Q. What is the best way to begin casting?
A. This is one of the most frequently asked questions regarding casting. It usually comes in the form of “I just got a rod…where do I begin”? Or “How do I teach my spouse / kids to cast a fly rod”?
The first cast we teach students at Atlanta Fly Fishing School is the pick up and lay down cast. To learn this cast, find a lawn or field area at least 80 feet long without obstructions. Stand in the middle of the open area and strip 30 feet of line from the reel. Lay the rod down and walk the line out stretching it on the ground, this removes slack from the line, and should be done prior to each cast until you or your student can cast the line straight yourselves. Grip the rod and secure the line under the middle finger. Stand with feet shoulder width apart and at a 45-degree angle from the target. (Right handers will have their right foot dropped back). Begin the back cast with the rod tip pointing at the ground so the line will begin to move the moment the back cast is started. The upper arm, forearm, and wrist work together to form the cast. It is best, in the beginning, to use little or no wrist movement, as the tendency is usually to use too much. Raise the forearm and rod in a smooth motion until the rod is pointing up at about 45 degrees between vertical and horizontal. (This is the pick-up). Without stopping the rod, continue the movement of forearm and upper arm smoothly accelerating until the hand and rod are vertical just in front of the face. Stop abruptly and pause for a moment to allow the line to straighten out behind you. (This is the back cast). To execute the forward cast, reverse the motion of rod and arm. Be careful to apply power smoothly, gradually increasing speed and power back to 45 degrees where an abrupt stop and pause will allow the formation of a loop. As the line unrolls and begins to fall, follow it to the ground with the rod tip.
This basic cast involves all elements essential for casting and should be practiced until you see consistently good loop formation both on the forward cast and on the back cast, and the line lays out straight on the ground after each cast. Once this is accomplished you may want to lengthen the line in increments of one to two feet at a time, and /or add a target such as a Frisbee to work on accuracy.
NOTE: To get the most improvement from practice sessions keep them short with a pause for thought after each cast. Take time to think about what was done with the arm and hand on each cast that created the resulting line formation on the ground in front of you. Rather than cast-cast-cast-cast-cast-, try cast-pause, cast-pause, realizing that what you do with your arm movement causes the results.
False casting is the image we get when we picture someone casting a fly rod. It is a beautiful sight to see the loops unrolling forward and back with perfect timing. The spray of water from line and fly shatter into a thousand diamonds of sunlight as they fall back to the stream. That is the poetry of our beloved sport. If you fly fish for poetry and the joy of casting then don’t change a thing…however, if you have days when you are fly fishing to actually try to catch fish then read on as this month’s tip is for you.
The false cast is simply a series of backward and forward casts that are made in the air. Although it is beautiful to watch, there are no fish in the air! In fact, there is an inverse relationship between false casting and fish catching. Also, the longer we aerialize line before allowing our fly to return to the water, the greater the odds of spooking fish, hooking a tree, a bush, or tying “wind-knots” in our leaders.
While false casting should be used sparingly it has at least three distinct purposes that allow even the hardest core fisherman an opportunity to enjoy their poetic side. 1) Use the false cast to dry the dry fly: a couple of casts should expel the water allowing your fly to once again float high. 2) Use the false cast to change the direction of your cast: false cast the minimum number of times it takes to turn your body toward the new target. An even faster way is to perform the change of direction cast. To execute this cast sweep the rod tip toward the new target (keeping your fly and line on the water) then make a back cast 180 degrees away from the target, and bingo, your forward cast is on course to the new direction. 3) False casting is the perfect way to lengthen the distance of your cast by shooting line, or to shorten the distance of your cast by retrieving line before allowing your fly to land on the water.
As for me? I can be competitive especially when fishing with friends. Those days my fly will hardly leave the water in hopes of upping my odds of catching fish. I do however, enjoy fly fishing because of the element of casting, and I must admit there are days I’ll false cast more than necessary…some days way more than necessary…and some days I just have to call it practice rather than fishing.
CASTING WITH WIND
Q. I have trouble casting with wind. Normally I can cast a nice line but on windy days I would almost rather stay home. Can you make any suggestions?
