Better Casting in Saltwater

By Jon B. Cave


When anglers refer to fly-fishing in saltwater, they could be talking about a number of unique environments: flats, offshore, near shore, reefs, beaches, tidal creeks, mangrove backwaters, spartina grass shorelines, or other marine settings. Although each of the various locations presents a unique set of circumstances for the flyfisher, they all share a common requirement – a highly skilled casting technique in situations that are often extremely demanding.

To be consistently productive in these environments, any flyfisher worth his/her “salt” should be able to easily and precisely deliver a fly 60’ or more to a moving fish in three or fewer false casts as a minimum requirement. However, if it’s a struggle to accurately and quickly reach that distance, some changes in casting technique are necessary to improve the chances of success.

Here are 4 of my favorite recommendations for better casting in saltwater. Refer to photos 1- 9 at the end of the post for additional clarity.

1. Some flyfishers use the same short, “jab” or “chop” cast regardless of whether the length of line is short or long. Their rod-hand always stops close to the casting shoulder on the backcast and advances approximately only 1-1.5 feet on the forward stroke – similar to the inefficient clock-casting routine. Shock waves in the line, limited casting distance, inefficient loops, and a poor presentation are often the results of a short, choppy motion.

For smoother and longer casting, it is far more efficient to lengthen the stroke as the amount of line in the air increases during false casting – and it requires less effort in the process. I like to describe this concept as “long line, long stroke – short line, short stroke”. To accomplish a longer casting stroke, the casting hand must extend past the elbow on the backcast. As the length of line increases, the further both the casting hand and arm should extend rearward. Similarly, at the completion of the forward stroke, the arm and hand should reach further out with a long line than a short one.

As an analogy, think of throwing a baseball. The arm must reach back and follow through further for a long throw than for a shorter one. The concept is the same regardless of whether casting a fly line, throwing a ball, or hitting a tennis ball.

2. Learn to vary the angle of the fly rod according to the situation. Under most circumstances, holding the rod at a 45 degree angle allows for the longest and most efficient stroke; however, there are conditions that require sidearm and overhead casts as well. For instance, mangrove shorelines necessitate a sidearm motion in order to form a horizontal loop that will drive a fly underneath low, overhanging branches. In contrast, an overhead cast and vertical loop are needed in narrow waterways with tall vegetation lining both banks.

3. Perfect the double-haul. A double-haul makes all casting easier, especially with regard to increasing distance. To execute a haul, pull down sharply on the line at the same time the rod achieves its maximum bend during the turnover or speed-up portion of the forward or back stroke as the case may be. The haul should stop at the same time the rod tip is stopped at the end of each stroke. After the haul is completed, allow the line-hand to gravitate with the pulling line back to the rod-hand in a “line-hand to rod-hand” motion. Once the hands are close together, begin the next acceleration phase of the casting stroke until the time comes to make another haul during the following turnover portion. Continue false casting and hauling until the rod is sufficiently loaded enough to shoot the fly toward the intended target.

4. Fly line taper plays a significant role in saltwater casting performance; therefore it’s important to choose the right one for the situation. Blunt tapered lines with short heads such as the RIO Redfish Taper are a good choice for wind-resistant or heavy flies, casting into wind, and short, quick presentations with minimal false casting. On the other hand, lines with longer heads and front tapers like the RIO Bonefish Taper are a better choice for smaller flies, quieter presentations, and longer casts.

Those venturing into the salt will also eventually need to know how to cast under windy conditions, execute a speed-cast, make quieter presentations and pick-ups, etc. But those issues can’t be addressed until casting stroke concerns such as those mentioned in this piece have been resolved. Once the back and forward casts have been sufficiently improved, reaching a higher level of skill becomes increasingly easier.