View Full Version : Fly Fishing Without the Back Cast

01-20-2011, 04:09 PM
At the risk of committing the sin of blasphemy against the purist form of fly fishing, let me first say that the love of my life (fly fishing anyway) has always been and always will be a nine foot, four to five weight, fly rod with reel and a dry fly or nymph at the business end. There is nothing so graceful as watching a well placed, long, gentle cast to a rising fish and certainly nothing as fulfilling as the feeling it brings when accomplished.

In anticipation of a return trip to GSMNP in the next few months, I began thinking about my boyhood days back over sixty years ago and the thrill of that first spring outing on the river, passing the time trying to fill my stringer with a few nice fish for supper. Back then I used a fly rod nearly all the time, forsaking the bait casting ways of my fishing buddies amid their jabbing remarks about my "trot rod".

Not having enough room for a proper back cast always seemed to be my nemesis that presented itself when least needed. Sometimes a roll cast would suffice, but at times, when some distance was needed, the roll cast also came up wanting. It was after a few of these experiences that I came up with this idea, although I never claimed it as my originality. I thought there were probably others that had the same idea, nearly simultaneously with myself. I called it the "Indiana rig". Perhaps locals from many areas of the country use this same exact setup and have their own pet names for it.

It consists of a short fly rod (seven foot light action is ideal) and a light or ultra light spin cast reel, that is convertible for left or right hand use, 4 lb. test line, a small clear bubble (bobber) that has the line going through it with a center peg (which pops out to adjust the length of leader to the bait and reinserted to hold the line), and a dry, wet, or nymph fly tied to the business end of the line. I still have the Johnson "Century" reel I bought all those years ago, and it is my favorite ultra light reel for this rig, not to mention, it is still in great condition. Many of you younger folks probably have never heard of this reel but I bet more than a few of the old timers among you, like myself, have indeed. Perhaps you even owned one.

Now, I never quite understood, why, with a fly rod and reel, as well as a spin/bait casting rod and reel, a person would cast with the right hand, switch the rod to the left hand and crank the reel with the right hand. This never made any sense to me and always seemed rather awkward. Then there is the possibility of missing the strike of a nice fish while switching. So I have always fished "left handed" and do so even now with fly rod and reel.

So, picture this: the fly rod, in your right hand with the reel mounted on the fly reel seat, hanging upside down, handle on the left side. But, with the gearing reversed so it can be cranked with the left hand the same way you would crank a spinning reel. The push button of the reel being fully exposed to the rear, the line is grasped between the cork and forefinger. A "bump" of the push button against the upper thigh or wherever "cocks" the rig. Then, with a flick of the rod, release the fore finger. The weight of the bubble and split shot if used, "shoots" the fly out to the intended spot on the water. Choreography of the cast and the release goes hand in hand for different casting scenarios, but isn't difficult to master after a little practice. For those folks who are left handed, the right/left conversion of the reel is not needed, so just about any spin cast reel will work.

This rig can get your offering in the smallest of places, it can be dead drifted just like with a fly line, but without the need for mending, and will produce an effortless and remarkably accurate cast to any spot, once you have practiced it a little. You can also just drop the (bubble, leader, fly) in the current mend letting the fly drift as far as you want through riffles and other suitable locations. You can also shoot it straight forward across a stream to the quiet water of an over hanging bank. You can use a weighted nymph or un-weighted nymph with a shot, fished along the bottom the same way as nymph fishing with fly line. You can use a strike indicator instead of the bubble if you have enough weight to make a cast. Incidentally, the bubble creates enough counter force when a fish strikes, due to its buoyancy, so missed strikes are somewhat minimized. A tippet or tapered leader can also be used by attaching it to the monofilament in much the same way as you would a fly line. You can work more water with less chance of spooking the fish while wading and you can get as low and stealthy as you want. And, its a great rig to take back packing since its light weight and fully collapsible. You also save a lot of time recovering from hang casts in the tree limbs or bushes (one of my specialties), not to mention lost flies snapped off on the forward part of a fly line cast.

This is in reality, fly fishing without a back cast. It isn't my favorite way to fly fish the Smokies; that would be (for me) a nine foot graphite rod as I mentioned earlier, but a long gentle backcast to a gentle landing of the fly right over the feeding lie of a hunger trout is seldom the case in the GSMNP streams I fish. The method I have described is every bit as productive as spin casting but still retains the feel of the fish on a fly rod, especially when playing it. If I am fishing rhododendron covered streams, especially small pocket water streams, I'll go with my Indiana rig every time. But now that I think of it, "Smokie Mountain Rig", becomes a more appropriate moniker. Give it a try, if you haven't already!

