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Photo by Dave Bittner



Gary Borger’s writings discuss the wrist cast, the forearm cast and the whole arm case. This piece focuses on the forearm cast.


Its purpose is to supplement the writings of Dr Borger and other accomplished piscators.


The Little Lehigh Fly Shop held classes by world class fly fishing personalities.Casting classes by Lefty Kreh, Gary Borger, Barry and Cathy Beck, Ed Jaworowski, Bob Clouser, Gary LaFontaine, Ernest Schwiebert, Charlie Meck, Ed Schenk, Oliver Edwards, Jack Gartside, A.K. Best, Larry Duckwall and others enabled me to glean information.


Gary Borger's pantomime is special.

The Pantomime, Developing the Correct Muscle Memory


I’ve used the pantomime in casting lessons for all kinds of people: pro athletes, world adventurers, professionals, blue collar workers, women’s groups, civic clubs, corporations and kids groups. I even gave casting lessons to a blind man.


Above is 8 year old Roarie Timmons.

Roarie, her Grandmother, mother, and brother came to my shop for fly fishing lessons. I didn’t charge Roarie because I didn’t think her motor skills and attention span had matured. I was wrong! The pantomime helped Roarie become a prodigy.


The basic cast consists of three steps, pull, pause, and push. A good caster develops the proper motor skill by practicing. Practice makes perfect, if it’s perfect practice.


Fly casting is one of the few motor skills which people try to develop without practicing. Musicians practice. athletes practice. Human endeavors requiring motor skills require practice.


Throwing is instinctive. The cave man threw his spear or rocks at his prey. Babies throw their peas. Athletes throw the ball, the javelin, the discus etc.


 Don’t allow the instinct to throw to control your casting. Erase the wrong instinct, and develop a new motor skill unique to casting, by doing the pantomime without a rod in your hand. The more repetitions you do, the better.


You can practice while driving, walking the dog, watching TV or during most of your daily activities. 



Being relaxed is a rarely discussed component of a good cast.


When many folks see great piscators cast, they think the caster makes it look easy.I contend they are good because they do it easy.


As your hands hang at your side they should almost tingle. The more relaxed you are the better your casting will be.Take a deep breath and completely relax. Quickly tighten your grip. Your wrist will move automatically. This is important at the end of the back cast and forward cast.




The pull propels the line behind you exerting the weight of the line on the rod tip causing it to flex.


To develop the motor skill associated with the back cast, sit at a table, (a picnic table is perfect). Place your torso against the table, bicep against your body, your forearm on the table perpendicular to your bicep. Make a loose fist and point your forefinger as if you were pantomiming holding a pistol.


With your forefinger in this position you can’t move your wrist too far on the back cast.


Pantomime photos by Amanda Rohrbach Photography

Starting position for the back cast pantomime.,

Make believe there is a bug on the top of your ear. Raise your forearm and finger, as you reach the top of your ear, flick the bug off by tightening your grip, your wrist will flick. Your elbow should have come up, your finger pointing straight up, tip of your finger in line with the top of your ear.

done 1.jpg

Ending position for the back cast pantomime.


You sharply move your wrist at the top of the back cast because the line goes in the direction the rod does as it speeds up and then stops.


You just did a back cast!


Now relax.


To get the “feel” of the back cast, go back to the starting position, put a penny on your finger. (In your case a $20.00 gold piece)


Now pantomime the back cast so the momentum of your motion doesn’t allow the penny to fall off your finger until you flip it behind you.


Point to remember

The “pull” motion propels the line behind you exerting the weight of the line on the rod tip causing it to flex. This is important since the line goes in the direction of the rod as it speeds up and stops.


After mastering the motor skill associated with the back cast, practice the pantomime associated with the forward cast. Your arm and hand should be in the position it was at the end of the back cast.


Allow your elbow to drop until it hits the table.


As your elbow hits the table, tighten your grip. Your wrist will move forward. Don’t drop your forearm!


The “push” changes the plane of the line (so it doesn’t hit the rod or itself) and allows the flex of the rod to propel the line forward as you flick your wrist.


The problem most people have with the infamous tailing loop is they don’t drop the rod tip! Master the back cast, then the forward cast pantomime. Then put them together.


Now stand up and practice the complete cast.


Starting position for the back cast


Now pantomime the acceleration of the back cast flicking your wrist by tightening your grip at the top of the cast then relax


 Position for the forward cast.


Look at your finger. Is it where it belongs?


