Fly fishing lesson: track your way to better casting

by Rick Whorwood | February 8, 2018

During the years I taught fly casting, I noticed a common trait among learners. Most had a difficult time tracking a straight line with their arm outside their body. My simple test of this ability was to hold a fly rod horizontal at about ear level and ask them to track a straight line along the rod blank, with their casting hand index finger. A very high percentage couldn’t do it.

I realized that from childhood most of what we do with our hands is focused inwards, towards the centre of our body — buttoning a shirt, typing on our computer, and eating a meal. It’s unnatural to draw a straight line back and forth with your arm and hand at ear level.


Rick Whorwood is one of only two Master Single Hand and Two Hand Casting instructors with the International Federation of Fly Fishers in Ontario.

In casting, the hand leads and the rod tip and fly line follow suit. If the hand tracks a relatively straight path back and forth, you’ll get a tight loop, which is your goal for accuracy and distance — mainly due to less wind resistance and efficiency of energy. If the hand tracks in a convex path (like painting the ceiling of an igloo), you’ll get an open loop, which is inefficient but will deliver a fly. A concave path (high, low, high) will cause a tailing loop, which is also inefficient and will likely result in knots in your leader or a tangle with line, leader, and fly.

What not to do

Tracking like the windshield wipers on your pickup will not get your fly out there.
fly casting

Easy exercise

Casting instructor Chris Seipio showed me a simple exercise. If you follow this procedure, I promise it will improve your casting.
-Stand with your shoulder against a closed door, and hold your arm up, with index finger extended.
-Place painter’s tape on the door, just above the point of your finger.
-Practise tracking your finger along this straight line for 10 minutes a day, imagining the line going through the air in nice, controlled loops.

fly casting

Practise outside

So what can you do to cast a long distance with accuracy? Start short and master the 20-foot cast.
-Take a marker and mark your line at 20 feet from the rod tip, and add a leader length of seven to nine feet, with a piece of yarn attached.
-Focus on tracking a straight line with the imaginary painter’s tape line beside your casting hand.
-If there’s a tree close by, tie a hulahoop to a branch and practise casting through the hoop.

fly casting
Slow your casting stroke down until the line starts to fall, and then speed up and change your trajectory — high stop in the front, low in the back, then the opposite — with casts off your opposite shoulder. Once you master 20 feet, add five to 10 feet. This will take weeks, possibly months.

Watch Rick show you how it’s done:

Click here to read Managing Editor Ray Blades’ fly fishing blog.