Techniques Tenkara

Advanced Casting Part One: Fixed-Line Fly Fishing in Four Dimensions

Part One of a Three Part Tutorial Series by Rob Worthing

Photos by ERiK Ostrander & John Vetterli

Tenkara is an elegant system of fly fishing. Freed from the need to wrangle a more complex setup, tenkara allows us to focus on crucial lessons in fish behavior, reading water, and presentation. This makes fixed line techniques like tenkara a perfect tool for the beginner fly fisherperson. But the utility of rod, line, and fly extends far beyond the beginner. For those who wish to dig deeper, a bottomless well of fixed line fly skills awaits.

Advanced Casting

This series is intended for those anglers who want to explore advanced fixed line fly casting. The goal of the series is not to learn specific casts, but instead learn a systematic approach to building casting skills. It’s an approach that creates adaptive anglers, ready to creatively combine casting skills to meet the demands of a variety of conditions. Why? Because each day of fly fishing poses a unique set of challenges. The master angler is the one that produces each day.

At Tenkara Angler, we will break up advanced casting into a three part series of articles. Part One is this article, where we lay the foundation for a lifetime of building advanced casting skills by introducing the concept of Four Dimensional Casting. Four dimensional casting teaches you to dissect complex casting strokes into four basic elements, or dimensions.

In Part Two, we learn the concept of The Casting Progression Table. The progression table teaches you to combine different casting dimensions to create casting strokes. It organizes the basic dimensions of casting into skill levels that build on each other – as you master one, you prepare yourself to advance to the next.

Finally, in Part Three, we will begin to learn how to apply advanced casting skills on the water.

Part One: Four Dimensional Casting

Four dimensional casting is the concept of breaking down a casting stroke into four basic elements, or dimensions – turning a complex dance into a series of simple movements that can be practiced. Dissecting a particular cast into its basic dimensions can help you learn new casting skills, or polish ones you already possess. More importantly, building your skill set in each of the four dimensions will free you to adapt your cast to any situation on the water. The four dimensions of casting are the vertical, the horizontal, the rotational, and time.

The Four Dimensions
The four dimensions of casting. Illustrated are the vertical (saggital), horizontal (transverse), and rotational (coronal). The dimension of time is shown later.

The Vertical

The vertical dimension involves movement of the rod and line in a back and forth motion over the angler’s head. This is the same dimension that an archer holds a bow and arrow. In anatomy, this is called the sagittal plane (named after the archer, Sagittarius). The simplest example of a cast that involves the vertical dimension is the basic overhand cast.

Advanced Tenkara Casting - The Vertical
Casting in the vertical dimension. John executes a simple overhand cast.

The Horizontal

The horizontal dimension also involves movement of the rod and line in a back and forth motion, but at the side of the body, parallel to the ground. In anatomy, this is called the transverse plane. It is the same plane that you slice a loaf of bread. The simplest example of a cast that involves the horizontal dimension is the sidearm cast.

Advanced Tenkara Casting - The Horizontal
Casting in the horizontal dimension. John executes a sidearm cast.

The Rotational

The rotational dimension is key in advancing fixed line casting skills. It involves actively rotating the rod hand to a palm up position (called supination), or a palm down position (called pronation). In anatomy, this is called the coronal plane (like looking at a crown on a king). This dimension allows you to seamlessly move between the vertical and the horizontal dimensions, providing absolute control over the line and fly. Despite it’s importance, it is overlooked by many, and might very well be the defining characteristic of advanced fly presentation.

Advanced Tenkara Casting - The Rotational
Casting in the rotational plane. John casts by moving his rod from palm down to palm up. This is called supination. The opposite is called pronation.


Most with a background in rod and reel fly fishing will know about the importance of timing your back cast and forward cast. Timing is just as important in fixed line fly fishing. But timing of a fixed line system is different than a rod and reel system. Unlike reeled fly fishing, where the weight of fly line is used to add energy to the system, casting a fixed line depends almost completely on the dynamic flex of the rod. Timing is what allows the angler to take full advantage of the potential power contained in a long, flexible fixed line rod to cast a lightweight line and fly. The advanced caster must learn to load and unload the rod at just the right time. When the timing is right, casting a light line into a heavy wind becomes effortless.

Advanced Tenkara Casting - Time
Timing. John begins the forward cast at the exact moment he feels the rod maximally load on the backcast.

Now, go fishing. Or at least throw a few casts in your lawn. See if you can break down your casting into the four dimensions outlined above. How many dimensions do you use? Any dimensions you haven’t thought about before?

In the next edition of Advanced Casting at Tenkara Angler, we will see how the four dimensions come together to create different casting strokes, and learn to use the four dimensions to advance our casting skills.

Rob Worthing has had a fishing rod in hand for over 20 years. An avid angler, world traveler, backpacker, and wilderness medical professional, he enjoys going off the beaten path to find the best fly fishing possible. He is passionate about fishing tenkara in remote mountain streams. In addition, Rob takes great pride in combining techniques learned while fishing six continents and four oceans to create hybrid fixed line fly fishing styles that simply catch fish. He is one of the founding partners of Tenkara Guides, LLC.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2015-16 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

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