7 Mistakes Beginner Fly Casters Make, and How to Fix Them

Becoming proficient in fly casting doesn’t happen overnight. While a beginner may be making decent casts on day one and catching fish, it takes quite a while for the motion to feel natural and for the technique to really come together. Luckily for those just getting started, there are a few common mistakes most beginners make, and they’re easy to fix with a little effort.

By focusing on fixing the major mistakes before they start, you can save your time and energy for perfecting the smaller, more subtle aspects of the fly cast that come later.

Here are seven common mistakes many newbie fly anglers make, and how to nip them in the bud.

1. Bringing the rod back too far

Most people who learn to fly cast have fished before with a spin rod. Therefore, many have a tendency to bring the fly rod too far back, as they’re used to casting like they’re swinging a baseball bat. This works for conventional gear, but a fly rod needs to stay high enough to shoot line out behind the caster.

If you bring the rod too far back during a fly cast, not only will you risk getting hung up on objects behind you, but you’ll also end up with a sloppy forward cast.

To fix it, watch your rod tip as you cast. It’s easy to come too far back while just going by feel, but if you watch your rod tip through the entire action, you’ll see where you’re actually stopping the rod. When you’re first starting out, straight overhead is the stopping place you should shoot for, and as you improve your casting, you may be able to come back farther (the classic 2 o’clock) and still have a controlled cast.

2. Breaking the wrist

Breaking the casting wrist goes hand-in-hand with coming back too far. Before I get hate mail on this (as I mentioned in Fly Fishing Hacks), I know wrist movements are an important part of a good cast among experienced anglers. However, for casting beginners, any wrist movement often leads to too much wrist movement, and it’s generally better for first-timers to try to keep the wrist almost locked.

Many casters stop their forearm in a straight vertical position and think their rod must be at the same angle. However, an angled wrist on a vertical forearm can bring the rod back as far as being parallel with the water. Obviously, this causes the exact same set of problems as listed in the issue above.

To fix it, check out the section in Fly Fishing Hacks on the sleeve method. Tucking the rod into your sleeve will give you just enough motion to function, but not enough to fully break the wrist.

3. Trying to muscle it forward

As with coming back too far, trying to muscle a fly outward often stems from growing up with a spin rod. Since a lure flies farther when you have a stronger swing forward, it seems natural that trying to throw a fly line harder would lead to a longer cast.

Unlike spin fishing, though, fly fishing includes a backcast, which is where most of the power is generated. A strong, perfectly-executed backcast leads to a forward cast that essentially completes itself. As long as you keep the rod tip in the proper position through the forward cast, very little force is needed.

A woman casts a fly rod in front of mountains and dark skies

Trying to throw it forward too hard causes sloppy casts and loud splashes on the water. If you think you may be muscling it too much, focus on having an even stronger backcast, and perform the forward cast extremely lightly. You can then work inward toward a happy medium of backward and forward cast strength.

4. Making an arc instead of a line

When casting a fly rod, the tip of your rod shouldn’t make an arc over your head as though you were drawing a rainbow with it. If you rotate your forearm too much while casting, the rod tip will follow an arc overhead.

Making an arc leads to large, open loops in the fly line during the cast, and in most cases, these open loops should be avoided. They can lead to sloppy presentations, contact between the fly and rod, and other problems.

Instead of rotating the rod while casting, trying “pushing” the rod with just a slight rotation where necessary. The tip of the rod should draw a straight, horizontal line through the air.

Considering people have actually built similar setups to practice, you can think of casting a rod whose tip was connected to a clothesline overhead. As you bring it back and forth, the rod tip can only move forward and back along a single plane, without rising or falling.

5. Focusing on distance over accuracy

It’s easy as anglers to look for a reason for not catching fish. One of the most common excuses anglers tell themselves is that they didn’t catch anything simply because they didn’t cast far enough.

While this is, of course, sometimes the case, more often than not the presentation matters more than the distance of a cast. A 60-foot cast isn’t worth anything if the line lands so loudly as to spook the fish. It also isn’t useful to get that far out if you completely miss your target.

A man stands on shore while casting a fly rod

Instead of focusing on casting farther, make use of your waders and get close enough to your target to complete an accurate cast. If you’re fishing blindly, remember that fish aren’t necessarily any larger or more plentiful the farther they are from you, and focus on a good presentation within your range.

6. Not pausing long enough

If you’ve mastered the art of not bringing your rod back too far, the next step is to get the pause down. The pause at the top of a fly cast is absolutely essential to a good presentation. It allows the line ample time to fully straighten out and load the rod.

The more line you have out during a cast, the longer you need to wait for it to straighten. With a long section of line out, the pause can last much longer than what feels natural. If you come forward too quickly, the cast will either completely fall apart or the line will crack like a whip, often popping the fly off.

If you’re struggling with pausing long enough, the solution is the same as for coming back too far: just turn your head and watch the line. When it has fully loaded the rod, you can start the forward cast.

7. Too many false casts

Some species, like bluegill, are brave and probably don’t think much about a fly line careening over their heads. Others, like trout and some saltwater species, are particularly sensitive to excessive casting.

In some cases, the sensitive aspect is timing. You might only have a second or two to place a cast, and if you spend 10 seconds going back and forth, you’ll have lost your chance. In other cases, with wary fish, every false cast is just another chance for a fish to spot the fly line or its shadow.

Occasionally, a decent amount of casting will be required to achieve the desired distance, but more often, only a cast or two is necessary.

To cut down on false casting, good old practice is the best medicine. With proper technique and a confident cast, you should be able to get through most situations with only a handful of false casts. The more you focus on shooting a lot of line on each stroke, the faster you can cut down on strokes.

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