By Patrick Straub Explore Big Sky Fishing Columnist

Anglers often struggle with pinpointing errors in their cast. From a beginner fumbling with their line hand to an experienced angler fighting a nasty tailing loop, most people can appreciate a little help improving their cast. As with any instructor, personal style plays a role in how the information is presented. But despite casting instructors’ differences in style, the principles to accomplish a successful cast do not change. Here are six not-so-secret secrets to a good cast.

The pick-up. Before any new cast is made, the rod must be raised, or “picked-up.” This causes any additional slack to be taken out of the fly line. The principle of getting slack out of the line is similar to a coiled garden hose with a sprinkler at the end of it – the sprinkler isn’t going to move in any direction until the hose is completely uncoiled and in a straight line.

The backcast. The second part of the cast begins just after the pick-up, with a slight pause. Then, the rod is thrust backwards to a point at which the thumb of the rod hand shouldn’t be back any further than one’s ear. At this point it’s crucial that the wrist doesn’t “break,” or shifting the bottom of the palm of the hand so it turns outward or upward. It should remain facing downward the entire time – as if you were trying to toss a cup of water behind you, without spilling it on your shoulders or back. It’s a speed-up and stop motion, placing a bend in the rod, and is crucial to cause the fly line to accelerate through the air, ideally following the path of the rod tip. Once the rod has been stopped at the end of the backcast, the line now must have time to straighten.

The pause after the backcast. After the rod is stopped at the end of the backcast, a slight pause is required to allow the fly line to straighten out behind the caster. When first learning, it’s a good idea to turn your head and watch the fly line. Once you see the line straighten, then you can go onto the forward cast. Additionally, the longer the cast – or the more fly line you have out – the longer you must pause before you go into your forward cast.

The forward cast. After the pause, it’s time to accelerate the rod forward. The path of the rod tip during the forward cast should follow a straight line, but the direction of the line should be angled slightly down and toward your target. Imagine the cable on a chairlift. The cable is straight the entire time, but over the course of the ride, the cable angles downhill. Just like the backcast, it’s crucial to accelerate at the start of the forward cast and stop abruptly at the end.

The pause after the forward cast. Just like you did at the end of your backcast, you must pause slightly to allow the fly line to straighten out in front of you. This pause is key to a good lay-down or a good backcast if you’re casting to lengthen your line.

The lay-down. Once you made the acceleration and stop, and the fly line is straight out in front of you, slowly lower the rod tip. Doing this allows fly line fly to hit the water in rhythm with each other – the fly line slightly before the fly. If the previous five principles are executed properly, the lay-down should be an attractive uncoiling of the casting loop in front of you. If it isn’t: practice, practice, practice.

These six principles offer a general guideline to increasing your success. They’re not set in stone and these aren’t the only ways to have a good fly cast. But, if this article causes you to practice a casting stroke while sitting at your desk, then I’ve at least got you thinking about it.

And don’t worry about the funny looks you get from your coworkers, because you’ve got other thoughts on your mind – like a big trout eating a dry fly!

Pat Straub is the author of six books, including The Frugal Fly Fisher, Montana On The Fly, and the forthcoming Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing. He and his wife own Gallatin River Guides in Big Sky and with a partner operates a guide service on the Missouri River.