I see it all the time. I mean being ill-prepared for your upcoming trip abroad, specially regarding the proper casting technique to match the challenge ahead. And I have been guilty of it more times than I would like to admit. Frustration —highly aggravated by a depleted bank account— awaits ahead.
So train your casting regularly, starting way before the trip of your dreams begins. Mine is less than a month away. To New Zealand. Probably one of the trips of my lifetime, so I am training as much as I can, not as much as I’d like though.
Anyway it is very true that casting is just one of the array of skills that a successful angler must posses. So, apart from the casting practice, I thought it was time to reread my own notes about some common mistakes and pitfalls, in order to keep them in my subconscious mind when on the water… then adding some more that have been coming to my head after the season was over. Here they are:
- Check your surroundings, specially up and behind you before starting to cast. Trees don’t need more decoration, they are beautiful as such.
- Oval casts are great for heavy nymphs… but also for casting any kind of fly in confined spaces. They help in keeping your fly box well stuffed: it is always better to snag a branch at head height than five meters above you.
- Take fly drag as a given, and act accordingly. Always.
- Having that point above in mind, don’t expect to fix with your line already on the water what you didn’t devise while it still was in the air.
- The ever shortening tippet: every change of fly changes the drifting characteristics of your leader. Take it into account as well when thinking of drag. And don’t be lazy.
- Learn to discern hidden drag. Many times the difference between a bad and a good drift is really minute.
- Change position, casting tactics or both before changing fly.
- When in doubt pull, it could be a fish, even The Fish. This is pretty evident with nymphs and streamers (I keep some painful memories of that), but even the disappearance of that dry fly, apparently sucked in by a small swirl, could be the telltale of a different story.
Anyone marginally interested in the casting world tends to regard fly casting and distance casting as synonyms. It is the same in fly fishing shows: anglers trying bunches of new rod models with their eyes fixed in the far end of the casting pond; it doesn’t make any difference if they are holding a 9’#9 devised for bonefish in the flats or a 8’6″#4 destined to spring creek finesse. I can’t blame them, in the end most of the visual material available on the net is about putting a fluff as far as possible.
What I did never get is why devoted casters and instructors (specially if they are river trout anglers) promote that very same connection.
I can’t think of a more harmful approach for the development of fly casting, at least in Spain. The river “trouter” doesn’t see distance casting as a problem solver for everyday issues presenting a fly, and though I agree that being proficient at long distances makes controlling the line at medium range much easier, that is a relationship that isn’t at all evident to fly fishers.
As you may suppose by now I am not a distance caster; take it as a mild way of saying that I am crap at putting a fly really far away. In my view two fundamental elements pave the way to becoming a distance expert: a single family house and a big garden outside; I lack both of them. The possibility of keeping a rigged rod behind the door at all times helps a lot. Practice makes perfect and for getting your fly thirty plus meters away you need a lot of it!
I have my training lawn at 35 minutes from home, which means more than an hour just to get there and back; add some substantial time for the actual practice and the result is that my opportunities for training aren’t many. But even having a practice field close to my house I doubt I’d be much better in the distance game. No that I wouldn’t be very happy reaching astronomical distances, but spare time is limited and I prefer to spend it improving drag-free drift techniques, which, when looking for real proficiency, are as time consuming as distance itself but much more in tune with the kind of fishing I practice the most.
Have I missed being a good distance caster when fishing? Of course I have! Baltic pike and Patagonia sea-run brown trout come to mind. But I have lost count of how many times I have missed the ability of getting a perfect drift of my fly in the maze of micro-currents of my favorite fishing venues.
Around a year ago I was mentoring a candidate for the IFFF CCI title. After months of in-depth looking at the theoretical test it came the day to check for weaknesses in the practical part. The first tasks on loop control were good. Then I asked for the Reach Cast (or a Reach Mend by the current IFFF standards). He barely moved the rod tip sideways as without any purpose, resulting in a very poor line configuration on the ground, try after try.
“You have to make each cast with authority not only for the examiners to see but when fishing as well” I said.
Then an idea started turning around inside my head.
“Do you know what the practical uses for the Reach are? I asked.
“Practical uses? I thought it was an exercise, something for the examiner to check if you have a good control of the line!” He replied.
Amazing! I can’t think of a single day on the river not sending dozens of Reachs out there, and there I was with a would-be casting instructor who didn’t have a clue about one of the most practical fishing casts available!
