The no fly zone of fly fishing, shown in orange

No Fly Zone and Fly Casting Safety

Of all that we anglers do to prepare for our days on the water—tying the latest fly, perfecting the double-haul, studying charts, etc.—the most overlooked and single most important skill is casting outside of what I call the “No Fly Zone.”

Simply stated, the No Fly Zone is the area between the person casting and all others, including fishing partners, guides, and bystanders who are within the casting window. I have spent too many days dodging and ducking flies from careless casters that will say, “Don’t worry, I won’t hit you.” They have and they will. If you are getting water spray in your face from your buddy’s passing streamer, something is wrong. If you hear a popper buzzing by your ear, there is a problem. And, if you find your partner’s fly buried in your shirt (or worse), it is time to have a talk. 

The No Fly Zone illustrated above, shown in orange, should be kept free of moving lines, leaders and flies

I am a stickler for sure. Having tested several friendships with my on-water lectures on the subject, I can tell you that this is one instance where subtlety doesn’t work. Whether fishing from a flats boat, canoe, or wading near someone, establishing the No Fly Zone will set the ground rules for a worry-free day on the water.

By developing your No Fly Zone skills, you will open up more opportunities. You can now fish a shoreline in either direction or at either end of the boat. Wind direction will be less of a concern and the danger of hooking yourself diminishes. When sight-fishing, guides often won’t tell the angler about a spotted fish until the boat is in a position where the guide knows he won’t get whacked with the fly. If you can demonstrate your skills ahead of time, you will simply get more shots. 

Fly fishing backhand cast sequence
The backhand delivery not only keeps everyone safe, but it can also add stealth to your presentation.

In every lesson that I give, the student leaves with an understanding that safety is paramount and that no fish is worth injuring yourself or others. Below are four basic casting techniques that will help novice and advanced casters avoid the No Fly Zone.

Four Casting Techniques to Avoid the No Fly Zone

The Backhand Delivery

This is perhaps the easiest to adapt, because you already have the skills and is especially easy if you favor more of a side-armed style of casting. To start, stand with casting hand and both feet in line with the target. Turn your head to follow the back cast (which is really your forward cast). As the line unrolls, turn your head toward the target and simply deliver a solid backcast, stopping sharply to present the fly. Take care not to overpower the delivery stroke or drop the rod too far back.

Fly fishing illustration demonstrating backhand casting

A variation of this technique is called the Galway cast. To execute the Galway, rotate your hand at the end of the first stroke, toward the target, resulting in what looks to be two forward strokes. This method is particularly helpful when pinpoint accuracy is a must.

The Galway is essentially two forward strokes that, with practice, can be deadly accurate.

The Cross-body Cast

This approach seems to be the most natural for many anglers. To execute the Cross-body, stand square to the target. Make your pick-up with the casting hand coming up toward the non-casting shoulder. Be sure to draw the rod hand back in a straight path, as there will be a tendency to make more of an arched path resulting in a wider loop. This approach often helps those who tend to take the rod too far back, because the body (chin or shoulder) provides a solid stop for the back cast. The challenge with the cross-body cast will be forming tight casting loops and accuracy.

The Cross-body cast is perhaps the most natural approach for most casters.

The Off-Shoulder Tilt

The method that I use most often, in most situations, is the off-shoulder tilt. This technique is especially easy to perfect if you favor more of an upright casting style. This cast is precisely like a standard overhead cast, except that you will tilt your wrist inward, allowing the rod to glide over the top of your head and pass the line and fly over the off-shoulder. This approach is especially helpful with accuracy, as the rod hand travels back and forth in your line of vision. (Illustration 6)

The off-shoulder-tilt, the author’s favored method, keeps the casting hand in line with the line of vision.

Casting With Your Off Hand

This one will require the most dedicated practice but will give the greatest flexibility. To learn to cast with your non-dominant hand, practice by making two false casts as you normally would and then, as the line unrolls if front of you, switch hands while the line is still in the air. Make two false casts with your off hand and switch back. Try fishing a local pond one evening with just your non-dominant hand. With practice, you will find that the casts from both hands improve.

No Fly Zone Practical Practice

Position yourself next to a wall or high fence. Better yet, find an overhang such as a carport.  Practice the above casts and it will be obvious when you are doing it properly. Maybe practice with an old rod initially, until you are confident that you won’t scuff the finish of your rod.

Practicing in difficult situations will help you gain the confidence to put solid No Fly Zone techniques into your casting arsenal.

Learning to observe the No Fly Zone is essential to becoming an accomplished caster and fly fisher. More important, it helps you to become more focused and conscious of your casting movements—an awareness that will help you gain accuracy and control. If a situation occurs when you must make a cast inside the No Fly Zone, you should announce your intentions and make sure the fly stays well overhead. Greater attention to safety and mastery of flexible casting skills are stepping stones to becoming a top-level caster and a welcomed guest on any boat.

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