Skip to main content

How to do the Circle Reach Cast

A fly-casting technique for frustratingly close rising trout, and much more.

How to do the Circle Reach Cast

The circle reach cast is 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.

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.

Here are the step-by-step instructions on how to perform the circle reach cast: 

  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.
  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.
  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 instantlythat 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.

Practical Application

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 hatchesSulphurs, Blue-winged Olives, craneflies, midges, and terrestrials are the dominant naturals. Some of the trout here are hugea 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 meGreen Drakes were beginning to pop outthey 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.

Cortland Big Fly $75

Cortland's low-friction Precision Shooting Technology (PST) was introduced first in the popular Trout Boss, and later in the new-for-2014 Carp Boss and Salmon/Steelhead line, but nowhere is it more noticeable — or more important — than in the Precision Big Fly. The floating line has an aggressive front taper and overweighted head to load rods quickly, and throw giant bass and pike flies with minimal false casting. But that taper won't get you far if the line tangles or you've got a soft line that gets gummy in hot weather and produces friction in the guides. The Big Fly starts hard and slippery, and stays that way so you don't waste any energy behind your cast and you can drive poppers, gurglers, and oversize musky streamers with authority. Our tester said the stiff, low-memory line also resists tangling so you spend more time fishing, and less time wishing you were fishing.

Cortland Sky Blue Liquid Crystal $75

A clear line is less visible to fish and therefore stealthier. But while fish can't see a perfectly clear line, you can't either, and for tricky flats species like bonefish, permit, and tarpon, a visible line helps you judge where your fly is at all times. Made with the same polyethylene PE+ coating as the clear Liquid Crystal, Cortland's new Sky Blue Liquid Crystal line is extruded over a blue-tint monofilament core, so it fades from strong blue color in the center of the line, to a light blue on the outer edges. It's easier to see from above — the angler's perspective — but still provides a subtle, blurry profile when viewed from below. 'We believe the new Sky Blue Liquid Crystal is the perfect compromise between a line that's almost invisible to the fish but easily seen by anglers and their guides, ' explained Randi Swisher, Cortland's vice president of sales and marketing. 'It will be especially useful when fishing over turtle grass or whenever there's a chop on the water and it's really tough to locate your fly. ' The lines come in 6- to 12-weights, with different tapers for bonefish, permit, and tarpon.

Cortland Trout Boss $75

A great trout line might not seem like a 'specialty ' line to you, but what about for someone who lives in Key West? If you take a trip to the Rockies you need a line that deals with wind, cold water, large flies — you need a workhorse that can do it all. We tested the Trout Boss in Montana, Chile, and Pennsylvania, and found it worked best in big rivers where constantly changing conditions force you to reevaluate your game plan every hour. The long, 65-foot head helps you mend at long distances, and roll cast when brushy banks make things tight. In keeping with the distance theme, the line has an 18-inch white, high-vis and high-float Dyna-Tip that's easy to see from far off to help you track your fly, whether you are dry-fly fishing or nymphing. The rest of the line is stealthy moss green or high-visibility orange in 3- through 8-weights.
Check out Fly Fisherman's review and insider video on this product! Cortland Trout Boss

RIO Bonefish QuickShooter $80

If you're going to mend, carry a lot of line, or roll cast, you need a line with a long head. What many people are realizing is that you don't do any of that while bonefishing. The Bonefish QuickShooter has a short, 36-foot head, acknowledging the fact that the flats are windy, and when your chance comes, you'll need to get the fly on target, and quickly. The dual-tone aqua blue/sand line helps you pick out the sweet spot to keep in your tip-top, and the extremely hard, tropical coating makes sure the line won't wilt while waiting for the cast.

