Fly Fishing Strategies — The Tuck Cast

by | Apr 16, 2019 | 14 comments

The tuck cast is a fly fishing essential. It’s a fundamental component of good nymph fishing, and it’s useful on streamers and wets. Even dry flies get some necessary slack by completing the same motion of a tuck cast on a dry leader. It’s a vital fly fishing tool, not a specialized cast for rare moments. The tuck cast is an elemental part of the fly angler’s casting approach.

Speed

The tuck cast shines brightest given a tight line nymphing method. So let’s start there before branching out.

A good tuck cast forces the nymph into the water before the attached leader follows. Understand that first. This simple concept is the tuck cast. And from this idea, endless variations abound.

The nymph may enter at high speed, with enough momentum to dive through the water column and quickly reach the bottom. Or the nymph may enter gently, with less inertia to push it through the water. Hard, soft and the full range in between — an experienced nymph angler adjusts the speed of the fly’s entry, driving the nymph in hard to reach the river bottom faster, or softening the tuck for a shallower, slower sinking effect.

The tuck cast is a dynamic solution.

A soft tuck cast results in the tippet following in an arc. The nymphs touches first, and the leader enters more horizontally behind the nymph.

A shallow tuck cast. The nymph arcs in.

By contrast, a strong tuck cast results in the attached tippet following at a vertical angle. And at its most extreme, the nymph may actually tuck under the leader, creating a curve of tippet and allowing even more slack.

A deep tuck cast drives the nymph in harder, providing some slack behind it.

Why is the tuck cast important?

At its core, fly fishing is about the management of slack. And the tuck cast allows for precise control over how much of it is given to the nymph (if any), and what happens next.

Consider this. If the leader hits the surface of the river before the fly, most or all of the slack in the cast is pulled downstream before the nymph hits the water. So as the nymph touches the surface, it is already being taken downstream. Instead of shooting to the bottom of the river, its primary course is downstream. Essentially, the leader-touching-first approach is the opposite of a tuck cast. Sometimes this can all be used to great effect. But in most nymphing situations, some amount of a tuck cast is the better choice.

This illustration, by Dick Jones, shows what happens when the leader hits the water before the nymph.

Not a tuck cast

Remember, the panels above show the opposite of a tuck cast. By delivering the leader and flies this way, the angler has very little control over the nymph’s angle or speed of entry.

On the other hand, a good tuck cast permits the angler precise control over entry angle, entry speed and the amount of slack given to a nymph as it enters the water.

How to make a tuck cast

This is where line speed and crisp stops become critically important. Work the rod. Force it to flex by accelerating and stopping abruptly at two points, one on the backcast and one on the forward cast.

READ: Troutbitten | Fifty Tips #28 — Ten and Two

READ: Troutbitten | Quick Tips — Put More Juice in the Cast

The tuck happens when the line unrolls on the forward cast. As the angler stops the rod tip, the nymph trails the leader until the loop unfolds. The nymph reaches the end of the line as it straightens, and when the nymph can’t go forward anymore, momentum takes it down — into the water.

The angler controls the tuck cast by adjusting the speed of the cast and subtlety changing the point where the rod tip stops.

All fly casting is made easier and more effective by building up line speed. And the hard stops at ten and two make the process less physically taxing than using long, pushy arm motions. A short, compact stroke is all that is necessary in most real world (on the stream) situations, and that’s especially true of the tuck cast.

Here is a deep tuck cast, performed by stopping the rod tip hard and high on the forward cast. Notice how the nymph kicks under and enters with some slack in the tippet behind it. The nymph is forced into the water, and the slack allows for a very quick descent.

Nice tuck cast . . .

Entry Angle

While changing the vertical angle of the nymph’s entry with a tuck cast might be obvious, the best anglers use a tuck to adapt the presentation of nymphs in other ways too.

By changing the arm angle, you also change the rod angle, the leader angle and the entry angle of the nymphs (and the line that follows). You can easily change the tuck cast to get under trees from the side or to punch a nymph in, beyond the edge of a log. And at an advanced level, you might factor in the direction of the currents around a midstream boulder, pushing a tuck cast into the water, just slightly off axis to accommodate for a swift seam that wants to throw your nymphs away from your desired target.

The possibilities with a tuck cast are limitless. And I use some variation of a tuck on about ninety-five percent of my nymphing casts.

Beyond Tight Lining?

When I attach an indy to the leader, not much changes about the cast. I still tuck the flies in first, the tippet follows, and then the indy lands.

Controlling the tuck cast angles is one of the reason I use a Dorsey Yarn Indicator as my primary indy. It’s a nimble indicator. And with the finesse of the Dorsey, I can essentially cast through it and tuck my nymphs in as I like.

Similar results can be achieved with hard indys like a Thingamabobber, and I use TBs in many situations. But the weight of anything other than a very light indy system (like the Dorsey) changes the range of effective tuck cast usage — you can’t control the angles as much.

READ: Troutbitten | Six Ways to Get Your Fly Deeper

Streamers and Wets?

When I want to punch a streamer through the surface and reach the bottom quickly, a powerful tuck cast is just as important as the weight in the fly or on the leader. Likewise I use the tuck to achieve various angles on streamers and wet flies.