A. Yes, stay home...(just kidding)
Wind presents difficult casting conditions for everyone. But as the saying goes "Good captains are made in deep seas and rough waters" likewise "good fly casters are made in the wind". You do, however, need a plan to meet the challenge wind presents and here are some tricks and techniques you can use to save a days outing. First: A good basic overhead cast with increased line speed (fast casts), good loop formation (tight loops), assisted by the added power of the single, double, or triple haul will give your line a decided advantage in slicing thru the air. (More about speed, loop formation, and hauling in a future article) Second: You may want to change the plane in which you are casting. These alternative casts can be quickly learned even if you are new to the sport. The plane in which you cast is determined by the wind direction, and fly fishing can be like sitting around a camp fire, the wind is always coming from the wrong direction. The easiest wind direction to work with is from your non-casting side. Using the example of a right-handed caster, this would be wind coming from the casters left side. This direction will naturally blow the fly and line away from you and allow a relatively normal overhead cast. When the wind is coming from the casting side however, the tendency is to have the fly and line blow toward your body. This creates an uncomfortable feeling causing you to wonder if you're going to hook your clothes or get an unscheduled body piercing. Changing the plane of your cast can really save the day. If we stand behind our right hand caster and use the rod tip like an hour hand on a clock, then an overhead cast would be at approximately 12 o'clock. When wind comes from the casting side, simply drop your rod tip sideways to 2 o'clock or even to a sidearm position of 3 o'clock. In light wind this will be sufficient to keep the fly and line safely away from you. In stronger wind the only safe way to cast is to keep the fly and line down wind from your body necessitating an across body cast. Again, standing behind our right hand caster the rod tip will now be at 10 or 11 o'clock. There are two easy ways to accomplish this cast. While holding the cork with the usual grip of thumb on top, rotate your wrist so your thumb points across the front of your body and your palm faces out toward the target. This will allow a normal arm movement similar to the basic overhead cast but with the rod tip going over your head pointing to the down wind side. The second way you can accomplish this cast is to rotate your forearm across your chest making an across body cast. One method has the rod above your head, while the other has it below your head across your chest. Experiment with both styles using the one that is the most comfortable and accurate for you. Other wind directions you will encounter are when the wind is coming from in front of or from behind you. When the wind is coming from in front you will want to make a high trajectory back cast and a low forward cast. The low forward cast should have your fly landing on the water as soon as the loop unrolls keeping the fly and line from being blown back. When the wind is from behind the opposite rule applies. Make a low trajectory back cast and high forward cast using the wind to carry the fly and line like a kite to the desired target. Optionally, a side-arm cast may be helpful when wind is coming from in front or behind by keeping the fly and line closer to the water. Due to the resistance wind encounters close to the ground or water, wind speed there will be substantially less than it is 10 or 15 feet in the air. Another trick that can be used with wind coming from behind is to turn around, make a forward cast into the wind and allow your fly to land on the water with your back cast. This is helpful for casters who have a weaker back cast than forward cast and should only be used until you can train yourself to made your back cast as solid as your forward cast.
NOTE: Practice casting in all planes before you encounter a windy day and the need to use these casts. At our casting school we use targets to cast toward which assists students in developing a smooth casting stroke and the accuracy needed to confidently use these casts. Once you're comfortable with your ability to cast in all planes you'll find yourself using these casts for much more than overcoming wind. With a new arsenal of casts you'll be getting around low hanging limbs and stream-side obstructions with ease. And that pocket water behind the rock that was impossible to reach with an overhead cast...now you can go see what it holds.
CASTING (CATCHING) SUCCESS
Q. My fishing partners always out-fish me. We fish the same stretches of water with the same flies and they consistently catch more fish. Any suggestions to help?
A. There can be any number of factors giving your friends an edge. Perhaps they are more adept at seeing the “take” or have gained quicker reflexes in setting the hook. One big reason for greater success is reading the water for likely places fish will be feeding, and then having the ability to softly present a fly ACCURATELY on the FIRST cast. A fish’s life hangs in balance between the energy it expends swimming against the current and the amount of energy it receives from eating. The very best feeding lies exist where the fish can shelter itself from the current and let the river deliver the food. Likely places are current “seams” where fast and slow water meet. Behind a rock in the void of the current or in front of a rock where hydraulic pressure builds up. Often a fish will not move more than a few inches from the shelter of their feeding lane to take your fly. If your fly is landing within a few feet of where you are aiming instead of a few inches of the target, you are missing the opportunity to catch more fish. Moreover, casting repeatedly to the same spot, splashing down a fly, and dragging tippet and leader over a fish in an attempt to get a cast placed correctly can spook a fish causing it to temporarily break from feeding. To learn to cast accurately you should practice your casting toward targets, and do so regularly, until you are satisfied with your accuracy at all distances. Keep a fly rod lined up and handy for a few minutes of lawn practice. Five minutes of practicing casting per day is far better than an hour or two once a week. Use a piece of yarn for a fly or cut an old fly at the bend in the hook to remove the point. Place targets at 20, 30, and 40 feet and attempt to drop your fly on them with the FIRST CAST. Alternate casts to at least three different targets and rearrange targets frequently to avoid becoming accustom to a specific location or distance.
Accurate casting has only two dimensions: distance and windage. One way to present a fly at an accurate distance is to adjust line length while false casting before presenting the fly. Because false casting over a fish can spook it, try false casing several feet to the side of your target to gain correct distance then place your final cast at the target. The goal is to be able to cast any distance without excessive false casting. This takes practice, but is just like playing catch; soon you will know how much effort to put into a cast to get a desired distance. Also a cast that appears to be going too long can be slowed down or stopped with the line hand so it is better to error on the long side than to under power a cast. Windage is your deviation to the right or left of your target. While wind can affect a presentation, most casters who practice with targets are surprised to find their casts landing consistently off to one side, or their leader and tippet lays out with a curve in it. Correction for this is to move the rod tip in a straight-line path toward the target on the forward cast. The fly line and fly will always follow the path of the rod tip during the speed up and stop at the end of the forward cast.
Try these accuracy casting exercises the next time you want to go fishing but don’t have the time to get to your favorite spot. While it’s not nearly as fun as “real” fishing it has the benefit of improving your casting and has been known to give temporary symptomatic relief to mild cases of cabin fever.
