Learn To Fly Cast – Part 1: The Roll Cast
In the first part of their single-handed casting series, North Yorkshire-based AAPGAI instructor Brian Towers and trainee instructor Clark Colman examine the basic Roll Cast, and offer some top tips for maximising its efficiency and accuracy…
Uses of the Roll Cast
- Introducing newcomers to basic casting stroke mechanics.
- Straightening slack line on the water before making an overhead cast.
- When overhead casting is prevented by obstructions behind.
- Lifting the line, leader and fly delicately from the water in readiness for making a back cast (the ‘roll cast pickup’) – e.g. when dry-fly fishing.
- When fishing multiple-fly leaders and ‘dibbling’ the top dropper pattern close to the bank or boat. Here the rod tip is often held high, with little if any room left to make a long-enough back cast or set the hook securely if a fish takes. A roll cast pickup can help here.
- Lifting a sinking line closer to the surface for an easier overhead back cast.
- To try and free a fly from a snag (a roll cast will pull it in the opposite direction).
- The foundation of Spey casting (which we’ll be covering in future articles).
An appropriate grip aids comfort, control, accuracy and efficient power application. We both prefer the ‘key’ or ‘screwdriver’ grip:
1. Lay the rod handle (reel down) across the middle section of your index finger, and the lower sections of the other three fingers.
2. Rotate your thumb round and position its pad on top of the handle, in line with the rod. Rest the pad of your index finger on the underside of the handle opposite the thumb pad, and clasp your remaining three fingers around the handle (firmly, but not too tightly) with the line secured under the middle finger. The handle below your thumb knuckle should now be securely cushioned under the fleshy palm ‘heel’ and the reel seat almost wholly underneath your lower forearm.
An appropriate stance minimises the risk of becoming off balance, keeps you square to the target from the feet up and greatly aids accuracy, power application and overall casting efficiency. We find that, wherever possible, a ‘closed stance’ gives the best results when roll casting.
1. Position your feet shoulder width apart, with both pointing directly towards the target area.
2. Bring the foot below your casting hand forwards so that the heel is about level with the toe of the other foot. By keeping both feet pointing towards the target, and the rest of your body straight and square-on, this stance can be comfortably maintained without undue physical effort and restricts potentially cast-damaging body rotation.
D Loop Setup
The D Loop of line hanging down from the rod tip to the water at the end of the setup phase provides the weight against which the rod loads when the delivery stroke is made. Forming as big a loop as possible aids easier, deeper loading of the rod, reduces the amount of effort necessary during the forward stroke and results in a nicely-energised, crisply-unrolling line. Here’s how we like to do this:
1. As with any other cast, always set up and deliver the Roll Cast from the safe side of your body – in other words, the side that any wind present in blowing away from. Beginning with the rod tip close to the water keeps the line under control in windy conditions and allows it to be moved immediately into the next stage.
2. Keeping your elbow relaxed by your side, and without breaking your wrist, slowly and smoothly lift your forearm to bring the rod up to about a 45-degree angle. This ‘unsticks’ the fly line from the water, maintains sufficient tension for keeping the line under control, and ease its movement into the next stage.
3. Carefully guide the rod and line around and to the side of your body. This keeps the line safely away from you and also positions the line on the water outside the casting line when the D Loop forms; thus helping to maintain safety and reduce the risk of tangles on the forward stroke.
4. When your rod hand is about level with your shoulder, bring the rod up to about a 45-degree angle behind you. This will create a loop of line that hangs below the rod tip in the shape of a backward-canted letter D (with the rod being the straight part), and comes to rest on the water beside or just front of you.
Note: The line on the water forms an ‘anchor’ holding the D Loop in place. Too much line stick, however, creates excessive resistance when the loop is unrolled on the forward cast and requires more effort to release it from the water, resulting in a noisier, less efficient delivery. The 45-degree rod angle, therefore, allows as big a loop as possible to be formed whilst also minimising the anchor.
5. After setting up the D Loop, pause to check your stance, rod hand and arm position, loop formation and anchor. Your hand and arm should now be in what’s often called the ‘Key Position’, with your hand about opposite your ear, your thumb opposite the target area and slightly canted sideways away from you, so that the loop is held safely away from you and the top of the loop doesn’t tangle around the rod tip. There should be an angle of around (and no more than) 45 degrees between the real seat and the underside of your forearm, with both your reel and elbow pointing towards the target.
This can be made in more than one way; however the method below is straightforward and certainly works well for us:
1. Without leaning forwards, changing the angle of your thumb, or the angle between the reel seat and the underside of your forearm, smoothly accelerate your hand forwards, with the tip of your thumb travelling in a straight line (imagine it speeding up along a shelf). The constant rod angle and uninterrupted acceleration will keep the D Loop behind the rod tip and allow the rod to load throughout the stroke. This will also ensure a straight-line path of the rod tip and minimise how low it drops at the end of the stroke, resulting in a narrow, aerodynamic and energy-efficient forward loop.
Note: When making the forward stroke, be sure to aim along an imaginary line just inside and parallel to the fly line on the water. This allows the line to unroll fully and cleanly towards the target area without tangling or collapsing. Aiming directly along the fly line, or (worse still) across it, will almost certainly result in a tangle. Aiming too far to the inside will create too wide an angle between the line on the water and the D Loop. Remember, the Roll Cast will only work if the D Loop is formed opposite and then delivered towards the target area (the 180-degree principle).
2. Stop the rod smoothly and crisply at the end of the delivery stroke, when the rod is travelling at its fastest and under maximum load. The stop should shoot the tip of your thumb forwards, snap shut the angle between the reel seat and underside of your forearm (to create extra tip speed), and return the forearm and rod to the 45 degrees in front position (to which, you’ll remember, you lifted it at the beginning of the D Loop setup). This length of stroke, together with its tip path and timing, should be more than enough to load the rod with sufficient energy for unrolling the line. On the stop, the rod unloads by springing forwards and transferring this energy into the line, unrolling it over the rod tip.
3. Hold the rod at its stop position as the line and leader continue to unroll. If you’ve followed all of the above steps, both will unroll fully in the air (not on the water, as many poorly-executed roll casts do) in a narrow, efficient loop, straight towards the target.
4. Don’t be tempted to lower your forearm and rod until the line has unrolled and is descending; otherwise the loop will open up, become less aerodynamic, send the energy in the cast up and around a curve (rather than straight towards the target) and collapse. Now you can lower them at the same speed as the line back to where you started the cast.
North Yorkshire-based Clark is the Fly Fishing Specialist at Orvis UK’s Harrogate store, and a member of the Fly Fishers International (FFI) Guides Association. He also owns and runs EDIP Fly Fishing, a guiding service operating throughout the north of England. Clark is currently training as a single-handed casting instructor with both AAPGAI and FFI.
T: 07752 268073.
Brian is qualified to Advanced level in both single and double-handed disciplines with the Association of Advanced Professional Game Angling Instructors (AAPGAI). Based in North Yorkshire, he owns and runs the popular Yorkshire Fly Casting tuition and guiding business, operating on the Bolton Estate waters of the River Ure and further afield.