be the difference between catching a fish and going home empty-handed.

Here are five casts that will come in handy on the water.

1. Pile Cast (aka Parachute or Puddle Cast)

Generally, people associate a dead drift with casting at a slight angle upstream. However, sometimes the only available opportunity for fish is to cast downstream. The pile (or parachute or puddle) cast is handy in this situation. When completed correctly, it causes the line to land in a meandering series of “S” shapes on the water. With that much slack in the line, the current can pull the fly downstream at a dead drift without pulling the line taut.

To perform the pile cast, start with a low backcast (slightly to your side instead of overhead), and on the forward cast, shoot the line upward and outward. As soon as your rod tip comes to a stop, drop it toward the water. This will break the loop before it forms and send the line into a slack-filled pile on the water.

2. Reach Cast

One of the easiest advanced casts to learn is the reach cast. Think of the reach cast as mending in the air. Instead of waiting for the line to land on the water to flip it, you can guide the line midair to land in an advantageous position.

To complete a reach cast, start with a standard fly cast. Come back as usual, and complete most of your forward cast as usual, too. When the line is mostly straightened and falling to the water, use your arm to move the rod significantly outward in the direction of the mend. As you do this, your casting arm, and therefore the rod, should start to angle toward the direction of the mend, as well. This motion creates an arc in the line, causing it to land in a “pre-mended” position.

3. Belgian Cast (aka Oval Cast)

Many people use roughly the same cast for all their fishing, despite using a wide variety of fly types. For small, light flies, this is often fine. However, trying to throw a weighted streamer the same way you throw a tiny dry fly isn’t always best. While normally you want your rod to stay on the same plane throughout a cast, this presents a few problems when using a streamer, split shot, or other things that cause the line to jerk or fall during a cast. The Belgian or oval cast is designed to keep constant tension on the line. Instead of the brief moment of slack during a standard backcast, during which heavy tackle can easily tangle, the constant pressure keeps the hardware out of the way of the rest of the line.

To complete a Belgian cast, start by bringing the rod back sidearm. Instead of coming to a sudden stop at the back, continue a fluid motion upwards as your rod comes behind you. Bring it up over your head and shoot your line forward from there. If you looked at this cast from the side, it would make an oval shape.

4. Bow-and-Arrow Cast

The bow-and-arrow cast is one of the niftiest tricks on the list. While everything else as least somewhat resembles a fly cast, the bow-and-arrow cast is in a class of its own. This is a great cast for targeting fish under overhanging branches or other obstacles. It allows you to keep the line on a flat plane very close to the water’s surface. In this case, you’ll be using the spring of the rod to create the effect of a bow.

To perform it, pull out as much line as you’d like to cast. You won’t be letting more line out during the cast itself. Point your rod tip forward toward your target. Then, grab your line (not the fly) and pull it back toward your ear so the tip of the rod starts to bend back toward you. Let go of the line when you’re ready, and your line and fly should shoot forward toward your target. No backcast needed!

5. Steeple Cast

The steeple cast is extremely useful when you have very little room for backcasting. It can be a bit tough if the reason for having no space is trees, since you’d essentially be casting up into the branches on a steeple cast. But, if you have cliffs, rocks, or low brush behind you, the steeple cast is a great way to get enough of a backcast for a good forward cast. The idea is to shoot the line mostly upward, not backward, on the backcast to avoid obstacles.

For a steeple cast, bring your rod back as normal but stop it suddenly and early, closer to 12 o’clock than you usually would. This will send the line high behind you. Then, on the forward cast, bring your rod lower than you normally would as the line shoots out.

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This is a list I made and use for my own trips, and I think any backcountry angler will find it handy.