Q. Recently I overheard a discussion on Roll Casting and it sounds like a very useful cast. I’ve tried it a few times but I’m not sure if I’m making the cast correctly or when I should use it.
A. As to use, the roll cast is helpful in many casting situations. Most often it is used when there is limited space to make a regular aerial back cast. Other uses are, to help raise a weighted fly or sinking fly line to the surface before making a back cast, when there is a strong wind at your back making a regular back cast difficult, or to keep from drying a wet fly as an aerial cast might. Another efficient use of the roll cast is fishing upstream. After a cast is made upstream the current pushes your fly back toward you. Raise your rod tip (to keep slack line to a minimum) staying prepared for a fish to take the fly. As the fly approaches you and a loop of line forms beside and behind you make a roll cast back up stream.
As to the technique of roll casting, it is much like the forward portion of the conventional overhead cast. To learn roll casting you should practice on the water rather than a lawn because the surface tension of the water holds your line helping to load your rod for a cast. Use the grip, stance, and arm position of your basic overhead cast when you make the roll cast. After making a cast or when the line is already out in front of you, slowly raise the rod tip up (way up), slightly away, and behind you so a loop of fly line forms from your rod tip (behind you) to the water near your feet with the remainder of the line on the water in front of you. WAIT…for the fly line to stop moving across the water so the surface tension grabs it. Now lower your elbow placing your arm in the position it would be in at the end of a normal back cast. Make a strong, quick and powerful forward cast. The forearm is moved toward the target first and the wrist will turn the rod over to complete the cast. The power should be at maximum near the end of the cast just before a crisp stop. Stop very sharply to allow the rod to throw the line. Prior to the stop, the rod tip should be making a straight-line path toward the horizon or slightly above to send the line out in front of you. Performed correctly the loop will look like an elliptical oval or a short flattened O.
This is a great technique for small mountain streams where a back cast usually places our fly in streamside vegetation. By using the roll cast we eliminate walking back to dislodge our fly from the rhododendron and laurel. Some day there will be a lightweight, collapsible, pocket sized tree trimmer to retrieve flies. But since my vest is already full, I guess I’ll stick with the roll cast when fishing tight waters. Now, if we can just keep our fly out of the bushes on our forward cast we’ll get more time fishing.
- Often when I change flies or add tippet I find knots in my leader. I know these are called wind knots but I don’t know what I’m doing to cause them. How can I keep from getting these knots?
- To keep from forming knots in your leader and tippet you must determine what you are doing in your casting stroke that is causing a “tailing loop” or a loop that closes with the leader dropping and crossing below the fly line. The tailing loop is what allows wind knots to form. The fact these are more commonly found on windy days is the key to discovering what is forming them. Generally on windy days fly-fishers will cast harder (more forcefully) in an attempt to overcome the effect the wind has on the fly line and leader. This greater force applied during the casting stroke can cause the rod tip to travel in a concave path where the tip of the rod is lower in the middle of the casting stroke than it is at the beginning or end of the stroke. To better understand this let’s look at the opposite, a convex rod tip path. Fly-casters who use too much wrist can cause the rod tip to start low, go thru a very high arc, and then end low with a resulting wide loop. Conversely when a rod tip follows a concave path the result is a closed or tailing loop. The application of power during the casting stroke loads (bends) the rod so as to make the rod tip lower during the middle of the cast than it is at the beginning or end of the stroke. The most common reasons for a concave rod tip path and resulting tailing loops are applying too much power too early in the casting stroke and/or not having a wide enough casting arc (holding the rod near vertical thru the entire cast). To prove this try casting with the rod pointed straight up thru the entire casting stroke. Move the rod hand forward and backward parallel to the ground while holding the tip pointing straight up. This will result in a tailing loop on almost every cast. Knowing exactly what causes the tailing loop, and evening knowing how to throw them on purpose, will give you the solution for eliminating troublesome loops and their resulting wind knots.
- So just how wide of an arc do you need to make to eliminate tailing loops? And just how long do you need to wait in the casting stroke before applying maximum speed and power? The short answer is to cast an arc stopping at 10:30 on the forward cast and 1:00 on the back cast while applying maximum speed and power just before the stopping point on both the forward and back casts. The real answer is everything about your cast varies with the type of fly you are casting, the length of your leader, the action of your rod, the weight and design of your fly line, the amount of line aerialized outside the rod tip, the wind direction and speed, and more. It is in these variables that we find the challenge and, yes, the enjoyment of fly-fishing. A sport wherein “mastery” seems slightly out of reach and the more we learn the more we find there is to learn. But then if fly-casting was as straight forward as spin fishing or using a bait caster would you even be throwing the long rod?
Q. I mend my line to get a drag free float, however I know there is a way to cast a curve in my line so it starts off with a mend. What is the best way to accomplish this?