When the flies hit the water first, I have more control over the slack, the leader angle and the overall presentation. That doesn’t change with the fly type.

What about those dries?

Obviously, we aren’t trying to tuck our dry flies down into the water column. But as I mentioned earlier, the same rod motions that perform a good tuck cast also throw slack into a dry fly cast.

Namely, the acceleration and the abrupt stop force the leader to unfold and extend. And in this case, the dry fly reaches the end of the line and the leader recoils a bit. By adding the movement of a dropping rod tip, the leader falls in s-curves, providing slack to the dry. All of this works best on a George Harvey dry fly leader. And that leads me to these guys . . .

Hump and Harvey

Any discussion about the tuck cast must include the forefathers. George Harvey and Joe Humphreys popularized the tuck cast and changed the game. Harvey introduced the concept of a dry fly leader and an accompanying casting style designed to provide slack in s-curves. Humphreys and Harvey both took the same casting motion and built a nymphing system based on the tuck cast.

What a time to be alive.

Fish hard, friends.

 

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

 

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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14 Comments

  1. Great article, Dom. In my view, the tuck cast is an essential part of successful nymphing.

    Alex

    Reply
  2. Thanks for this great article. Everytime I’m on the river and see other anglers, I always watch to see if they use this cast. It’s especially critical when fishing for great lakes steelhead, as there are fewer fish in the river and every cast counts.

    In an era of high line speed and overkill drags, I’m thankful for this wonderful website which focuses on the real essentials for putting fish in the net. You’re a wonderful writer and I always look forward to reading your posts.

    Reply
    • Thank you, David.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
  3. Whenever I hear the word tuck cast I think back 2 years ago when I started monoriggin. All my cast were the tuck cast. I had a natural tendency to stop the forward cast high and short. Thought I was doing something wrong because the line wasn’t laying out straight before hitting the water. Then I saw on YouTube Joe Humphreys, Lance and Devin describing the tuck cast. Boy did that make me feel good!

    Reply
    • Nice

      Reply
  4. Dominic, This is new info for me, very well presented. I’ve used a high, hard stop for years to recoil a little slack and gentle presentation on dries. Is this the same with nymphs? Is the nymph recoiling back before it drops into the water?

    Reply
    • Good question. I wouldn’t say the nymph recoils. A dry does that, yes. The weight of the nymph or the shot reaches the end of the line. It can’t go any further forward, so it shoots down. You can control the force of the tuck with how you stop the rod tip. And yes, it’s nearly the same motion as casting a dry fly leader well.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
  5. Thanks for the article. New to EN and will add that to my list of techniques to learn. Have a full day solo wade trip scheduled with Lance in Utah next month and that’s on my list. btw how far are you from Chambersburg? My sister lives there and her birthday is coming up……..

    Reply
    • Google says I’m two hours and ten minutes, Jim.

      Reply
  6. Hey Dom, you’ve mentioned the Thingamabobber quite a bit in your posts and I was just curious what it is about the Thingamabobber that you prefer it over all the countless other indicators/suspension devices? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Hi Randy,

      I really do not prefer the Thingamabobber as over all the others. It is my second choice behind a Dorsey Yarn Indy.

      https://troutbitten.com/2017/03/30/dorsey-yarn-indicator-everything-need-know-little/

      The Dorsey is nearly perfect. But . . . sometimes I actually need the weight of the TB to help the cast. And sometimes, I want to go tight line to the indy all the way below my position. For that, the Thingamabobber is my choice.

      This article will explain a little more about what I’m looking for in an indy.

      https://troutbitten.com/2018/10/17/nymphing-how-to-read-a-fly-fishing-indicator-what-you-might-be-missing/

      So when I don’t choose the Dorsey, I’ve settled on the TB, over all the other things out there (and I’ve tried just about everything) because it has the most buoyancy for it’s weight. It’s really that simple. Nothing else holds that much air and weighs so little. Balloons do, but I hate the way they cast. Air Lock indicators are MUCH heavier than a TB, and I don’t care for the way they attach either.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
  7. Hi Dom and thanks for your well written column.

    A little off topic, but when I have used a Yarn indicator (dorsey like), it seems to work well but quickly soaks up a lot of water and becomes too heavy. Any tips on avoiding this? I have tried various floatants but have still noticed the problem.

    Thanks again,

    Reply
    • Hi Dave,

      I’ve had a few others get in touch about this. I believe you are probably not casting the rig as much as lobbing it. If you do not CAST the yarn, it will have a chance dry. Good fishing happens when we cast rather than lob, in my opinion — even on a tight line rig. And this is one of many, many reasons why. When you cast, the yarn will eject whatever gathered water from between the fibers. It doesn’t take much at all. If you got the right yarn, then it holds no water. The fibers themselves cannot be waterlogged. But the water collected in between the fibers simply needs to be released on a back cast. If you would rather lob a tight line rig, as many do, then the yarn indy may not be for you.

      More here:

      https://troutbitten.com/2019/07/07/fly-fishing-the-mono-rig-its-casting-not-lobbing/

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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