Our Man In Canada
August 13th, 2007

Back to School
By Chris Chin, Proulxville Quebec, Canada

I'm not sure about other Northern hemisphere countries, but in Canada, right around the middle of July, the big box stores start the 'Back to School' marketing campaigns. You've probably seen them. (A source of horror for our teenage son). Right about this same time, the river here gets a second run of anglers.

You see, many many people think that Atlantic salmon fishing is a highly technical sport. (Wrong!) This means that once the black flies settle down a bit and the hardcore salmon anglers thin out, the newcomers start booking.

There are two distinct groups here. 1) The experienced trout and pan fish fly fishers who want to give Atlantics a try and 2) the "friends," partners and office colleagues. For this latter group, casting and fishing instruction is a breeze because they usually don't have all the bad habits to iron out. For the former group, the road to balancing out their casting is a whole different story.

For a seasoned small trout fly fisher, the first time they take to hand a 9½ ft 8 wt salmon rod, they are a bit over whelmed. The muscle memory seems to go into over drive; they start opening up their casting stroke and over powering the rod. In my honest opinion, I think it's because of the longer rod and heavier "feel" to the over all rig.

Note: I am very far from being an elegant fly caster and I thank JC and Deanna profoundly for showing me some nice casting, diagnostic and teaching techniques. In other words, "Do as I say and not as I do."

Every year for the past six or seven years, I go and read through the archives here to get a handle on the basics. Two excellent places to start are of course:

Fly fishing 101 and Control Casting

When I'm on the water (or the soccer field) working on casting, nine times out of ten, with big rods, I find that folks are over powering the rod somewhere along the way. Most of the time, it's in the forward cast.

I truly believe that anglers over power the forward cast because they want to cast farther. Of course, over powering a forward stroke will inevitably create a trailing loop and not cast very far at all (especially with a big #6 long shank stone fly)!

Back to basics. The easiest way for me to get people to balance out their backwards and forwards cast is to stop thinking about casting and think only of stopping their rod in a nice high position "Keepyst thynne baakast upeth." The rest will all sort itself out by itself.

Case in point:

A few weeks ago I was driving home from the North Shore office. As my route takes me along the river, of course I'll always stop off at a few pools to see what's moving.

An acquaintance's girlfriend was setup under the gallery casting to some nice trout while he was on the far side swinging a wet for salmon.

Now I could see the trout quite clearly. They were sitting in the reverse current straight out from our friend. Unfortunately, with the wide rod swings that she was making, the line just wouldn't (couldn't) lay out properly into the gently breeze that she was bucking. The big dry was stalling and landing 3 feet BEHIND and short of the trout on every cast.

With the big salmon rod, our friend was swinging wide and far behind herself, then over powering the rod on the forward cast because she couldn't feel the rod loading (because it wasn't). The overpowered cast was also shooting the line UPWARDS into the breeze.

I called down to ask if she wanted some pointers and she readily accepted. I shook off my shoes, rolled up my slacks and climbed out onto a sunken rock beside her.

I had Jenny spool in a couple feet of line. A physiological trick to make people think that it will be easier to cast. First things first. Get a nice solid STOP to the rod at a "just past vertical" position on the backward cast. On the first back cast with a nice stop in it, I could see the rod loading properly and Jenny could feel it.

Next, stop overpowering the forward cast. I borrowed her rod and stripped another 10 feet of line off of the reel and let it pile at our feet. One solid back cast with a high stop, forward and all the extra line was shooting through the guides.

I stripped in the extra line and handed the rod back to Jenny. I had her do the same thing as we cast a tad too far to the left (and over empty water). Same effect. The rod loads nicely and the forward cast is just a simple automatic consequence of a proper back cast. The line which is lying in coils at our feet simply up and jumps through the guides by itself. The line lays out nicely 50 feet in front of us.

I have Jenny aim 10 feet to the right. Nice affirmative stop of the rod, gentle forward cast and the line unrolls the leader and fly 3 feet upstream and across to the pod of trout.

Sea run brook trout here take a dry fly with an urgency born of the hostile marine environment where they spend most of their lives. The big buck takes the oversized brown hackle red and sails across the current taking Jen into 20 feet of backing in a heart beat.

From the far side of the pool, her boyfriend is spooling up, hollering encouragement and jumping for joy all at the same time. Even though he had connected to a couple trout and a nice salmon during the week, he really wanted his girlfriend to connect to a nice fish during their stay.

We pretty well have our hands full as the trout settles in across from us in the current. Sitting deep in the seam, the trout is letting the current hold him down as he does his best imitation of a cinder block.

With the 10 lb salmon leader, we're not afraid to break off so Jen leans hard into the rod and the trout slowly pulls off of the bottom. Once he comes up into the water column, the fight is back on and we move into a series of cat 'n mouse runs and reel sprints. After about 10 minutes of this, the trout is finally tiring and we can make him move slowly through the current back towards us.

Unfortunately, Jen's boyfriend had the camera in his vest, so the release and hand shake were not captured for posterity. A 5 lb trout is anyway a tad too big for the 12 inch skillet.

With a nice high stop, Renée is waiting for the rod to load fully before moving forward into the cast.

So, in this "back to school" season, if you're getting a bit frustrated casting into the wind or you're just looking to practice a bit, try going back to the basics. I know that I will. With a shoulder that just can't cast big rods any more, I'll be learning to cast left handed this week! ~ Christopher Chin – Proulxville Quebec

About Chris:

Chris Chin is originally from Kamloops, British Columbia. He has been fly fishing on and off ever since he was 10 years old. Chris became serious about the sport within the last 10 years.

"I'm a forest engineer by day and part time guide on the Ste-Marguerite River here in central Quebec. I've been fishing this river for about 10 years now and started guiding about 5 years ago when the local guide's association sort of stopped functioning."

Chris guides mostly for sea run brook trout and about 30% of the time for Atlantic Salmon. "I often don't even charge service fees, as I'm more interested in promoting the river than making cash. I like to get new comers to realize that salmon fishing is REALLY for anyone who cares to try it. Tradition around here makes some of the old clan see Salmon fishing as a sport for the rich. Today our shore lunches are less on the cucumber sandwich side and more toward chicken pot pie and Jack Daniel's."

Chris is 42 years old as of this writing. He is of Chinese origin although his parents were born and raised in Jamaica. He has a girlfriend, Renée. "She and her 12 year old son Vincent started fly fishing with me in October 2002."

To learn more about the Ste-Marguerite River, visit Christopher's website http://pages.videotron.com/fcch/.

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