A. There are several different casts that will produce curves. The curve cast, the curve mend, and the curve reach are three of them. The curve cast is produced during the cast, it always curves the end of the line, and (in my opinion) is one of the most difficult casts to master. It is also the only true “cast” of the three. The curved mend and the reach mend are made after the casting stroke before the line falls to the water; and, therefore, are mends, not casts. Let’s examine the reach mend and the curve mend since they are more easily mastered and will accomplish your objective. To make the reach mend, cast your line slightly harder and at a slightly higher trajectory than normal. After the stop at the end of the casting stroke, “reach” your rod tip straight up stream. To have a mend run the entire length of the line, from the rod tip to the fly, the rod must be dropped to the side immediately after the casting stroke stop. If you pause very long after the stop only the back end of the line will mend upstream. The curve mend is best used to cast around obstructions or to get a portion of your line mended upstream when casting across a fast water current seam to slower pocket water. A curve mend is actually two reach mends, one made after the other in opposite directions. To make a curved mend to the right first reach right immediately followed by reaching back to center or left. You can control the location and size of your curve by varying the timing of your reaches. Reaching immediately after the casting stroke will place the curve toward the tip of your line while a pause after the stop will place the curve closer to your rod. Likewise, a quick reach followed immediately by the opposite reach will create a small curve length whereas a long pause between reaches will create a long curve length. You can also vary the depth of the curve by reaching far to the side or only slightly reaching the tip sideways.
Try combining the reach mend or curved mend with your “on the water mends” for an exceptionally long drag free float.
CASTING MULTIPLE FLIES
Q. On a recent outing a friend showed me how to use a dropper system with two flies, split shot, and a strike indicator. I’ve never liked this system as it doesn’t seem like “real” fly fishing, but this time I liked it even less because my line kept getting tangled up. My friend’s line cast fine, and we were casting identical leaders. Was there something different in the way we cast which caused my tangles?
A. It is quite possible your cast is the culprit of your tangled troubles, and it’s probably because your cast is too good. The perfect cast for a single fly is usually one that follows a straight-line path. With extra terminal tackle, it might be necessary to “open-up” your casting loops in order to keep the flies and line from meeting themselves as they move forward and backward. The wider loop is also better with these dropper rigs because it reduces the 180-degree change of direction that you get with a tight loop at the end of your forward and back casts. One way to open the loop is to open up your casting arc or to widen the stopping points. Instead of stopping the rod at 10:00 on the forward cast and 1:00 on the back cast, try stopping at 9:30 and 2:00. This “windshield wiper” type of casting will open your loop in the vertical plane. If wind or other conditions will not allow an overhead wide loop cast, you can eliminate your tangles by widening your loop sideways. To do this, make a slightly sidearm back cast followed by an overhead forward cast. From above looking down this cast looks like an elliptical oval or a flattened circle with the forward and back casts parallel to each other and connected by a small curve at each end of the casting strokes. In this fashion you are casting a wide loop in the horizontal plane. Opening your casting loops in either the vertical or horizontal plane requires very little practice to accomplish as the wide looped and oval casts are so similar to the basic overhead cast. Try one of these casts the next time you’re out. These casts can be the fast fix for the tangled dropper blues.
DOUBLE HAUL CASTING
Q. I’ve been invited to go salt water fly fishing and I was told I need to be able to double haul to get distance and to overcome the effects of wind. What is the right way to do it?
A. Most Georgia trout fishermen are shocked at the degree of difference there is in the world of salt-water fly casting. The double haul is definitely a requisite to keep your trip from turning into an exercise in frustration.
The variations I’ve heard on how to haul are bewildering. Some instructors say “pull short”, others say “pull long”, still others “pull fast”, “pull slow”, “pull hard”, “pull easy”, “pull early”, “pull late”…The single and double haul are relatively simple maneuvers that involve a line hand pull on the fly line while casting with the rod hand. If we understand that the line hand haul simply assists the rod hand to make the cast (same basic cast) only with faster line speed then we quickly understand when to haul. In a basic overhead single hand cast we start slow to get the entire fly line moving in one direction, accelerate during the middle of the cast to get the “wrinkles” out and gain faster line speed, finishing the cast with maximum acceleration and rod loading just before a crisp stop. Adding a haul with the line hand is simple. It is a mirror image in movement of the rod hand. When the rod hand accelerates thru the casting stroke the line hand accelerates with the pull. As the rod hand reaches the maximum acceleration toward the end of the stroke the line hand pulls faster. When the rod hand stops, stop the haul with the line hand. Easy…right? Unfortunately the concept is easier to grasp than the practical application. Mastering equal movement and symmetry of both hands working in opposite directions is a little like learning how to rub your tummy and pat your head. It takes practice.
Here are two techniques I use that help students in our school quickly learn the double haul. First, put the rod down and pantomime the double haul with hands only, eliminating the distraction of casting a fly line while building muscle memory of what the hands are expected to do. The more time you give to this exercise the easier it will be to double haul when you pick the rod back up. One of the beautiful things about the pantomime exercise is you can do this anytime anywhere, although it will draw attention at red lights and at work. The second method I use is when you do pick the rod up and attempt the double haul; make only one-half of the cast at a time. Make a single haul back cast letting the line fall to the ground. Next make a single haul forward cast and again let the line fall to the ground. It may even help to perform these half casts in a side arm fashion in front of you rather than overhead so you can easily see what you are doing. Making single haul casts will give you ample time to think about what you are doing. When each half of the cast feels right, try putting the two single hauls together into the double haul.
Be careful out there, it’s really easy to get bitten by the saltwater fly-fishing bug…I know!
