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Perfecting the Fly Fishing Roll Cast

by | Jul 24, 2021 | Fly Fishing | 0 comments

Learning how to perfect the fly fishing roll cast can help you get your fly to more fish on smaller rivers and streams.

Southwest Colorado has some nice, wide rivers where you can launch 100-foot casts all day without a single worry as to what’s happening behind you. It’s fun to stretch it out and test fly placement at long distances. It’s necessary, too, when you can’t physically move yourself closer.

But Southwest Colorado is also home to thousands of small rivers and creeks with unmatched opportunities to land the various subspecies of trout that live here; places where, having perfected the fly fishing roll cast, can help you get your fly to more fish when your back is against the bank. 

Proper presentation applies no matter where you fish. If there is drag on your fly or you’re slapping it down right where the fish are, you’re going to miss chances and scare fish. Unless, of course, you’re competent with the fly fishing roll cast. Which you can and will be.

Perfecting the fly fishing roll cast is key for those days on small streams and rivers.

What is a Fly Fishing Roll Cast?

Think of the roll cast as another tool in your fly fishing kit. Much like floatant which keeps your fly on top of the water or the net that allows you to safely and effectively bring fish to hand, the roll cast is a means of presenting the fly to fish in smaller waters where standard overhead and false casting simply won’t work. You could also think of it as a way to keep your fly on the water and out of the trees, which can make the most serene settings seem bleak.

How to Roll Cast

Like anything, a good roll cast takes some practice. Hopefully by now you’re fairly proficient with the standard overhead since you’ll use some of those same rod-handling techniques here. What essentially makes the roll cast is the tension between your fly line and the surface of the water. This, along with proper arm and rod tip placement, is what propels your line forward in a tight loop without the need to false cast.

Bring your hand back ear-level and parallel with your shoulder; at about a 45-degree angle.

Go With the High Hand

Bring your hand back ear-level and parallel with your shoulder; at about a 45-degree angle. You’ll cant your rod slightly out behind you, at about 2:00. Getting those angles right is the foundation of perfecting the fly fishing roll cast. 

Form a D-Loop

With your arm and rod correctly positioned, this will allow you to create what’s called a D-loop in the section of line that is out of the water; from your rod tip down to the water. When you bring your arm forward it’s the D-loop that generates the momentum the rest of the line needs to roll.  The bigger the D-loop the more line you can lift off the water and the further you can cast.

Pick a Spot

Pick the spot where you want to deliver the fly. The rest of the line that’s still on the water in front of you should be pointing roughly in the direction you want to cast. You want to avoid changing direction with the roll cast. Load the rod with the surface tension out in front of you which will lift it off the water and deliver it to the target.

Pick a spot to direct your roll cast without changing direction.

Smooth Acceleration

The rod is high, D-loop formed, it’s time to roll your line. Push the rod forward (keeping it high) and snap the wrist. Again, finesse is critical here. It’s easy to overdo it, whether on the push or the snap, which can cause your line to do a number of things, not including rolling out a tight-looped cast. 

Smooth acceleration is key. Start slow and finish fast. You need just enough power to lift and turn the line over whereas too much can cause you to drive the line and slap it down onto the water. As you finish the cast, be sure to keep the rod tip high in order to keep the roll above the water. 

Adding a Haul

Adding a haul on both the back and forward casts can help you increase line speed and distance. On the backcast, a haul will help you create a larger D-loop (what generates the line’s momentum). Adding a haul on the forward cast will generate the line speed to propel your fly greater distances.

Adding a haul on the forward cast will generate the line speed to propel your fly greater distances.

Fly fishing is about finesse and never more so when incorporating the roll cast. It’s going to take some practice. But once you start perfecting the fly fishing roll cast, or at least get a good feel for it, it will open up opportunities on smaller rivers and streams you never thought possible.


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