Fly-Fishing in Tight Spaces

Tips to master fly casting in close quarters and boost your catches.

Snook often hang out in small waters with lots of obstacles that hinder fly casting.
Snook are among the many fish that lurk in spots surrounded by overhanging brush and other impediments for normal fly casting. Mary Raulerson

Who among us does not love the feel of casting a long line with a tight loop that turns our fly over gracefully 80 feet out? That requires skill that develops over time, but it also requires wide, open waters. Yet many fish hang out in narrow creeks nestled between high banks, small backcountry ponds with tall tree lines or overhanging brush, residential canals laden with docks and boats tied to them, or in the surf, along a stretch of beach where a high dune or a tall escarpment directly behind you leaves little room for a normal backcast. So learning to cast in close quarters is sure to boost your catches greatly.

Consider the Steeple Cast when you fish a spot with no room for a normal backcast.
When tall trees or other obstacles behind you prohibit a normal backcast, the Steeple Cast is a great option. Mary Raulerson


Learning to make a backcast that clears the obstacle behind you is in order. The Steeple cast, aptly named, produces a nearly vertical line path on the backcast. Traditionally this cast is made with the rod hand in standard position — thumb on top of the foregrip, opposite the caster’s body. However, many fly fishers (including myself) tweak this approach, and turn the rod hand so that the thumb is positioned 180 degrees from that position. In other words, the backcast becomes a forward cast to the rear at a high angle. It is superior to the standard backcast in that you can actually aim the fly and leader into any suitable breaks in the otherwise impeding backdrop. With my thumb in this position, I have more power and control backcasting at such a high trajectory. Then, as the line straightens on the backcast, you rotate your rod hand back 180 degrees to make the forward cast toward the target.

The Steeple Cast can be broken down into 3 parts.
STEEPLE CAST: PART-1 On the backcast stroke, invert reel away from your body, then make a high trajectory cast. Mike Conner
The second part of the motion for the Steeple Cast is to transition back to the normal forward cast.
STEEPLE CAST: PART-2 Next, transition to the normal hand and rod position (with the reel facing down) on the forward cast. Mike Conner
The last part of the Steeple Cast motion is making sure that you don't create a tailing loop.
STEEPLE CAST: PART-3 To ensure you don’t create a tailing loop during the transition, finish with a sharp downward thumb snap as you stop the rod. Mike Conner

Whether you follow my suggested change or stick to the original casting procedure, stopping the rod sharply and tilting the thumb down as you stop on the forward cast is the key to making a good presentation. It causes the trajectory of the line and leader to be parallel with the water rather than straight down toward the surface, often crashing short of the target, and it also prevents a tailing loop, which more easily occurs when transitioning from a high backcast to a conventional forward casting plane.

Thick vegetation often leaves no other fly fishing option than the Roll Cast.
With a tree canopy impeding both forward- and back-casting, the angler used a Roll Cast to hook this baby tarpon. Mary Raulerson


While most fly anglers resort to the roll cast to lift the fly and leader from the surface to recast a sinking line, the roll cast — if performed properly — also has a place in tight quarters, as it eliminates the need for a backcast. You should look at the roll cast as you would a conventional forward cast. By this, I mean that only the backcast is different.

The Roll Cast can be broken down in 4 parts. The first is to get the line moving toward you.
ROLL CAST: PART-1 Slowly lift the rod — in one steady motion — to get the line moving toward you. Mike Conner
Part 2 of the Roll Cast is to stop the rod at the 10 o'clock position to let the fly line keep sliding toward you on the surface.
ROLL CAST: PART-2 Continue drawing the rod back to at least the 10 o’clock position. Then stop the rod and let the line continue to slide toward you on the surface. Mike Conner
Part 3 of the Roll Cast is to make a forward cast motion with the rod hand while hauling with the other to get the line to shoot toward the target.
ROLL CAST: PART-3 The moment the line stops, make a standard forward cast stroke, using a single haul to help get the necessary line speed to deliver the fly. Mike Conner
Practice the entire sequence to master the Roll Cast.
ROLL CAST: PART-4 If performed properly, the Roll Cast lets you shoot the line forward without making a single backcast. Mike Conner

Start your line pickup with the rod tip just off the surface of the water. Slowly lift the rod (do not jerk it back) to get the line moving toward you. Rather than stopping the rod at the noon position, as commonly done, continue drawing the rod back to at least the 10 o’clock position, to get more out of the rod on the forward cast. The line will be sliding back toward you the entire time, but you must stop the rod at this point rather than pushing the rod forward as the line is still sliding on the surface. The water tension during the stop will help load you rod. After the line stops, make a standard forward cast stroke. Practice this, and you will quickly see that the motion for the roll cast is quite similar to that of the standard forward cast.

Stripers also frequent areas with plenty of obstacles for the fly angler.
Wading in the surf or casting from the beach for striped bass requires timely hauling to deliver the fly to the strike zone. John Frazier


Without a doubt, every saltwater fly fisher should master the double-haul. It is essential to achieving the necessary line speed and casting distance, but it also helps you deliver the fly when you can’t make a long backcast due to constricted space. If I have only 15 to 20 feet of clearance behind me, I make a quick conventional backcast and follow it with a sharp single haul on the forward cast to shoot sufficient line to reach my target. This, by the way, is easier to achieve by shortening your leader.

Double hauling is an important fly casting skill to learn.
Knowing how to double haul allows you use a powerful single forward stroke to get the line out and deliver the fly. Mary Raulerson


Since casting in tight quarters normally calls for short tosses of 40 feet or less, with little backcast room, you should tailor your tackle. First, a short rod is a good idea. I fish an 8-footer, and occasionally break out my 7-foot, 6-inch rod. Both are rated for a 9-weight line, but can handle a 10-weight with ease when I’m not carrying a lot of line in the air.

Fly lines with a short head are an advantage when fishing for redfish and other game in close quarters.
Scientific Anglers’ Headstart, a weight-forward fly line with a 28-foot head, helped an angler make a quick, short cast to land this redfish. Alex Suescun

Another tip is to use a fly line with a shorter head (a Saltwater Taper or one of the specialty tapers available for quick, short casts) to load the rod with less line outside the tip. Lastly, consider shortening your leader a bit to turn the fly over on short casts. With less than 40 feet of fly line outside the rod tip, an 8-foot leader is considerably easier to turn over than a 10- or 12-footer.


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