RIO Perception $90

RIO's new flagship trout line has made a core change, both figuratively and literally. The Perception trout line has a new low-stretch core — the first of its kind for polyvinyl chloride (PVC)-based fly lines. RIO won't say what its proprietary new core is made of, but it's not nylon monofilament or nylon multifilament, which are the traditional elastic materials for PVC fly line cores. If you've fished RIO's InTouch Deep lines, you've already felt the difference a low-stretch fly line can make to your contact with the fly, your sensitivity in detecting strikes, and your ability to set the hook when you feel the fish. Everything is more instant and efficient. But does it make a difference in your casting as well? 'Absolutely, ' said Simon Gawesworth, RIO marketing manager and a big part of the Perception design team. According to Gawesworth, a good caster can significantly stretch a standard fly line in the air by merely hauling the line, and this stretch is like a giant power drain when you're trying to move the fly efficiently. The Perception's low stretch — about 6% compared to about 30% in a standard fly line — lets you move the fly immediately instead of first stretching the line before you can move the fly. We've tested the line extensively and found that it not only casts better, it mends more efficiently, picks up quickly and quietly, and gives you better control and more sensitivity for 'blind ' fishing subsurface with nymphs and streamers, where instant contact with the fish is the difference between hooking up, and missing a strike. In short, it's a more responsive line because the force you apply at your end of the rod is more immediately telegraphed through the line, and there is no 'dampening ' effect cause by line stretch.
Check out Fly Fisherman's review and insider video on this product! RIO Perception
For other award winners see our 2014 Gear Guide Awards

Scientific Anglers Saltwater Grand Slam $85

Slackline casts are great when you're dry-fly fishing for trout, but in saltwater fishing, a slackline cast means that you'll have to retrieve line before you can come tight to the fly, and that lapse in effective movement often means the difference between catching fish and just seeing them. Florida Keys guide Capt. Bruce Chard is a master of coaching the short cast to the batter on the deck, but he's still watched too many bonefish and tarpon swim right past a stationary fly due to poor presentation. To combat this problem, he designed his Grand Slam line with an extremely short front taper that delivers excess energy to the fly so the leader turns over completely, and you can instantly swim the fly. The heavy head loads rods quickly for quick up-close casts, but a long rear taper (twice as long as most other saltwater lines) also helps you carry and control more line in the air for those opportunities where you actually get to make a hero cast.
Check out Fly Fisherman's review and insider video on this product! Scientific Anglers Saltwater Grand Slam
For other award winners see our 2014 Gear Guide Awards

Skagit Max $55

The Skagit Max is built on RIO's low-stretch ConnectCore (see above), and if you join it to RIO's new ConnectCore shooting line, you'll have a complete low-stretch Skagit system suited for Spey casting large flies and heavy sinking tips. Our tester tried the new lines on British Columbia's Dean River for June Chinook salmon and steelhead, and found the low-stretch lines were easier to mend, picked up efficiently, and produced better hook-sets.

Super Dri Distance Pro $75

Once Airflo perfected the hydrophobic coatings behind its Super Dri fly lines there was another objective — use 'zone technology ' to perfect a series of fly line tapers to cover any trout-fishing situation. Zone technology refers to Airflo's new capability to change the compression of the coating from supple to stiff, and back to supple, all on the same fly line. This means you can keep the coating slick and hard in the areas of the line where double-hauling puts pressure against the stripping guide, and keep the tip soft and supple for better floatability and longer drag-free drifts. There may be no better example of this zone technology than in the Super Dri Distance Pro, a long-belly line with an extended, hardened 'haul zone ' that allows you to carry and shoot long lines even on hot days, without feeling the extra resistance of a soft line against the guides. Airflo also uses zone technology to create a nymphing line (Super Dri Mend), and an extra-heavy line for fast-action rods called Xceed.

Super Dri Elite $75

The first thing you need to understand about Airflo lines is that they're not made of PVC — the coating is polyurethane, a completely different type of plastic with different chemical properties. What makes or breaks a fly line, whether it's PVC or polyurethane, is the additives that make the product special — additives that make the coating harder or more supple, make the line float or sink, and some that make the line slicker. With Super Dri, the UK company went back to the drawing board with its coatings to produce a new generation of nano-engineered hydrophobic coatings with additives that would actually repel water, and therefore float higher and drier. Our tester used the Super Dri Elite on the West Branch of the Delaware during a heavy morning downpour that swamped mayflies as they hatched, and kept fat and sassy rainbows feeding on top for hours. 'The Super Dri was also super accurate, super easy to mend and pick up, and super slick going through the guides, ' he said. 'Even after the river turned to chocolate, the line stayed clean, and rode high like it was made of Teflon. '
Check out Fly Fisherman's review and insider video on this product! Super Dri Elite

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

Fly Fisherman Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Fly Fisherman App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Fly Fisherman stories delivered right to your inbox.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Fly Fisherman subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now