Here’s my argument. The water haul has its place. It’s the perfect once-in-a while casting solution for tricky situations, and it’s a problem solver. But for day-to-day life on the water, it’s a lousy approach to fly fishing.
Real quick . . .
The water haul or water load cast uses the surface tension of a line or leader on the water to load the rod tip. Instead of casting the line in the air on the backcast, the line lays on the river’s surface, 180 degrees from the direction of the impending forward cast. The resulting surface tension loads the fly rod and the angler completes the stroke, sending a fly to its target.
Here’s Pete Kutzer, from Orvis, with an excellent overview of the water haul cast. Looks useful but limiting, right? More below the video . . .
Slinging for Predators
I spent a full day on a boat with an old fishing buddy, chasing musky. He was to play guide and show me the ropes. I was ready for sinking lines and big flies, for nine weight rods and saltwater-sized reels. And I got all of that. But what unexpectedly came along for the ride was the water haul.
My friend’s favorite musky fly was a lure with some built-in weight and a big treble hook. And try as I might, I simply couldn’t cast it with a sinking line. I blamed myself for a while, until my friend showed me his trick. Water haul it. Every time. Set it up on the water behind me, and then sling it forward.
It worked, and I was accurate enough. But . . . okay, I hated it.
And So It’s Come To This
As I guide, I often have good anglers who want to take the next step. Many of them know their tactics inside and out. They have a system, a style and a plan.
So I was looking forward to meeting Joe, because he’d talked a lot about his style. He euro nymphed light flies on skinny leaders at long distances. And I was curious, because in my experience, those three elements don’t actually play nicely together. You can have two of them, but not all three (remember that). Unless . . . that’s right. When Joe started casting, I immediately understood how he made the method work. He used a water haul cast all the time.
Joe had a good day. He was accurate enough, was excellent at reading water and caught plenty of fish. When I talked through alternate rigging and casting options, he was open-minded. And when we switched leaders and casting styles, he caught trout that way too.
The next morning, I decided to fish Joe’s method myself, all day long. I fished extra-light flies on my own micro-leader formula, and I stayed way back from the trout. Although it wasn’t necessary, I cast thirty feet and beyond. Of course, the only way to make all three elements work together was the water haul.
And I hated it.
That day with Joe happened a few years ago. And surprisingly, the water haul as the prescription for a standard cast has become quite popular among long liners. And many do it — that’s right — all day long. Because, as rigs have trended lighter and longer, the water haul is the only casting option that remains. It works well enough, but like so many other specialized techniques, it is limiting.
So, there are undeniable consequences to using the water haul, just as there are advantages.
Sometimes, it’s the only solution, and in the stories above, the water haul made casting and fishing those rigs possible.
Other times, a water haul is the natural approach. If I’m fishing casts that drift or swing and finish downstream of my position, it’s a simple movement to allow line tension to load the rod tip and then fire the cast forward. That’s what Pete is doing in the video above. And it makes sense there.
Last week, I used a water haul frequently. On a small stream, low-water trip for brookies, overhead casting room was at a premium. And around the tightest mountain laurel, sometimes the water haul was my best option.
But for me, I won’t do it all day, and I’ll find ways to get away from the water haul cast as soon as possible. Here’s why . . .
Here are the major troubles with a water haul approach . . .
What Are You Looking At?
On my best days, I’m hyper-focused on the water ahead. I’m looking for any clue, noticing every nuance of current and scanning the water for subtle rises. I’m looking underneath for structure, reading currents and building a mental map of the unseen.
Doing that well requires intense, continued concentration. And when I’m water hauling, that concentration is broken, over and over. What am I missing as I look downstream toward my line? A rising trout or the turn of a fish underneath? Yes, sometimes. But I’m also missing the chance to remain focused on one thing, in one direction.
Put your fly in the water. Great anglers keep the fly wet, maximizing drift time and eliminating false casts. But the water haul cast takes time to set up. Placing the line downstream and allowing it to stretch out enough to load the rod is a process. And that process amounts to wasted time. It’s that simple.
Under ideal circumstances, it may take only a few seconds more on each water haul, but those seconds add up. And the bigger trouble is, most circumstances are not ideal . . .
To make a water haul thirty feet upstream, we need equal distance downstream, where we’ll set up the haul. Now we need sixty feet of uninterrupted space. What if there’s a wet log or rock in the way? A variety of in-stream or bankside obstructions are out there, just waiting to limit the water haul. In the air, we have options for the backcast — shoot it higher or lower, a little right or left. But on the water there’s really only one place for the water haul to lay down . . .
Understand that the water load happens in a straight line, with limited room for variation. We set up the fly 180 degrees, downstream of the intended target. But what if our target is midstream and we’re standing next to the bank? Where do we place the line for the water haul? We can’t water haul on the bank.
Traditional, in-the-air fly casting allows for a change of direction. With our back close to the river bank again, we can backcast over the water, parallel with the river’s edge and finish the cast with a ninety-degree turn, easily casting the line and leader to the middle of the river. That kind of freedom — those options — are available in the air, but are severely limited when the backcast starts on the water, with a water haul.
