Dry Fly Fishing — The Forehand and Backhand Curve

by | Aug 2, 2020 | 5 comments

Try making a perfectly straight cast. It’s nearly impossible. To do it, the rod tip and rod hand must be in flawless, vertical alignment. So too, the loop coming forward must be perpendicular to the water, or the line will angle to one side or the other. Straight-line casts, with no angle or curve one way or another are difficult. But luckily, they’re also unnecessary. Because learning to use the natural curve present in every cast produces better drag free drifts than any straight line ever could.

On one of my last guided trips of the spring/summer season, my friend Mike and I unexpectedly ran into a strong Trico event. The plan for the morning was to focus on tight line tactics with small nymphs, but we quickly switched over to a dry leader when the spinners fell and unlimited trout noses popped in the flat water upstream.

With the #24 dry, Mike picked off the first two risers near the right bank and missed a third. I assured him that Trico fishing was rarely this easy, and the trout quickly reinforced my point. As we waded upstream near the middle of the river, our next target was just a few feet from the left bank — the opposite side. The rise was casual and confident. The ring was wide and deep. And we both said it at the same time:

“That’s a good fish.”

Mike turned to his left and immediately struggled to get the same long, drag-free drifts he’d been landing on the right side. I watched for a few casts and waited for him to make the necessary change. The solution was simple, and I’m sure he’d have figured it out soon enough, but a Trico spinner fall is a short window of opportunity.

“You gotta throw that on your backhand, Mike,” I told him while I waded into position behind his right shoulder.

“Really?” Mike asked. “I think I can make this work.”

He tried. Over the next half dozen casts, Mike threw pile casts, reach mends and stack mends. But drag pulled the fly downstream in the first few seconds of every drift.”

“See the curve when it lands?” I asked.

“Not really,” Mike replied honestly.

I moved off to his side and gestured, using my arm for a rod and my opposite hand to draw a bend in the air.

“There’s a natural curve in every cast,” I told him. “The curve basically pushes away from your line hand. So when you were facing the right bank, your forehand cast pushed the curve upstream of the dry fly. And that’s perfect.”

Mike looked over to the right side again and thought about it.

“But now, facing the left bank” I told him, “your forehand cast is pushing the curve downstream of the dry.”

Mike watched my gestures again and then stared at the left bank. The large trout rose again. Still in range, it had resumed feeding.

“So I need to make a backhand cast to that bank,” Mike said as he thought it through.

“Yup,” I nodded. “Because it will . . .”

“. . . It’ll push the curve upstream of the dry,” Mike finished my sentence.

“There ya go.” I said.

I backed away and gave Mike room to figure it out and see the results for himself. It didn’t take long.

“Notice the curve now?” I hollered up to him.

“Sure do!” Mike said. And he set the hook into the largest of the five trout we caught on Tricos that morning.

READ: Troutbitten | Category | Dry Fly Fishing


Curves for Days

Unless you somehow keep everything in perfect parallel and perpendicular alignment, there’s a natural angle or curve to every cast.

Understand that we’re talking about dry fly casting here. And most good dry fly leaders are built to allow for slack to the fly — especially the tippet. A well adjusted dry fly leader can turn the fly over, but it can also be cast so the dry lags behind a bit, permitting slack up to the dry fly. That lag is exactly what builds the curve. It’s an under-powered cast.

Another way to build a curve cast is to overpower the cast, forcing the fly to kick around in the opposite direction. But that is not what I’m referring to here. Because such casts fail to build as much slack into a leader as the under-powered curve.

When casting dries, we’re looking for a dead drift. So we must feed slack to the dry, and that slack is most effective when it’s built into the cast. If there’s any current, then it’s most helpful to keep the curve (some slack) upstream of the dry. During the drift, cross currents push against the curve and flatten it before inverting the curve and dragging the fly downstream (if we don’t mend). But, by starting with the curve upstream, we lengthen the dead drift significantly.

Let’s look at it . . .

Right bank forehand

Right bank backhand

Left bank forehand

Left bank backhand

The illustrations above, from Troutbitten illustrator, Dick Jones, show a right handed caster. Also, the approach is across stream, which is how many anglers prefer to fish dries.

But I like fishing dries upstream too. And I use the same principle to put my leader off to the side of the trout as I land the fly in line with its nose. This leader positioning is easily changed by casting backhand or forehand — one or the other. I can land the leader to the right or the left by changing the arm angle.

Get Over It

I’ve seen some anglers resist casting backhand, just because it’s uncomfortable at first. Who cares? Learn something new. Open up the angles of delivery and a whole new world of options follows.

Essentially, by avoiding the backhand, you remove half of your delivery options. Get over the discomfort and learn the backhand well enough so there’s no difference in accuracy. To me, this is one of those things that can’t be done any other way.

The Real World

Not many situations set up exactly like the blue illustrations above. There are cross currents and overhanging limbs. There might be wind in your face and bad highlights on the water from upstream sunlight. On the river, we’re challenged to cast from every angle imaginable — or we skip some of the best spots out there.

By understanding the natural curve that happens in every cast, we can work that curve into our approach angles.

Photo by Austin Dando

We may lean into the backcast to power a curve through the wind and drop the rod with a crash cast, allowing the line to unfold in an arc on the water. Now look to the opposite bank, For the same results, the cast should flip to the other side to push into the same headwind. Otherwise, the bend is exaggerated by the wind, and a drag free drift is unattainable.

READ: Troutbitten | The Crash Cast

In truth, I do a lot of my casting with hybrid angles. It’s really not about body position as much as it’s the relation between rod hand and rod tip. That’s what creates the curve. Think about it. Then go practice and see the advantage gained by using the natural curve in your cast.

Fish hard, friends.


Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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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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  1. hey Dominick. By ‘backhand’ do you mean casting over your left shoulder for a right handed caster? Like in tennis? Thanks.

      • Light bulb, now I get it. I was really confused thinking you were talking about turning your back to the target and delivering the fly on the back cast (some call this a backhand cast). So for you’re talking about the other reason for the cross body backhand cast is for keeping the casting path clear of the drift boat if fishing from the upriver end of the boat, for instance when a second person is fishing from the bow. Not sure what you can do about the loop if you’re stuck doing that to the left bank.

  2. Thanks for the tips Dom! When I retire I’m going to work on being able to cast with my opposite arm. 🙂 . I’ve experimented with doing simple tightline flip casts using my opposite arm with some success. Always working to improve my game.

  3. I thought the curve in my cast was a flaw but actually natural. Thanks for that insight.
    Really missed my fly show time but made up for it in video and tying and even some interesting warm water fishing. Carp, drum, smallmouth, gar, first 2 pike, and first sauger.
    Dry flies and rocky mountains on my mind.


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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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