No angler on planet earth has perfected fly fishing. Whether they’re lacking technique or have subpar gear, there’s always something to improve. That’s what keeps many of us returning to the water. Casting technique is one facet of fly fishing that many people strive to perfect but struggle to do. Roll casting is one of the simpler casting techniques and it consistently proves its worth.
7 Steps for a Perfect Roll Cast
When you’re roll casting, there are a few steps that will help you consistently hit your spot. These steps can be applied in all types of water no matter the speed or size.
- The first step to roll casting is to get your rod tip low and keep it in fishing position. If you have just casted to where you would like it to be on the water, then go ahead use that as the necessary amount of fly line.
2. The next step when roll casting should always be to get rid of the slack in your line as you raise the rod tip. Extra slack is not only detrimental when your fly is in the water, but it always causes trouble when you’re ready to make your cast.
Guide Tip: Get rid of the extra slack so you don’t have any large loops forming downstream as the current takes your line. You want the line fairly taught. Any extra slack will make it difficult to lift the line out of the water.
3. If your rod tip is raised properly and enough slack is taken in it should form a “D”. The rod tip should be raised just over your left or right shoulder (the same shoulder of your casting arm) and the line will fall off to the side forming a capitalized “D”. Once this position is accomplished, you’re ready for the forward motion.
4. As you’re preparing to make the flick forward, don’t aim at a spot directly in the water. Aim a few feet above the water. This is where you want your casting motion to stop. A full follow through right above the water will lead to a less accurate cast.
5. Many anglers will define the roll cast motion as a chop. Imagine you’re chopping a log with your fly rod. However, make sure it’s smooth. A jerky chop cast will likely cause the line to cross and tangle. As you chop, your fly rod will bend and you’ll feel the line loading up and ready to spring forward.
6. Keep following through at the target a few feet above the surface of the water and you’ll feel the line unfurl in front of you. If you have a minimal amount of fly line out, it will likely all completely lift out of the water.
7. Your fly will hit the water and depending how you followed through, you should be in the perfect position. You may need a quick mend! However, mending is common no matter the casting technique!
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Video Instructions for Roll Casting
The below video breaks down each of the steps. Try your best to move in a smooth fluid action. Delayed pauses will add slack, which takes energy out of the cast.
Pro Tip: This is going to sound really silly, but and sounds to you cast. I like to Hmmm, and say Zap! or Pow!. It helps me with my timing. One of my favorite casting instructors was the late Mel Krieger who would say wisshhhhh – plop!
When to Use a Roll Cast
Roll casting has a specific time and place that it’s best used. Many anglers use it in all fishing situations because it becomes second nature, but it’s best used in tight quarters with little casting room. Whether you’re fishing a mountain stream or local pond, many bodies of water don’t allow for full extension on back casts.
If you see a perfect pocket or pool, but don’t know how you’re going to get your fly to where you want due to heavy foliage behind you, break out the roll cast.
This technique can work with dry flies, nymphs and streamers. You’ll find it’s easiest with nymphs and streamers! The added weight at the end of the line allows for a longer and more consistent cast.
How to Switch Directions Roll Casting
If you’ve been casting upstream and are wanting to cast downstream or from the left side of your body to the right, there is a fairly easy motion you can do to help you switch directions. If you’re a right handed caster and you’ve been flicking upstream, you’ve been casting from your right shoulder and following through upstream.
If you’re looking to cast downstream, continue to use your right hand, but move the rod over to your left or opposite shoulder. Follow the same action by removing extra slack, making the “D” with your line and following through a few feet above the target. This is an easy way to switch directions and you’ll find it’s pretty easy to learn once you have the roll cast motion mastered.
Best Fly Line for Roll Casting
Fly line can make a big difference when you’re roll casting! If you don’t have a weight forward line you’ll find that it’s fairly difficult to accomplish the right action. A quality roll casting line will have a 20 or 30’ belly that creates quite a bit of energy with the roll cast action. Lines with the ability to shoot a substantial distance are going to make your life much easier.
How Far Can You Roll Cast?
Depending on your ability, you can make upwards of a 40 to 50 foot roll cast. This is a substantial distance and odds are you’re not going to need to make a cast this long, but it is possible.