Now practice the forward cast. Drop your elbow then flick your wrist.


Look at your finger. Is it where it belongs?


Practice! Practice until you’re not thinking about it. As you practice make sure your finger is where it belongs at the end of each motion.


Say the steps out loud as you practice. Your hand has a tendency to follow your mouth. You will also provide a cadence which will be important when we practice with the rod.


Point to remember

Repetition is the mother of character and skill.

Rick Warren

The coming chapter will discuss Practicing the Back Cast with Line

Practicing the Back Cast with line


Now that we have developed the muscle memory necessary to perform the back cast instinctively, let’s try it with a reel and line.

Go to a grassy area, not a body of water. You want to focus on casting without distractions such as current, trees, or those pesky trout.

Place a practice fly--I use a Palsa Pinch-On Indicator--on the end of your practice leader.






Hold the rod as you did in the pantomime.














Most fly rods carry about two rod lengths of line comfortably.

Strip about two rod lengths of line, not including the leader, in front of you.  Hold the rod tip low, almost touching the ground. Step backward until the “fly” moves. Now all the slack is out of the system. This is important because the rapid capture of slack as you accelerate results in shock waves in the line and loss of control.

By getting the line moving before you begin the back cast you avoid shock waves.  It is easier to get a moving object to move faster than it is to get a stationary obfect to move.

Practice Tip











What in the name of heavenly glory does a yoyo have to do with fly casting?


A   proficient yoyoist can Rock the Cradle,  do the Gravity Pull , The Throw Down and  Walk the Dog as long as he keeps the slack out of the system. Slack creates shock waves, shock waves result in chaos.

It’s the same for fly casters. Slack means loss of control.
















Move the rod through the starting position and perform the backcast.












When you complete the back cast, check the position of your index finger. It should be in the position it was when you practiced the pantomime. The line should be lying straight behind you.

Turn around and repeat the exercise.

Continue practice until your finger is in the correct position every time and the line lands straight behind you. I suggest you do at least 100 repetitions.

I like to rig my rod. Put it on the porch and go watch TV. During the commercials, I practice,

Practice makes perfect if it’s perfect practice.


Practicing with line, the Foward Cast

Using the pantomime, we developed the muscle memory necessary for the perfect cast.
We honed the motor skill associated with the back cast doing repetitions with rod reel and line,
To practice the forward cast, complete a back cast.
The line is on the ground behind you, your finger at the top of your ear.

fowad cast

Step forward until your fly begins to move removing slack from the system.
Now use the same motion you did in the pantomime. Allow the rod tip to drift through the end of the casting position until the rod is parallel to the ground,
This will enable you to reduce friction between the line and rod guides..
Turn around, repeat the exercise at least 100 times.


Putting it  together

The basic cast involves certain principles. These rules of physics remain the same no matter who the instructor or the method of teaching.

The basic cast involves three steps; pull, pause and push.. Everything done after the “push” is called a mend.

Most fly rods work best using about two rod lengths of line. You don’t have to get out the measuring tape, approximately two rod lengths is fine. (This doesn’t include the leader.) If you use more you will impart shock waves into the system and lose control. (The name of the game in fly casting is control.) If you use less, the rod won’t load. The rod isn’t doing its job if it isn’t loaded (bent) that means you’re working, not the rod. Casts longer than two rod lengths are made by “shooting” the line

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How to Practice the whole arm cast


Hold the rod, gently but firmly as low on the butt as you can. If you hold the rod to far up you will create a teeter totter. One end teeters, one end totters and you create shock waves and lose control.


One of the most difficult things for my students to comprehend is how relaxing casting is. If you hold the rod with a death grip and over power the cast, you will create shock waves and lose control.

Practice Tip


The line goes in the direction the rod tip speeds up and stops. If the rod tip goes toward the ground the line will head toward the ground.



Using the motor skills developed practicing the pantomime, do a back cast allowing the line to unfurl behind you, exerting its weight on the rod, causing the rod to load (flex) Pause.



The pause should be short, about ¾ of a second. If you over extend the pause the line falls too low behind you, too short a pause exceeds the speed of sound producing shock waves and loss of control.



The step for the forward cast is “push.” It really has two parts. Drop and flick.



Lower the rod tip by dropping the elbow. Since the line goes in the direction the rod tip speeds up and stops, the line will hit itself or the rod on the forward cast, if you don’t lower the rod tip. Not lowering the rod tip creates what some people call wind knots; I call them poor casting knots.


