5 Tips for Improving Casting Accuracy

Let’s face it, the more time your fly spends “in the zone” the more likely a fish will eat it! Each method of fly fishing, be it nymphing, dry fly fishing, or streamer fishing, is more successful when you can consistently hit your target. There are very few occasions where being in the trees is the desired outcome, but beyond that each method has its own particular issues that arise from failing to put your fly where you want it.

My buddy Domenick over at Troutbitten always does a great job of emphasizing (reminding me) to put the nymph rig “all in the same current.” Whether it is a single nymph, multiple nymphs, or nymphs and a suspender, having parts of your rig in different currents will lead to drag. Fish often won’t tolerate drag on food they expect to be drifting freely in the current.  Be accurate with your placement of where your leader and flies land and enter the water. Set up the drift before the rig enters the flow and your fly will get deeper quicker and reduce the time you spend needing to mend.

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Betz-man admiring the results of an accurate cast. (And good drift)

Dry Flies are where accuracy can really make or break your game. Fish that are elevated in the column feeding just below the surface have a reduced field of vision. If we think of the fish’s view as a cone, the greater the distance they are from the surface, the greater their view area. When fish are deep, it can provide protection, but it requires more energy to come up through the current and pick a bug off the surface. Small fish often can’t afford the vulnerability of sitting just below the surface to feed and they are often the ones rising faster from the river bottom and creating splashier rises. The fish we want to catch are sitting just under the surface letting the forage drift to them. Efficient, right? That means they are less likely to move very far for your offering because it’s out of their field of vision. If you want to use the net, get your fly in the lane they are feeding in.

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Get it in the zone.  Use the net.

Accuracy is hugely important with streamers, as well. Casting accurately can set you up to retrieve your fly through the correct holding or feeding water depending on what the fish are doing. As with any form of fly fishing, it’s important to try not to cast across multiple currents. It’s a total misconception that streamer fishing is blindly casting at the bank and pulling your flies back. Be deliberate and target the lies where the fish are and be aware of what is between you and your target. Avoid the conflicting currents that will result in slack. Covering water is one thing, but do so intelligently and with a plan. Pick a target, hit it, and get that fly moving.

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The Streamer King knows where that fly belongs and gets it there consistently.

So, how about those 5 tips for casting more accurately?


It’s an easy concept in theory, but on the water there are countless ways to lose focus on our actual target. I love to share the Delaware River system with folks for their first time. This spring we were working our way down the river, looking for heads breaking the surface. “Oh, there’s a fish! Ten feet off the bank, he’s really coming up! Oh! No, that’s two fish! They are coming up one after the other,” the angler said as he shuttered with anticipation. I shook my head and chuckled to myself before explaining, “Nope, that’s one fish. That second thing you are seeing come up is his tail. Yes, he really is that big.”

When casting to rising fish like this, we want to land the fly upstream of the fish so it can drift down through their feeding lane. The distance above the fish that we need to target depends on the situation. Honestly though, how do you focus on your target and NOT focus directly on that feeding fish? If you keep your eyes on the feeding fish, guess what happens next – we splat the cast on his head and put him down. First, find the fish you plan to cast to and make a plan. Then, pick your target and look at it while you are casting.

Have a Strong Fundamental Cast

I previously wrote about The Five Essentials of Fly Casting. The first step to improving any facet of your casting is to have a strong grasp on the fundamentals and how to form our basic loops. The next step is understanding how you can change your cast to fit the situation you are faced with discussed in The Five Variables of Fly Casting. When you understand what HAS to happen to complete a successful cast, and you know what CAN VARY in a successful cast, you can fit your presentation to fit the puzzle in front of you.

Check Your Stance

Square up! The stance we start casting with is usually with feet shoulder width apart. Don’t start off balance. Once you are comfortable, you can alter your stance to improve accuracy. If you are looking to focus solely on accuracy, place your dominant foot (the same side as your casting arm) forward. Adjusting your stance this way will align your cast closer to your eye, like lining up to throw a dart. This is a difficult stance to be in to cast 80′, but it will help you when you try to keep the entire cast in the same plane.

Keep the Entire Cast in the Same Plane

While we’re talking about throwing a dart, have you ever done so side arm? Probably not accurately! Did you stand crooked and off to the side? No. If your target is directly in front of you, line everything up. Remember trigonometry and figuring angles into the equation? Not very well, right? Keep it simple. If you cast off to the side, you have to compensate for the angle created between your eye, your target and your rod tip. Avoid creating the angle by casting directly overhead. Straight lines whenever possible.

Your back cast should be 180 degrees away from your target and your forward cast will be right on the money. Place your thumb on top of the rod and point it away from the target on the back cast and directly toward the target on the forward cast. Stop your backcast about eye level, near your cheek. This will dial in your aim and make accurate casts much easier to make.