Q. Now that the “dog days” of summer are here I’m finding a lot of fish are holding in the shade under overhanging tree branches. Do you have any suggestions how to reach fish back under low overhangs? I’ve been trying to cast side arm but it doesn’t get the fly back very far.
A. Casting under low overhanging limbs and structure like boat docks can be a tough one for the fly caster. You’re right on course with the side arm cast to keep the loop low and horizontal. Many fly casters don’t realize just how high an angle an overhead cast is coming from. A 5 ½’ tall caster will hold the rod butt 4 ½’ off the ground plus a 9’ rod plus a 2’ to 5’ tall loop puts the fly 16 or more feet in the air. In addition to your basic side arm cast, you might try an underhand cast. The goal of this cast is to not only have your unrolling loop horizontal, but to actually have the fly delivered lower than the line. It’s the opposite of an overhead cast where the fly is delivered on top of the line as the loop unrolls. In the overhead cast the fly is on top because the stop at the end of the final forward casting stroke allows the rod tip to travel forward and DOWN. To execute the underhand cast simply cast side arm as near to horizontal as possible and as you stop at the end of the final forward casting stroke, lift the rod tip UP. This way the following fly line will pass under the rod tip and the loop will form upside down. The loop and fly line unrolling upside down makes for the most delicate presentation. I’ll sometimes use it dry fly fishing for weary trout in the middle of the stream, too. A second cast to help you probe under very low structure is the skip cast. The skip cast requires a very tight loop whose energy is directed straight forward as well as to substantially over power the cast. If you cast sidearm at a low enough angle the fly and line will skip across the water just like when you skipped stones as a kid. This works best on short casts and smooth water and requires the tight loop for the skipping line to pull the fly back under cover. If you’re intentionally going to try tangling with timber you will want to fish barbless and with a weed guard as hang-ups are inevitable…but it’s worth it to get your fly to the best sheltering lie. If the fish are not biting you can always brush up on your techniques for skipping those stones.
CASTING A STRAIGHT LEADER
- Many times when I cast, my leader doesn’t turn over and winds up in a pile. How can I get my leader to turn over and straighten out?
- There are a few reasons why a leader might not turn over completely. Before looking at the casting mechanics, we need to examine the construction of the leader itself. This can contribute to the problem, especially for those of us who make our own leaders. There are many formulas for proper leader / tippet construction available. Don’t just guess…follow a proven formula. And before you begin casting, take time to straighten the leader to remove the memory coils. This can be done easily by stretching and warming your leader. Run your fingers or a commercial leader straightener down the line and the memory coils will be forgotten. We also need to look at the size (diameter) of the leader. Casting a leader that does not have the correct tippet diameter to cast the size fly selected will cause casting troubles including everything from piled up leaders to snapped off flys. To determine the correct tippet size for the fly you’re casting remember the “divide by three” rule. For example if you’re casting a size 18 fly, then divide 18 by 3 and you get 6. This formula tells us a 6X tippet would be the correct tippet for most size 18 flys. Once we have a correctly constructed leader, the diameter is right for the size fly we intend to cast, and memory coils removed, then we can look at the casting stroke and how it may cause the leader to “pile up”. The four most common ways our casting contributes to a leader not laying out straight are: (1) Stopping the rod tip too low on the final forward casting stroke. (2) Not casting with sufficient power or line speed to turn over the fly and leader. (3) Casting with too much power and line speed causing the line to stretch out and spring back while falling to the water. (4) Casting with the tip of the rod moving through a curving (sideways) path during the casting stroke rather than a straight-line path. This will always result in the leader curving off to one side.
- Experimenting with the above variables will help you determine the cause of your collapsed leader and get your casting “straightened out”. Remember, you don’t always want a straight leader; many times a slack leader is the ticket for a longer more natural drag free float.
COMMON CASTING ERRORS
Q. What is the most common error fly casters make?
A. From conversations with other FFF certified casting instructors around the country, our instructor’s web linked message board, and my personal experience teaching hundreds of students each year, I would have to say the MOST common error is stopping the rod too far back on the back cast. It is often caused by “breaking” the wrist.
A list of the 15 Most Common Casting Errors is reprinted below by permission of the copyright holder Gary A. Borger.
- The cast is started with too much slack line on the water.
- A two stage back cast
- The cast is started with the rod at about 45 degrees above horizontal.
- The rod goes too far back on the back cast (until the rod is horizontal to the water).
- The wrist is turned out on the back cast; on the forward cast the wrist is then turned inward.
- On the forward stroke the casting arm is thrown straight forward.
- The rod hand drifts forward during the pause between the back cast and the forward cast (this is also called creeping).
- The forward cast starts fast and ends slow.
- The line is released too early during the stroke, shooting line before a complete stop.
- Wrist casting
- Forearm casting
- No / insufficient pause between the back cast and the forward cast
- A roll cast in which the forward stroke is started too soon
- A roll cast in which the rod is stopped too low on the forward stroke
- A roll cast in which the rod is stopped too high on the forward stroke
- Did you find your casting style on this hit list? I often find myself guilty of a variety of these casting errors. If you really want to be a better caster it requires knowing what you want to change about your cast and working on one aspect at a time. For most of us it’s enough to keep us busy for a long while…but happily busy on our favorite water.
