Cast and Retrieve Fishing: Steps and Techniques

cast and retrieve fishing steps

Cast and retrieve is one of the most basic and effective methods of fishing. Cast and retrieve involves tossing a lure in a horizontal motion out over the water and then retrieving the lure through the water or across the surface.

Cast and retrieve is most often associated with fly fishing, however, it can be used with various types of casting rod reel combos, tackle, and techniques for targeting a large variety of freshwater and saltwater fish under diverse conditions.

Using cast and retrieve, anglers can a run a lure at varying speeds and depths—controlled by the speed of the retrieve, the design of the lure, and position of the rod tip. Incorporating pauses, pops, and jerks into the retrieve creates a more nature presentation that triggers a fishes strike response.

The most common cast and retrieve lures include spinners, crankbaits, and swimbaits, but cast and retrieve will also work for fishing baits, flys, spoons, soft plastics, and finesse rigs.

There are several cast and retrieve techniques for targeting diverse fish species using a variety of specialized tackle and lures. Below we’re going to cover a basic approach to cast and retrieve that will work for most fish using a traditional spinningset up.

  1. Hold your rod in front of you at waist level and parallel to the ground.
  2. Let out your line until you have about 12 to 16 inches (30-40cm) hanging from the rod tip.
  3. Hold the rod using your casting had with two fingers positioned on either side of the reel foot.
  4. Bring the reel roller around into position so the line roller is directly under the rod.
  5. Take the line and hold it securely against the rod with your index finger.
  6. While securing the line against the rod open the bail arm.
  7. Check behind you to make sure the area is clear.
  8. Bring the rod back over your shoulder to the 2 o’clock position.
  9. Look toward the area where you want to cast your lure.
  10. Bring the rod forward in a smooth movement toward your target.
  11. Release your line by lifting your index finger when the rod reaches the 10 o’clock postion.
  12. Allow the lure to fly through the air until it lands on the water.
  13. Close the bail.
  14. Using the reel handle retrieve the lure in one continuous motion through the water.

Cast again. Repeat the process.

There are four reel types used for cast and retrieve — spinning, spincast, casting, and fly. Each reel type employs a slight variation of the basic cast and retrieve method which we’ll review below.

Casting with a spinning reel is the most popular fishing method for recreational angling. Spinning reels are easy to use and with a little practice even a novice angler can be reeling in trophy catches in no time.

The following are the steps for making a basic cast using a spinning reel.

  1. With your casting arm hold your rod naturally and parallel to the ground about waist level.
  2. Make sure the spinning reel is positioned below the rod.
  3. Line up the bail with the rod by the line roller directly under the rod.
  4. Grab the line with your index finger and open the bail.
  5. With your index finger secure the line against the rod.
  6. Let line out until the lure is hanging 12 to 18 inches from the rod tip.
  7. Look toward the area where you want to cast your lure.
  8. Bring the rod back over your shoulder.
  9. Bring the rod forward in a smooth motion toward your target.
  10. Release your line by lifting your index finger and allow the weight of the lure to pull the line from the reel.
  11. Allow the lure to fly through the air until it lands on the water.
  12. Close the bail with bail with your hand and start reeling.

Casting with a baitcaster reel is a little more complicated than using a spinning reel but it’s worth the effort to learn for many anglers. The main advantages of a using a baitcaster reel include being able to fish heavier line and lures, increase distance casting, and increase accuracy for targeting structure.

Before casting a baitcaster reel it’s crucial you adjust the tension knob on the side of the reel to ensure the line flows freely but not too fast that it tangles. To do this, press the spool release button and allow the line to free spool. The lure should hit the ground without your line tangling. If your line birdnests on the reel, tighten the tension knob.

There are two methods for casting with a bait caster — overhand cast and sidearm cast. For most newbies to bait casting the sidearm cast tends to be a little easier to master than the overhand cast. The below steps are for performing a sidearm cast using a bait-casting reel.

  1. Position your body sideways to the water with your non-casting arm between you and the water.
  2. Hold the rod in front of you parallel to the ground with spool facing up.
  3. Allow the lure to come down 8 to 10 inches from the rod tip.
  4. Press the spool release button while holding your thumb lightly against the spool to prevent it from unwinding.
  5. While maintaining the rod parallel to the ground, bring the rod back until the tip is at a 180° angle to the water.
  6. With your thumb still on the spool, cast the rod toward the water swiftly in a smooth half circle motion pointing the rod tip to your target.
  7. As the rod tip extends forward toward your target let your thum off the spool so the lure can pull the line from the reel.
  8. As you cast, feather the spool lightly with your thumb until the lure reaches its target.
  9. As the lure hits the water stop the reel from spinning by applying pressure to the spool with your thumb.
  10. Reel once or twice to engage the anti-reverse.

The overhand cast technique is similar to the sidarm cast. However, instead of bringing the rod back to your side, while facing the water pull the rod back over your dominant shoulder, and then bring it forward swiftly to cast.

