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The "Belgian" or Oval Cast

by Captain Jim Barr on 03/23/17

The "Belgian" or Oval Cast

Many fly anglers have essentially two fly casts in their inventory, the standard Overhead Cast, and the Roll Cast. These by far are the most commonly used, even by experienced fly casters. There are however a multitude of other types of casts that we use in fly fishing for situations brought on by the different flies we are casting, different fly lines, wind direction and speed, and leader construction. One of my favorite "alternative" casts is the Belgian cast, sometimes referred to as the oval, elliptical, tension, circular, horseshoe, swing-around, wind and constant pressure casts. This is a constant motion cast where the rod never stops, distinguished from the standard overhead cast that has a start and a stop motion on the forward and back casts.

Macauley Lord's Fly Casting "Bible"

There are a number of reasons we use the Belgian cast but my four primary reasons are:

- it keeps constant tension on the fly line so that when casting heavy or large wind-resistant fly patterns, the leader does not collapse due to the start and stops of straight line casting, thereby eliminating a collapsing leader/tippet/fly system

- it helps in casting heavy sinking tip and shooting head fly lines

it eliminates much of the risk of weighted fly patterns colliding into the rod on the forward and back casts, which can damage the rod

it's a great technique to use when casting in very windy conditions. If the angler were to use the standard overhead cast at the higher casting planes, it would often result in the fly line getting knocked down by the force of the wind

Being a charter boat fly fishing guide I see a lot of fly anglers struggle with casting into the wind, or conversely having great difficulty in fighting through the wind in their back casts. The Belgian cast is an ideal method to employ for both scenarios. 
For a strong headwind, it's important to keep the fly line at a low plane on the forward cast. The wind speed is lower closer to the surface of the water. So, on the back cast I instruct the caster to use an overhead (or high plane) back cast at perhaps a 60 degree angle to the water's surface (90 degrees would have the rod pointing to 12 o'clock) and allow the wind to push or carry the fly line out, but then to angle downward and then in a circular or elliptical fashion make a low, sidearm forward cast to the target just above the water's surface.
"Flyrod" Frank Farraye MD 

For a strong tailwind, the reverse motion described above would be employed. Here, I would instruct the caster to make a low sidearm back cast to keep the line close to the water's surface (again lower wind speed), but then to angle up in a circular or elliptical fashion and make a very high forward cast/presentation. Releasing the fly line at a high position takes advantage of the strong tailwind, causing the line to billow-out, resulting in a very long cast. An added technique one can employ is to introduce a short "haul" or tug as the line straightens, to help turn over the leader and fly.

**It's important to remember that the Belgian cast if used extensively will introduce line twist on each cast. If left unmanaged, this twisting will result in a fly line that will coil and kink and over time making it nearly impossible to cast. The twisted line cannot be stretched by the angler to remove the coils, rather the fly must be cut off and the line deployed over the side of the boat and stripped off the reel back to about the length of the average distance the angler has been casting. Then towing the line behind the power boat, drift boat or canoe/kayak without the fly attached, the twisted fly line can be removed.

The link below takes you to an excellent article on the Belgian Cast authored by my friend Macauley "Mac" Lord, Master Casting Instructor with the International Federation of Fly Fishers, and head of the L.L. Bean Fly Fishing Schools. 

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