We then flick the wrist.



We flick because the line goes in the direction the rod tip speeds up and stops. Don’t drop your forearm!


Look at your finger. Is it where it belongs?


Do it again.


Some folks call it a loop, some call it a U and some a candy cane. Call it whatever you like. It’s formed at the tip of the rod at the end of the stroke.


When you drop your elbow and flick your wrist you have lowered the rod tip a small amount resulting in a tight loop which produces greater line speed. Tight loops are useful for casting for distance or into the wind.


The size of the loop is commensurate with the distance you drop the rod tip.

The loop widens as you lower your forearm. The more you lower your forearm the wider the loop. The normal fishing loop is formed by dropping the forearm to 45 degrees.


Sweeping the rod until it is parallel to the ground produces a wide loop, useful when casting weight.


When you complete the forward cast, lower the rod tip to the fishing position.


Point to remember


The line should fall in a taut straight line in front of you, if it doesn’t, look at your rod and arm, if they’re not where they should be put them where they belong. Look at them.  Then close your eyes, and picture them in your mind.


Do it again.

whole arm cast
PuAnchor 1



In Whole Arm Casting the starting position of the elbow keeps the bicep perpendicular to the ground the forearm parallel to the ground resulting in a back cast and forward cast separated by 180 degrees, parallel to the ground.


Photo by Cathy Mainardi


You can change the plane by moving your elbow forward causing the line to go down on the back cast and up on the forward cast.


Photo by Cathy Mainardi15


Photo by Cathy Mainardi


Point to remember


If I adjust the starting position by moving my elbow forward, the line’s plane goes from parallel to the ground to the forward cast traveling up, back cast down toward the ground. If I move my elbow backward, the opposite happens.  


Fly casting… starts with… how to adopt the correct stance… to maintain comfort and balance…  Ally Gowans.I agree with Ally Gowans.

Gary Borger suggests stances such as neutral, open, fully open, closed, fully closed and neutral stance. He’s right too. When fishing, the terrain, water, canopy and fish usually determine stance. I suggest you practice as follows;

On the lawn throw the Frisbee. Cast to it until you hit it, then kneel down, throw it again and cast till you hit the target. Assume a different position, throw and cast. Keep throwing the Frisbee from different positions until you can hit the target consistently.

Practice Tips


Practice, practice, practice

Practice makes perfect if it’s perfect practice. If not perfect, all you are doing is reinforcing the wrong motor skill.


Lazy eye syndrome.

Watch a major league pitcher. He studies his target intensely, looks away then delivers his pitch. Do the same when you’re casting


Resist the urge to throw

You’re not playing baseball, you’re casting a fly line.


Stretch a rope... front of you (with a target) at the end, a Frisbee is perfect.

Practice until your line lands parallel to the rope and the fly hits the target. It’s better to miss a small target by a couple of inches than to hit a hula hoop every time.



There is a pause between the back and forward cast. It is not a continuous motion. The pause should be short, about ¾ of a second. If you over extend the pause the line falls too low behind you, too short a pause produces shock waves and loss of control.


Bending the wrist ...

too much is the most common casting fault


Loop control

By simply running the arm through the basic casting stroke it’s very easy and very effective to practice loop control without the rod.


leisenring lift

Big Jims portrait displayed at the Little Lehigh Fly shops first Leisenring Day.

Big Jim’s nymphing technique is an easy to learn, effective technique every angler should learn

In the late 30’s and early 40’s Big Jim was the US king of wet fly fishing.

He developed a simple and effective technique to  incite a strike.

He would stand at the edge of the current and Tuck cast (stopping the rod higher than normal)  a weighted fly on  a short line up and across dead-drifting  the fly into a prime lie, where he would make it rise.

Try it. Keeping the rod tip up; allow no slack as the fly drifts toward you.

As the fly passes you lower the rod tip and follow the fly to compensate for the current. Keep the fly in the cushion.

When lowered allow the cause the fly to ascend (lift) to the surface like an emerging natural.

Spts Ill-small.jpg

Big Jim was the only fly fisherman to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated


The Leisenring memorial on the banks of the Little Lehigh


Point to remember

The Leisenring Lift, the staple of the nymph fisher's arsenal, is so easy to learn and so effective it seems almost unfair. Using Leisenring's technique, a neophyte fly fisher can be transformed into a fish-catching machine in minutes.

Jason Borger

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