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.

Soak It In


A few years ago I made a trip out to Arkansas with a buddy and we saw a grand total of 4 hours of meager generation and nothing else but minimum flows for four days. With almost no discussion, we knew what it meant. Four days of fishing until 2 am, getting some quick sleep and a shower, and back on the water by 6 am. I feel like, two years later, I’m ready to admit that was hard haha. Would I do it again tomorrow? Just say go.

White Cr— River

We knew we only had a few days and wanted to see as much as humanly possible. We fished with Alex Lafkas during the day and put some good numbers of fish in the boat. With skimpy flows we just weren’t finding the size that system is known for. Pat told me that night that the tone was set when, after Alex netted the first 18″ fish, he asked me if I wanted to get a pic. My answer should have been a little more tactful than, “mmm… No, let’s keep fishing.”

I personally learned a ton fishing and hanging out with Alex and seeing a new river. He was very helpful pointing us to spots to check out on our own and had us into fish even when he wasn’t around. No one can MAKE the fish eat, but we did our damnedest to try! We ended up getting a handful of good ones we wouldn’t have if we’d mailed in. Sometimes, you gotta just get after it.

Grind it out.


I’m pretty lucky to fish with some die hard anglers: buddies, guides, and some assorted weirdos. They make me a better angler and a better person. They make me push the limits for “comfortable” and find out what is really possible. Surround yourself with people who are thoughtful and better anglers than yourself. People who ask you to explain why you’re doing things the way you are and expect a damn good answer.

You have to have goals in mind. It really is important to push yourself. Just don’t forget to take time to sit back, crack a beer, and appreciate the moments ingrained in trying to find fish. There is certainly a dichotomy to all this. Sometimes you have to get out there and bust it and sometimes you have to accept the bite is off or the bugs aren’t hatching. Fish hard anyway, but take time to grab some food, share some stories, and joke around with your buddies.  Ask some questions and treat ‘bad’ fishing as an opportunity to learn something and test some theories. Get out there and live it. Soak it in.



It started like a lot of piscatorial pilgrimages do, a whisper about a hallowed river, sacred to those who’ve had the privilege to witness it. One that flows out of the side of a volcano and a mystical fish that lives in it. I read stories about how difficult the fishing could be, but how great were the potential rewards. Yep, I’m in.

Wizard1I remember telling my, then girlfriend, “someday, I’m going to catch a bull trout.” “It’s basically a three foot long brook trout,” was my over simplification of how to describe what a fish like that, a cousin to our state fish in Pennsylvania that rarely exceeds diminutive size, would mean. Let’s be honest, if I’m obsessed with a six inch brook trout, I’m exponentially excited about these fish and their brethren with every additional inch they achieve.

My interest in them only grew over the next few years. It grew to the point my (now) wife said, “Just freaking do it. Why wait?” It doesn’t take long being married to know better than to argue with your spouse. Ha!

I started probing my buddies to see what their interest level was. “You want to go where? And catch what? Sounds cool man, but you’re crazy. Maybe next time,” was pretty much the response. I can live with that. So, I booked it. All by my lonesome. What better way to spend your birthday trip than alone, sleeping in the back of a rental car, hunting the fish of a lifetime? No big deal.

Well, as planning got under way, maps and details started trolling in, leave it to your longest-standing fishing buddy to not be able to miss out. My dad decided maybe, he’d better go, too. It also worked out that one of my favorite bands was releasing their newest album and playing a live show 30 miles down the road. Well, holy shit. What a turn of events. Now, it’s turning into a fishing trip!


I’d say that beats sleeping in the car!

I spent a good deal of time talking with fly shops local to the area and a local angler, who it didn’t take me long to figure out really knew his stuff. [Thanks to local PA guy for putting me in touch!] It can be a little touchy in these types of situations to be respectful of the guys who call a river home.  You want to get enough info so you have a chance to be successful, but still have enough to figure out to make it a challenge.

We timed our trip with the annual run of kokanee salmon and (hopefully) big hungry bullies following their food source. On our way into town we stopped at the fly shop to license up and finally introduce myself to the shop owner I’d been pestering sporadically with e-mails for a couple years. After a long day of travel and shrinking fall daylight, we checked in to the cabin, hung out, grilled up some dinner, and cracked a few beers. A quick walk behind the cabin as the sun was setting revealed, “Oh yeah, the salmon are here.”

Believe it or not, he was still kicking. Zombie fish.

Ah, my old frienemies jet lag and time zone changes. We were up about two hours before the sun, no need for alarm clocks. We had plenty of time to stretch lines and string up the 8 weights. When we finally couldn’t stand it anymore, we set off into the morning fog on our way.


We fished HARD. Covered miles on foot, probing deep undercuts, seams, and pretty much anywhere we could get a fly in the water. I don’t think I’ve ever done as many steeple casts in my life. We had to. The river was up and the banks were choked with brush and pine. It was like brook trout fishing with light musky equipment. Pretty damn cool.

Foggy River

I have to say, I’ve been fortunate to see a lot a places. I don’t think I have ever seen a more beautiful river. It is simply incredible. We saw kokanee by the hundreds, if not thousands. Honestly, the trout could eat whenever and however many they could want. How in the hell were we going to get our flies noticed? Persistence.

Stick to your guns.

Well, at the end of the first day we were beat up. One follow from a mid teens fish (that probably wasn’t a bull trout anyway) wasn’t what we’d hoped for, but we knew what we were getting ourselves into. We had another day and a half to try.

We were back after it in the wee hours the next day. New section, new water, same outcome. Where the hell are they?

Bottom center, under the two parallel branches. :^o

Like a bolt of lightning, I was stopped in my tracks. There he was. A Bull Trout that had to be all of three feet long and as big around as my leg. Every mini salmon imitation and whitefish fly I had swam through his territory and he didn’t flinch. He had some roughly twenty inch cronies at his side that were interested enough to follow but not eat. Damn.

About 100 yards down, I found another school of them. The biggest probably nineteen inches. I made a few casts, same result. Switched flies and suddenly something changed. A baby bull had seen enough and went in for the kill.


Not going to lie, it felt GOOD to be on the board. I am the king of small fish. Rarely do we have a trip that I don’t catch the smallest. Hey, we all have our thing. I’m just glad I can be consistent.

We kept after it and we were rewarded. It’s crazy we went a day and a half without seeing a bull trout and suddenly they were ON. My dad and I each picked up another.



If you only catch one fish on a trip, make it a good one.

We fished until we were forced off the river by setting sun, daylight to dark. Grabbed a quick bite to eat and went to town to see Billy Stings, The Whiskey Shivers, and Trout Steak Revival. All, in all, a solid day.


Our final day we were running on a couple hours of sleep, but couldn’t be kept off the river. We scrambled to make every cast we could before rushing back to the cabin to meet our checkout time. When time is short, cram in as much as you can. We stopped at the fly shop on the way out to let them know we got lucky.  A guy in the shop told us he’d been fishing the river for the last 20 years and had never landed a bull trout. The river lived up to its reputation. TOUGH fishing, but SO worth it.

Persistence paid off on this trip, and not just when it came to the fishing. If you find a fish species that captivates you, it may take years for it to come together. Set yourself a goal and don’t take no for an answer.

Quick escape, then back to reality.