Troubleshooting the Tongariro Roll Cast

By Herb Spannagl


All through last winter I have had countless people come up to me and express anything from curiosity to downright determination to learn the Tongariro Roll Cast.   On more than one occasion I have had a video camera pointed at me from behind bushes.   Such has been the interest that at the risk of a bit of self-delusion I strongly suspect most Tongariro anglers would love to master this elegant cast.   


Those who have tried it will have very quickly found out that what looks effortless and elegant when performed well is anything but, when you start off or are someway along the frustrating road to perfection.   Although my two previous articles about the TRC have been liberally peppered with diagrams, several club instruction days have shown me that what appeared to me quite logical, failed to make a meaningful connection with many of my pupils.     


There is an easy explanation for this.   During the overhead cast the rod tip moves backwards and forwards along a straight track and in a single plane.   Most beginners can grasp those two requirements.    With the TRC the rod tip goes all over the place and at different speeds while it executes several distinctive manoeuvres.   Trying to memorise these movements and to link them with precision timing and measured force quickly scrambles a beginner’s mind.    The initial effort is such a guaranteed mess that only the doggedly determined continue with the self-punishment.   


Looking back at my own painful beginnings I must say that whatever mastery of overhead casting I possessed was barely helpful while learning the TRC.    I would even go as far as calling it unhelpful, because I constantly got tempted to revert back to overhead casting when I should have boxed on.    So instead forcing myself to put in the requisite on stream hard yards to learn to cope with varying conditions I slipped back to what I knew best.   A good friend of mine suffers from the same dilemma, which has definitely slowed his progress.


It might be old hat but in my view people don’t succeed with the TRC because:

  • They are too self conscious to seek help
  • They do not systematically practice the basics
  • They fail to commit to using this cast for on stream fishing


Regarding the last point I have now become firmly convinced that once the basic technique has been learned during the initial practice further progress can only be achieved through on stream fishing.    The reason for this unconventional advice is that this cast totally relies on the caster to make the necessary anchorage calculations prior to each cast for the variable casting situations so that he/she can adjust the final delivery-casting stroke.    


However, despite their the best efforts most beginners and intermediates will be dogged by “mystery” problems, which make the end result less than satisfactory.   Let me highlight some of the more obvious ones and suggest appropriate remedies.


Forward Cast Collapses 

Cause:   The most common reason is a premature start of the forward cast.    Not all loose line lying on the water has bellied into the D-Loop.   Removing the remaining slack wastes a great part of the forward stroke (which is shorter than in an overhead cast) and this fails to load the rod.   

Remedy: Watch for the indicator to move towards you before you start the forward cast.   This is the sign that the D-Loop has fully bellied out behind you and that the rod will load on the forward stroke.


D-Loop Sticking To The Water

Cause a):  D-Loop formed with same slow speed.  

Remedy:   Form a dynamic D-Loop by accelerating the slack line on the water rearwards and upwards.

Cause b):  Waiting too long with the forward cast which causes too much of the lower leg of the D-Loop to make contact with the water.   

Remedy:   Start forward cast as soon as the indicator moves towards you.

Cause c):  Anchor planted too far out.

Remedy: Either pull anchor closer or apply more power and/or execute the cast with a higher rod stroke, which lifts more D-Loop line off the water at the start of the forward cast.


Anchor Not Lifting Out Of The Water

Cause a):  The most obvious is that not enough power has been applied to the forward cast for the variable amount of anchorage.

Remedies: Apply more power, reduce anchorage by either pulling anchor closer or reduce the size and/or weight of fly.

Cause b): The forward cast has been conducted with an arching rod stroke ending in a descending rod tip.   In other words the energy has been directed downwards.

Remedy:   Execute the forward cast with a rising rod tip.


Forward Casting Loop Too Open

Cause:  Forward cast has been directed downwards with descending rod tip.

Remedy: Accelerate with rising rod tip and stop rod at 11o’clock.


D-Loop Hitting Body

Cause: Wind blowing line towards the casting hand.

Remedy:  Reach downwind across the body during the forward cast.


D-Loop Not Forming Fully In A Tailwind

Cause: Insufficient force applied during D-Loop formation has partly concertinaed the D-Loop.   A vertical D-Loop is also more exposed to the brunt of the wind.

Remedies:   Apply extra force and form D-Loop low and more horizontally to get under the wind.


Fly Hitting Rod and Angler

Cause: Anchor is placed inside of the rod tip.

Remedy:  Always place anchor and line outside of rod tip when fishing upstream.    In a fast current the anchor must be planted well outside to allow for the drift while executing line slipping and D-loop forming.


Indicator Popping

Causes: Anchor did not hold due to insufficient anchorage, forward cast on too high a plane and/or too much force applied on the forward cast.

Remedies:  Leave more line on the water when planting anchor (Don’t pull indicator so close).   Drop power back or conduct forward cast with a low rod stroke with the elbow moving just above hip level, which also leave more line in contact with the water.


Line Runs Along The Water Or Collapses During Forward Cast

Cause:   Trashing forward cast downwards.

Remedy:  Stop rising rod tip at 11o’clock.


Low And Tired D-Loop

Cause:   Dropping the rod tip during backstroke D-Loop formation.

Remedy:   Finish with a rising rod tip towards the 1 O’clock forward cast launching position.


Poor Distance

Cause a):  The most prominent one is a shallow and non-energetic D-Loop.   

Remedy:  Apply more power back and up and then wait for the D-Loop to fully form.  Best sign is indicator moving towards you.   

Cause b):  With short belly lines some thin running line is outside the tip ring during D-Loop formation.   This thin line has insufficient mass to adequately transfer the rod energy to the line.

Remedy:   Make sure that some of the belly of the line is still inside the tip ring before firing.   This is easier with “Long Belly lines”.   


Leader Not Turning Over

Cause: Not enough power to finish the forward cast.

Remedy: Not needed as this “fault” produces a slack leader, which allows the nymphs to sink quickly.   Many overhead casters would “kill” for this.


Line And Leader Tangles

Cause:   D-loop is not 180 degrees opposite the target.

Remedy:   Plant indicator (anchor) sufficiently upstream so that it has time to drift into a position as near as possible to be in a straight line with the D-Loop and slightly upstream of the target.    This gives you time to slip line and generate the D-Loop.


By stating the above line-up of problems, many of which you probably did not even know existed, I am running the risk of frightening you off learning the TRC.    This is not the purpose of this article.    Use it as an aid to remedy only the problems you have as you progress.    Chances are you will only have one or two at a time and as you solve these others will often remedy themselves.     In a future article I shall discuss the finer details of the D-Loop and why anchorage is so variable.