Q. What is the best grip to make really accurate casts? I’ve heard the finger on top of the cork grip is more accurate than the thumb on top. What do you recommend?
A. I personally use the thumb on top, and that is what we recommend at our fly-fishing school although we review various grips. Accuracy comes not so much from a certain grip as it does from the path the rod tip takes as it moves forward and backward through the casting stroke. Whether you use the finger, the thumb or a V grip, the key is to keep it hidden from your target tucked behind the cork and the reel pointing at the target through the entire casting stroke. The best way to become an accurate caster is to practice casting at targets such as Frisbees thrown out on a lawn. Vary the distances and angles of your targets and try to drop a yarn fly as near to them as possible. A great substitute for Frisbees this time of year is the fallen leaves. Walk around your yard or a park and pick out leaves and patches of grass to try and drop your fly on. Concentrate on making the tip of your fly rod follow a straight-line path away from (back cast) and toward (forward cast) the target. It is important to practice this accuracy game by casting in different planes such as the overhead cast, the sidearm cast and the across body cast. In this way you will be prepared to make accurate casts in a real streamside scenario. Most of our mountain streams dictate an accurate presentation to be successful but rarely allow a basic overhead-casting stroke due to trees and foliage. Practice your accuracy in different planes before you hit the stream, and you will have the skill and confidence to place your fly where you want it regardless of the ever-present fly catching rhododendron and mountain laurel. Practice may not make your casting perfect but it certainly will make it better.
CHOOSING LINE WEIGHTS
Q. I have a rod that is dual rated in line weight. It’s a 4/5 weight and I’ve heard opposing opinions from friends and fly shops. Should I use the line weight heavier or lighter? What is your opinion of the right line for this rod?
A. The safe bet on a single rated rod is to use the line weight recommended by the rod manufacturer. This should provide you with the best all round performance of your rod’s capabilities. Even with single rated rods you’ll hear of anglers “up lining” (using a line weight heavier) or “down lining” (using a line weight lighter) because some anglers do not want the best all-round performance. With dual rated rods you have a choice in line weight, and the rational for choosing the lighter or heavier line is simple. First, let’s look at how lines are rated for weight. Prior to the 1940’s most lines were braided silk with enameled (water proof) coatings. With the advent of new materials like nylon (lighter) and Dacron (heavier) the AFTMA (Association of Fishing Tackle Manufacturers) has standardized the designation of line weights based on the weight in grains of the first 30’ of your line, minus any short, level tip section. Today rods are designed to be a certain line weight so they will load with approximately 30’ of that weight line beyond the rod tip. I recommend you choose your line weight based on the average distance you will be casting. If the majority of your fishing is done in small mountain streams with casts of 30’ or less, I would recommend the heavier line to get your rod to load more fully with less than a full 30’ of line out of the tip. Conversely, if most of your fishing is done on big rivers or open water lakes and ponds with long casts, I would recommend the lighter line choice to carry more line in the air without overloading your rod. Other reasons for deviating from the manufacture’s recommendations are varied. The most prevalent reason today is the surge toward FAST action rods. Some manufactures in an effort to “push the envelope” on FAST have built rods that would better cast a line weight heavier in all but the testosterone driven distance casting contests. In my opinion we are at the peak of a rising tide. We have the technology to make even faster rods, but they will become increasingly more difficult for the average angler to cast. I would even suggest that all but the wind driven salt water angler and the big river salmon angler will be back to casting slower rods in the next few years. Why not? They cast just as well, if not better, in small streams, can present a fly more delicately, and are a lot more fun to play a fish on. I still enjoy slow rods with a noodeley bend that makes a 12-inch Rainbow feel like a Whale.
CHOOSING LINE TYPES
Q. I recently received a new rod and reel for a gift and I need to buy a line for it. It’s a 5 wt. Fast Action rod. I went shopping for a line but there are so many choices these days, and so many tapers, how do you choose the right one?
A. Very Carefully! Actually you should choose your line based on a few variables:
(1) The length of most of your casts
(2) The size fly you will typically throw
(3) The water temperature
(4) The depth you would like to fish
(5) How stealthy you need your approach to be
(6) How much mending or roll casting you do
(7) The size of the fish you will catching
I’ll try to give a brief synopsis of each of the above 7 variables.
(1) Length of casts: For medium to short casts a WF (weight forward) or DT (double taper) line will work well but for longer casts stay with a WF (weight forward) line. For real long casts use a WF with a long belly and/or a long rear taper as it loads and shoots easier with more line aerialized out of the rod tip.
(2) Size of fly: For delicate fly-fishing for trout a long front taper is fine although a regular front taper may turn over a very long thin leader better. To turn over big wind resistant flies a bass bug taper is preferred. The shorter front taper turns over the energy of the forward moving loop faster and with more energy, resulting in a leader turning over fast enough to pull a big fly through the air.
(3) Water temperature: The stiffness or limpness of a line will affect performance. A Tropic line made with a braided monofilament core and a stiff PVC coating is designed to handle warm waters and a 100-degree boat deck. Take it to your trout stream in the winter and it will have a lot of “memory” and may be too stiff to cast well. Likewise a braided multifilament steelhead taper will wilt in the Georgia summer sun on a farm pond. The limp, supple line will cause slack between the guides and effect distance casting.
