Outdoor Writers Association of America
This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

July 17th, 2000

Casting About

If you are out on the water with a fly rod, the assumption is you are fly fishing. That may be your intent, but somehow it just isn't happening for you. I receive a lot of email. Some unfortunately deal with the problems folks encountered on that fishing trip. One they had planned for and really expected to have a grand time (not to mention catching fish.)

More often than not, the problem boils down to the fact the person can't cast.

If you can't get your fly to where you think or know the fish are, even the most consistent rising fish, you might as well go home. Yes, I know, the wind is blowing, probably from the wrong direction - but did you know if you used a double haul into the wind your cast could go where you wanted it to go? The double haul is not just for long-line casting!

The fish are always 10 feet further than you can cast? Wading any deeper would be swimming? What's a person to do?

Work on your casting. Someone asked recently about getting a fly down deep. The correct answer was to cast it further upstream than he wanted to fish and add several half-roll casts, upstream, to allow the fly to go down and drift naturally. One of the 'wrong' answers was to put more weight on the fly. That would produced a tight-lined, deep, un-naturally appearing fly, at the wrong speed, or stuck on the bottom. How to fix it?

Work on your casting.

Casting isn't just doing the long-line 'showoff' stuff you see at the big sport shows. All distance casting is based on the same thing.

Line control.

Being able to do what you want with you fly rod IS being able to control not just where the line goes (read accuracy) but the speed and method necessary to produce the cast you want at a particular time.

The one thing I see most often is to really muscle the rod, try harder and make the same mistakes. The harder you force the rod and the cast the worse it all gets.

For short line fishing, you should be able to put some small paper plates out in half a dozen locations and from 20 to 30 feet drop your fly consistently on the plate. This is short line accuracy. But that usually isn't how you want to cast a line when you are fishing. The 'straight-line' accuracy cast doesn't work to catch fish. The minute your fly hits the water you have drag. So you need a little 'slack' in your leader and tippet. (Most commonly called a slack line cast.) Just enough wiggles in your line and leader to allow the fly to float naturally - without that little 'V' wake, or drag.

By mending your line upstream (by lifting just the rod tip and flipping part of the fly line upstream) you should get a longer, drag-free float. Once your fly has gone by where you think your fish is (or should be) don't pick up your line, but let it float past other potential fish before you pick the fly off the water. You may find another fish, or at least you won't scare them.

With nymphs and streamers, you still want them to drift naturally, not speeding downstream like a freight train. Mend line upstream and as soon as you have a tight line (providing you are past where the fish lie) swim the fly back to you as though it were trying to escape.

The whole idea is to make whatever you are fishing look as much like the insect or baitfish as possible. Fish are not professional baseball players who are paid a ton of money to triangulate and catch a fly ball. For the most part they will not chase your fly. There are exceptions of course, with spawning fish which don't want anything in there territory. But for the most part, your job is to get the fly to where the fish are.

Practice specific things. Like accuracy, and having a forward and backcast which are identical in power, stroke and loops. Teach someone else to cast. It is a wonderful learning experience for you! It will force you to think about what makes a cast, and to put names of the parts and actions of a cast.

Practicing your casting does work. When it becomes second nature, 'natural' you don't have to think about how to do it when you are fishing. Makes fishing a lot more fun.

If your casting is really bad, get some help. Ask a friend to watch and spot problems. Rent or buy Joan Wulff's Dynamics of Fly Casting video, take a class (hopefully from someone who can teach - unfortunately FFF Certified Casting Instructors program emphasis is on how the instructor casts - not on how they teach.) If you find a local instructor ask for references! Someone whom that instructor has taught.

Finally, casting is really fun. It is instant gratification and if you practice you really will see improvement. Just do it. ~ LadyFisher

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