To accomplish this distance, you’re going to need to have a more active line and have a larger “D” loop. As you’re making your “D” loop, don’t let the line fully rest in the water. You want to harness some of the energy you created by lifting your line out of the water and use it to make the forward chop cast.
Also, for these longer roll casts, you may have to utilize your non-casting hand. A quick jerk of the line as you’re doing your chop cast will keep the line off the surface of the water and allow for more line to shoot through the tip of your rod. This is a fairly complicated motion, but it becomes smooth with more practice.
Can You Roll Cast Dry Flies and Nymphs?
You can roll cast any type of fly. If you’re looking to roll cast dry flies, beware that the quick forward motion is likely going to pull your fly underwater. This will drown your fly more quickly than a normal back cast would. Carry Floatant with you and make sure it’s sitting high on the water! You also won’t have as much weight on the end of your fly line to build the tension. However, it’s still possible to make a lengthy roll cast.
Nymphs are great to roll cast. The beadheads add a nice amount of weight, you can pick your spot and get them in the water with little to no commotion. Many people worry that roll casting is going to disrupt the water too much, but this isn’t the case. When done right, it’s not different from a normal back cast.
Streamers are also a great option for roll casting. If you’re fishing tight water with big hungry fish, you’re going to want to use streamers. Your chop will need to have some power to it, but you can easily get your fly to where you would like. There are fewer more entertaining types of fishing than streamers in smaller bodies of water! Those fish hit them like their lives depend on it.
3 Tips for Improving Your Roll Cast
Like any part of casting, it takes practice to perfect a roll cast. The challenge with roll casts is that they’re hard to practice on land. You need the tension of the water to help you get the proper distance. So, the majority of your learning will be done while targeting fish!
- Don’t cross your line! By crossing your line, you’ll end up with a giant tangled mess. This will likely take a couple minutes to remove and make it a challenge to find your rhythm again. To prevent this from happening, keep your rod parallel to the line pulled in.
If you cross over your “D” loop and any extra slack that’s in the water, you will not like the results. If you’re a beginner, crossing your line is going to happen. Staying parallel isn’t always easy, but the beauty of fly anglers is that we don’t often make the same mistake twice!
- Stay smooth with your casting action! A smooth cast will make all the difference in the world. If you pause too long in the “D” position, you’ll find that you have lost all of your momentum and will fail to accomplish a quality cast or likely get tangled in the process.
Also, make your chopping motion smooth as well.
A chop that’s too up and down won’t help the distance of your cast. Start right over your shoulder and finish your follow through a few feet above the surface of the water. You’ll feel the line shoot through your guides and hit the exact spot that you would like.
- Your off hand is still important! Until you feel as if you mastered a roll cast, your stripping or “off” hand still needs to be a part of the roll casting process. Some anglers choose to give the line a little tug as they complete the chopping motion. This is mainly useful if you’re really trying to get some distance on it. It’s not really necessary with casts less than 25 feet.
Also, if you let your off-hand relax and a fish takes your fly as soon as it hits the water, you won’t be prepared to set the hook. Fish will hit flies fast. If you’re not prepared, it could be one of those fish that make it hard to sleep. Don’t ever get too comfortable on the water! Being over prepared is always going to lead to more success.
Last Cast – Letting it Roll
Broadening your skill set on the water is going to lead to more fish. A roll cast is going to allow you to fish tighter water that others may not be skilled enough to tackle. If you are confident in your normal back casting abilities, learning the roll cast will not be a challenge. Put in some time on larger water and you’ll find that it transitions well to the smaller streams.
It’s an extremely useful technique and learning it will give you that much more confidence in your angling abilities.
Are you looking for some great How To Fly Fish Articles? Checkout this list:
- How to Fly Fish for Bluegills – These amazing fish are all over the USA. I like to call them the “Gateway Drug to Fly Fishing”
- How to Fly Fish for Brook Trout – Find the cleanest, coldest, most beautiful streams and I’ll bet Brookes are present.
- How to Nymph Fish – Step by Step details for setting up, presenting and catching trout with nymphs.
- How to Fly Fish for Salmon – Image hooking into a +25 pound King Salmon in a river and your Fly Rod breaks! Seriously this happened to me on my first trip.