Blue skies, warm gentle winds, and trout filled wters to all!:smile:

01-20-2011, 05:00 PM
I've used a spinning rod with a bobber and fly and it works. And works better than I would have ever imagined. However, about two years ago I took a spey casting lesson up in Indianapolis on the White river that has helped me immensely in situations where there is no room for a back cast.

All spey (two handed) casts are just as applicable to a single hand rod. I find myself using spey cast technics at least 50 % of the time. Not always because of the lack of room, they're just fun and easy.

I highly recommend a spey casting lesson to everyone.

01-21-2011, 11:48 AM

Thanks for the reply! I've never used a spey rod or techniques, sounds interesting! Aren't the spey rods longer, about 10 feet in length?

An interesting technique, one I alluded to but didn't describe in my original post, is the technique of "flipping" or shooting the line/bubble/fly straight out in front of your position. This is an old bassin' trick I learned from Jay Lucas a long time ago. That and a technique he called "banjo stringin" the fish. I'll describe this technique in another post.

The flippin' technique involves a little more practice and can get a hook in your hand if you don't coordinate it correctly. So practice with a hookless line and bubble is a wise thing to do until you have it down correctly.

Imagine the end of the line from the tip of the rod to the bubble you're holding in your hand, as a rubber band. Holding the bubble with the line length about three quarter the length of the rod, point the rod at your intended spot. Pull back on the line at the bubble, with the leader hanging down in front of your leg close to the rod shaft and even with it, putting an arc in the rod. This works best with a medium action rod. Holding the rod butt close to your body, push the rod quickly in a forward motion (not far) as you release the bubble in your one hand and release your finger holding the line against the cork on the other hand in a quick flip. The reflex of the arc in the rod will flip the bubble/fly forward. Raise the rod 10 or 20 degrees to add some elevation. After some practice you will note more and more distance with this method although its original intent was for short distances in heavy cover, boats near the bank, putting the lure under over hanging limbs, etc.

Suppose you are standing on a thickly covered bank with bushes or rhododendron all around with a small opening in front of you. Deep pool, you can't wade with out spooking the fish. You see a nice trout near the edge of the cut bank on the other side. You can't cast in a normal fashion, but you can play the fish if you hook up. This is one instance where flippin to the fish comes in mighty handy! No slapping the rod against tree branches, no back cast needed, no moving to a more convenient but less strategic spot.

In anticipation of a strike, and after resetting the reel to crank position, grab the line again at the position you did for the flippin' cast. When you get a strike, pull straight back on the line to set the hook, no need to raise the rod tip.

Nice to see a fellow "Hoosier" on this post. I will look into the spey rod techniques you mentioned. I'm always looking for new and interesting "stuff" when it comes to all types of fishing, especially if it puts the hook on the fish and the fish on the hook.

Blue skies, warm gentle winds, and trout filled waters to all!

01-21-2011, 05:20 PM
Your flippn' technic sounds similar to what I have always called a slingshot cast. It can be done with a fly rod too at short distances. see link


Spey rods range from about 12' to 16' long, Switch rods are about 10.5 to 11' long. Two handed technics can be done with one hand and with any rod length. You just have to move faster with the shorter rods and of course you don't get the same distance that you get with the longer rods.

I'll try to let you know if I hear about a spey class in the area.

01-21-2011, 05:29 PM
Very similar to a "bow and arrow" type cast too. It works great in tight quarters with no room for a roll, back, side, overhead, etc cast.

01-21-2011, 05:54 PM

Sounds like we're all on the same page with this one, just different "pet" names. This technique was popular with the bassin tournament guys a few years back. I learned it from Jay Lucas over forty five years ago. And right on with the fly rod, Heavynets, I've used that one a time or two, also.

Blue skies, warm gentle winds, and trout filled waters to all!:smile:

01-21-2011, 06:03 PM
You Indiana guys must be snowed in. ;)

A few years ago, about this time of year, I was fishing Thunderhead Prong and the catching was a little slow. I decided that I would practice my bow and arrow cast. I pulled the fly back and watched the fly line shooting out but not the leader and tippet. It took me a second to figure out what happened because my hands were dang near froze. Buried in my left thumb was a rather large prince nymph. Thank God it was barbless.

I use whatever cast I need to get the fly to the fish.

01-21-2011, 06:38 PM
There are several spey cast videos on U Tube. Just type in" how to spey cast fly rod".

01-21-2011, 07:50 PM

You're right about the snowed in Indiana guys, or at least myself. Seems we've had snow on the ground since early November, ever since my last trip to GSMNP.

Ouch! I hate when that happens!

Whatever it takes is my motto, too.

Once I had a nice big bow on the line in a deep pool with white water on both sides and I noticed all of a sudden I was no longer feeling him fight, but I could still see the strike detector going around in circles. I reeled in and my fly line to leader not had failed. I hated to leave the bow with the hook in his mouth and 9 feet of leader for fear he would wrap and die. I planned to release him anyway but dang!