(4) Depth: Floating line is by far the most popular, but don’t overlook intermediate or even sinking lines. A line for every depth and every sink rate is available, and there are a lot of fish deep in the water column. A regular sink line will sink faster in the heavy belly of the line. A sink tip will sink only in the tip, while a density compensated or steady sink will sink evenly between the belly and the forward taper
(5) Stealth: If you fish for weary spring creek trout, the educated fish in trophy catch and release streams, or in the clear salt flats for bonefish or tarpon think in terms of a clear single-strand monofilament core line. A nice compromise is the clear or ghost tip lines which still allow you to see all but about the last 15 feet of your line. This will help a lot in timing, accuracy, and distance when casting. Seeing your line will also help in correct mending and strike detection. If you haven’t had the chance to cast a clear line yet just go out tonight and cast in the dark. You’ll soon realize how much you depend on seeing your line to make casts.
(6) Mending / Roll casting: Short mends and roll casts are easy with most any type of line but distance mending and roll casting can be adversely affected by short WF heads with short rear tapers. The smaller running line cannot effectively transfer the energy of the roll or mend to the heavier belly of the line.
(7) The size fish you will be catching: In some instances you will need to choose a line weight by the size fish you will be fighting and landing. For example: the flies you would typically need to throw to tarpon are relatively small and could be thrown on a 7 wt. rod and line but you would be very underpowered trying to leverage a 100 pound fish with much less than a 12 wt. rod and line.
There are many variables, but these are some of the major considerations. I suggest you first purchase the line you think you will use the most often. As for all the rest of your fishing??? That’s why so many reel manufacturers sell extra spools!
SUBSTANCE VERSUS STYLE
Q. After attending the Shallow Water Expo I’m confused. I watched several great casters who made casting look effortless, but they cast so differently. After experimenting with different styles my casting is all screwed up. HELP! Is there one way that is better (or easier) to learn?
A. You’ve asked the age-old question of substance versus style. Well, it might not be ages old, but since the era of bamboo casting styles have been-a-changing. With the advent of graphite, rods are lighter, stiffer, stronger, and are capable of casting a greater length of line. This has resulted in a wide variety of casting styles with most designed to extend the length of the casting stroke for distance casting. Most of the great casters have similar styles when casting short distances for accuracy, but they vary significantly in how they cast long distances. I suggest you watch as many expert styles as you can, taking ideas from all of them, and put it together in a way that works for you. Your casting will only suffer temporarily while adjusting to a different style as long as you are keeping within the mechanical laws and principles that govern casting. These principles are the same for everyone (substance), but how you apply them is uniquely you (style). I have a pneumonic to help remind me of the mechanical laws when I am teaching casting schools. It is P.S. SAPS; The P.S. is like the reminder at the end of a letter and the SAPS is like sticky tree saps. Together it makes something you better remember to stick to.
P. = Pause: There must be a pause at the end of each casting stroke The length of the pause varies in duration with the amount of line past the rod tip.
S. = Slack: Slack line must be kept to a minimum. Especially on the pick-up and the timing of the strokes so the loops have unrolled and are straight.
S = Straight: You must make the rod tip follow a straight-line path. This straight path is crucial in both the vertical and horizontal planes.
A = Arc: The size of the casting arc must vary with the amount of line past the rod tip. (This is where we see the vast array of styles to get the long-stroke, long-arc necessary for distance)
P = Power: Power must be applied in the proper amount at the proper time. Apply power slowly at first gradually increasing to a peak at the end of the stroke.
S = Stop: There must be a crisp stop at the end of each stroke. The stop allows the loaded fly rod to unload and deliver the line.
No matter what the caster’s style is to achieve distance, whether it is elbow in or out, rod overhead or sidearm, jab the rod or speed up and stop, all great casters follow P.S. SAPS. They are the six mechanical rules of substance that cannot be violated. For some, emulating a famous caster can be a short cut to finding an effective style: For others it creates confusion. Try not to be intimidated or confused by the style variations of the great casters. They have each found a style that works best for their body type. As long as your loops are fairly tight and unroll in a straight line there is no reason to be self-conscious about your style. Keep trying and you will like the outcome at the other end of your trials. I have had my greatest casting break-throughs from experiments that had my casting all “screwed-up”.
FLY LINE MAINTENANCE
Q. I recently got my fly rod out of storage after 4+ years of not fishing (long story). I’m wondering if I need to get a new fly line before heading out or will it still be okay?
A. First you will want to stretch your line to get rid of the memory coils and inspect the PVC coating for cracks. It seems many of us forget to take proper care and perform basic maintenance of our fly lines. While there isn’t a lot of attention needed, fly lines can be expensive and we should try to get as long of life from them as possible. Here are some tips to help you get the longest life from your line, and the four things that will affect longevity.
(1) Amount of use: Manufactures suggest that a fly line’s average life is from three to five years. Some guides and avid anglers will wear out a fly line each year while other recreational anglers may have a line last for up to ten years
(2) Keep the line clean: The line slickness or coefficient of friction (COF) and its flotation are most affected by the condition of the surface of the line. There are many commercial cleaners and dressings on the market that work well. Or simply use soap and water to clean the line and rinse thoughly with fresh water. Use mild hand soap, not strong detergent soaps. For internally lubricated line, cleaning is all that is needed. For lines with top dressings you will want to reapply dressing after cleaning and drying.
