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Fly Casting Accuracy - Get on Track

December 05, 2017 4 min read

Fly Casting Tracking

You can see here I’m hooking the fly rod around behind my head. Poor tracking, not good. This stance looks more like I'm about to club a seal than cast a fly line

Fly casting is all about getting your fly to land where you want it, or perhaps more correctly - getting the fly to land where it is most likely to be taken by a fish ;-)

A major part of getting the take is being accurate with your casts, and two aspects come into play here.

  1. Using the correct amount of line to make the required distance 
  2. Landing the fly accurately on the correct drift line to be taken by a feeding fish.

To make accurate casts you need to be aware of your tracking. Tracking is a term used to refer to the the path your rod makes during the stroke and it has a great effect on how and where your fly line will lay out.

You’ll probably be familiar with the golfing terms “hooking the ball” and “slicing the ball” - the result being that the ball flies off to the left or right instead of flying straight and true.

A similar effect can be seen in fly casting where on the final presentation you’ll possibly see your fly line curve out to the left or right rather than laying our relatively straight and on target.

That curve in the fly line is the result of the path the tip of the fly rod travels before laying out that final line - and that process is referred to as tracking.

At times you’ll want to throw a curve or two - which we’ll cover in subsequent casting articles - but before we get into the fancy stuff it’s import to understand how to track straight.

If you tend to cast with your fly rod canted out to the side a little (and most of us do) it's highly likely that your tracking is out and you are throwing somewhat of a curve cast. Most of us have learnt to naturally compensate for this little error, noting that the fly is going to land to the left or right of where we are actually aiming.

Side arm casters tend to cast around their body and bring the rod tip around behind their head instead of straight and over the top with the rod held in a more vertical position.

If you want to be super accurate you need to learn how to track straight and that means lining up a few things and casting with a more vertical and overhead stance. Sure, you can be accurate with a sidearm cast - but its much more difficult to do.

How to check your tracking.

Get out on the grass and make a few false casts as you normally would, then drop your back cast on the field behind you. Turn around and take a look. I’m betting that the fly line is not laying out directly behind you - most likely it will be laid out in a large curve. To the left or right depending on your stroke.

Fly Casting Accuracy line everything up, usually rod foot forward pointing towards the target

line everything up, usually rod foot forward pointing towards the target

How to fix it.

To be accurate you need to line up your target, your front foot, your elbow, arm and rod and cast  overhead in that plane. Think of it in birds eye view as if there was literally a straight line from your target up through your foot arm wrist and rod. Think chopping wood, that axe needs to swing straight overhead in order to be effective. Throwing darts - the throw needs to be straight in order to deliver on target. Casting is the same.

Fly casting accuracy Target, foot, elbow, hand and rod all lined up and “in plane”  - you’re all set up to track straight.Target, foot, elbow, hand and rod all lined up and “in plane”  - you’re all set up to track straight.

An exercises to help straighten things out.

Targets. Head out onto the park and pick a target in the distance, a tree or post. Pick a target way out behind you. Now stand directly in between these two targets lining yourself up so that your front target, your body and your rear target are all in a line.

For your forward cast you’ll be aiming to slice the front target in half with your rod tip, on the back cast you will come straight over the top and aim to have your rod tip come down inline with the target behind you. This will likely feel a little strange at first - but if you can do this expertise you are tracking straight. Let a line go out in front of you - it will be straight if you are tracking those targets correctly. Same for your back cast, drop a few casts to the back - if you’re all lined up, the line out behind you will be pointing straight out at the target behind you.

Straight out back. If you come over the top and the rod is pointing at your rear target you’ve tracked straight and so will your line.

Practice so that you can pull this over head cast out of your bag of tricks whenever you need a super accurate straight line cast. This is not likely to be the cast that you use all day every day on the river, but if you need to be very accurate and present a fly in a tea cup - this is how you do it. And once you understand tracking and its cause and effect your “normal” cast will become more accurate too - and that’s a good thing.

Go Fish!

6 Responses

Bob Hart
Bob Hart

June 28, 2021

Wonderful advice that makes a lot of sense. To track straight, I use a bright yellow cord of about 50 to 60 feet long. My fly line must fall as close to this cord as possible.

Richard Baker
Richard Baker

October 31, 2019

Carl you have allways been my insperation when it comes to fly casting, I,m still practising and learning keep up the good work

Phil Bushell
Phil Bushell

July 04, 2019

Carl, Great advice. One thing didn’t quite make sense to me though: I’m assuming your stance in the second photo is not the same as the one in the first, or you must have amazingly flexible hips.
So I guess for getting the accuracy and feel for straight line tracking, practice with your foot forward and then transfer this technique to a normal feet side by side or opposite side foot forward stance for normal casting practice?

Barrie Clark
Barrie Clark

December 09, 2017

Hello Carl. great article! Would it be okay to use it in the monthly newsletter (February 2018 edition) of the Marlborough Freshwater Anglers Club if I acknowledge your name, the source and include a link to your website? Many thanks, Barrie Clark (Secretary & newsletter editor).

Mike Kirkpatrick
Mike Kirkpatrick

December 09, 2017

Nicely put Carl. As a simple aid to get anglers tracking correctly, i get them to keep the bottom of the reel pointed at the target throughout the entire cast (often using the thumb on top of cork, with the thumbnail pointing backwards throughout) this has the effect of doing exactly what you say – stopping any swinging back and around (and often down). This works well whether they are making a standard cast, or side casting under trees, or even on the off shoulder (backhand) side. Great post mate.

Bruce Mahony
Bruce Mahony

December 07, 2017

I’ve been fishing for 69 years and a lot of young ones ask me why I can cast so accurately. And I just tell them I must be lucky. I don’t mention the thousands of hours I have spent practicing or the thousands of casts I have made while fishing or the thousands of casts I have made while sitting in a canoe or kayak. I just know “the harder you work the luckier you get”.

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