Get a Grip
From the time that you first pick up a fly rod, you will be presented with the problem of "how do I hold this thing?" There are two basic grips that you will use, and each has a specific purpose. For distance casting, you will use the thumb grip, (see photo) and for accuracy, you will find that the "key grip" (see photo) is a better solution. The best grip for you is the one that you are most comfortable with. I always suggest that my students try each one to find their preference.
Know Your Limits
The basic principle of fly casting is best described as: an acceleration followed by a quick stop. This acceleration is controlled in two ways:
1. By the speed of the acceleration
2. By the location of the stops.
Almost everyone has heard the phrase "10 and 2" when describing the fly cast. This means that if you were to imagine the arc of the casting motion superimposed on the face of a clock, you would stop the rod at the 10:00 position on the forward cast (see photo), and the 2:00 position for the back-cast. The speed of the acceleration is critical in moving the line through the air. The line speed developed in the casting motion becomes the anglers' tool for controlling the distance of the cast and to keep the line straight upon landing (also called proper presentation). The speed of the acceleration is also the anglers' best tool for counteracting the effect of the occasional wind (always a problem for fly casters).
Try This Exercise
An exercise that I use to teach students about line speed is to start the cast with the rod at the 9:00 position with, 30 feet or so, of the fly line extended and laying on the ground in front of the caster. (see photo). Then, with a quick motion, including fast acceleration, the student will move the rod to the back-cast position where they will impart a quick stop. The result of this exercise will teach the caster just how much effort it takes to move the fly line through the air from a resting position on the ground.
Think Of the Metronome
When thinking about the 10 and 2 concept, it is helpful to imagine the motion a metronome--the inverted pendulum type device that piano teachers use for their students to keep time.
The lever of the metronome moves from the 10:00 position to the 2:00 position with the same force and timing in both directions. This balance of motion and force in both directions is what the fly caster tries to replicate in the cast. These "stops" at the 10 and 2 positions sometimes have to be accentuated in order to give the fly line time to move from one direction to the other. The more line that you are casting, the longer the stops. The purpose of the stops is so that the fly line will move completely past the caster and straighten in the air prior to moving the rod in the other direction. One of the common mistakes that all anglers make is to forget the "stop." This results in swinging the rod and does not give the line enough time to completely move through the air and to completely straighten prior the move in the opposite direction.
By looking at the three most common mistakes that fly casters make, and the problems that result, we can see what we need to focus on in order to perfect the cast.
1. Not accentuating the stops. which results in a slack line that usually tangles in the air.
2. Moving the rod beyond the stops, in other words coming back too far on the back-cast, will result in the fly line making a big wide loop in the air that falls to the ground in a pile rather than a nice straight presentation.
3. Failure to balance the speed of the cast in both directions, will cause the fly line to make a popping noise which almost always means that we have just lost a fly. This usually happens when a slow moving back-cast is followed by a quick forward cast. The sudden change of speed will cause the tip of the line to snap like a whip.
Practice these simple aspects of the cast and you will see your casting skills improve dramatically. Think about how much time is spent practicing a golf swing. Now think about how much time you spend on your fly cast. Just go and practice. And enjoy the results!