One of the most common concerns of new and slightly seasoned fly fishers is their inability to cast a line “far enough” to catch fish or they just don’t feel they cast well enough to keep from embarrassing themselves while on the water with buddies. We act as cheerleaders and coaches letting them know that distance is truly relative and it’s not really about how far you throw but how well you can hit your target and what you do with the fly once it gets there. Most folks nod in understanding while we’re in the shop but then stare at us like we’re Martians when we drop a 90 or 100 foot cast out on the grass. “But you just said I don’t need to cast that far,” is the typical response when they see someone bomb out a cast like that. We’ve got some explaining to do right about then.
Let’s start by saying potential casting distance is influenced by a number of factors including:
- Angler ability.
- Rod design.
- Line type, design, age.
- Environmental conditions.
- Fly type, design, size
But in the end we just want to know how far is far enough. Well, as a general rule I think most successful open-water (as opposed to stream and brook) fly anglers will agree that they hook most of their fish between 50 and 65 feet away, which means that just about anybody capable of casting a minimum of 35 feet can catch fish and everything beyond that distance will just increase their chances. Why a minimum of 35? That’s because most modern fly rods, take a 9’ 8 weight for example, are designed to load and unload efficiently with the first thirty to thirty five feet of a matched weight fly line outside the rod tip. The lines weight that makes the cast possible is distributed across the first 30 or so feet making casts of less than 30 feet a bit difficult (because the weight isn't enough to effectively load the rod), while casts from 35 to 65 or so feet become a piece of cake. Short and special purpose fly rods load differently and it’s up to the angler to figure out what type of line will work best it’s effective range is.
When blind casting to cover a lot of water I’ll cast to 65 or 70 feet, strip in to the 35 or 40 foot mark, pickup and cast again, that way I’m using the weighted portion of the line to my greatest advantage and not wasting time. If casting to a fish, I think we’d all agree that getting as close as possible without spooking it is the key, then the casting distance can be minimized and accuracy increased. Most fish on the flats will strike a fly within the first few seconds of sensing its presence so it really isn’t necessary to strip the fly across 25 feet of unproductive water just to have the fish inhale it when it’s within two or three feet. So getting within 45 or 50 feet of the target puts it smack-dab in the middle of our effective range. Practice to the point where you can reliably pickup the line’s head and within one or two false casting cycles, return the fly to the strike zone at your maximum effective distance. PERFECT!!!
So why do fly guys talk about casting 90, 100, 110 feet? Because it feels good to be able to lay out a giant cast that lays out perfectly straight and on target. And also because practicing casts beyond traditional fishing distances will ensure that making a money shot to 65 or 70 feet will be a piece of cake. It looks great in a photograph or a movie but it isn’t practical or necessary to cast further in the vast majority of real-life fly fishing situations. Trout anglers may never need to reach very far at all but you can bet your last dollar that they need to be accurate, have great line control, and be able to perform a wide range of casting styles in order to put the fly on the water and not in the trees.
I guess the lesson to be learned at this point is that distance is relative. Practice to reach distances slightly beyond your normal fishing range, and fish at ranges where you can maintain good accuracy and control. If that’s 40 feet…So be it. Keep practicing and eventually it will increase to 50, 60, or even 70 feet.
Brian “Beastman” Eastman
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