These aren’t things to be figured out on the river. Take your nice presentation leader off of your fly line, tie on a stout 7 1/2′ leader and a piece of egg yarn for a fly and go throw some line in the yard. Set up targets and practice hitting them on the first try. Figure out what stance is most comfortable and how many false casts it takes you to get from fly in hand to 40′. Play around and get familiar with the over-engineered piece of graphite we use to unfold plastic coated string and drop fur and feathers in front of fish. It’s the Jedi, not the Lightsaber after all. Master your craft. Use the net. Thank me later.

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A pretty good fish… for Kris.

Fish Karma

“Damn, this looks good,” I gushed about the smallish, roiling pocketwater in front of us.

Etienne agreed, “Yeah, it’s really good. That big rapid is full of big fish, but usually if people can hook them, they take them downstream and break off.”

It was easy to see how this would happen. Big fish have a knack for doing exactly what’s required of them to be a hassle, and ultimately, escape. We sat on the bank and observed the pool. Plenty of big caddis were struggling in the current before popping off the surface. Just enough to see exactly the fish I was looking for. “Oh dude, that was a good one.”

“Do your thing.”

I peeled line off the reel and dropped the slack to the ground as I set my feet on the river’s edge. Curved-Reach Cast to the right, I thought to myself as my No. 8 olive and yellow Stimulator sailed toward the target. Mend, mend, nothing. A good drift with no response. I tried a similar shot and got a splashy rise. A nice brookie that was 8 or 10 inches, but respectively a minnow in these rivers. Back he went. Two more drifts went through with no response before he came up and grabbed another natural.

Tough current,” I admitted and Etienne nodded with acknowledgement.

Yep, it is.

On the next cast, the fly drifted downstream freely, just on the other side of the main current, in front of the submerged boulder we knew the fish was sitting under. The river was deep and we knew it would take a real commitment for him to rise. The surface bulged and the white and black mouth of a rising brook trout engulfed the shaggy imitation.

Yep!” I shouted. The fish bulled down toward the bottom, from one side of the pool to the other. And then he did what we knew he would do. He took off downstream in the heavy current. “Here we go!” Etienne laughed with subdued excitement as he grabbed the net and trotted down the trail just behind the alders.

On my way down the bank my rod doubled over, applying side pressure to coax him into the calmer water at our feet. The cagey char had wrapped himself around a big boulder and the line stopped. Etienne strode down the trail making sure I had a clear path and a net man ready. Suddenly, he realized I was no longer following him.

Well, that was fun!” he joked while stepping back to where I had stopped with the line still taught. I tried twice to free the line from the snag, still skeptical of why the line remained under tension. On the third or fourth attempt, I threw in a little extra effort and displayed my impressively small vertical leap. Coupled with a circular overhead sweep of the rod tip and line, everything dislodged over the top of the rock, and the fish continued downstream with violent headshakes. As we followed the somehow still connected fish down the main flow Etienne chuckled, “Oh, you are so lucky!”

The luck got even more laughable. After we got around the boulder garden and downstream of the fish, he was ready to give up and slid neatly into the net. Shaking his head, Etienne muttered, “Man, you’ve got some crazy fish karma.


Call it whatever you’d like. Luck, karma, or the result of fishing size 8 dry flies on 2X, I’ll take it. I sat on the bank and replaced  my absolutely shredded leader and took a moment to soak it all in. Everything that could have gone wrong did and somehow we were still fortunate enough to capture and release a stunning trout. The only thing left to do was to set off to find the next rising trout.

Hatch Hunting


Regardless of what’s happening in the world, political bullshit, work bullshit, all bullshit, it all has a tendency to drift away with rushing currents, wind drifts, or tides. It’s like you cease to exist in the real world, at least for a little while, and submit to the natural order of things.

To me, it’s never more evident than chasing hatches and rising trout. It’s a perpetual quest to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right conditions.  Witnessing the perennial transition of mayflies from nymph to subimago, imago, and eventually a dead bug on the water surface that a trout can’t resist gulping down is the essence of fly fishing.

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Gulping Glutton

It’s almost cruel how short the prime dry fly season is in the east. That just makes it more critical to make hay while the sun shines and let the calendar and conditions set your course. Every year is different though and I think that’s a big part of what renews the fever, year after year. It’s such a refreshing challenge.

Early on, the mysticism of mayflies and the trout “jumping” on the surface is what brought me to pick up a fly rod without really understanding what I was witnessing. The fish were acting ridiculous and I wanted to be in on the secret. Years later, I’m neglecting sleep and stumbling through pastoral settings in the dark, hoping that I went far enough to avoid that long abandoned barbed wire fence and countless other things so I can stay long enough and search for risers. The stranger thing is finding yourself neglecting fishing time to plant trees along those creeks, recording water temperatures and chemical properties, and meeting with professionals to coordinate construction and permitting to stack logs in creeks just to hopefully create more opportunities.

More of this, please.

Whatever your in-road is to fly fishing, whatever the species or setting, jump in with both feet. You’ll be amazed where the journey takes you.

Um, did you just pupate on me?