Distance and Fly Fish Casting: A Brief and Entertaining Guide

It’s like they know. Both sides of the river look identical, but the fish are holding under that far bank. They don’t come right out and dare you to try a 20 or 30-yard cast, but you can almost feel their confidence that you won’t do it.

It’s time to sneak up on them. You just need to master casting that covers the distance with speed and grace. Granted, speed doesn’t trump distance when you’re fly fishing Alaskan rivers, but the two share space in discussions of physics and aerodynamics. We’ll save the science lessons for another post.

Fly Casting, Distance and Speed: A Brief But Comprehensive Guide

It’s easy to list the essentials that distinguish a well-thrown long cast. It’s a little harder to make them all happen with one smooth move, but here’s what you’re after:

  • A higher-than-average trajectory
  • Extra speed in the line
  • An extended stroke
  • Tight, efficient loops

How do you finesse that kind of action so that you get the distance you want? Our favorite fly fishing writers can explain it with volumes of detail. Still, we think they’d agree with our short overview here trimmed down to the basics. This is our very brief guide on how to put distance in a fly fishing cast.

  1. Start your backcast with the rod tip low. You lose leverage when you start with a high tip, so keep it low to the water. Let the water’s surface tension flex and load your rod.
  2. Accelerate into the backcast, and then stop with the rod high. Otherwise, you lose the cast’s energy over your shoulder as it continues back.
  3. Double haul your false casts. This isn’t complicated, and you don’t have to haul a lot. Just a few inches tugged with your line hand helps your speed, but nothing gets it out there like a good double haul.

While gear matters with this type of casting, don’t assume that heavy guarantees distance. Count on fast-action rods. Unless you’re casting giant salt lures, stick with an 8.5- to 10-foot rod and 5 to 7 weight line. We also favor braided shooting line with a 30-foot shooting head at just over half an ounce.

In our years fly fishing Alaska, practice doesn’t always make us perfect, but it sure does make us better at distance casting. Whenever you have the space and time, work on your moves. Once you’ve mastered the technique, don’t take it for granted. It isn’t rocket science, but it’s not bicycle riding either. Stay sharp, and you might throw the next world-record breaking cast with a fly fishing rod.

About That World Record

When Steve Rajeff tossed his line 242 feet back in 2010, he broke his own world record for the longest fly fishing cast. It took him 20 years to add a stunning 6 feet to his original triumph. That’s something to keep in mind when you’re perfecting distance casting. Rajeff dominates the competition with 34 consecutive American Casting Association wins, and he’s won the World Casting Championship 13 times. There’s something more than luck going on here.

We doubt the need for that kind of coverage will come up fishing our Alaskan rivers and lakes. As much as we stand in awe of competitive casting, we aren’t inclined to stalk trout with surf rods. Rajeff and his fellow uber-casters use special reels, spiderweb line, heavy leaders and bullet lead. That’s too much for our tackle boxes, and 16-foot rods are a pretty tight fit in the back of a De Havilland Beaver.

Bring Your Gear, Go the Distance

When you come up here and join us fly fishing in Alaska, bring the gear that fits your style. If you need a little extra something or want to modify your setup, we probably have just what you’re looking for. If you’re ready to take on the dare from those fish holding under the opposite bank, we’re on your side.

Distance has several meanings up here. It’s the magic you manage with a 20-yard cast. It’s how far you come to enjoy the fly fishing adventure of a lifetime. It’s that space between a perfect day on a perfect river and everything else. Our family here at Slab Creek looks forward to helping you go the distance, so make plans to come visit us soon. Alaska isn’t that far away.