(3) Avoid contaminants: The second fastest way to ruin a line is with solvents or petroleum products. (A boat propeller is the first…don’t ask how I know) Solvents found in insect repellants, sunscreens, and fly floatants are examples of common contaminants we come in contact with while handling fly line. If you fish from a boat watch out for line contact with gas tanks and don’t handle fuel without washing your hands. I recommend carrying a small Zip-Lock bag with biodegradable soap for washing your hands after applying sunscreen, insect repellants, or handling any petroleum products.
(4) Storage of line: Fly lines are supple because they have plasticizers in their PVC coatings. Over the lifetime of a line these rise to the surface and are lost leaving the line stiff and susceptible to cracking. Ultraviolet light and heat accelerates the rate of plasticizer-migration to the surface shortening the line life. Storing gear in your vehicle during fishing season, or storing it off-season in your attic, furnace room, or in direct sun light can bake your line. Cool dark places are the best place to store line and for virtually unlimited shelf life store your line in the refrigerator.
I hope your fly rods don’t see extended storage but if you do store line for long periods of time you can leave it on your reel since storing line in small coils does not damage it
For the best performance and an extra few feet of casting distance, clean your rod’s guides when you clean your line. Your guides get dirty, too, and are what create drag and friction when you attempt to shoot line.
Q. I have been practicing the specialty casts you showed me since attending your fly-casting school. The curve cast and the underhand cast are especially cool. Now I want to improve my distance cast. What can I do to cast a really long line?
A. Distance casting is a pleasure to watch and fun to do. At the fly-fishing shows the luminaries of our sport make it look both easy and, at the same time, almost magical. But the truth about distance casting is there is no magic. Casting the whole fly line is achieved by casting the tightest loops possible with the fastest rod speed possible. Unfortunately, few casters know how to correctly practice to gain distance. Often they simply try and try to throw a long line and seldom see measurable improvement. By following our proven formula anyone can add substantial distance to his or her cast.
STEP 1: Rather than practicing distance, practice achieving perfect loops. Start with just 15-20 feet of line and cast the tightest loops possible. Loops of less than two feet will slice through the air very efficiently. Next, add 12-18 inches of line at a time while maintaining loops as tight as possible. Keep practicing until you can cast 50 or more feet of line
STEP 2: After mastering tight loops it is time to add line speed. Again, start with just 15-20 feet of line. As you false cast, slowly increase the speed of your rod until you are casting as fast as possible without losing your tight loops. Next add 12-18 inches of line at a time until you can cast 50 or more feet of line, fast, with tight loops.
STEP 3: After mastering tight loops and high line speed it is time to shoot line. Holding the longest line possible aloft, shoot line exactly at the time you stop your final forward cast. Practice to find the precise moment to shoot line. Try releasing it a little early and then a little late to help you hone in on the magic moment to shoot line for maximum distance.
NOTE: Adding the double-haul will give you the greatest distance by assisting in both tight loops and the highest line speed. Practice our recommended drills offered here first. Adding the double-haul to good technique will enhance your casting. However, learning the double-haul first can become a crutch covering up poor technique
KNOTS TO TIE ON FLIES
Q. What is the best knot to use to tie a fly on to the leader?
A. Most fishermen use a Clinch or Improved Clinch knot often called a “fishing knot”. This knot has been used for generations to tie on all kinds of terminal tackle, hooks, plugs, jigs, flies…you name it. The majority of all fishermen use this knot so it must be the best, right?
How many times can you remember loosing a good fish and finding a curly-Q - pig tail in the end of your line telling you your knot failed? What about break-offs? Did the line break near where the knot was? Let’s face it, most of us have never tested how well we tie our favorite knots. Few of us have spent time learning new knots and have no idea how strong our knots test especially with different materials such as nylon co-polymers or fluorocarbon.
If we were to look for the perfect knot for this job it would be a knot that is easy to tie, has a small profile to not be seen, won’t slip and come loose, and retains close to 100% of the lines strength.
There are a number of knots that can be used for this application depending on the diameter of the line and the material your tying with. The clinch works but has break strength of somewhere around 80% - 90% and can work loose after a few fish. Other knots worth considering for this job are the Palomar Knot and the Kreh Loop. The Palomar will use more leader to tie but approaches 100% strength in Nylon and Fluorocarbon. The Kreh Loop has 95% - 100% break strength and allows the fly to swing free on a loop. This is helpful when tying with heavy bite tippets such as for tarpon and snook or when you just want the fly to have a more natural action. There are many other knots but these two will give you some options.
Perhaps most important is having a knot you know how to tie well and have confidence in it. I recommend you tie a few of your favorite knots and test them with a scale. If you don't have a scale handy you can compare two knots by tying them both to a strong ring and pulling from opposite directions. In this fashion you can test two different knots against each other. Test your knots with both a steady pull and a sharp jerk. Seeing which knot breaks first is an eye opener and has caused more than one of my fishing friends to change the knots they tie and use.