Fly Casting — Shoot Line on the Pickup

by | Nov 16, 2020 | 6 comments

** NOTE ** This is a companion to the article titled, “Fly Casting: Shoot Line on the Backcast.” These are related concepts, but separate skills.

I like to finish my forward cast with a solid stop. The rod flexes and a tight loop surges to the target. With enough momentum, the line turns over and the extra juice is carried to the end of the tippet. If I’m fishing a dry fly, then the hand-tied Harvey leader recoils and lands in s-curves all the way through the monofilament, providing slack to the dry. If I’m fishing a nymph, then the weight of the fly or split shot reaches the end of the leader, tugs on the rod tip and accelerates toward the water with extra momentum. That’s a tuck cast, and it’s the key to having control over three things: where the fly lands, where the tippet lands, and how much slack is provided to the nymph for a free fall.

All of this is critical. And all of it is best performed without shooting line on the forward cast.

Line Hand

If we are fishing short drifts on a fixed length of line, then there’s no need for line hand recovery. No stripping is necessary. But in many situations, using the line hand to recover slack is beneficial. Sometimes it’s required.

Of course, when we strip the line in, we need to get it back out through the guides somehow. And this should be done as efficiently as possible.

I find that anglers don’t give much thought to how and when they shoot line. Most seem to feed it out with a few false casts, releasing some line along the way. Anglers seem most comfortable shooting line on the forward cast, but I argue that we have more precision with the fly and tippet — and more options for how they land — by finishing with a solid forward stroke, with no shooting of line.

Here’s Why

We build power into the forward cast with good crisp stops and speed between two points. But shooting line on the forward cast absorbs much of that power. Sometimes, that’s just fine. Sometimes it’s the best tactic. But many times, it hurts the cast. It’s harder to get the best s-curves in dry fly casts this way. And it makes tight line presentations remarkably weaker.

If you buy my argument, then you should consider shooting line on the pickup. And even if you don’t care about losing momentum to the fly by shooting line on the forward cast, you will still benefit by shooting some line on the pickup.

Photo by Austin Dando

Release It | Here’s How It Goes

Let’s say I’ve recovered five feet of line. After my cast, the river pushed slack into my system through the drift. I maintained and kept slack to a minimum by lifting the rod tip and moving the tip downstream. But I also recovered five feet of line with my line hand. And now, I need to feed it back out for the next cast.

I can shoot all of this on the pickup.

READ: Troutbitten | Two Ways to Recover Slack

On a Tight Line or Mono Rig . . .

With a contact nymphing rig, I do a crisp hook set motion at the end of every drift. This goes immediately into my back cast. Shooting line on the pickup happens with that first, fast motion. I simply lift the trigger finger on my rod hand and let the five feet of line shoot past my finger and through the guides. The slack that was in my line hand is now tight to the leader within five feet of the rod motion. It’s that simple. This usually happens before the rod reaches vertical. So not only do I have a tight forward cast, but I have a tight back cast as well. That equals more speed and more power in the cast. There ya go.

On a Dry Fly Rig . . .

While using fly line, I may perform the same sequence as above. But I may also let the line shoot out as I swish the rod tip with a pre-cast pickup. Again, just five feet of rod motion is enough to release the five feet of slack from my hand and connect it to the rest of the fly line. Now everything is in motion, and I have no line to shoot on the backcast or the forward cast. The line is already out. More presentations are available.

The Slap

The motions described here should be sharp and swift. Building speed into your cast makes the rod work for you. You paid for the rod, so use it. Work the rod and not your arm.

Swift motions easily build enough momentum to pull the slack from your line hand, and if often happens so fast that you can hear the line slap against the rod blank. It’s one way to know you’re doing it right.

READ: Troubitten | Put More Juice in the Cast

Photo by Austin Dando

What About More Line?

Of course, sometimes I’ve recovered more than five feet. And in this case, shooting line on the pickup is still a large part of how I get the line back out. Let’s say I’ve stripped in twelve feet of line during the drift. I may release eight feet of line on the pickup and then shoot another four feet on the backcast or the forward cast.

But by releasing eight of twelve on the pickup, the cast is more efficient.

The Pickup is Different than the Backcast

READ: Troutbitten | Fly Casting: Shoot Line on the Backcast

This is important: Understand that what I call the pickup is a different part of the stroke than the backcast. Essentially, the pickup is the very beginning of the backcast.

Traditionally, shooting the line happens at the crisp stops on our backcast and forward cast. So go ahead and shoot line at those places too. It’s fine.

But by learning to shoot line on the pickup, the options for delivering our flies with precision and with subtle variation are wide open.

Fish hard, friends.

READ: Troutbitten | Category | Fly Casting


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. Is there a video demonstrating this technique? Many thanks.

  2. HI Dom! Another great article. Thank you. I’ve never thought about this while tight line nymphing and can’t wait to try it. I was all on board until the last section. The part about shooting line at the beginning of the back cast has me confused. If I hook set at the end of my drift, then let out line while my rod continues to move back, am I not reducing the acceleration of the end of the line? Thus have a weaker back cast? Shooting at the stop makes sense to me.

  3. I think what you’re advocating is introducing slack into the pickup, not shooting. Am I right? If you let too much out, you might not pick your line up off the water sufficiently to make a good backcast.

    • Cool question. So I call it shooting line, but you could call it releasing line on the pickup. I would not call it feeding slack, though.

      Strip in, day three feet during the drift. And starting with the rod fairly low, pick up, with speed, add release that three feet of line. Now continue into your backcast as normal. And you are correct, that if you have too much line to shoot, or you don’t have the rod fairly low to start, you may run out of room in the backcast.

      Good stuff.

  4. Liked the streamer video when cab we see more


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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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