Bow and Arrow Cast

Up-close-and-personal fishing can be one of fly fishing’s most exciting aspects. At extremely close ranges, however, “normal” casting is often not possible or desirable. What to do? Easy, just break out your Bow and Arrow (cast, that is). While the Bow and Arrow Cast gets relatively little attention in fly fishing, I consider it a “must-have” technique for any angler who likes fishing at super-close ranges.

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The basic Bow and Arrow set-up. Hook point up and outside of your fingertips!

Also known as the “Catapult Cast” and “Bowspring Cast,” the Bow and Arrow Cast is begun with a length of line approximately the same length as the rod. With the rod held steadily and aimed at (or just above) the target, grasp the fly between the thumb and forefinger of your line hand. Hold onto the hook’s bend with the hook point up and outside of your fingertips. If you decide to be a rebel and go hook-point down and inside your fingertips, you may quickly understand why I wrote “hook point up and outside of your fingertips.”

Now, pull the line back toward you, causing the rod to flex like a bow; do not allow extra line to be pulled from the reel. Another note of caution at this point: Do not rear back and over-flex the rod’s tip-most section—you may get a multi-piece rod even if you do not want one. Try to flex the rod as if simulating the flexure from a real cast. You can adjust the cast’s angle of attack by moving both your line and rod hands side-to-side as well as up-and-down. When ready to cast, let go of the fly. The rapid un-flexing action of the rod will deliver the fly to the target.

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(Top row) The B&A set-up. (Bottom row) It actually works! This little sequence is from a TV pilot that I worked on a few years back (“Modern Outdoors”). As you can likely guess, a “normal” cast in this circumstance might not be the best choice…

The Bow and Arrow Cast has been the source of many of my fondest memories of fishing. Because of its limited range, the Bow and Arrow inherently dictates that you be close to the fish to use it. That means it is primarily a sight-fishing cast. I had one day on Bartlett Lake on the Vermejo Ranch property in northern New Mexico when the browns were in extremely close. I remember one trout in particular that was in inches of water, leisurely poking along for damsel nymphs and snails. I made a Bow and Arrow Cast into the fish’s path. The trout drifted over, slowly tipped down and literally scraped my fly off the bottom. If something like that doesn’t get your blood pumping, it’s time to give up fishing…

The basic Bow and Arrow Cast (yes, there are “extended” versions) has two significant drawbacks: distance and repeatability. The first issue is okay if you are within 15 to 20 feet of a target, but the second can be a problem if you are sticking your rod out through an opening in the trees. Trying to re-set a cast in such circumstances can be frustrating and even fish spooking. There are a couple of options, though.

The first is to learn to make the “C” Cast, using only your wrist to make a quick little sideways semi-circle with the rod tip. Such a cast has very little movement and is often enough to put the fly back where it needs to go. Just as often, however, such a cast does not put the fly back in the right spot, so more drastic measures are called for: stripping in all of your line.

It may initially sound odd, but by stripping the line back in so that the fly hangs on the tip-top guide, you can ease the rod back (and/or move your body back), remove the fly, pull the leader out again, move forward, and be ready for another Bow and Arrow. That exact scenario has played out for me more than once, and I can tell you that patience does pay off. I can also tell you that I have blown that exact scenario more than once, too. Such is fishing!

The Bow and Arrow Cast is a truly useful technique that can make previously impossible presentations work. If you take the time to practice it, you may find that it gives you greater chances to get “up close and personal” than ever before.

3 Comments

  1. andybaird says:

    Fantastic Jason!
    I’ve read about the B&A cast but never been able to source any useful information on how to execute it. I fish the tinyest, brushy streams, burns and brooks for small, wild, brown trout. Short rods, light lines and tiny flies…
    Thanks for covering this subject.

    Best,
    Andy Baird

    Co. Antrim
    N. Ireland

  2. JB says:

    Andy—Thanks for the comment, and good to hear that this page has proven to be truly useful for your own fishing. The Bow & Arrow is one of those casts that has done so much for me over the years that the stories could fill a book. Sounds like your preferred angling locales are perfect for the B&A (and related casts), especially if you can get into a position to drift the fly for a “first-cast” take.

    Again, thanks for stopping by, Andy, and I hope that your late summer season of size 24s is a good one!

  3. Cheri McD says:

    Finally B&A described so we understand it! Thank you Andy.

    Gone Fishing! Cheri

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