By Susan Thrasher
As fly fishers, there are so many different areas we can focus on to improve our chances of having a successful day on the river. One of the most important areas is casting and the ability to adapt to different situations. One casting technique, that is a must for your arsenal, is the roll cast. Although this is often the first cast taught to beginners because it is easy to learn, it is a valuable casting method that is consistently used by the most experienced fly fisherman.
To start, it’s important to note that practice should take place on water since it is the tension created between the water and line that loads the rod and gives the results you are looking for. If grass is your only option, you can still practice by stretching the line out in front of you and tying the end of your line to a hula-hoop, brick or anything that will anchor the end of the line. This will provide the tension needed to create the roll. Following the three simple steps outlined below, and with a little practice, you’ll be roll casting before you know it.
Begin with fifteen or twenty feet of line extended beyond the rod tip. The line is held with the line hand at belt buckle level. Body position should be square to the target with the right foot back. Slowly, with rod extended parallel to the water, drag the line towards you by lifting and tilting the rod slightly to a vertical position. Your rod hand will be at temple level, similar to answering a phone. Shift weight to the back foot. Tilting the rod will move the fly line to your side and away from your shoulder. The fly line will now be slightly behind you forming a belly or a “D” shape. At this point stop to examine your set up. Is your wrist straight? The correct wrist position will result in a 45-degree angle between the rod butt and forearm. Are you tense? If so, relax. Have you selected a target? Where do you want the fly to land? Use your elbow as a line of sight to your desired target. Is there still line on the water? There should be. The surface tension of the water on the line is what creates the smooth turn over of the loop. Is the “D” shaped line behind your shoulder at a complete stop? If so, then you’re ready for step two.
Shift your weight to your front foot and immediately follow with a downward movement of the rod, leading with the elbow and rotating from the shoulder. As your thumb comes into peripheral view, firmly snap your wrist forward keeping your elbow slightly bent. Do not extend to a straight-arm position. The roll can either be in the air or on the water. This depends on the wrist snap position. If the snap is lower, the roll is along the water. After the snap, the rod butt will be against the underside of your forearm and change from 45 degrees to 0 degrees. Pause to allow the rod to pull the line beyond the rod tip and roll out to your target.
Continue the cast with the rod tip pointed to the target. Your arm will be extended, however slightly flexed at the elbow. Follow through with the cast until your fly lands on the water.
Adapting to the current
The steps outlined above work well when the current is running from right to left, but what about when the river is running from your left to right? Simply start with your casting hand over your left eye, step back with your left foot and form the “D” loop over your opposite shoulder. Everything else is just the same.
You can use the roll cast in a number of situations, for instance in tight spots where back casts are restricted due to rocks, trees or brush and you can use it to remove slack in the line or lift a sinking line to the surface. So, start practicing! Mastering the roll cast as one of your casting techniques is sure to make you a better fly fisherman.
Susan Thrasher is the owner of Southern Brookies Fly Fishing and is a FFF Certified Casting Instructor. Contact her at www.southernbrookies.com