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Casting Heavy Flies

by Philip Monahan

Have a question you want answered? Email it to us at ask@midcurrent.com.

Question: I have a problem casting big, heavy flies. I get lots of tailing loops and wind knots, and I worry about getting hit by the weighted projectile every time it comes by my head. What’s the secret?

via email

Heavy FliesAnswer: Heavy flies present casters with several troubling problems. We are all taught that good casting means throwing nice, tight loops and that high line speed makes for longer, more accurate casts. When there’s a lot of weight at the end of the line, however, you need to rethink these rules.

If you throw tight, fast loops with a lot of weight at the end of the line, the results are shocking…literally. At the end of every forward- and backcast the heavy fly acts like a running dog hitting the end of its leash, bouncing backward. This sends shock waves down the line to the rod and screws everything up. When the fly bounces back at the end of your backcast, for instance, it introduces slack into your leader, which keeps you from achieving smooth acceleration. This often results in tailing loops that cause knots and rob you of accuracy.

This slack in the line also causes you to lose control of the heavy projectile, which endangers your person and your fly rod. Given a little slack, the fly drops toward toward the ground in midcast, which also causes problems—especially if it lines up perfectly with your skull.

The key to casting big flies, then is to slow everything down, widen your loops, and avoid sudden changes in direction. To accomplish all these, you need to learn the Belgian cast (also called the oval cast). Rather than moving the fly back and forth along a two-dimensional plane, the Belgian cast keeps the fly moving at all times through a three-dimensional pattern. This means that there are no shocking stops, extra slack, or dropping fly.

To perform the Belgian cast, you make a sidearm backcast and then a forward cast over the top, with a nice, wide loop. The name oval cast comes from the fact that, if viewed from above, your rod tip describes an oval, rather than a straight line. When you are making the Belgian cast, line speed is not important, but you must keep the line moving at all times to keep the fly from dropping.

For a complete lesson on the Belgian cast, check out Macauley Lord’s excellent article on Midcurrent.

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
 
Phil Monahan is a former Alaskan guide and was the long-time editor of American Angler magazine. He's now a columnist for MidCurrent and writes and edits the fly-fishing blog at OrvisNews.com.
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  • Josh

    Your website has an interesting video on the Tuck Cast. Its worth watching if you want to know how to use the weight (dog at the end of the leash) to your advantage. 
    http://midcurrent.com/videos/how-to-make-a-tuck-cast/Nice article. Thanks.

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  • Anonymous

    This is the technique that works quite well for a weighted double rig with and indicator as well

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  • mrmomar

    This article is an oversimplification. A brief time in the salt last winter taught me to move the fly as fast as possible, as tight as possible. If there was any flaw in my technique, the cast would totally fail in the ways you described. But done correctly, I am convinced there is no better way to deliver a fly than with fast, tight loops, perfect timing, and a perfectly balanced leader. Despite common convention of short, stout leaders, a well tapered, heavy polyleader makes a huge difference when casting big flies. Since being back on the river with my 5wt, my casting has vastly improved with the same technique.

  • nymphermaniac

    If you throw tight loops with heavy flies you best wear a hat with a neck cover on the back.–Especially in salt water where the wind can be a big factor.

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  • SteveP

    Great answer. It may help to note that tailing loops form when the rod tip moves below a straight line during the cast, while wide loops result from a rainbow-shaped path of the rod tip. When there is lots of wind or when I need to make a longer cast, I tend to rotate the rod forward too early in the stroke, and end up pushing the rod forward at the end of the cast. This is a sure recipe for the rod tip to drop below the straight line. To avoid all tailing loops, as you move the rod forward, if you delay rotating the rod forward as long as possible, the rod tip cannot collapse, cannot drop below the straight line, and tailing loops cannot form.

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  • SmallieAngler

    This article helped me…a lot! I was really struggling. This technique has at least allowed me to have some control over my heavier flies. The most immediate benefit is that my flies are no longer flopping into the water. I have a long way to go, but I can follow this technique and it certainly is an improvement over what was happening (and it wasn’t pretty!)

    thanks again!

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