This article was originally titled No Fly Zone: How to keep your flies out of your friend’s face. It was featured in the Feb-March 2020 issue of Fly Fisherman.
Of all the things we do to prepare for our days on the water—tying the latest fly, perfecting the double haul, studying flow charts—the most overlooked and single most important skill is the ability to cast out side of what I call the “No Fly Zone.”
The No Fly Zone (NFZ) is the area between you and your fishing partners, including the guide. I have spent many days dodging and ducking flies from careless casters who say, “Don’t worry, I won’t hit you.” Trust me, they will, and they do.
If you are getting water spray in your face from your buddy’s passing streamer, something is wrong. If you hear a popper buzzing by your ear, there is a problem. And if you find your partner’s fly buried in your shirt or hat, it is time to have a talk.
I am a stickler for sure. Having tested several friendships with my on-water lectures on this subject, I can tell you that this is one instance where subtlety doesn’t work. Whether fishing from a flats boat, canoe, or wading near someone, establishing a No Fly Zone sets the ground rules for a worry-free day.
By developing your NFZ skills, you don’t just avoid injuries, you open up more opportunities to catch fish. You can now fish a shoreline in either direction, or at either end of the boat. Wind direction becomes less of a concern, and the danger of hooking yourself also diminishes.
When you’re sight-fishing, guides often don’t tell their anglers about a fish they’ve spotted until the boat is in a position where the guide knows he won’t get whacked with the fly. If you can demonstrate your advanced skills ahead of time, you will simply get more shots in a more timely fashion.
In every casting lesson that I give, the student leaves with an understanding that safety is paramount, and that no fish is worth injuring yourself or others. Below are four basic techniques to help novice and advanced casters avoid the NFZ.
THE BACKHAND DELIVERY
This is perhaps the easiest skill to adopt, because you already have the foundational skills. It’s especially easy if you favor more of a sidearm casting style. To start, stand with casting hand and both feet in line with the target. Turn your head to follow the backcast (which is really your forward cast). As the line unrolls, turn your head toward the target and simply deliver a solid backcast, stopping sharply to present the fly. Take care not to overpower the delivery stroke or drop the rod too far back.
A variation of this technique is called the Galway cast. To execute the Galway, rotate your hand at the end of the forward cast so your hand can push in exactly the opposite direction. In essence, you don’t deliver with a backcast, you deliver the fly by turning your hand and making a second forward cast in the opposite direction. This method is particularly helpful when pinpoint accuracy is a must.
THE CROSS-BODY CAST
This approach seems to be the most natural for many anglers. To execute, stand square to the target. Make your pickup with your arm across your body and your casting hand coming up toward your non-casting shoulder. Be sure to draw the rod hand back in a straight path, as there will be a tendency to make more of an arched path resulting in a wider loop. This approach can often improve the casting of people who tend to take the rod too far back, because your body (chin or shoulder) provides a solid stop for your backcast. The challenge with the cross-body cast is forming tight casting loops and with accuracy.
THE OFF-SHOULDER TILT
The off-shoulder tilt is similar to the cross-body cast in that the rod tip tracks along a path over your opposite shoulder. In this case, however, your rod hand is on one side of your body and you merely tilt your wrist inward, allowing the rod to glide over the top of your head and pass the line and fly over the off shoulder. This approach is better for accuracy, as the rod hand travels back and forth in your line of vision.
CASTING WITH YOUR OFF HAND
This requires the most practice, but provides the greatest rewards. If you can master it, it will make you enormously more productive. To cast with your nondominant hand, practice by making two false casts as you normally would and then, as the line unrolls in front of you, switch hands while the line is still in the air. Make two false casts with your off hand and switch back. Try fishing a local pond one evening using just your nondominant hand. Practice is more productive when the stakes are low and you can focus on just the casting and line handling. With practice, you will find that the casts from both hands improve.
PRACTICAL NFZ PRACTICE
Practice all your NFZ casts with a real obstacle. It will be obvious when you are doing it properly. Position yourself next to a wall or high fence. Better yet, find an overhang such as a carport.
Learning to avoid the NFZ is essential to becoming an accomplished caster and fly fisher. More important, it helps you to become more focused and conscious of your casting movements—an awareness that will help you gain accuracy and control. If a situation occurs when you must make a cast inside the NFZ, you should announce your intentions and make sure the fly stays well overhead. Maybe that’s a good time for your partner to have a seat. Communication is just as important as good casting skills. Greater attention to safety and mastery of flexible casting skills are stepping stones to becoming a top-level caster and a welcome guest on any boat.
*Joe Mahler (joemahler.com) is a guide, author, illustrator, and casting instructor based out of Ft. Myers, Florida. He is the author and illustrator of Essential Knots & Rigs for Trout and Essential Knots & Rigs for Salt Water (Stackpole Books). Even though he lives in an area known for saltwater fishing, he loves freshwater fishing for bass, bluegills, peacocks, and other exotics.