Fly Fishing - the five essentials of fly-casting

Federation of Fly Fishers (FFF) master instructor Bill Gammel identified five essential elements for performing an effective cast.

The following should be learned and experimented with in order to understand the effects of ‘Bill’s Five’ on your everyday casting. These five essentials have become widely recognised as one of the most valuable instructional tools and form the basis of the FFF fly-casting curriculum.

Write them down, post them on your refrigerator and memorise them! Implementing Bill’s Five into your fly-casting practice will greatly advance your development as a fly caster.

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1. Straight-line path of the rod tip (SLP)

Tight loops require the rod tip to track a straight-line path throughout the casting stroke. A convex (circular) tip path will result in a wide, open loop, whereas a concave (dipping) tip path will result in a tailing loop, where the line crosses itself, resulting in a wind knot. Your rod tip should not only travel in a straight line on the horizontal plane, but also the vertical (when looking down from the bird’s-eye view) in a 180-degree straight line directly away from, and back to, your target, to ensure accuracy and correct loading of the fly rod. This is what is known as the ‘180-degree rule’ and is essential for tight, accurate loops. Remember, the line will always follow the path of the rod tip!

2. Correct casting arc for the amount of line used

A variable casting arc is the number-one tool in the fly-caster’s arsenal. For short casts you should aim to employ a narrow casting arc/stroke, widening the arc as the line lengthens. The casting arc is the angle at which the rod butt rotates throughout the casting stroke. Stroke length is the lateral distance the hand moves during the cast from front to rear stopping points.

You must match your casting arc to the flex in your rod. Too wide a casting arc and you will open up the loop (convex tip path, see above); too narrow an arc and your loop will tail. The more line you have outside your rod tip, the more weight you have and the deeper the bend in your rod. Consequently, you must widen your casting arc to accommodate this and maintain SLP. Go out and experiment and you will soon see the effects of an incorrect arc.

Here’s an exercise: with a set amount of line, say 10 metres, false-cast slowly at first with a narrow casting arc – minimal power, casting smoothly. Look at the nice narrow loops rolling off your rod tip.
Now, widen your casting arc, waving the rod tip back and forth, and watch these loops open up into big, circular formations.
Now return to the tight loops of before. This time, stop your cast very short, effectively closing your casting arc, and watch your loop’s tail.
Congratulations, you have just learnt the fundamentals of loop control!

3. Correct power application

A smooth acceleration is required to effectively load your rod. The rod tip should be moving fastest at the end of your stroke when rotation (the crisp flick of the wrist) occurs. Too much unsustained power applied too early in the cast will force a deeper bend in the rod, thus dipping the rod tip below the straight line path… and there they are – tailing loops!

The most important word here is ‘smooth’ – so let’s look at the word itself, but spelt ‘sssmooth’. Soft and gentle to begin with, ending in an abrupt crescendo. Say it aloud, intensifying the pronunciation and volume throughout the word: “sssmooth”.

Let’s apply this to our casting stroke. ‘Sss’ gets the rod tip moving, pulling the line with it. Nice and smooth. Now, as we reach the harsher consonants and vowels ‘mooth’ we turn the rod tip over via rotation of the wrist. The rod tip flexes deeper against the weight of the line and accelerates as it unloads, sending our loop towards our target.

It is easy, in windy conditions particularly, to subconsciously attempt to cast harder. Problem is, all the extra energy put into this cast is often applied at the wrong time. You punch into the stroke, your rod tip buckles, and voila – tailing loops!
Let’s ease off a little. Tilt your casting plane forward, and by following the ‘sssmooth’ technique, you will continue to cast efficiently, applying power in the correct manner. You will be surprised at the distance you can now achieve, even against the conditions.

Think smooth when casting to ensure your rod tip’s straight-line path.

4. Correct timing of the stroke

There must be a pause between your back cast and forward cast to allow your loop to straighten. Your stroke should commence fractionally before the line completely straightens and tension is lost throughout the cast. Beginning your stroke too soon, or ‘anticipating’ the cast, is known as creep, and this effectively closes your casting arc. Waiting too long on the back-cast results in the line dropping below the rod tip, requiring much of the rod’s stored energy just to elevate it again to perform the forward cast. By then, very little energy is left in the rod to execute an effective presentation. If you flick this low back-cast forward, the result is either a wide, ineffective loop or a pile of line dumped at your feet.

Useful instruction: short line equals short pause. Long line equals long pause. Match the length of your pause to the length of line outside the rod tip.

5. Elimination of slack line throughout the cast

Any slack line that works itself into your casting cycle will have an adverse affect on your loop performance. You should begin your standard overhead cast with the rod tip down at the water and pull any slack line in through the guides. Everything is tight. Now, as you slowly lift/accelerate into your back-cast, the line remains tight, loading the rod effectively from the beginning. A smooth (sssmooth) application of power ensures your rod tip travels an uninterrupted SLP, and a crisp stopping of the rod at the completion of both the back and forward cast creates a solid anchoring for the flexed (loaded) rod to unload against.

Just as important is ensuring the correct timing and sizing of your haul to keep slack line from feeding into the cast. The key: short cast, short haul; long cast, long haul.


1) Straight Line Tip Path (SLP) for tight, effective loops.
2) Casting arc: short line, small arc; long line, wider arc. A variable arc is the key to success!
3) Power application: smooth (sssmooth) acceleration into an abrupt ‘stop’.
4) Timing: short line, short pause; longer line, longer pause
5) Slack line: keep it all tight.

Play with the above these next few weeks. Experiment with the essentials and see just what affect each one has on your overall casting performance.





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