Tongariro Roll Casting for Stillwater

Have you ever needed to roll cast 60 feet or better with a heavy, weighted fly?  I have and I couldn’t do it.  I was bonefishing in Andros.  We had fished flats all day, having a good day on the flats, when I noticed the guide was pushing me toward a point which had deeper, darker water.   Guide Sean O’Reilly told me there was a big school of bonefish that hung out by the point but he had to bring me by the bank due to the wind and current.  As we reached the point I was eyeballing the tall massive group of mangroves directly in my backcasting area when Sean shouted to me where the school was.  At first I couldn’t see them but when I did I was amazed to see such a large group.  I forgot about the mangroves and my first backcast went into them.  After yanking the fly out I realized that I was going to have to roll cast to get the fly to them.  They were 50-60 feet out and as much as I tried I just couldn’t get the fly to them.  Finally they spooked and that opportunity was gone.

Since then I have learned how to do a static roll cast much better, but with a saltwater fly, just thirty feet is actually pretty good, and that wouldn’t have gotten me a bonefish that day.  I have also learned how to dynamic roll cast further, but that requires getting the fly out there to set the anchor and establish a bigger, dynamic D loop.   So a dynamic roll is usually done by first doing a roll cast and then following with a dynamic.  The biggest problem with a dynamic roll is getting the anchor right.  A dynamic roll cast uses an air borne anchor and as such it is hard to get the fly to kiss the water just right and in the right position. Crash the anchor and your cast is toast.

Then one day I saw a video on an Instagram account belonging to a member in my fly fishing club that had been to New Zealand where he learned the Tongariro Roll Cast.   NZ is the home of the cast and is of course where Herb Spannagl and others practice it on the Tongariro river.  I was very impressed with the video and so I started researching the cast.

Herb Spannagl is what I would consider the foremost authority or at a minimum, someone that is super proficient and most importantly, willing to share information on the cast.  He seems to be the TRC’s greatest fan and cheerleader though he admits he is not the innovator, having first seen others doing the cast on the Tongariro river before him.  According to Herb, he couldn’t really find anyone to help him and he pretty much had to work it out on his own.  There are plenty of  Youtube videos of Herb casting the TRC but his instructions are what I found to be the most helpful which can be found on “” at this link:

For still water, I am skipping phase One of the cast and starting with Phase Two of Herb’s instructions.  In still water there is no current to move the fly line so there is no need to reposition the line, which is all what Phase One is.

For awhile I was confusing the Perry Poke with the Tongariro, because that’s how detractors were writing it off i.e. “It’s just a Perry Poke”.  But the PP is not a TRC.  The PP is a spey cast and you can do a PP with a single hand but you can’t do a TRC with a spey rod.  At least I don’t think so, and why would you want to as the long spey rod precludes the need for a TRC, I think.   As for describing the TRC, I will leave that to Herb, I cannot find any way to improve upon his instructions and the videos of him doing the cast can’t be done much better, IMHO.

I can’t say enough about the Tongariro Roll Cast and what it has done for my still water fishing.  Last year I wrote an article, Peace with the Perch, about my epiphany in fishing for crappie.  Then on a totally separate venture I started trying to learn the Tongariro Roll Cast and quickly realized the TRC was exactly what I needed to enhance my high-stick crappie technique.  I won’t go into all the details of that, just suffice it to say that I fish with a high stick and bring the heavy microjig in close to the boat or bank which makes it difficult to overhead cast back out as the head is up in the rod.   Added to that were the typical problems with bank fishing and not having room to backcast and the problems associated with fishing in a small boat with another fly fisher.  High sticking the fly near to the bank leaves your rod and line in an almost perfect setup for a TRC, saving motion and getting the fly back out to the fish instead of burning daylight jump rolling and false casting.

If you read Herb’s post on, he mentions many advantages and I agree with all of them.  For me the most important advantages for me in still water fishing are:

  • I can fish in places I couldn’t fish before. Banks, jetties, boats, awkward places not friendly to overhead casting and requiring casts beyond the short 30-40 foot static roll casts.
  • I can high stick the fly all the way to just about 1.5 to 2 rod lengths in front of me and then get back “out there” with just a few simple moves.
  • No “duck and chuck”.   I can cast heavy nymphs and I can cast them with long leaders without the inevitable tangling that overhead casting with heavy nymphs and light leaders produces.
  • Less stress on joints.  The fly caster’s hand barely rises above the ear, and that means much less stress on the shoulder, elbow, etc.

It has taken me quite a while to learn the TRC and I still have some fine tuning to do, I am no Herb Spannagl, but I can cast 60 feet easy and with the right rod/leader/fly I am confident I can do 70 feet, and with a tuned rig, around 80.  I sure wish I could have another shot at that school of bonefish!

I would recommend that folks learn all of the various roll casts because as you are doing TRC, some times you might just want to do a dynamic roll or a static or even a perry poke, just depending on the situation.  Basically I have found these casts helpful for these distances with a single hand rod:

  • static roll cast – good for around 30 feet, even 40
  • dynamic roll (switch) cast – good for 40-50, even 60
  • perry poke – 50-60
  • TRC – 70 feet, with tuned rig, 80

So what’s a “tuned rig” for TRC.  Well, the jury is probably out, it might be different for different folks, mostly depending on what you have but I would defer to what Herb Spannagl suggests which is a moderate flex rod with a line that is two sizes larger and with a long head or belly.

If you start learning the TRC, remember, just stick with it, it takes a great deal of practice for most folks to get it down.  Use Herb’s instructions and watch his videos and eventually you will get it.   Also, don’t let folks tell you it is a “spey cast” or just a “perry poke”.  The TRC is a single-hand cast, per Herb.  A Perry Poke on a spey rod is similar, but it is not the same thing.

Thanks for reading and good luck!

P. S.  I forgot to mention that the TRC (once mastered) is fun!  I honestly have as much fun casting it as I do fishing.

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