Get your Roll Cast Out of the Weeds

I can’t attribute this saying to anyone in particular, but I have heard that “weeds are just plants no one has found a use for“.   When someone discovers a medicinal use, aroma, stink or flower for a weed, the weed gets a name. A lot of our fly casts found their way into our casting quiver the same way.  They were just bad casts or maybe attempts at recovering a failed cast until somebody found it useful to duplicate.  Think about it.  Did someone design the “dump” or “tuck” cast?  More likely they made a bad cast, put a lot of slack on the water and suddenly caught a fish due to the no-drag presentation.  Just like the chimp in 2001: A Space Odyssey, a light came on for the fly fisher, “I can use this”.

Of course the fly fishers who discovered these casts might have appreciated being led out of the “weeds” by someone who could instruct how and when to execute these casts.  I have a class set up for my club in June to do just that.  Roll casting gets little instruction in most casting clinics because it is a water-borne cast, depending on a water anchor for good execution.  Grass, the usual casting clinic venue, is not a good a place to teach roll casting, so it doesn’t get much attention.

So let’s get out of the weeds and get down to what I’m calling “Roll Cast Master Class”.

So what are the most important single-handed roll casts?

  • static
  • dynamic
    • jump roll
  • Perry Poke
  • Tongariro

A couple of things that remain the same in all of the Roll casts is they are made in parallel planes and they all require an anchor to tension the fly line.  The parallel plane analogy instructors use is a railroad track.  The outside track is the fly line’s plane and the inside track is the path of the rod tip.   You must lay the track, measure and orient the fly line, before you can make a roll cast.

A word about “point-p”.  Point-P is the term spey casters use for the point at which the line enters the water behind the anchor.    Point-p always needs to be in front of, or even with the rod, not behind it, for safety and for proper execution.  You might think of it like a boat with an anchor that is set.  After the anchor is dropped the wind will push the boat and the rope will become taut.  At the point where the anchor rope enters the water, that’s point-p, your anchor is your fly and the rope is your fly line.

Almost everyone that fly fishes knows something about a static roll cast, though their execution could probably stand some tweaking.  I went to a clinic with a CI and asked him to work with me on improving my roll cast.  This was before I even knew there was any other roll casts other than a static roll cast.   I was surprised to learn that his roll cast was not vastly better than mine.  I was good for thirty feet and 40 feet if I took my time and so was he.  At the time there just didn’t seem much more to do in the way of improving it.   The CI didn’t mention any other roll casts so I thought I was done with roll casts and quite honestly, I didn’t think it was much of a cast.   Of course, the static roll has its place, think of it like a weed that blooms into a flower, but it’s a small flower.

Tip:  An important point about the static roll cast is to keep the anchor or “point-p” in front of the rod, and to slowly accelerate and shock the rod lightly at the very end of the cast.   I have heard some of the best known instructors use the backslash and forward slash to represent how to make a roll cast.  For example, if your arm was the slash the cast should go like this:  \\\\\\\\\/.     For a long time my roll cast for distance was with the rod high, trying to form a giant static D-loop and then keeping my rod high as I made the cast.  This works, sort of, but it usually results in a big rolling loop.  If you need more distance, rather than trying to make a giant D and high stick a rolling loop, it’s better to use a different roll cast.

The dynamic roll cast, often referred to by spey casters as a switch cast,  most likely came about from someone missing a hook-set on a fish.  Unable to turn the flying heap of line into a back cast, the fly fisher managed to make a decent cast after the fly touched down in the water, which provided the necessary anchor for an impromptu D-loop.   I think this could be the origin because I have performed that maneuver, using a dynamic roll cast to recover from a missed hook-set.   You’ve probably experienced this yourself, you raise the rod hard but miss the fish and suddenly you have slack line coming toward you.  You can’t turn all that slack into a proper back cast.  When this happens, if you wait until the fly splashes down, the momentum of the slack line turns it into a D-loop and you are set up for a dynamic roll cast.  For this reason, the cast is referred to as air-borne rather than water-borne, but like all roll casts, it is dependent on that anchor in the water.  The momentum of the slack line will give you a much deeper D-loop than a static roll, resulting in more distance.  Dynamic roll casts are very easy to present to 40-50 feet without much effort.  Perfectly executed, it can produce 60-70 feet (emphasis on perfectly). And of course you can simply choose to use that dynamic cast to set up a good forward false cast which will give you the backcast you need for a good overhead/forward cast.  That’s how the “Jump roll”, got started.

