What is a Water Haul in Fly Fishing (with Video)

The water haul is a simple, yet effective tool to have in your fly fishing arsenal. Let’s take a look at what it is, and how to properly execute one.

For years, I fished without the knowledge that flies other than dries existed. My grandfather and dad both taught me to fish with dry flies, and using anything else wasn’t just frowned upon – it was downright outlawed.

Fast-forward a couple decades and now my fly boxes are full to bursting with streamers, nymphs, and everything in between. I’ve actually fallen in love with fishing streamers almost as much as I enjoy dry fly fishing. But it’s streamer fishing I have to thank for learning the water haul, which is a technique I now apply in a myriad of fishing situations.

Streamers for Fly Fishing Mickey Finn Zoo Cougar Muddler Zonker
Streamers for Fly Fishing: Mickey Finn, Zoo Cougar, Muddler, Zonker

What is a Water Haul When Fly Casting?

A water haul uses the tension of the fly line on the water, and a single downward haul from the angler, to quickly propel long lengths of fly line. The water haul accomplishes this task without the need for any false casting. 

When I’m floating the big rivers here in the Rockies, I use a water haul almost constantly when throwing streamers. It’s an easy way to bomb big flies to the opposite bank without putting a big, heavy fly above my head for longer than absolutely necessary.

I spend a lot of time floating the Green River in Utah, and in the steep canyon section, with its red rock walls and dots of cedar and juniper, I use a water haul to cast from bank to bank. Since it’s such a simple cast, I get to focus less on my cast, and more on the beautiful surroundings I’m in.

What makes a Water Haul Special?

The water haul is special because it eliminates the need for false casting, generates high line speed, and effortlessly throws big flies into wind, or to distance. If you need absolute pinpoint accuracy – like landing a dry fly in the feeding lane of a picky trout – then the water haul likely isn’t the tool to use here. But if you’re fishing a heavy nymph rig, streamers, or a big dry-dropper rig, the water haul makes casting them a breeze.

And, you also reduce the potential for snagging yourself, your buddies, or a guide with an errant false cast.

As mentioned above, the water haul is great for casting into the wind, because the water haul generates so much line speed and energy. Since the line is weighted by the water, you can put a solid bend in your rod before using a single haul to shoot line against a stiff headwind. Or, if you’re fishing in choppy water and don’t want to false cast while the boat is rocking between waves, the water haul is a good option as well.

When to Use a Water Haul During Fly Fishing

Half the battle, I think, of learning new fly fishing techniques isn’t just the nuts and bolts of it, but learning when to use it. Knowing how to execute a reach cast is great, but it doesn’t do you any good if you don’t know when to use it.

The same goes for the water haul. And while the following situations are definitely ones where a water haul can help, don’t let these suggestions limit you. Use the water haul when and where you see fit.

  • When casting directly into the wind Casting right into a headwind isn’t any fun. A water haul can consistently deliver flies against stiff winds.
  • When a lofted back cast isn’t feasible – If you’re fishing in areas with lots of brush on the banks, a water load cast helps you perfectly avoid any potential snags – and lost flies.
  • When you see a fish rising in the opposite direction of where you’re fishing – Say you’re on the river, fishing to trout rising on the right side. Then, a few start rising on the left, and you’re set up for right-side casts. A water haul can help you shoot line over to the left and fool those new rising fish.
  • When casting directly down stream – If you’re throwing big streamers downstream, a water haul takes advantage of the current to really hurl line. This is great if you’re swinging flies for steelhead or salmon.

Step by Step – How to Make a Water Haul cast

The water haul cast is a simple process. Trust me – if I can learn it, anyone can.

  1. Get your fly line and fly(s) straight in front of you in the water. Either a simple forward or roll cast works great here.
  2. Make a soft back cast, and pay attention to the tension you feel on the fly line as you lift and let your line fall directly behind you.
  3. With the line directly behind you, let enough out so that when you make your water haul cast, your flies land where you want them to.
  4. Feel the tension created by the water and the fly line. Hold your fly line taut against the cork with one hand to ensure that you feel the water tugging at your line.
  5. In one motion, push your rod forward, while you pull your fly line down sharply with your free hand. It’s almost like you’re doing a single-haul, instead of a double haul. Finally, let the line slide freely through your fingers.

The water haul is a surprisingly simple cast, and the main idea behind it is to leverage the inherent tension between fly line and the surface of water to help generate line speed and power. You’ll likely always produce longer, more effective casts, with a water haul than if you tried a traditional cast in these situations.

Take your fly rod to the local pond or river, and practice the water haul with a Wooly Bugger tied on, or something similar. It just takes practice to really nail down this technique, and you’ll be surprised at how effective it is.

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, guide, bamboo rod builder, and novelist from Utah. He’s the News Editor for MidCurrent, and a regular contributor to Hatch Magazine. Spencer has also written a book Learning to Fly. Connect with him on Instagram/Twitter, @Spencer_Durrant.

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