I went in after him, finally got a hold of the line and pulled him in. Then released him!

I climbed out of the water soaking wet and freezing but with the feeling that I had followed through with my plan. A ranger had been watching me the whole time. When I climbed the bank I saw him and just smiled. He nearly bust a gut laughing as he got back in his cruiser and went off down the road. He didn't even check my license.

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Blue skies, warm gentle winds, and trout filled waters to all!:smile:

01-21-2011, 08:31 PM
I came up with a homemade cast for fishing in tight spots. Basically, it is a type of pendulum cast. I let out line about the length of the rod. I raise the tip and let the line swing back. Then I drop the rod tip quickly and let the line flip out, almost like a roll cast. Lots of ways to accomplish the came thing.

01-21-2011, 09:03 PM
I've got severe cabin fever. I haven't been fishing since mid-October. Not much fishing in Indiana during the winter.

I've been tying flies, reading books, and planning trips.

01-22-2011, 04:30 PM

Nice to meet another Hoosier on this forum. Actually, your a neighbor. I live near Nashville. Ditto on the cabin fever and no fishing!

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Blues skies, warm gentle winds, and trout filled waters to all!:smile:

01-22-2011, 06:35 PM
Grouseman, when I teach a flyfishing/tying class, I tell them to mash the barb before you start on the fly. Easier to remove from the fish, easier to remove from you. Also, if the hook breaks, you lose the hook and not an entire fly.

01-24-2011, 04:18 AM
feather, how far can you effectively roll cast? how tight a loop? When many people think of a "roll cast" they think of something that looks much like a Ferris Wheel. You can roll cast that way, but in the Blue Ridge, a better roll cast is a tight looped "punch" of a cast. I can normally roll cast this way up to about 30 feet. ( The bow and arrow folks are suggesting is a good short line technique, but I thought you said the problem was casting further distances with no room for a back-cast. ) With what I'm about to describe, you won't get a "first cast" straight to the fish at the head of a run, but you probably should be fishing the water until you get to that rising fish, before sailing line over the whole run anyway.

Let's set up the scenario like this...

You're fishing a small, overgrown stream. Ahead is deeper water, a run of perhaps 50 feet and you see a trout rising at 25 feet. You're stuck where you are - wading further upstream will send shock-waves through the whole run. Above this run are overhanging tree limbs. The "hole" up the creek is roughly 5 feet tall from water's surface to canopy and 10 feet wide. Above and behind you are trees. No room for a backcast of any type.

Here's the solution and with a little practice anyone can do it. You have to be able to first get out a little line. It's extremely hard to let the line coil at your feet and pull this off. Getting as low as possible, roll cast some line out in short little flips. Once you have 10 feet or so out, you want to make the roll cast forward using a VERY tight loop. The line lands on the water, you fish out the drift (which for wild fish needn't be 6-8 feet) and as the line drifts back to you, you pull the line toward you causing it to "slide" across the surface, breaking the tension on it. When you get it moving toward you, you'll need to make a tight cast forward with a good bit of force. This will almost create a "whip" like action where the line coming at you will still be coming at you but at a greater speed until it meets the tight loop heading forward and gets rolled another 3 or 4 feet ahead. On the next cast, repeat the process. Fish the drift out a few feet, pull the line across the surface, cast a sharp, tight loop forward and watch as the line "rolls out" parallel to the surface and picks up the line coming in, rolling it forward a foot or two off the water. If you can imagine taking a garden hose that has a kink in it and sending a tight loop rolling down the hose to "un-kink" it, that's what it looks like. It's the exact opposite of the large, looping roll cast you see anglers performing on big water.

The technique seems pretty impressive, but once you get the timing down and figure out when you can and can't use it (depending on water conditions and current speed/angle) it's really pretty easy to pull off. You can continue to do this, stripping out and shooting a couple of feet each time you cast, until you finally reach a point where there is too much line out to allow a tight loop to "roll" it downstream. Much as with a garden hose, you can only send a loop down the line so far before it takes too much force and speed to send it further.

I hope this helps someone here the next time you're faced with no room for a backcast and you need to get out more than a few feet of line. I'll try to do a video of the technique soon that should help to explain it further. It's alot easier to show someone how to do it than to tell you from a keyboard. ;)

01-24-2011, 09:26 AM

Thanks for your input on the roll cast. You've described it perfectly! I also use a technique very similar to yours. It can also be done, to a certain extent, but at shorter distances with a "side arm" roll cast. Timing is quicker to keep the loop from bringing the fly too close to the fisherman, thus the shorter distance. There is another I use, that resembles a figure eight that utilizes the side arm technique. This I use when my target is on the right of the stream, but blocked by low hanging limbs, the left side being open or vice versa. The false cast is started in the air on the left in a figure eight configuration and side arm rolled into a vary flat (close to the water) position on the right side. Kind of like a backhand shot with a tennis racket. This will put the leader/fly under limbs hanging just a foot or more over the water. Casualty to losing flies every once in a while, but what the heck, its pretty when you accomplish it, especially if that big trout lying there is impressed.

