Fly fishing – How to roll cast

Grumpy McMurdo Fishing Tips

To be honest my roll casting is not as good as I would like it to be. Not the short range, tight green tunnel version we have to employ in our overgrown Taranaki streams, but rolling my heavy bazookas across a wide Tongariro pool. I get by when the occasion demands but never to the point where I am proud of the results. That was until last winter when I had an eye-opener — no two eye-openers — that I now hope will change my roll casting for the better. Let me recall how that came about.

The first time I saw this impressive distance roll casting was on the pre-flood Boulder Pool. While I was fishing with long overhead casts on the town side, one of the locals was roll casting from the steep boulder bank opposite me. Nothing unusual in that as dedicated shortline nymphers inhabit this spot on a regular basis. But this guy was different. He never lifted his line into a back cast the whole time I was there. From his perch on a big boulder he roll cast his gear into a good holding seam that was coming off protruding rocks further upstream.

From where I was I could see from the way the line lifted and the nymphs plopped into the fast current that at least one of his bombs was super heavy. Yet with his ‘new’ technique (I hasten to say that it was new to me) the heavy nymphs rose from the water and turned over at the end of the skilfully executed delivery roll. As if that was not enough, the distance the cast went out and up was truly amazing for a roll cast. I watched his performance to the point where I almost forgot to concentrate on my own fishing.

What was so different with this roll cast was that, prior to the big delivery roll, the angler always threw a smaller, horizontal loop onto the water surface. At first I thought this was some directional adjustment for a better angle but I soon realised that the water loop was an integral part of this advanced roll cast. Well, whatever the contributing factor of the little loop, it worked like magic. Like most anglers I am somewhat self conscious when it comes to trying out something new in front of a critical audience. Reluctantly I suppressed the urge to copy my model who repeatedly demonstrated his every move just metres away. I vowed to get into this in earnest in a more private setting but after a day or two of non-stop fishing forgot all about it.

A couple of months later we were fishing the Silly Pool and had just sat down for a well-earned cuppa when a new guy arrived via the hatchery track. His face looked familiar, like that of many people one has met over the years. We exchanged notes on the day’s fishing, the gear and of course the big flood. When the talk turned to rods he casually mentioned that he preferred his old Sage RPIII because he did a lot of roll casting. As it turned out, that was an understatement because during the time he fished with us he never made a single overhead cast. He roll cast even when the bankside vegetation permitted a conventional delivery. With this cast he covered the water as well as any of us. Soon he was into his first and minutes later his second fish. He fished through the pool and moved on upriver before I had a chance to discuss his roll casting technique. That was the second time that I had seen someone use the horizontal water loop before the big roll. Not since I saw the double haul for the first time has a casting feat impressed me so much. I was now more than ever determined to add this cast to my repertoire.

As by lunch time we still had the pool to ourselves, I decided to practice while the various actions of this roll cast remained fresh in my memory. I dug out a heavy bugeye, broke off the point and attached it to my normal leader. Then I positioned myself at the tail of the pool. When I had enough long belly line on the water, I started rolling. Not surprisingly, what had looked so simple in the hands of an expert soon had me floundering. Even the horizontal loop did not come easy. It was either too small or so powerful that it started to roll the entire line. What’s more, when I did get it right the oncoming current was carrying the loop so close to my body that I had trouble rolling the line without the nymph hitting the rod from underneath. Everything about this cast was new, even getting the line into the right position to start a new casting cycle. Doggedly, I boxed on.

During many failed attempts I was rewarded with an occasional winner that went further than I have ever roll cast before. At least it showed me that I was on the right track even though I was still battling with the basics. l am not kidding myself — refinements without a good tutor will take time, lots of time. In an odd sort of way I am looking forwar Sd to that because to me half the fun of fly fishing is learning new things.

Since I have returned to the more contemplative home environment I have tried to analyse the preliminary horizontal water loop in more detail. It is now clear to me that it combines two important functions.

Firstly, to greatly enlarge the power loop (more line in motion) of the final delivery roll. This generates greater momentum and increases the lifting power of the rolling line. Secondly, to make it easier to flatten the power loop during it’s forward roll. A flat or elliptical roll can be driven forward while a round one often collapses onto itself. Now let me describe for you how to put this theory into practice.

Like any roll cast it can be done to your right and to your left, though it is much easier to execute it on your rod arm side. This is the side from which I shall carry out the sequence of movements to perform the advanced roll cast.

i) Select a floating line with a long belly or a double taper of at least 8 weight. Silicone the line to reduce water adhesion. Use the rod you have got but if you have a choice try a slower action one first.

ii) Practice on stillwater and pick a site where you have water not only in front and to your side but also a little bit behind you. Your best position is standing in shallow water.

iii) The ideal conditions are calm weather with no audience in sight.

iv) Strip off enough line and lay it out making sure it stays well to your right.

What follows now is an almost continuous process: With a sidearm roll casting movement throw a small horizontal loop (1.5-2m diameter — more as you get better) onto the water. Not ahead but directly to the side of your rod hand.

Now slip a little more line so that you can start a proper roll cast with a raised rod without initially affecting the water loop.

As the power roll takes off you will see that it picks up and integrates the slack line of the water loop. This aerial loop is so large that instead of rising into a round hoop it becomes flattened and rolls forward — rather like the movement of a bulldozer track. Done well this entire line will straighten to greatly increase the distance of the cast.

When you think about what dynamics are involved it becomes clear that the moving mass of additional line plus the forward movement of the enlarged loop generate the power to turn over a heavy nymph.

It goes without saying that the secret behind this entire operation lies in the smooth execution of all the individual movements. The less time is wasted the less the water loop can deform and the less the heavy nymphs have a chance to sink.

It’s not easy to perfect and takes hours of practice but what better way to spend your weekends!