The False Casting Fallacy

Whether out of habit carried over from a fly fishing background, or from some ill-gotten advice, I tend to see a lot more false casting being used by tenkara anglers than I would expect. False casting is necessary in conventional fly fishing because you need to shoot line. So, you use false casts to build momentum and launch out lengths of line until you have the distance you need, then drop the line on the water. But since tenkara is a fixed-line method, false casting really isn’t necessary. In fact, not only is it not necessary, but I’d go so far as to say that false casting actually nullifies one of the major advantages of tenkara.

One of the things that immediately appealed to me about tenkara was that it eliminated a lot of the “drama” of a conventional fly cast. I didn’t have to make a bunch of false casts to get enough line off the tip to load the rod, then strip line of the reel, make more false casts to get some distance, then repeat, etc. I could literally make a cast, pick it up, and immediately make the next cast. My fly spent more time in the water than in the air, and (as we all know) trout don’t swim in the air.

This was a huge advantage for me. My fishing instantly became more efficient and I liked being able to concentrate on my presentation rather than shooting line, trying not to step on it, and keeping it from getting tangled up in the reeds. Not only that, but I could also make more presentations in the same amount of time that it would take me with a rod and reel.

Now, before people think I’m “putting down” fly fishing with a rod and reel, I’m not. In fact, I still fish with a reel where it’s appropriate. But for my local trout streams, tenkara is just a better method, so that’s what I use. Why would I add distraction if I don’t need to?

I think many other tenkara anglers like the efficiency of tenkara too. Which begs the question, why would you throw it out the window by using unnecessary false casts?

Notice I used the word “unecessary” above. What I’m really referring to is false casting on every cast. That, to me is unecessary. But, I will conceded that there might be at least two situations where you would want to false cast with tenkara:

1. You’re dramatically switching the direction of your cast and need a false cast or two to get the line in the correct position to make the presentation.

2. You want to fish your fly on or in the surface and need to shake the water out of it to help it float.

Other than those two situations, I can’t see any justification for making false casting a part of one’s casting modus operandi. All it’s doing is wasting time you could have your fly in the water (and maybe tiring out your arm).

When do you feel the need to false cast with tenkara?

Author: Jason Klass

Jason is an avid fly angler and backpacker. As a former fly fishing guide originally from Western New York, he moved to Colorado and became an early adopter of tenkara which perfectly suited the small, high altitude streams and lakes there. He has not fished a Western-style fly rod for trout since.

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  1. I agree Jason, and I’m doing the same in the 2 cases you wrote.
    And I think there are always exceptions to some “dogmatic truth”.
    This topic is very similar to “Level Lines should be kept out of water”.
    True, but sometimes, in certain cases etc. etc.

  2. i do it to 1- gain control over the line, like you said with changing direction or with wind or hard to reach places 2- snap water off the fly or get gunk off it …. try to not do it much as it will spook da fishies

    a couple of people that i have introduced to tenkara … i found they knew we were “fly fishing” and they really wanted to false cast … they had never fished before and had no idea what false casting was …. they just knew it was something they’d seen and thought it was such an iconic part of the fly fishing thing they felt compelled to do it. people don’t seem to comprehend spooking the fish sometimes.

    “stop whipping that damn thing around!”

  3. The only time I look like I’m false casting is when I land the fly on a certain part of the water to emulate a hatch. But I agree, false casting is not necessary.

  4. Overt false casting is what freaked me out more about that guy demonstrating tenkara last year rather more than his stereotypical Japanese clothing.

  5. That guy was a real dick…literally…Dick Sagara.

  6. I find it useful occasionally for “range finding”

  7. Michael, yes, OK, that’s a good point. So I might add range finding as a 3rd possible reason you might false cast. You need to judge the distance your fixed line has in order to reach your target. I think I can usually gauge that pretty well, but not always and a few false casts might let me focus in on that. Good call. Others?

  8. When using a line several feet longer than the rod, rather than gather the excess line in my hands, sometimes I will keep it in motion with gentle “false casts” as I move upstream short distances (10 to 20 ft.). I find this useful when using CDC flies or tiny midges I want to keep dry as long as possible (too lazy to tie on a new one). However, after continuous days and weeks on the streams, it appears that too much false casting may have reduced the life of the Lillian on a couple of my less expensive rods. Have you or anyone else noticed this?

  9. Hi Bob. Interesting. You mean the Lilian just wore out?

  10. When I first picked up tenkara I was false casting just because it was a hold over from Western fly fishing ..but I soon learned that water loading the rod worked much better than a false cast and was more efficient . I have even thought that In that respect even if it “looks” more like traditional casting it really has more in common, functionally speaking, with spey casting. IE loading a full length of line off the water to recast in one fluid motion ..i have even used some spey style casts to change directions with a longer tenkara line with some success

  11. Matt just naled the physics of the problem: With line/tippet on the water and “sticking” to it, you will get the best possible load(read, rod bend) with the initial back cast off the water. I’d like to have a dollar everytime a guide as told me, “Cut the backcasting, Clyde, and lay it down!” The aim is backcast/laydown. Changing directions without false casting can be done with a single spey move—but that’s another post.

  12. Hello Jason… Yes, one frayed whereas the other appeared to break at the point where it contacted the rod. As a result, when replacing the Lillians, I took care to gently round the end of the rod tip with 600 grit sandpaper in an effort to remove any sharp edges that could damage future Lillians. I now carry a small kit containing some 5 minute epoxy (two part), extra Lillians, sandpaper, razor blades, rod plugs, etc., in my vehicle for repairs.

  13. Hi Bob, interesting. I’ve never had a lilian wear out, but I did have one poke through the weave of the lilian once. Would love to see a pic of your repair kit.

  14. As mentioned above, I false cast for rangefinding and to dry line and flies…sometimes also it is easy enough to just keep the fly and line in the air while moving a few feet to a new spot.

  15. As requested, I just sent you a few photos to your e-mail address…

  16. One more reason that came to me the other day while fishing in 22-degree temps…the line starts to ice up…by laying the line in the water some of the ice will defrost…a few false casts to then shake as much water off the line as possible before it starts to ice up again.

  17. There’s too much false casting even in conventional fly casting! Fly fishing, whether Tenkara or conventional is about efficiency and the time the fly is on the water.

  18. Like I always said when coaching, You can’t score if you don’t shoot.

  19. I hate casting when I flyfish anyway. I only false cast when I have to. I spend a lot of time stalking fish and then dobbing both dry flies and nymphs, roll casting, fishing down stream wets or dries as I strip line out and let the current pull on it, etc. I try to keep my flies “out of the air” as much as possible. This is what makes Tenkara attractive to me; I’ve yet to get my first Tenkara rod, but it’s in my near future!!!

  20. I do dry my fly in the air. That’s the extent of “false casting.” However, I do it in a direction I’m NOT fishing!

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