Like shooting free throws in basketball, casting a fly rod is a repetitive motion that requires diligent practice to maintain proficiency. Disappointed in my inconsistency at making long, accurate casts, I recently took a private two-hour casting lesson with Fly Fishers International Master Casting Instructor Sheila Hassan of Cast 90 to get expert assistance.
I walked away from the outing with several takeaways and newly-learned areas for improvement. While I’m grateful for the opportunity, I’m still anxious that I’ll ever become a master myself: smooth casting strokes, an absence of tailing loops, and YouTube-ready double hauls.
My recent uptick in saltwater fly fishing has made casting aptitude even more important, and I aim to be more consistent in my delivery of the fly. For trout fishing, I continue to strive for delicate dry fly presentations with long leaders, for which good casting technique is necessary. Adept fly casting requires finesse and correct technique, not force and muscle. Letting the rod do the work and enjoying the motions rather than relying on wrist and arm strength takes mental fortitude for those of us who aren’t naturally graceful fly casters.
Sheila Hassan and her husband, Captain Bill Hassan of Shecast Sportfishing, are the only certified MCIs (Master Casting Instructors) in Massachusetts, per flyfishersinternational.org. Regardless of what state or country you live in, I recommend that you visit the FFI Casting Instructor Search to find a casting instructor near you, if a lesson is something that you are interested in. Whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced angler, a casting lesson lets an expert give you objective guidance on areas for improvement.
Our casting lesson took place on a local pond at a sporting club where we were able to wade in with plenty of room to back-cast. Sheila will work with you on a location for a meet-up and will accommodate practicing on a field instead of the water, if that’s what you desire. I arrived with a #6 rod and a #8 rod already rigged.
Anticipating that there would be panfish in the pond, and, unable to resist the urge to hook a fish, I tied on a flashy Parachute Adams imitation and sheepishly hooked a sunfish on my first practice cast. I recently became a father, and this bluegill was thus my first fish caught as a dad. After letting it go, we tied on a piece of yarn to avoid having the sunfish interrupt our casting clinic.
Without revealing all of Sheila’s tips and tricks, here are a few items that we worked on over the course of the day:
- Hand placement when gripping the rod. See the pictures below.
- When casting to spooky fish, gently picking up the line from the water before recasting instead of quickly yanking it up and disturbing the surface of the water.
- Using the Royal Wulff Wristlok, a leather strap system that I have since purchased for my personal use, to avoid breaking the wrist on the back-cast.
Eventually, I confessed to Sheila that my surgically repaired right shoulder limits my range of motion on the back-cast, and we developed strategies for overcoming this. I’m now more emphasizing physical therapy so that I can open up my shoulder and am consciously devising how to cast well given my physical challenges.
We wrapped up the day on the lawn, working on verticality in fly casting, such as avoiding having your line get caught on low lying bushes behind you and targeting elevated areas in front of you to get nice long turnovers.
After poring over Lefty Kreh books and YouTubes by Pete Kutzer of Orvis, it was refreshing to don a mask and work on technique outside of my living room. Now, of course, the challenge is to talk myself into more frequently walking down the street to the local soccer field and practicing on the grass, but I’m headed in the right direction.
What resources have the readership found helpful for working on their fly casting techniques?
P.S.: If you’re looking for a laugh, look no further than this YouTube of Bill and Sheila.