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Fly Fishing Jazz: On False Casting and Overhead Loops

by Kirk Deeter
photos by Kirk Deeter

“Jazz has always been like the kind of a man you wouldn’t want your daughter to associate with.”  Duke Ellington

Roll CastAND I’M PROBABLY the guy your Federation of Fly Fishers “Certified Casting Instructor” doesn’t want you associating with either.  Because as much as I think clean, perfect casting loops are fun to make, and pretty to look at, I don’t think they are a cure-all for most anglers on a trout river.  And the only thing that’s “certify-able,” in my mind, is how much attention most of us pay to making too many false casts, and coaxing too much distance into the air.

Use your feet to cut half of the casting distance between you and the trout you target, and you’ve solved the greatest casting challenge of all.

After that, roll cast, and you’ll eliminate more of the problems that come with false casts, like shadows, water slaps, and errant landings.  Let the current load your line… lift your rod tip high, and fling and flick your way up the river.  Do whatever feels right for you, in the moment, and you will connect.  Moreover, the overhead cast will eventually develop and come to you, sooner or later, because you’re feeling the rod load when you roll cast.

About 12 years ago, I reached a point (after much practice), where I could throw a 5-weight fly line over 100 feet.  I was proud of myself, but I have never, ever, used that cast on a trout river.  Now, I am more proud of the fact that I have never put myself in a position to cast 100 feet on a trout river.

In fact, I would say that any guide who puts an angler in a spot where they demand a 100-foot cast (and I’m talking saltwater also)… well, he or she isn’t a very good guide.  There’s so much more to fishing than a long cast, and the more you understand that other stuff, the more you accept sexy, long loops for the novelties that they really are.

So try this… take a day, and roll cast exclusively.  If you need to dry off your bug, fine, you can make some overhead false casts away from the target.  But every cast into the zone comes from the roll.  Start with the rod tip low, build surface tension as you lift the rod high, then snap and unfurl the cast where you want it to go.

Be a great roll-caster, and you will be a great angler.  That’s really where it starts and ends… not over your head.

Of course, that isn’t “classical” fly fishing by any standard.  It’s jazz.

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
Kirk Deeter is the editor of TROUT, the national publication of Trout Unlimited, and a frequent contributor to MidCurrent.
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  • Tom Sadler

    KD, Two great points! I had the pleasure of fishing with some wounded vets last Saturday and since we didn’t have a lot of back cast room I taught them to roll cast. Since they were new to casting they caught on quickly, enjoyed it more and hooked up more often.
    Solid advice from you as always!

  • Midwrite

    The roll cast is as reliable and effective in casting as Woolly Buggers and Parachute Adams are to flies.  Nice article and Great advice.

  • Crashq

    As you mentioned , you do not need to cast 100 feet with perfect loops on a trout stream, but that is not the purpose of being able to do it. If you can make that cast, you will have perfected the skills to do most anything you need to do with a flyline. It gives you options. Roll casting incorporates many of the same motions as standard casting. If you can cast 100 feet, you can probably roll cast 60 feet.

    I always try to minimize the distance between me and the fish (within reason), but there are plenty of times where I was prevented from getting close to fish. Sometimes I had enough skills to reach them, sometimes I did not.

    Besides pretty perfect loops means that you are being the mosrt efficient with your casts. It will allow many people to cast for longer periods of time before tiring. I would not want to wear myself out on the second day of a weeklong trip to Tierra Del Fuego.

    Long perfect loops are not required, but they can make things easier at times.

  • Anonymous

    Marginally useful advice at best, and surprising to see it published here.

    Sure, if you can get the job done by getting closer, do it.  And if a roll cast is the best cast for the job, go with it.  As the younger generation says, “Duh!”

    But the simplistic advice that Kirk offers ignores the fact that the skills honed in distance casting (smooth acceleration to a quick stop, controlled application of power, tight wind-resistant loops, etc.) are useful in LOTS of real-life fishing situations, such as casting into a wind you can’t avoid, or reaching across an unwadeable stretch of river.

    So, while Kirk has some (relatively obvious) good suggestions, they could have been expressed in a much less dogmatic and self-important manner, as well as taking note of the scenarios where distance casting/tight loop skills are an important part of the angler’s “toolbox.”

    • As a person who’s more comfortable casting at distance than close-up — and therefore has the same problem as many other fly casters who’ve always been told that tight loops solve every problem — I think what Kirk is saying here is important. I see lots of beginner and intermediate anglers who spend more time looking at their casting distance than thinking about what they should be doing to catch fish. Ask any guide about things that frustrate them, and near the top of the list is the angler who spends too much time false casting and can’t keep his fly in the water.

      Learning to load the rod at short distances is something most instructors don’t focus on (perhaps rightly so, since it can be seen as a more advance skill). While I have a bad habit of wanting to get that perfect loop at distance — usually because I’m over-proud of it — there are many times when a roll cast or even a modified spey cast that drops the fly out quickly at 30 feet would have been a better choice.

