In some circumstances, fly casting can be relatively effortless or even downright therapeutic. For instance, imagine being out on a western river, casting little dry flies into small pockets and glossy pools. Ahhhh....sounds like both a great time and a great way to relieve stress. The combination of light tackle along with diminutive fly patterns makes for a very easygoing experience.
Now, let's look at the other side—BIG flies. Depending on who you talk to, a "big" fly might be classified as something like a 1/0 Deceiver or a hulking mass of fluff attached to a 5/0 hook. Wherever your baseline for big flies begins, one thing is for sure—the bigger they are, the tougher they are to cast! Luckily, there are ways to combat the chore of presenting these beasts. From specialized fly lines to fine-tuning your casting, fishing the big stuff doesn't have to be a dreaded experience.
Photos Courtesy of RIO Products
Specialized Fly Lines- If you throw big flies with any frequency, it probably makes sense to invest in a specialty fly line that's made specifically with this in mind. These lines are often designed with a shorter, more aggressive head/taper design which translates to more power for turning over flies that are weighted and/or very wind-resistant. These lines can also be great for quick, closer casts since a shorter head will load the rod faster and less line is required outside the guides to utilize its entire length. Above, we show you the line profile comparison of a specialized big-fly line (top) and a more all-around line (bottom). Note the difference in taper and head length. A few examples of current offerings designed to chuck big flies includes the RIO InTouch Big Nasty, Cortland Big Fly, and Scientific Anglers Titan.
Uplining- If you don't want to go out and spend the loot on a specialty fly line, uplining can help. One of my first Demystifly articles ever was on this subject, which can be found here. In a nutshell, this refers to using a line that's one-weight heavier than what your rod is rated for. So, if you own a 5-weight rod, to upline it you'd use a 6-weight line. Since the 6-weight line weighs more, it'll help drive bigger flies better, but perhaps not quite as efficiently as a specialty fly line.
Faster Rod- A rod with a faster action will have more power for throwing bigger patterns. If you don't care for an extra-fast action, a crisp fast action is a well-rounded choice that works well for a variety of fly sizes and scenarios. A faster rod also responds better to uplining since the extra line weight can help load some of these crisper rods.
Minimize Aerial False Casting- False casting—the back and forth motion of the fly rod—is often necessary to work enough usable fly line outside of the guides for a proper presentation. When casting a big, heavy fly, however, false casting back and forth before laying out your fly can be downright dangerous. In such a scenario, I like to minimize this false casting as much as possible. At the beginning of a cast, I might quickly false cast in the air a couple times just to work a usable portion of the line's head outside of the guides, but beyond that can be too dangerous and too hard to control. This is where the next tip comes in!
Casting Technique/Speed- As pictured above, tight loops and a relatively compact stroke are typical in "average" fly casting. However, when casting big, heavy stuff, the Belgian Cast is the way to go. This is a great and very simple method to safely deliver large flies. I first started doing this years ago in my striper days (I simply called it the “chuck n duck") when tossing heavy shooting heads and XXL Clousers on San Francisco Bay.
To perform a Belgian Cast, bring the rod back along a more horizontal path. As the loop unfurls behind you in the air, bring the rod tip up and over to transition directly into a more typical overhead front stroke and let the fly sail out to its target. Throughout this cast, the rod travels in a smooth, broad, open path and should not completely stop until the end of the front stroke. Not stopping keeps consistent tension on the line in the air and prevents a heavy fly from snapping around and shocking the line. The loops in this cast are more open which also helps keep the fly from fouling the line, whacking the rod, or smacking your cranium. This cast goes against "typical" casting rules since the rod travels two different paths, doesn’t stop until the cast is completed, and the loops aren't very tight….but it's a much safer way to go.
Typical false casting of a heavy rig is awkward and dangerous, so if using a sinking line and heavy fly with the Belgian Cast, I don't false cast any substantial length of it back and forth in the air, but rather work more line out onto the water with each front stroke and repeat the process until I reach my desired spot. So, when working line out, as soon as the fly/line hits the water in front of me, I pick it all up, perform another Belgian Cast, and shoot the line out in front of me onto the water again. If it's not far enough, I just follow up with more casts until I'm in the zone or reach a point where it's just too much line to handle safely.
Each time I go to start another back cast, I also make certain to pick the line/fly up off the water in front of me without delay. Doing so means the line and fly won't settle down into the water too much which can overload the rod and botch the line pickup. Quick line pickup may not be so crucial with a floating line/fly, but I'll still pick it up quickly. This keeps the line straighter, tighter, and makes for a more fluid transition into the back cast each time.
Leader Construction- Want better turnover of your flies? The leader plays a role in overall performance. First, try shortening its length. A shorter leader transfers energy quicker from the fly line to the fly, thus resulting in quicker, more efficient turnover. Streamer anglers often use very short 3–4 foot leaders consisting of just one or two sections when fishing with sinking lines in current. This allows the fly to not just get pulled under by the line more easily, but the fly will also turn over rapidly without the need for a tapered leader. If using more standard-length tapered leaders, shortening the tippet section (if that's a viable option) can give the leader a little more pop.
Another trick is to lengthen the stiffest portion of your leader setup—the butt section. Whether combined with a shorter overall leader length or just done on its own, increasing the length of the butt portion gives more oomph to the leader and helps it kick over.
Last but not least, using stiffer lines throughout the leader also helps transfer energy efficiently. Keep in mind though, it's long been recommended that the butt is roughly about the same stiffness as the end of the fly line itself, so no need to go overboard!
There may not be a way to avoid the inherent fatigue associated with casting big flies all day long, but at least it can be done with some level of efficiency. Fishing big flies is a surefire way to catch a big fish, and when that payoff comes it could be your fish of a lifetime. You know what they say—go BIG or go home!