Spincast reels, or “closed face reels”, are popular with beginning anglers because they’re extremely easy to operate and relatively inexpensive. There are two types of spincast reels, the traditional spincast where the reel is positioned above the rod and has a button release, and the underspin where the reel hangs under the rod and is operated using a lever.

With a spincast reel you use yor thumb to release line by pressing a button. With an underspin reel you use index finger to release line by engaging a small lever. The spincast reel is designed to be used on a “baitcast” rod, while the underspin reel is designed to be used on a “spinning” rod.

Both spincast and underspin reels use a similar casting technique. Follow the steps below for casting spincast and underspin reels.

  1. Hold your rod infront of you parallel to the ground about mid waist level.
  2. Let out about 12 inches of line so the lure is danging about a foot off the end of the rod tip.
  3. Push the spool release button and hold it down while bringing the rod overhead behind you to a complete stop at about the 2 o’clock position.
  4. Bring the rod forward to about the 10 o’clock position and release the button to cast.
  5. When the lure hits the water, reel once or twice to engage the anti-reverse.

It’s that easy!

Casting an underspin reel is the same as casting a spincast reel. The only difference is you’re engaging and releasing the reel and line with a lever using your index finger, instead pushing a release button using your thumb.

Fly casting is performed using a specialized fly reel, fly rod, and fly casting technique. Instead of using the weight of the lure to cast, with fly casting you use the weight of the line to cast and carry the lure (“fly”) to its target on the water. With fly casting, anglers can cast very small flies great distances with accuracy.

Fly casting is a little more involved than other forms of casting but is extremely fun and productive. Fly casting is used for fishing small flies and fly patterns—nymphs, emergers, dry flies, and streamers—upstream. Fly fishing is the method of choice among experienced anglers for trout fishing on America’s mountain streams and rivers.

The fly cast is actually made up of a backcast (the “pickup”) and a forward cast (the “delivery”). The key to performing an effective fly cast is to get the rod to bend and stop. You want your rod to bend and stop once behind you and then again in front of you. Finally, you want your rod tip to travel in the straightest line possible. The straighter the path, the tighter the loop, and the straighter the cast.

There are four parts to making a fly cast—the pickup, the back cast, the pause, and the forward cast. Master each of the four parts and you’ll master the fly cast. Before you get started, grasp the rod above the fly reel with the thumb on top with a relaxed grip. The rod should be in line with the forearm. Then, position the rod with the fly reel facing down and the rod tip low.

fly fishing casting four steps

There are two types of fly casts—vertical behind the head cast, or horizont “sidearm” casts. Either cast will work. What is important is that your rod tip travels in a straight line. The following are the steps for performing a vertical fly cast.

Step 1 – The Pickup

The pickup sets the tone for the entire cast. It’s purpose is to get the line moving and remove the surface tension between the fly line and water allowing for a smooth back cast.

There are two types of “pickup”. There is the overhead pickup and sidearm pickup. The overhead pickup is for making vertical casts. The sidearm pickup is for making sidearm casts. For both types of pickup you’ll start with the rod to down near the water.

  • Start with the rod tip near the water.
  • Slowly raise the rod to a horizontal position, allowing the wrist to bend forward, until the fly line is off the water.
  • Snapp the wrist to the upright position until the rod reaches the 10 o’clock position propelling the line backward. This will remove any slack for the line and get the line moving backward.

Step 2 – The Back Cast

  • Accelerate the rod tip backward from the 2 o’clock position to the 10 ‘oclock position making an abrupt stop.
  • Your thumb will now be right at ear level and the fishing line will follow the tip of the rod and unroll behind you.

Step 3 – The Pause

This step is critical. You must pause after the line begins to unroll behind you.

  • Allow the fly line to stretch out completely behind you before making your forward cast.
  • Pause length will vary based on the amount of line you’re casting.
  • Never allow the line to fall on the ground behind you. It should remain in the air. If it lands on the ground, you’re pausing too long.

Step4 – The Forward Cast

When the line is completely extended behind you in the air from the backcast make a forward cast.

  • Make a casting motion bringing the rod tip forward to an abrupt stop at the 10 o’clock position. The entire line should fly in front of you and land gently on the water.

To gain distance on your cast you can make multiple back and forth 10 o’clock to 2 o’clock casting motions repeating the steps above and each time allowing out a little line with your line hand. Continue this process until you have enough line in the air to achieve the distance you desire before laying the line down on the water.

Becoming proficient at fly casting takes practice, but most angler can master the process within just a couple outings.

A good cast will get your lure out in front of feeding fish, but it’s the retrieve that gets a fish to take your bait. A basic straight retrieve will catch some fish, but when you add a little action to your retrieve your bite rate will go up dramatically.

There are six lure retrieves the every beginner angler should learn—the straight retrieve, stop and go, falling, walking the dog, twitching, jerking. Master these retrieves and you’ll start catching more fish.

