by Nial Logan
Mastering the roll cast is a skill that many fly fishermen ignore. Executed correctly it is an invaluable addition to your arsenal of casting techniques to put the fly in front of your quarry.
These are a few applications – there are probably many more:
- Remove slack prior to the pickup.
- Use it as a presentation cast when a strong wind from behind collapses any back cast made. Roll the loop high and let the wind carry the line to the target.
- The roll cast is useful when obstacles behind the angler prevent the normal back cast.
- When there is limited room, use it to roll a fly under a snag.
- Allows a length line to be kept at the ready when changing positions eg when sight casting.
- It is also used to lift sinking lines to the surface allowing the angler to make a normal cast.
- Reposition the line on the surface to enable a change of direction for an overhead cast.
There are a couple of things to bear in mind before making a roll cast.
- Firstly – If you want to make long casts, it is preferable to use a fly line with a longer belly – in the order of 40-50 feet.
- Secondly – Forget all other actions you use or were taught and use the same action as you do for a normal forward overhead cast.
Basic Roll Cast Action
Begin with the rod tip low to the water with no slack in the line.
Angle the rod to the side and move the rod arm slowly rearward so that the line slides across the water surface. Stop the motion when your arm is fully extended to the rear with the rod parallel to the ground at about shoulder height with the line hanging in a loop by your side. You will need a least 6 to 10ft of line in the water to provide sufficient resistance to make the cast.
Once the line has stopped sliding towards you, with your hand at the start point reaching back as far as you can, bring your hand forward leading with the heel of your hand while still maintaining the rod pointing to the rear (this starts the line moving). Hold this position until you reach a point where it starts to become uncomfortable, then rotate your wrist forward and fully extend your arm in one movement. This has the effect of loading the rod tip because the movement of the wrist and the movement of the rod must conclude at the same time. The wrist only moves a short distance however the rod tip which is 9 feet away has to accelerate to complete moving at the same time. This translates to the additional power required to overcome the hold on the line by the surface tension on the water.
Remember, that on your casting arm side, the roll can only be made to the left (right for left handers) of the line in the water otherwise the line will catch on itself. To make a cast to the right of the line in the water, it is necessary to tilt your rod tip over the opposite shoulder and perform the action on the backhand side of your body.
If the rod tip is stopped high, the line will unroll in the air. Stop the tip lower and the majority of the line will unroll on the water. Shooting line is similar to a normal cast where line is shot immediately after the rod has stopped. It will be easier to shoot line if the rod tip is stopped high at the completion of the cast. A haul can also be employed to greatly improve distance. As with the normal cast, the haul is done during the power part of the stroke and completed at the same time as the stop.
Long Roll Casts
Tom White, one time noted Florida guide and FFF Master Casting Instructor (now deceased) was a great exponent of the full line roll cast. His method consists of three essentials for making the longer roll cast or for that matter, any cast.
Rule 1– The tip must travel in a straight line from the starting point at the rear to the stop point at the front. Imagine a line between these two points and follow that line with your hand. Straying from this line will result in a semi-circular tip path which translates to a large loop .
Rule 2 – To make a longer cast, make a longer stroke. Put simply, the longer stroke allows the application of more power.
Rule 3 – It is of little use to make a longer stroke if you don’t have an adequate amount of line beyond the rod tip. The more line there is beyond the tip, the more “weight” there is to load the rod tip.
To perform the cast you will need about 20-30 feet of clear area behind you. Lay the about 50’ of line out straight on the water. Start with the rod tip at water level. This will give you maximum water load for the next part of the stroke. If the tip isn’t in the water from the start, you will have a problem lifting the line.
Lift the fly line off the water, similar to picking up for a normal overhead cast. Use only enough speed to throw the belly of the line behind you and to bring the end to within 6 to 10 feet in front of you (this is the anchor). If you lift too hard, you will shoot the end of the line behind you, not hard enough, and the end of the line will be too far from you and you won’t be able to make the cast.
After the stop on your back cast, allow the loop of line to fall on the ground behind you. At the same time, allow your casting hand to lower down to shoulder height at the same speed as the line falls to the ground. This is the position to start the forward cast.
In summary the position is:
- The end of the fly line is now about 6 to 10 feet in the water in front you – or the bank (anchor).
- There is a loop lying on the ground behind you. (D-Loop)
- Your rod tip is almost horizontal with the ground (2 o’clock) with your arm extended straight back. You will have to open your stance to allow your shoulders to turn to accomplish this.
Now, simply make a stroke as described for the basic roll cast and always remember to maintain a straight tip path. The other ingredient you can use to cast further is to add a haul at the end of the cast just before the stop. You will notice that the rolled loop now has the power to pick the line off the water and shoot it.
Troubleshooting the Roll Cast
Generally, there are four common problems that cause difficulties:-
Problem 1 – Lack of power
Cause and Solution – Failing to take the rod far enough behind the caster before making the forward stroke. The solution is obvious – reach back as far as you can.
Problem 2 – Making a big high loop that doesn’t travel very far and is hard to aim.
Cause and Solution – This is caused by doming of the rod tip path on the forward stroke. The solution is to make a standard overhead forward cast ensuring a straight line path of the rod tip. The stroke length should also be proportionate for the amount of line being thrown. If done correctly, this should yield a much smaller egg-shaped loop that is relatively flat on the top.
Problem 3 – Not being able to get increased distance.
Cause and Solution – This can be a combination of the preceding two problems. It can also be due to failure to get enough line behind the caster before making the forward stroke.
Problem 4 – The line lands in a pile well short of the target.
Cause and Solution – This is usually caused by sweeping the rod tip out and down at the end of the forward stroke. The solution is to have the rod tip traveling straight toward the target at the conclusion of the stroke.
If you don’t live close to water, practicing the roll cast can be near impossible if you don’t have a few tricks you can fall back on.
One method is to have about a 5 inch piece of tube or dowel about ½” to ¾” in diameter, fixed to a 8 inch square base plate. Tie a 2 inch loop in the end of the leader and that loop is placed over the tube. This acts like the surface tension of the water and when you make the roll cast, the loop slips off the tube. The problem is that the caster or someone else has to take the time to replace the loop over the tube for each practice cast.
Al Buhr’s ‘Grass Leader” is another way to do it. This consists of some stiff leader material with multiple blood knots tied every 4 to 6 inches with the tag ends left protruding about a ¼ inch long. These catch on the grass and simulate the effect of the water surface tension.
The best way to simply practice various size loops as well as high and low placement of tight loops on the roll cast is to catch the end of the leader on a clip board so it won’t pull loose and place a rolled up bath towel on the leader next to the clip. The towel prevents the tippet breaking on the edge of the clip after casting for a while. Step back varying distances, and practice loop after loop. This allows you to get lots of practice in a short time interval with instant feedback.
Of course, nothing is the same as using water however practicing loop control using on these methods will go a long way to enable you to effortlessly employ both long and short applications of the roll cast to broaden your fishing opportunities.