In a river, the water haul is really only a viable cast when fishing upstream. Since the line needs to stretch out and load the rod, we need the current working for us and not against us. It’s just another way that the water haul limits our options.
Not Much Fun
I’ve saved this one for last, because it’s subjective. To me, the water haul is a drag. Considering all the reasons mentioned above, it’s just not an enjoyable approach to casting. That’s right, I hate it — mostly.
I think casting is part of what makes fly fishing fun, and I don’t want to lose that.
Troutbitten is well known for the Mono Rig. And I use this hybrid system because it’s deadly effective and supremely versatile. I euro nymph with the Mono Rig, and I fish it with indicators. I fish dry flies, dry dropper and streamers of all sizes. And with all of those styles, the leader I choose most often is built for casting. Yes, it’s a leader that casts like a fly line if you treat it that way.
I also use micro leaders at times. But I don’t like trying to combine skinny leaders with light flies at long distance. Again, merging those three elements leaves me with just one good option for casting — the water haul. Then, I’m looking for the right water where I can make it work; I’m altering my positioning, adjusting to a limited range of options and directions. And I’m constantly removing my focus from the target at hand.
I don’t like using a rig that forces me into a water haul for casting. I didn’t like it on that musky trip, and I don’t like it in the long liner’s setup.
I’m happy to use the water haul as the occasional problem solver, but for day-to-day casting, no thanks.
Fish hard, friends.
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Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N
I agree. My biggest problem with it is the time issue (too much down time)as well and the fact that I have to “line up” for the correct angle going forward to a specific side of the river. The only advantage for me is that occasionally I’ll hook a fish just as I started my forward cast- and even that is not worth waiting for.
Ha. There ya go. Count it!
I use it on little blue lines a fair bit. I file it mentally with the bow-and-arrow cast — good to know and occasionally deploy.
Well said. Same here.
This is one of the many reasons I resist switching to fly fishing.
With my braid loaded JDM spinning rod I can keep my hand tied jig streamers in the water longer, deeper and with less effort. I can twitch (euro version of jigging), drift or jig my jig streamers thru runs, riffles, cover or even deep pools. All with the same rig.
Was considering micro spey or skagit but to have to spend hours just learning how to cast a heavy streamer is a huge deterrent.
Then there is the line rigging, backing, running line, shooting head, leader etc, etc etc. And not to mention the costs!
Good thoughts. I’m glad you know what works for you. I’m partially in agreement and partially disagreement.
“With my braid loaded JDM spinning rod I can keep my hand tied jig streamers in the water longer, deeper and with less effort. I can twitch (euro version of jigging), drift or jig my jig streamers thru runs, riffles, cover or even deep pools. All with the same rig.”
Okay. And I’ve done exactly this — a lot. I did it just this last weekend from a boat with my son. I used a lot of Bunny Flash jigs and Craft Fur jigs. And here’s the advantage of the fly rod setup, as I see it:
— You can fish lighter weights with a fly rod setup IF you have a leader that will also push things around (not a micro leader).
— You don’t have to retrieve all the way, all the time. Just keep banging and stripping, short drifts, over and over. You can get in twice as much action.
— You can change over to whatever presentation works next, at any moment. I do this all day — streamers for a while, nymphs for a while, dry flies for a while.
However, if you are only fishing jigs and heavy-ish streamers, I’m with you — a spinning rod is a great option. At that point you can also fish a variety of lures that the fly rod could never handle too. And that’s a plus for the spinning setup.
For now I’m fishing mostly jig streamers (bunny jigs and articulated jigs) and plan to size down as winter and colder temps set in. I have been able to fish size 14 nymphs on a dropper above my jig streamers. But I have to keep the casts short but I am fishing larger creeks and medium rivers.
I will eventually take up the fly rod for those lighter jig and smaller jig streamers. Hope to keep my system simple. Your advice and shared experience ranks high on my list.
With a Yamaga Blanks Blue Current TZ71 Nano rod (7.5ft) I am able to cast a 25 grain euro jig streamer 75ft with a 6lb braid mainline (line diameter is. 003). I am pretty much tightlining the euro streamer as they say. With the shorter rod length (7.1ft) and braided mainline comes extreme rod tip sensitivity that has to be felt to be believed. Longer rods diminish sensitivity and the thin braid is less affected by stream currents than thicker lines. I can also cast in windy conditions and in areas with no room for backcasting. I do plan to drift fish beaded euro nymphs with 3.2mm tungsten beads and lead wrap that I tie on my own probably on a tandem rig.
I read and watch most of your articles and videos which have been very beneficial to my method of stream fishing.
My apologies for misspelling your name. Again, great website with a wealth of useful info.
I get everything that you are saying, but let’s be honest. It’s the rig, …” But I don’t like trying to combine skinny leaders with light flies at long distance. “… more than the cast, that you hate. Am I right?
No. It’s the cast that I hate. Just like I said. I think that’s pretty clear.
Skinny leaders are fun to fish, if there’s a bit of weight at the end and/or we’re not casting too far.
Here’s something I think that people don’t get: All casting requires weight. It’s either in the fly line, the leader, the fly or added weight like split shot. And trying to cast without enough weight is not fun. Enter — the water haul. It’s a decent solution, but . . . I hate doing it all day.