Nothing New Under the Sun

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As the planning for a next New Zealand fishing trip began to take shape I remembered something lost somewhere in my messy fishing library. Browsing for a while gave its fruit. The book’s title is Stalking Trout, and it was published in 1985. On its first page a manuscript note by my hand says: June 2000.

I wasn’t specially interested in the subject as much as in the background: the authors are kiwis and the book is devoted to catching New Zealand trout. It actually made for a nice reading so it was over in just a couple of days. No fantastic discoveries to share here, though the abundance of paragraphs I, at the time, underlined in red shows that today’s no-brainers were illuminating findings sixteen years ago. Older but, at least, a little bit wiser.

The chapter on conservation caught my attention. For a book more than thirty years old -and from a country with plenty of healthy fisheries, still today- its call for C&R practices is particularly surprising… and saddening when compared to the level of consciousness (lack of it to be precise) I see around here.

As a guideline to the proper release of fish the chapter gives what time has stablished as the usual recommendations, with the exciting addition of a very NZ specific one: carry a landing net big enough!

In recent times an interesting social media campaign has focused on raising awareness of the fact that “releasing” and “releasing to survive” aren’t the same thing. And this sets a fundamental difference between the old advice and the new one: those kiwis didn’t imagine at the time that an angler provided with a camera should be reminded of the fact that fish can’t breath air. Obvious things aren’t that obvious, are they?

But in this regard of “releasing alive” there is a point that is missing in both old and new guidelines: sometimes (too many times, judging from what I personally see) the fish destined to be released is, in practical terms, dead before the angler touches it. That old “keep the rod tip up!” we heard so many times in those first fishing days, has the ability of killing as many fish as the neglecting angler-photographer.

Between pointing the rod directly to the fish, and putting the rod at 90 degrees of that position there is a good number of variables that must be used. In that way you vary the amount of force exerted on the fish, pulling lightly when necessary… or up to the tippet breaking strain limit when possible. The amount of force we actually exert on a fish and the force we feel in our wrist, are of very different magnitude. It is the nature of levers. Here is an enlightening experience I do during my classes and recommend to every angler:

Ask a friend to rig his rod with a line provided with a pretty thick tippet. Take the end of the tippet between index and thumb, and challege your friend to take the tippet off your fingers with his “rod tip up”. Warn him about rod breakage first, then enjoy the look of his face when he starts feeling worried of injuring his wrist while you happily sip your beer.

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Early? Late? Just the Opposite?

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The dreams of dry fly fishers are populated with big trout confidently sipping our flies from the surface. In my particular case I prefer to dream of a big brown eventually taking some of my tiny emergers, but only after a period of pure disdain interspersed with a number of refusals. There is no pleasure in too easy things. That is why a great fishing day can’t be measured in numbers, or at least not only in them.

On the other hand too difficult goals often lead to frustration.  There are days when you don’t know whether you are striking too early, too late or they just seem to take the fly… but actually aren’t. It is a mistery, at least to me.

The scene depicted below resulted in the urge of having a couple of cold beers to properly shooth my soul. 😀

 

A Hundred Thousand

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A hundred thousand? Of what? you ask.
Video plays on my Vimeo account.

Not exactly a record, to be honest. Popular videos on the net have that amount of visualizations in a month, some of them in even in a week! It took six years for my clips to get to that number!

And although it is a ridiculous amount by current standards I feel satisfied and surprised.

Filming fly casting things, focusing that work in fly casting mechanics, which is of interest just to the minority of the minority, puts that “hundred thousand” in perspective.
Must I know about casting mechanics in order to be a good caster? Some guy asked me in a fly fair in Germany some years ago.
Of course not, I replied. Do you see that beautiful BWV parked there? You don’t need to know how to design a car engine to be a good driver, not even need to have a clue about how it works, but if you like driving you should be grateful to those who spent their time trying to grasp the  physics of all the amazing things inside that hood. Without their apparently ridiculous and boring efforts you wouldn’t have the opportunity of enjoying a beautiful machine like that; not even the chance of using the most simple of all automobiles.