Tip:  The dynamic roll cast uses a “splash and go” anchor, meaning you must accurately drop the fly and possibly part of the tippet and/or fly line, to tension the fly line i.e. form a D-loop.  Unfortunately, this not easy and often results in a crashed anchor, i.e. one that is too heavy or too far back.  Too heavy would mean landing too much fly/tippet/line on the water that would actually kill the fly line’s momentum which is needed to form the D-loop.  Too far back is anything past or behind the fly fisher, remember point-p should be in front of the rod.   I often use the dynamic D-loop when I miss a strike or, my favorite, when I see a fish rise beyond my fly’s position.  In that case I use the dynamic roll-cast to quickly just extend my fly’s position, much faster than using an overhead cast. Also, if for some reason you don’t want to fish the line in all the way to 2 or 2.5 rod lengths, then a dynamic roll will help you avoid that.

Fortunately there are easier ways to guarantee a good cast than the exact timing and finesse that a deliberate dynamic roll cast requires.  One easy to set up cast that will give you 40-50 feet is borrowed from the Spey caster’s playbook, the Perry Poke.   The Perry Poke uses a folding of the fly line on the water and then energizing that folded line into an extended D-loop.  Extending the D-loop will give you more distance.  To perform the Perry Poke, bring the line into  about 2 rod lengths of line out of the tip, slowly sweep the rod back as far as you can and then bring it forward again making a U with the fly line.  Then with a backwards and upwards stroke, energize the line into a D-loop and make a forward cast with the rod tip parallel to the fly line.  The cast combines the extended D-loop of the dynamic roll but is water-borne in that you can set up on the water which eliminates the splash and go timing.  The result is an easy but longer cast due to the extended D-loop.  Good timing is required to cast the moment that point-p pops up in front of the rod.

The most famous weed is of course, well, “weed”.  Yes, when people love a “weed”  it is given many names.  I found on a website a listing of 550 names for marijuana.

The Tongariro Roll Cast is only referred to as the Tongariro or TRC.   If enough people learn it though, it may a earn a lot of pet names as it is truly addicting.  I say that when speaking about my own experience.  Obviously since it only has the one name so far, apparently folks don’t love it yet but I think that is only because they haven’t found a use for it or haven’t mastered it.

My own personal discovery of a use for the TRC is in crappie fishing.  Fishing the rocks at the Rez with cars buzzing past behind me, there is no real backcast opportunity.  Timing backcasts in between traffic is not a good option nor is using a steeple cast to avoid a high bank of rocks behind me.  Also, I fish with a high stick, slowly bringing a clouser or microjig in.  As I work the fly in I bring the rod back and I time it so when I have about one rod length or so of line out of the tip, my rod is high and behind me which is perfect to make the TRC.  I just throw slack down on the water, energize the D-loop and make the cast back down “the tracks” as soon as I see point-p appear in front of the rod.  A very slight hesitation, imperceptible really, is also needed when point-p appears.  The hesitation is to let the D-loop fully develop.

Now most descriptions of the TRC begin with a double Spey or change-of-direction cast first which may be confusing with what I am describing here.  As I am not usually on a river,  I just skip the COD part.  For moving waters, the change of direction is needed to account for having fished the fly to a dangle in the current and the COD is needed to orient “the tracks” back upstream.  For still waters, just set the anchor, throw the slack, energize the D-loop, watch for point-p, then fire the cast. Rinse, repeat.

With the TRC’s super extended D-loop, I can easily cast 65-70 feet.   That makes the  Tongariro king of the roll casts.  Many want to call the TRC just a Perry Poke but the TRC’s biggest fan and promoter, New Zealander Herb Spannagl, insists it is not.  Imagine a spey caster with a 13 to 17 foot rod quickly throwing additional slack down on the water and then attempting to energize a D-loop that might, due to the long rod, extend almost 30 feet or more behind him.  I’m not a Spey rod caster but I’m thinking that’s a lot to do quickly with a big two- handed rod and pointless anyway as those rods can cast quite a distance due to their length and heavy lines with just a PP.  Herb and I agree, the TRC is a single hander’s cast.  It’s not a cast for every situation, but then none are and it belongs in every fly fisher’s quiver.

Pros:  The TRC is great for nymph fishers, especially the heavy nymphs.  No duck and chuck necessary because its not overhead.  The roll cast pulls the terminal rig without drastic direction changes like overhead casting.  The heavy fly doesn’t jerk around between back to forward cast, which is known to produce bird nests in light tippet.  Also, the TRC will gradually work twist out of your fly line, a bonus.  The TRC is easier on the body too, the rod hand should never have to raise above the ear, keeping the shoulder out of it.

Cons: There are certainly downsides to the TRC.  For wade fishing, once you wade past ankle deep, the cast begins to suffer in execution the deeper you wade.  For bank fishers, casting down the bank is fine, but casting directly in front will require that the bank be very low or the fly will hang up.

So club members, please look forward to “Roll Cast Master Class” at the next meeting, June 16.  I have a good place at my office with water to demonstrate the casts on water and the parking lot is raised, allowing for a good view of the manipulation of the line on the water.


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