Straight Retrieve

The straight retrieve is the most basic and intuitive fishing retrieves. Very little action is imparted to the lure or line through the rod. The rod may be raised and lowered to adjust rate of retrieval or make the lure ascend or descend in the water column, but nothing more. The straight retrieve can be used with any type of rod and reel combination.

The straight retrieve maintains a straight trajectory back to the rod and typically maintains a constant speed making it easy for fish to hit the lure. Since the straight retrieve maintains a constant speed, the line is usually tight making it easy to feel and hits or bites.

This is a good retrieve for distance casting and allows the angler to cover a lot of water quickly. It works well for fishing crankbaits, spinnerbaits, swimbaits, jigs, and spoons. When fishing in subsurface lures, such as jigs and swimbaits, allow the lure to fall to a specific depth before beginning the retrieve.

Stop and Go

As its name suggests, the stop and go retrieve involves a repetitive stop and go where the lure is retrieved for a few seconds and then allowed to rest. It’s then reeled a few more seconds and allowed to rest again. This process is repeated until the lure returns to the rod or is taken by a fish.

The stop and go retrieve provide a more natural presentation that mimics the movement of live baitfish. It triggers the prey instinct of game fish that will often attack the lure right as it begins to move again. The stop and go retrieve works for lures fished on top of the water as well as subsurface.

Lift and Drop

Predatory fish, bass in particular, are apt to take a lure as it is falling through the water column. Allowing a soft plastic bait to fall through the water column is an effective way to illicit a strike. This is a somewhat forgotten technique but just as effective as ever. It’s commoning employed with soft plastics but works just as well with a jig, plug, spoon, etc.

After you let the bait fall to the bottom on a slack or semi-slack line put some life back into the lure by lifting it up. A lure can be lifted slowly or you can swim it up before letting it fall again. A lure can be popped up or ripped up. There are several variations but the retrieve is still the same—lift and drop.

The key here is not how you lift the lure off the bottom, but that you get the lure off the bottom so it can float or flutter back down.

Walk the Dog

This is probably one of the more famous and recognized retrieves used for fishing topwater lures. It is aptly named ‘walk the dog’ because its mimics the action of a dog being walked on a leash. It is primarily used for fishing largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass but is also effective at targeting other fish species that feed up.

Once you’ve casted your bait and it’s positioned where you want it, make a short 4-6 inch twitch of your rod tip. This light twitch will cause the lure to shoot to one side. Reel in the slack—but only the slack. Now give the lure another short twitch sending it back in direction it came. Repeat this process.

Again, only reel in the slack. The retrieve is performed by twitch the rod. Practice a cadence, and steadily twitch the lure while as you reel in the slack. This technique will vary by lure type. You may need to adjust your twitch length when you change lures.


Twitching retrieve is somewhat like ‘walking the dog’ but a little more erractic. The retrieve is characterized by short, fast rod movements. Twitching consists of a few sequential twitches and then a pause. The frequency and number of twitches can be varied. Play with different patterns to see which works best.

For active, aggressive fish work baits quickly. When fish are more docile work baits a little slower. Between each sequence of twitches it’s important to pause. The erractic twitching of the lure is what attracts fish, but they’ll often hit the lure when it’s not in the process of being twitched.

Twitching works for soft plastics, jerkbaits, glidesbaits and a variety of topwater lures. Twitching can be performed using a spinning rod or baitcast rod reel combo. Seasoned bass anglers often report they prefer baitcasters for twitching. A medium to heavy action rod works best for twitching. Each time you twitch you want the energy transferred to the lure, not absorbed by the rod tip.

Jerking or Sweeping

The retrieve style is a mix between ‘walk the dog’ and ‘twitching’. It involves jerking motion imparted by rod manipulation and incorporates pauses where slack is recovered with the reel.

The jerking retrieve consists of longer, sweeping movements created by pulling the rod down and to the side. The rod is then positioned back in front of the angler and slack line is reeled in. The process is then repeated.

This retrieve can be used with a number of lures but is primarily for fishing jerkbaits and crankbaits. The jerking or ‘sweeping’ motion of this retrieve causes these lures to dive slightly, swim to the side, or exhibit other action that attract foraging bass, pike, muskies and predatory fish.

As with twitching ‘jerking’ is performed best with medium- to heavy-action rod. It’s crutial that all energy is transferred directly to the lure in order to generate the jerking motion. This retrieve can be performed with either a spinning reel or baitcaster.


Ripping is as straight forward a technique as it’s name suggests. Cast your lure out and quickly rip it back to the boat or shore. Nothing to it. You can rip the lure back at a steady pace, vary the speed, or incorporate some erratic motion by jigging the rod tip. You can rip a lure back as soon as it hits the water, or you can allow it to sink to the bottom first and then rip it back.

Ripping works best when fish are active and aggressive. It will work when fish are fishing at varying depth throughout the water column, but is most often used when fish are feeding on or near the surface.

This can be a great retrieve for triggering a fish’s predatory instinct.