The Tongariro Roll Cast

By Herb Spannagl


After fishing New Zealand’s Tongariro River for well over thirty years I really thought I had seen it all.   The magnificent fish some of them of trophy size, the crowds and in particular the hilarious interludes as fisherman become near contortionists trying to dig out heavy nymphs from just about every part of their anatomy.   Yet nothing in this colourful history prepared me for my chance introduction of what I later came to call the Tongariro Roll Cast.   


That year the Silly Pool held a lot of fish and became our pool of choice.  However, to beat the crowds one had to make an early start.  The Silly was not an easy pool to get to in the dark and required a torch lit push along a badly overgrown track, followed by a delicate scramble over slippery boulders.   My mates and I always timed our arrival so that we could start fishing as soon as there was enough light to make out our bright indicators on the dark waters.    On that memorable morning we had already hammered the pool since daybreak and had just left the water for a well-earned cuppa, when a stranger arrived from down river.    While we exchanged notes about the fishing, I noticed that the man was using an early Sage RP3 rod.   I remarked on its antiquity to which the stranger replied:  “I do a bit of roll casting and this is a good rod for it.  Do you guys mind if I fish through the pool?”   I replied: ”Not at all.  Go for it.” while pouring myself a drink from the Thermos.    The guy waded in; stripped line off the reel and instead of making a back cast flicked a large loop of extra line onto the water surface.   Then with something resembling a back cast movement this waterborne loop morphed into a large D-loop that shot forward as the longest roll cast I had ever seen up to that day.


We just sat there watching dumbfounded as cast after beautiful cast sprung from his antique casting tool to sail out across the wide pool.   In no time at all his rod bent into a good fish, which the angler expertly landed and dispatched.   He fished to the top of the pool and before we could interrogate him about his technique he picked up his fish and disappeared up the track.     It was only then that I noticed that my coffee had gone cold and that my mouth was still gaping. 


After we had all come down to earth I told my friends that I thought I had remembered enough to replicate this cast.   I tried to do so at the shallow tail of the pool but by the time I was ready I could not even remember all the movements let alone the sequence in which they needed to be performed.  Without knowing what I was doing I just flayed around wildly and before long had line draped all over me; looking more like a proverbial silkworm.    What had looked so effortless in the hands of an expert had me completely stumped.   Without making any headway I gave up in frustration and returned to fishing but vowed there and then that eventually I would nail this cast.


So began a slow and painful journey of self-tuition that most times ended up as self-punishment.   Success came in tiny increments; some from observing the few practitioners I occasionally run into but my main gains came from studying the dynamics of Spey casting from books and videos.     The latter gave me a good grounding in the fundamentals that are identical for all Spey cast.  This understanding helped me a lot to identify my faults and to design my exercises to overcome them.


The Tongariro Roll Cast belongs to the family of Spey Casts.   It is a waterborne anchor cast that is particularly suitable for upstream nymphing with single-handed fly rods.   Its nearest Spey cast relative is the Perry Poke as practiced on the steelhead rivers of northwestern America. 


This relatively new fly cast is slowly making its mark with up-stream nymphers on the Tongariro River.   Over the past few winters I have used it so much that it has almost replaced my need for overhead casting.    A somewhat unexpected but nevertheless welcome bonus has been the greatly reduced casting arm fatigue and a significant reduction of my niggling shoulder pain.    When you get older even minor impediments such as the above can kill much of the pleasure that an otherwise great day on the river has to offer.    Doing what you have to do with less effort takes on a new meaning.


Casting efficiency has fascinated me ever since I have been fishing on the Tongariro.   Efficiency benefits all forms of casting but is particularly helpful for casting heavy nymphs.   It keeps you in synch with other anglers fishing the same pool, it greatly reduces the risk of a casting accident, it permits more productive drifts through fish-holding water and last but not least it helps you to last out a long fishing day without the need for painkillers.


Before I describe how to set up the TRC let me first explain its main advantages and disadvantages vis a vis the overhead cast as well as introducing you to some essential Spey casting terminology.   



·      Requires minimal back cast room

·      Casts heavily weighted flies with no danger to the caster

·      It is very quick to set up.

·      It is safe to use in strong tail winds quartering over the casting shoulder.

·      No false casting needed



·      It is more difficult to learn.

·      It does not cope with strong head wind as well as the overhead cast.

·      It is not quite as accurate.  


The chief characteristics of all Spey casts are the “Anchor” and the “D-loop”.

The anchor is that part of the terminal assembly of line, indicator, leader and fly that remains in contact with the water.   This allows the D-loop to belly out rearwards between the anchor and the rod tip.   This contact can be prolonged (waterborne anchor) or very brief (airborne anchor).

The D-loop is the equivalent of the conventional back cast against which the caster loads the rod.  


Let me also remind you of two roll casting rules that must never be ignored.  

·      The D-Loop must be launched180 degrees opposite the casting target.

·      The “Anchor” must always be placed outside the rod tip to avoid the line and fly coming up and hitting the rod or caster. 


In a “River Left” situation the working angle between bank and target is very narrow.     Further more as the current drifts line towards you, your workspace is getting smaller all the time.   Allow for that by initially rolling the line further up-stream and closer to the bank.   Don’t waste time.   Fold and slip line outside your rod tip to prevent line and rod tangling.   Fold further forward to keep the folded line from drifting too close.   Try to create an elevated D-Loop to avoid snaring rocks or sticks that might protrude from the bank.    If you have given the right current lead and not wasted precious time your delivery cast should still be in line with the target.  


This article is more technical than I should like it to be.   I apologise for having to make it so complex.   However, since I can’t stand beside you on the river it leaves me with little alternative.  To make up for it I have peppered the text with copious diagrams to help you to navigate through the various phases a little easier.    The key to successfully learning this cast is to perfect each phase before you go onto the next one.    Start with phase one and hone that until you do it automatically; only then enter phase two and so on.  This cast relies heavily on perfect timing to merge each phase into a seamless casting sequence.   The end result is absolutely stunning but to get there requires practice and determination.