Thank you for having such a strange interest in these weird things and, please, keep watching!

There is more to come.

In Search of Beauty

That is what fly fishing is about, isn’t it?

Hatch in progress. A quartering dowstream cast to a good brown trying to get a drag-free drift in the tricky currents of a Bosnian chalkstream. The fly falls short of the target but the trout moves half a meter to its right to inspect the size #22 Shuttlecock Emerger. The fly is, apparently, right; obviously the drift is not. I get a well deserved refusal.

Three more casts get the fly drifting freely above the trout’s head. It couldn’t care less. Fourth good drift and the fish opens its mouth with confidence. Trout are a mistery. Fortunately.

Not the biggest fish of the season nor the most difficult, but beautiful. For several reasons.

Fly fishing is a permanent search of beauty, isn’t it?

Mel’s Pulling Through Stroke

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Mel Krieger’s concept of a “pulling” stroke as opposed to a “pushing” one wasn’t intended as a way of differentiating two different casting styles, it was coined to describe any good casting stroke whatever the style used. So you should “pull through” when using an “elbow up-down” style, as much as when using an “elbow backward-forward” one.

Pulling was the term Mel chose to convey the idea of leaving for the end of the stroke as much of the rod rotation as possible. In summary (and using two other Mel’s concepts) “pulling” isn’t a style, it is substance; “pushing” isn’t a style, it is a fault.

The gif above shows the paradox posed by the interpretation of “pulling” as just an stylistic issue: Mel himself is showing what he meant by “pulling through” while performing a cast that some instructors would still define as “pushing”.

Better to let Mel explain himself about the “pulling” concept, and what the gif above is showing (bold is mine):

In the pull through casting stroke, the casting hand precedes the rod tip through most of the casting stroke and the turnover and stop take place only at the end of the casting stroke… Lay out 70 or so feet of fly line on a lawn behind you, fly rod pointing to the fly, and throw a javelin, turning the rod over only at the very end of the throw. You may be pleasantly surprised with this extreme pull through casting motion.

Relax, Balance, Control

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We usually say about masters in any discipline that “they make it look easy”. Probably it isn’t just that it looks easy, I have the conviction that they look so relaxed because… well, they are totally relaxed.

As my fly casting mentor likes to say, a long cast starts in the tip of the toes and ends in the finger tips. Less extreme casts have less body parts in play, but share some important trait in common: good form requires to be as effortless as possible.

In everyday trout fishing casts, our main engine is a combination of arm, forearm and hand. That is why fly casting manuals recommend to apply force with the hand only at the end of the stroke: just around the stop.

Closing your rod hand tight only at the right moment, and for a brief time, makes a lot of sense. Open and close your rod hand while holding your forearm with your other hand, and feel how many muscles get tensioned by that simple exercise. This offers an explanation for that ache starting in the neck and going down the back, so many of us feel after a long day on the river.

I have no idea about biomechanics, but my gut feeling tells me that muscle tension and accuracy are rather incompatible. Just another good reason to train the closing-opening of the hand during the casting stroke.

But truly relaxing the hand is pretty much impossible if we departure from an inadequate starting point. Every time I see someone casting with his reel parallel to the casting plane, I know that things aren’t as effortless as they could be. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, so if it is a video probably even more.

I must confess that just making a few casts with the rim of the reel facing the target felt totally uncomfortable, as you have to constantly force the rod to keep the reel in place. The same goes for an overhead cast, as we normally make them with a slight inclination to the side.

One day this Autumn I handed my rod to the guide and asked him to show me his long nymphing approach in a particularly deep run. I immediately noticed how he got the reel in the “hanging”, relaxed, position. I asked him why; “balance” he said. A much more concise way of conveying the same idea.