Fly Fishing Blog

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Are you casting or fishing?

Are you casting or fishing?

Virtually every fly rod that is sold these days is described in an
advertisement, four-color catalog, or web site by its casting action. By
this I don't mean fast, medium, or slow, but how far you can cast with it
and/or the size of the line loop in the forward cast. I don't know about
you but I have caught only one fish when the line wasn't in the water: a
Florida largemouth bass jumped up and grabbed my deer hair bug as I was
trying to free it from a bush by jiggling it.

I enjoy casting as much as the next person and emphasize it at home when I
test my custom rods, but when I'm on the river it's a different story. I
want my fly to be on/in the water as much as possible, which means that I
cast as infrequently as I can. I try for one false cast and an
accurate delivery -- it doesn't always happen! -- then I try for the best
presentation possible: a drag free float for my dry fly, my nymph(s) flowing
freely at the right depth, or a life-like action to my streamer or wet fly.
That is the best way to catch trout, and by extension, other fish, fresh or

Why don't corporations and other builders mention these most productive
aspects in their ads and web sites? Because they are not glamorous. They
want you to imagine yourself throwing graceful curves in the air and having
your (one) skill noticed by others. If you buy a rod from me, you can be
assured that not only will it cast beautifully, but it will give you control
of the line and fly in the air AND on/in the water. I wouldn't make a rod
that didn't cast well, but I want my customers to primarily be excellent
fishers. Think about curve casts around obstacles, mends in a multi-current
river, high-stick drag free nymphing, making a streamer look like a wounded
bait fish trying to escape a predator, sensitivity to gentle strikes, saving
the tippet when the fly gets slammed, double hauling to reach way out there,
and having the right backbone to fight and to land a fish, large or small,
all the while having fun, and you're thinking about those things in fly
fishing that really count.

Every component in every rod that I build is geared toward that end. For
example, I once showed a potential customer, a woodworker, one of my older
bamboo rods. He was impressed by its condition, but said that he didn't
treat his rods with such care. He told me that a lot of his fishing was
done in high mountain lakes that often required long hikes or horse rides to
reach them, and that he had broken several rods on such trips. I told him
that if breaking a rod from rough treatment was a major concern of his, that
I would build him a four-piece rod from an older type of graphite, one that
could take more abuse than the newer super-high-modulus brittle materials,
yet still give him the sensitive action that he wanted for Alpine fishing. I
also suggested Recoil (tm) guides made from an alloy that can be bent over
time after time without damage or failure. To make a long story short, he
loved the rod I built for him and has fished it for several years under
rough conditions with no damage at all. His primary concern was not how he
looked while casting, but whether the rod would do the job for him and that
it would last. It did and it still does today.

Another example is the rod that I built for a guide who fished for inshore
saltwater species in San Diego Bay. He wanted a rod that could get a
sinking line "out there" and pull it up from the bottom at the end of the
cast, and that would give his clients satisfaction whether the fish were
large or small. I selected a nine foot seven weight blank that is available
only to custom builders, one that had good backbone and a sensitive tip, and
paired it with a titanium reel seat with a teak insert and a fighting butt.
The guides had titanium feet with Nanolite (tm) ceramic inserts that were
corrosion proof and had very little friction, would never wear out, and
enabled long casts. He could snake his Clouser fly through the eel grass and
feel the lightest take, but if the fish was a Pacific barracuda, a large
calico bass, or even a bonefish, the power was there to set the hook and
land the it.

Our local Trout Unlimited chapter is in the process of creating a Rio Grande
Cutthroat restoration fund to extend the range of these wild native New
Mexico trout and make catching them more available to everyone. I will be
donating a rod to the chapter for catching these wonderful fish. It will be
a seven foot three weight fiberglass rod that will have that wonderful soft
action that has been lost even in the most sensitive graphite and will make
catching these small fish a lot of fun. The rod will have a traditional
style of rod handle -- a downlocking nickel silver reel seat and a cigar-
shaped grip -- and chrome snake guides, wrapped and accented with silk
thread that has the colors of these beautiful fish. In this situation,
casting is not the most important element, since most casts are short and
don't have to be extremely accurate. The whole theme of the rod will be a
celebration of our state fish and have a wonderful action and sensitive feel
to give the maximum enjoyment while fishing for them in our mountain

You will not find unique, quality rods like these in fly fishing shops or
sporting goods stores. Modern factory production has made standardization
the norm these days. They have narrowed the market and lost the individual
characteristics that were the hallmark of all fly rods not too long ago.
Individually made fly rods have a "soul" that connects the fisher, the fish,
and the environment into an organic whole that is and always will be more
than the sum of the parts.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Casting a Fly Rod

There have been many articles written about casting a fly rod, and I find most of them confusing and, for the beginner, intimidating. Casting a fly rod is as easy as throwing a ball or a dart once the basic casting principle is understood.

A fly rod is above all flexible. It is designed to bend easily with a minimum amount of force applied to it, both from your hand and from the weight attached to it. Excluding additional objects added to it, the weight that causes the rod to bend comes almost exclusively from the fly line. (Because a leader and fly are almost weightless, they won’t be considered as factors here.) Weight is weight; there is no difference between a fly line and a light lure if you put them on a scale. The primary difference between the two is that the weight is concentrated over a few inches of a lure, but over many feet of fly line. The difference in casting depends entirely on understanding this factor.

When you cast a lure, it is begins traveling forward as soon as you apply pressure with your hand, bending the rod. The lure starts directly behind the tip when you begin the cast and travels in the direction that the tip is pointing when you release the tension. Because there are just a few inches of line extending from the tip to the lure, any line not being pulled forward at the beginning of the cast is quickly straightened as the rod tip moves forward. Not so with a fly line.

If you are going to fly cast successfully, you must have the entire fly line traveling forward as soon as you apply pressure to the rod. You cannot achieve this if there is any slack in the line; much of the potential power of your cast will be lost eliminating slack. The most important ingredient in a successful fly cast is having the entire line parallel to the ground (or water) and starting to move forward as soon as you begin to apply pressure to the rod with your hand. If the line is straight behind you, any effort that you put into the cast begins to affect the line immediately. Fly casting becomes a relaxing activity, as it should be, and the desired casting results are easily achieved.

The key to having the line parallel to the ground (or water) before the forward cast is to create a good back cast. (It’s actually the same as the forward cast, only in the opposite direction.) You begin moving the end of line once any slack has been removed and the line is straight, and you cast it behind you by applying pressure to the rod. It’s desirable to begin with the rod low and direct the line slightly upward so that when you stop the back cast the line ends up just short of parallel. Throw it up and back, stop the tip where you want the line to go, and wait for the line to unroll, letting gravity pull it downward as you change direction to begin the forward cast.. The moment that it is straight behind you begin the forward cast. Put as much bend as you want into the rod then, as with a ball or dart, stop the cast when the tip is pointing in the direction that you want the line to go. The line will continue to travel forward, gaining momentum as the rod unbends and, when the energy has been expended, the line (and leader and whatever else is attached) will be delivered to the target. It’s really that simple!

You may have read or heard about the 10 o’clock to 2 o’clock casting arc, accelerating to a stop, “the inverted j”, tailing loops, and other confusing information about casting. You don’t need to pay attention to any of it if you pay attention to the above principle of casting. Assemble your rod and reel, lay the rod down on the grass, pull about 20 feet line from the tip, pick up the rod, and begin casting, straightening the line on both the back cast and forward cast. A few minutes practice and you’ll “get it”.