  • Sayfu

    It is marginally useful advice, but much of Deeter’s writings regarding casting can easily come into question.  I have been a big thorn in his side on the F & S site for sometime now questioning his knowledge of casting.  I have been a casting instructor for over 30 yrs. now, and was one of the first Sage Rod Co. casting instructors.  But on this synco- rhythm distance casting thing?…I see some application.  The key to distance, for one, is the correct height/angle the line is cast on during the forward stoke.  The line needs to be cast angled UP, from low to higher.  But the angle going back on the backcast has to have the line sent up from low to high.  The pause, the lowering of the rod hand, and rod tip just after the line reaches its backcast height to get the angle for the elevated angle on the forward cast is the sycho- rhythm that Deeter refers to.  It is all just a discussion for those interested in distance casting with little wind involved…has little fishing application, but something that keeps my interest up.

    • Whether or not Kirk is “certifiable” (his words, not mine) is open for debate, but I spent a day fishing with him last summer and he taught me more about loading the rod for close-in casting than I’ve learned in many years of trout fishing.

      It’s all fun.

  • Sayfu

    And if you are a dry fly fisherman you can confine yourself to roll casting?  I don’t have a problem with the pickup and laydown casts..One pick up, and a false cast to dry the fly out sometimes, or lift and load and back out there.  But I am using a lot of spey/switch cast one handed glorified rolls to swing soft hackles especially.

  • Sayfu

    Responding to Crash’s well places points.  And here is an exception to what has been said.  My most pleasurable moments in fly fishing involved looooooong casts, cast after cast using 9-9.5′ 6wt rods and flies in the size #8 range, often #10’s.  One of the many pleasures was your proficiency of casting, and stepping down..  You challenged yourself, and perfected skills that enabled you to have complete line control, and perform untangled casts, cast after cast, after cast…and it was on a trout stream fishing for anadromous  trout, the steelhead trout, and is still the most exciting flyfishing I have ever done, bar none.  You develop a rhythm of quartering downstream using relatively small flies, on a dryline,… cast, mend, follow with the rod tip anticipating that surface explosion that never gets old.  Being able to cast for distance using a minimal of false casts becomes paramount.  Undoubtedly Deeter has never partaken in that sport on big Wester Rivers, in the Fall of the year when river flows are low and stable.  I can enjoy watching a good fly fishiing steelheader cast, and control line as they fish through a drift.

  • Mike Lyons

    Too many of the “new guys” to the sport have been told that fly fishing is the equivalent of doing a ballet in a rubber suit.  Even if they do eventually develop a pretty, tight looped cast, the fly spend 70% of the day in an endless series of false casts above the river instead of floating ON the river toward a feeding trout.

    If you fish to be pretty maybe this isn’t your sport.  If you fish to fool fish and have fun then get practical and learn how to put a fly in the path of your target with the fewest number of moving parts possible.  You, my friend, are directly on target!


  • Kirkdeeter

    I appreciate all these comments… in total (even the marginally-valuable ones).  The bottom line is that we called this column “Fly Fishing Jazz” for a reason… and that is… like with jazz music, it’s intended to shake the foundation.  The more I aggravate the self-appointed “30-year certified casting gurus”… the happier I am,  You can do whatever you want on that river (or flat), and you don’t need a self-appointed guru to tell you how to do it.  Live like you want to live… try new things… challenge the establishment.  Throw the textbook out the window. That’s the true essence of fly fishing jazz.

  • Jeff Kreager

    Deeter,  You are dead wrong.  Take the “probably” out of your first sentenence to make it correct.  After that there is nothing but good advice in your article.

  • Sayfu

    Not my observation on tight loops and false casting at all.  Once the angler learns the mechanics of casting, and can throw tight loops he can make any cast he wants, and the right one at the appropriate time.  False casting dries out a dry fly, extends line when needed.  Watching an accomplished angler false cast out of the fish’s zone biding time waiting for a raise, and then being able to lay the fly in there when a fish’s location is spotted is far different from watching a guy throw open loops trying to extend line, and can’t because he doesn’t know how to cast.  A very small percentage of beginning fly anglers ever reach the state where they can cast well has been my observation.  Eliminating any casts, be they false casts, or long, and replacing them with a roll cast doesn’t make sense IMO.

  • chrigi kuttnig

    you now: jazz and flyfishing from norway? no?! not good!! have a look in net!!


  • Gail Martin

    Thank you so much for this article…trying to fish the Rogue in Oregon and was getting really depressed..wondering what I was doing wrong….now I am looking forward to getting out there again…Granny G

  • Jim Patton

    Oh so true. This goes right along with thinking that you have to spend $800 on a fly rod to be a real fly fisherman.