by Lefty Kreh
An important and often ignored principle for making the best presentation, getting distance or using various types of lines is the angle at which the fly line is directed on the forward cast. While many people cast at the same angle for most situations, you need to modify the casting angle dependent upon current fishing conditions.
There is one angle that perhaps you should make most of your cast. That is directing the fly slightly above eye level. I consider this to be the "normal casting angle." There are two reasons for this. In saltwater we often throw heavy or weighted flies but even small weighed ones can create problems. For example a bonefish fly with lead or bead chain eyes if directed toward the surface will hit the water so hard that most bones will spook. By casting at an angle that is slightly climbing the fly line expends most of its energy and a softer splash down occurs. Larger flies with substantial weight, if not directed above the surface will probably fall short of the target.
Another reason for directing the line and fly in a slightly climbing attitude is to obtain accuracy. Consider what a good plug or spin caster does. The cast is made slightly climbing, but with enough energy that the lure could go well beyond the target. As the lure approaches the target the plug caster slows the reel spool with his thumb and the spin caster use his finger to feather the line to slow its flight. Then the lure is stopped at the right time and it falls to the target.
The fly fisherman should do the same by making a cast that is climbing so the fly would go well beyond the target. The line hand forms an O ring with the thumb and first finger around the line as it flows forward. When the fly is over the target, the line hand traps the line and accuracy is obtained.
If there is a wind behind you the fly line should be directed with a low side backcast and the line is thrown extra high on the forward cast. The wind will act upon the line much as if it was a kite and you can throw more line than you can buy.
If the wind is blowing in your face at the end of a normal cast the line unrolls above the surface. The breeze pushes the fly and leader back with the whole front end falling short of the target in a tangled mess. This is one of the few times I believe you should direct the fly directly at the target. As soon as the line and leader unrolls the fly falls to the water and cannot be blown back. Because the surface is rippled and line speed is reduced as you drive the fly into the wind a hard splash down generally doesn't occur.
There are two other places where a cast directed at the surface is suggested. If you are trying to drive a fly back into a "tunnel" of mangroves or under a boat dock, then you must throw a tight loop straight to the target. And if a wind is blowing strongly from one side and you make a normal cast the breeze acting on the line will blow the fly off target. However, by properly directing the cast even in a 20 MPH wind you may be only a few inches off target. Remember, the line goes in the direction you speed up and stop. Once the tip stops you cannot change the direction of flight. Make a tight loop and high-speed cast directed at the target. As soon as the rod tip is stopped lay all the line in the water. Since direction has been determined and you immediately lay all the line in the water, the wind will have little effect on the cast.
When using a fast sinking line or lead core shooting head you again need to alter the casting angle. Because these lines in flight will fall faster than a floating line you must direct the lines much higher on the forward cast. There are two advantages to this. If you throw such lines at the normal casting angle they will fall short of the target. Directing such lines in a downward direction will increase the splash down. Throwing the line higher means you will increase distance and if the backcast is set up correctly you eliminate the chance of heavy flies and line hitting you or your fly rod. By making a low backcast and then directing the line at a high angle, the fly and line will travel well above the fly fisherman and you can avoid being struck by the line or the fly.
Perhaps the most poorly made cast is the roll cast. The major reason is that videos and books for years have taught us to make a roll cast by driving the rod over and downward which means the line will roll over and downward and collapse in a pile in front of the angler. Instead, we modify the backcast because we can't make a proper backcast. BUT WE SHOULD MAKE A NORMAL FORWARD CAST. That will insure that the direction of the fly will travel parallel to the water and not down in front of us.
But, there are reasons for changing the angle of a roll cast. If you have retrieved a sinking line, you simply can't lift it from underwater and make a backcast. By directing a roll cast at an upward angle, the line is aimed upward and the line and fly are lifted so you can make a backcast.
The same upward direction of a roll cast will let you quietly lift a popper from the surface. Another place I use an upward roll cast is when grass snags on your fly during a retrieve. Usually it is not necessary to bring the fly to you to remove the grass. Instead, make a GENTLE upward roll cast. Watch the line, as soon as the line is lifted from the water, but the leader and fly are still under water-make a strong backcast. Because the water surrounds the fly and grass, it will let the hook act like a knife blade and almost always the grass will be eliminated.
A side roll cast is also helpful in some situations. Just before the forward roll cast is made drop the rod over so it is parallel to the surface then make your roll cast. If the rod tip speeds up and stops parallel to the surface the line will unroll low and back under a dock, bridge or other structure.
A normal cast directed slightly above eye level is the best one most of the time, and rarely should you direct a cast downward. Be aware that the angle of the cast is important.