You're exactly right, it is much easier to demonstrate to someone than to explain in so many words. Having fly fished for over 57 years and loving every minute of it, one tends to accumulate many variations of a basic style. Necessity being the mother of invention.

I've always considered fly casting an art form in its application as well as a toolbox of variation.

Thanks again and have a great fishing year in 2011!

Blue skies, warn gentle winds, and trout filled waters to all!:smile:

01-25-2011, 03:24 AM
Same to you Whitefeather. I didn't mean to "talk down to you" so I hope it didn't come off that way. It's just you never quite know who knows what when it's over the interwebz like this.

I'll have to try that figure-eight cast sometime when I'm out. I'll have to read your description again first though. Maybe even print it out and take it with me to the creek. ;) I've never seen anyone cast exactly as you described. Thanks for sharing that one.

I often do a very special cast that I like to call, "..throw it as far back in the trees as is humanly possible." However, it's very time consuming to complete, since you have to walk 40 feet up the mountain and into the rhodo's to get your fly - so I don't advise trying it unless you're just so bored of catching trout that there's nothing left in the day's fishing. I'm an expert at it though, so I usually start the day off with that one each time I'm out. I should video that. I bet I'd be rich in no time. ;)

01-25-2011, 12:06 PM
I do a variation of the your cast. Mine is a nice semi-tight loop not behind me but off to one side or other that hangs in the tree right over fishy water. I know it is fishy because when I wade out to unhook I watch them swimming away. I think this could be helpful for the second video in your series :cool:

01-25-2011, 05:38 PM
"Same to you Whitefeather. I didn't mean to "talk down to you" so I hope it didn't come off that way. It's just you never quite know who knows what when it's over the interwebz like this."


Never thought so one bit. Thanks for your concern. I have found that internet communication lacks those traits of face to face conversation which are needed to fully understand the attitude of the speaker, such as tone of voice, a person's facial demeanor, body language, etc. I call the lack of these traits "internet etiquette." I try to find value in the information that people relay and brush aside any judgment about who they are, what their attitude is, or what station in life they are at. I've often thought that if the people who get carried away with their internet etiquette at times with other people were to do so in a face to face manner, they might get punched in the nose. LOL!

Everyone on this forum has been courteous and friendly in the discussions I have been in and I am very glad for the information they have given. I certainly don't know everything and the older I get, the less I seem to know, and the more I seem to forget.

I'm happy to tell any "secrets" I have and share my experiences with everybody on this forum. Since I don't really know any of you personally, I also don't know you're experiences, so I will bring things up from time to time to just to get a discussion going about trout fishing or fly casting, which I am impassioned by.

Incidentally, I had a very, very rewarding experience this past fall when fishing the Smokies I'd like to share with all. I was coming up out of the stream to the road when a park vehicle drove by and quickly pulled over in the parking lot. The gentleman got out and briskly walked toward me. At first I thought he a ranger and wanted to check my license. He walked up, extended his hand with a smile and said, "Hi, my name's Frank, I'm a fly fisherman and I never pass up an opportunity to talk with another fisherman. How ya doin'?"

He talked for the next hour and forty five minutes about the fish, where to go to catch the browns, the bows and the specks, what to use, his luck with certain techniques, etc. I grabbed a pencil and note pad out of my vest pocket and began scribbling down everything I could remember. I missed out on some time on the water, but making this man's acquaintance and getting the benefit of his knowledge was golden.

I went out the next day to the most enjoyable day of fishing I have ever had in the smokies, and in following his advice, I scored some very nice fish that I would have otherwise passed by. It is in the spirit of Frank's gesture that I greet all on this forum with my hand extended with respect and in friendship for a fellow fly fisherman or fisherwoman.

I wish you the best of luck with the cast I described. One thing you can do before you get to the water is practice the figure eight in an open spot. Start out by false casting on the right (or left) and then switch over to the other side for one cycle.

The figure eight is configured by the movement of the right hand (or left)in a figure eight, elbow above the shoulder, wrist above the forehead rotating 90 degrees to level (then back to upright), with the loops of the "eight" to one side, then the other, parallel to the shoulders, with the cross over in front and above your eyes. Try it with just the fly rod in the beginning, no line out, to get the rhythm. Visualize someone cracking a bull whip in this fashion and it will come to you almost immediately.

Good fishin! Give my regards to the streams and the fish. Perhaps I 'll have a friend of mine help me make a video of it.

Blue skies, warm gentle winds, and trout filled waters to all:smile: