Circle Reach Cast
May 14, 2014
The hatch is on, trout are feeding, and suddenly there's a good fish rising right beside you. Or there's an obvious subsurface bulge so close to you that you could almost poke the trout with your rod tip. It happens a lot, yet it's always a bit of a surprise.
No normal cast is likely to work for these trout. They are so close that it's difficult, with so little line out, to make a typical reach cast because the leader tends to turn over and deliver the fly upstream above your line and leader, where it will drag almost immediately. Desperate attempts to simply dap the fly in front of the trout are also likely doomed, even if the wind is calm.
There's a better technique—I call it the circle reach cast—and it's so simple and effective that you may find yourself using it more than you'd think, even for trout that are not so frustratingly close.
Step 1: Make a complete circular cast above your head in an underhand arc against the current. You can make as many circles as you need to line things up perfectly so that your fly lands where you want it. If it's windy, you can generate greater line speed by making tighter, faster-moving circles.
Step 2: When everything is lined up to your satisfaction, extend your casting arm upstream and drop the line and leader on the water above the fly.
Step 3: Because this cast gives you so much slack with the line and leader above the fly, you will get a completely drag-free drift for 10 to 20 feet, and your fly will be the first thing the trout sees.
Some years ago, I discovered that I could more accurately present a fly to these close-rising trout without any drag by first making a circular cast above my head (plenty of room there) to adjust line speed and maintain better control than is possible with a normal reach cast.
At the completion of the circle—directed in an underhand arc towards the current—I extend the rod tip upstream and lay the fly, leader, and perhaps several feet of fly line on the water above the fish. By taking most of the power out of the cast as I extend my arm, I can still deliver the fly accurately, but the leader doesn't turn over. This puts so much slack line and leader above the fish that I can then simply follow my presentation downstream with the rod tip for 10 to 20 feet or more without producing any drag. Because the leader and line are always upstream of the fly, your fly is the first thing a trout is going to see.
Some might ask why this same effect couldn't be achieved simply by extending your arm upstream in a sweeping underhand motion without first employing an overhead circle? Indeed, that can work, but not as well. You get more reliable results when you start with that circle because it gives you more control, and you can more easily adjust the speed of your delivery to fit conditions.
The location of the rising trout and the swiftness of the current determine the amount of leader and line you may need, as well as the arc of the circle. Still, getting it right is fairly intuitive.
Whether the trout is on your left or right, the circular portion of the cast is always made toward the current with an underhand arc (clockwise on the right, and counterclockwise on the left).
If you get it backward with an overhand arc, you'll lay your line and leader over the trout with the fly upstream and dragging instantly—that goof will surely spook the fish and clear up any momentary confusion on your part.
In truth, this is a very easy cast to master, and you should be using it effectively almost from the start. Indeed, you are likely to find yourself making any necessary minor adjustments without even thinking about them.
For example, for a trout that may be feeding only a few feet away, perform the circular portion of the cast in a nearly vertical plane, and you will need less fly line, and perhaps only a portion of the leader.
This more nearly vertical circle is also best for trout directly below you. Even if that fish is frustratingly close, you can still put the fly on the water above it with plenty of reserve slack.
Not only does this cast work with a single dry fly or nymph, you'll find that it can be easily performed without tangles, even using a small strike indicator and tandem nymph rig.
With trout feeding voraciously around me this past spring on the South Holston River in Tennessee, I had no problems using circle reach casts with a 7X tippet and a size 22 or 24 midge trailing a Griffith's Gnat.
The circle reach cast can also give you another very important advantage. Done correctly, it not only always presents the fly downstream from the leader and fly line with pinpoint, drag-free accuracy and lots of slack, it is also far less likely to be affected by wind than a normal reach cast.
How often do you make a near perfect cast to a rising fish only to have a gust blow the leader and fly upstream? A drag-free float is nearly impossible when that happens.
In calm conditions, you can use the circle reach cast in an almost lazy fashion with an accurate and delicate delivery. However, when it's windy, this cast also gives you the option to generate much greater line speed to maintain control by making a tighter, faster-moving circle.
I sometimes make two or more circles before I complete the cast. Even when wind is not a factor, this gives me the opportunity to make minor mid-cast adjustments to line things up perfectly, and ensure that I'm placing the fly exactly where I want it. And because the final part of the cast delivers the fly, leader, and fly line low over the surface with precisely the amount of power you need, there is far less chance for wind to create problems.
I first discovered the potential of this cast largely by accident some years ago while I was fishing in eastern Tennessee near Bristol. The South Holston and the nearby Watauga River are world-class tailwaters for mostly wild rainbows and browns that feed heavily on big hatches—Sulphurs, Blue-winged Olives, craneflies, midges, and terrestrials are the dominant naturals. Some of the trout here are huge—a few exceed 30 inches, and 14- to 20-inch fish are common.
That day on the Holston, lots of Sulphurs were on the water and sizable trout began rising all around me, some only a few feet away and quite visible in the clear water. I managed to catch a couple, but some were so close I had trouble making any sort of normal reach cast without almost immediately getting drag.
In frustration, I began to cast in circles over my head as I considered what to try next. A trout I'd been watching rose beside me, and when I instinctively reached upstream to drop the fly at the completion of an overhead circle, the fly landed just above the fish with gobs of upstream slack. The trout confidently ate my Sulphur emerger.
I tried the same trick successfully again on another trout just below me. The adjustments I made to the circle cast delivery over the next hour or so worked so well that I began to realize I had lucked into something truly useful.
Variations of the circle reach cast have since become a routine part of my arsenal. I use them not only in Tennessee and my home state of North Carolina, but also in Pennsylvania, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.
I spend several weeks every year fishing the Henry's Fork in Idaho, and it has proven highly effective on this iconic and notoriously challenging river whenever trout are rising near me or wind is a factor (which is typically the case at least part of every day).
Last July, I was already in the river when a couple of fishermen I've known for years walked past on the trail along the banks of the famed Railroad Ranch stretch of the river in Harriman State Park.
Even though they were in a hurry to get started down below me—Green Drakes were beginning to pop out—they stopped a moment to watch me cast to several nice rainbows that were feeding alongside and below me. After I landed one of the trout, I got the reaction I've come to expect.
"What the hell kind of cast is that?" they asked, laughing. "Are you trying to lasso 'em?"
That night at supper in The TroutHunter in Last Chance, they said they had tried it, and that it was, indeed, an easy cast to make and had worked better than they expected. Now they use it routinely for trout that are feeding near them.
Admittedly, the circle reach cast has limitations. It won't work on fish that are feeding upstream of you, nor will it replace the longer straight-line or reach casts you more commonly use for trout that are feeding at greater distances. But it's a huge advantage to defeat the wind and create a huge amount of slack for trout that are feeding close to you. Spend a few minutes practicing this cast the next time you're on the water, and I'm betting you'll find plenty of opportunities to use it.