Updated: Nov 7, 2019
You’re spending the day dry fly fishing on your favorite stream, and although it’s great to be outside, you were really hoping for a little more action than this. As you come around a bend... bingo. You spot the pod of rising trout you’ve been looking for all day. Now you ask yourself, “what’s the best cast to use?”
The best casts for dry fly fishing are slack-line casts that allow for a drag free drift, specifically: the reach cast, overpowered curve cast, and the pile cast.
A key component to dry fly fishing success is to present the fly to the trout in the most realistic way possible. This means the fly must drift in the correct feeding lane and at the same speed as a natural would on the surface (a drag free drift). The foundation to making this natural presentation is to use the correct cast. Let’s take a look at the best casts to use when dry fly fishing.
What’s a “drag free” drift?
The term drag free drift refers to the fly having the appearance that it’s floating along the surface, unimpeded by the line or leader. Trout spend their entire lives watching bugs, debris, and foam going by their noses, so while they may not realize what’s causing your offering to move at a different speed than the current, they will notice it, and will most likely wait for something more natural to come by.
What causes a fly to drag?
Drag is caused by tension between the line/leader and the fly. This tension is created when the line/leader does not have enough slack to allow the fly to float in it’s natural path or at its natural speed. Technically, it’s impossible to achieve a 100% drag free drift. Because our line, leader, and fly are all connected to each other and come in contact with the water, there will always be inherent drag.
The rabbit we are trying to pull out of the hat is to reduce drag to the point that it's not noticeable to the trout. The simplest way to spot if your fly is dragging, is to pick out a stick, a piece of foam, or other object floating in the same current as your fly. Your goal is for your fly to move at the same speed and in the same path as that object.
Casts to reduce drag
Since slack is drag’s kryptonite, we have to find a way to create and manage it. I’ve seen many anglers attempt to create slack by mending their line after its landed on the water. While this may work in a few situations, it has more cons than pros. Any time line is moved while on the water, the odds of spooking fish increase exponentially. Even though the fish you’re targeting may not see it, his buddies around him might. If they do notice it and take off in a hurry, it may end up spooking the entire pool.
The alternative to mending line on the water is to create slack in the system while the line is still in the air. A key point to remember is that it’s more important for the line and leader to land correctly than it is for the fly to. Using the ten to two basic cast isn’t going to cut it, you’re going to need a few more arrows in your quiver.
This cast should be in every fly fisherman’s back pocket. It’s the mother of all slackline casts. It can be used in most cross current casting situations, and it’s fairly simple to learn. The reach cast allows you to place your line and leader upstream of the fly, so it has time to drift before the currents pull your line and create drag. The downside to the reach cast: it loses its effectiveness when you need to cast across more than one current lane.
Make a normal back and forward cast, aiming the fly so the line/leader will tighten at 2-3 feet above the water.
Immediately after the rod stops at the end of the forward stroke, reach your casting arm to the side. Don't just tilt it to the side, reach out until your arm is horizontal. As a general rule, if the current is moving right to left, reach your arm to the right. If it’s moving left to right, move it to the left. Your fly should land at about the same time as your line does, and the line should be upstream of your fly.
Overpowered Curve “Tuck” Cast
Made popular by George Harvey in the 1930’s to use with his “harvey style” hand tied leaders, this cast does a great job of adding slack in the tippet section when fishing flies size 14 or larger. This slack is created by “bouncing” the fly back towards you after the line has straightened out. It’s limitation: if you’re using lighter tippet (5-8x) required for smaller flies, it’s very difficult to create much of a bounce.
Create a tight back loop, and as you come forward, put a little more energy into the power stroke than you normally would.
On the forward cast, aim for your fly and line to all come tight at about eye level.
At the same time your line straightens out, “check” the rod tip back towards you 2-3 inches. The extra line tension will cause the fly to “bounce” back. The line and leader should land before the fly does, allowing the tippet to fall loosely on the water.
All things being equal, the pile cast is my favorite. While it takes some practice to learn, I don’t know of another cast that can create as much slack in the tippet section of the leader. The pile cast “collapses” the forward loop and uses the weight of the line to pull the fly down vertically. It’s limitation, add too much wind into the equation and good luck with accuracy.
Start your back cast low. The best way to accomplish this is to start from a side arm position.
As you bring the cast forward, using an elliptical motion, your forward cast should be made over your casting shoulder, aimed at a spot 2-3 feet above eye level.
Immediately after you’ve completed the forward power stroke, lower the rod tip swiftly. At the end of your cast, the rod tip should be about 1 foot above the water's surface.
The line should land first, followed by the leader/tippet, and then the fly. When done correctly, the fly should land 2-4 feet away from the end of the line, causing the leader and tippet to land in several wide s-curves.
The bottom line is: There must be enough slack in the system to allow for a drag free drift. The three casts mentioned aren't the only methods to accomplish this, but they are the three I tend to use most often. If you have others you prefer, please share them in the comments below.