Of course he was very good at sending the fly thirty plus meters away.
In my opinion this shows that we, casting instructors, are approaching things in a wrong way. For instance, the invention of “trick casts” intended just for showing off doesn’t exactly help in reconciling -in the eyes of the fishing community- casting with fishing as the two sides of the same coin they actually are.
So here we go with some dry fly downstream drag-free presentations by master angler Zeljko Prpic.
Maybe it is a problem of lack of recruitment, or that every new angler is focused from the start in fishing nymphs without a fly line -most probably both- but over here it is a fact that most of those interested in casting instruction have already been fly fishing for a number of years. They just hadn’t cared about polishing their casting skills. They are what we call “false beginners”.
It is known that deeply ingrained bad casting form is very hard to uproot. It is far easier to get quick, good results with those who start their fly fishing careers taking some casting classes.
Being a self-taught angler puts you in a similar scenario. I know it from experience. Seeing myself repeating the same frustrating mistakes over and over again forced a decision: I won’t forget about those bad habits as soon as I leave the water, only to face them again the next day; I will take my time remembering those bad moves, will reflect on them, and will start an unlearning program.
The season is over, so it looks like a good time to put down a list of those bad moves I have been guilty of perpetrating over the years. Some are already eradicated; others still bring swearing to my mouth from time to time.
- All anglers know that fish seem to have a strange predilection for the opposite bank… Just be aware that your own bank is the opposite one of someone else, and may hold as much fish as that in front. So do look purposefully before entering the water; a big wake running away will remind you of this if you don’t.
- Trout always look upstream, the problem is that upstream doesn’t always mean upriver. Analyze the current’s real direction before making your first cast.
- Cast to specific targets. Always. Even when just fishing the water.
- When your fly drifts over the target, study the curved configuration of the line on the water. That is the radiography of dragging disease.
- Think of fly drag before thinking of fly change.
- Always check every knot after changing a fly.
- Never lose sight of the drift of your fly. If you need to fix something in your tackle remove your fly from the water. Lack of focus equals missed fish. Maybe The Fish.
- If you are tired and feel unmotivated stop fishing. Take a break. A nap. Have a beer or two. Whatever. Lack of focus equals missed fish. Maybe The Fish.
- Slack line is a must for a drag-free drift, but make sure that it doesn’t compromise your ability to strike effectively.
- If you shift from a short rod to a long one, keep in mind that the same arm motion when striking will probably be too much for your thin tippet.
- If after days of fishing #22 emergers on a 7X tippet you change to a big streamer on a stout leader, remember that they invented the strip strike to put it to use. Unless you want to miss the trout of your lifetime, of course, (based on, very recent, actual events).
- When playing a fish stand with your feet touching each other. I managed to break the tip of a new rod when a trout changed its mind, deciding that running downstream through a perfect channel between my legs was much more relaxing than fighting the current.
- Last but not least: During a feeding frenzy… Don’t eat! 😃
We usually employ much more effort than necessary to cast. Great casters stand out from the crowd due to its elegant, fluid style. We say that they make casting to look easy. Their effortless, graceful motion is something we should strive for. If they seem to employ little force most probably it is because they are doing exactly that: using as less force as the laws of physics allow.
For years the simple task I am presenting here has been an integral part of my practice. I encourage you to allocate it 15 minutes in all your training sessions.
The concept is easy: just cast with the goal of avoiding the tip of the line and leader to straighten. At first you’ll see that it sounds easier than it actually is, but when you get things going smoothly it results in a very enlightening exercise.
First, we are conscious of how little force we need to put the fly 10-12 meters away: if you use the elbow forward style it is enough to let the arm fall due to gravity and add a little flick of the wrist.
If when fishing you are using more force than that, it’s sure that you are wasting energy somewhere.
Second, if we are using the energy needed to get the fly at 20 meters to put it just at 10 meters… how will we have the control to present the fly to a fish that is rising at 20 meters? Or when it rises at 15 meters and we are confronting a head wind? The more force we put into a motion the harder it is to make it straight, smooth and accurate.
Third, you are controlling a fantastic drag-free cast, one which puts slack in the only position that works for every tricky current configuration: tip of the line and leader. By adding a slight wrist flexion (if you are a righty) at the end of the stroke, you get an underpowered curve for the same price.
Forget about distance for a while. Less is more; in the end this simple exercise exercise paves the way to putting the fly far out as effortlessly as possible.