Sunday, November 21, 2010

It's All About the Cast

Casting a fly rod looked pretty easy at first, I thought I could teach myself pretty quickly since I had been fishing my whole life. I grabbed my new rod, a fly, a coffee can, and went down to the lacrosse practice fields. I set the can out in front of me, a good 30 ft away and began to whip my line back and forth like I'd seen my friend do. All I got out of it was a tangled line and a hook in the shoulder. So, I packed up, went back to the dorm, and started to do my research. I watched Youtube videos, picked up The Orvis Fly Fishing Guide from the local bookstore as well as Fly Fisherman's Primer (of which I'll probably use to help explain since the authors seem to say it best), and sat down with my buddy to learn the mechanics. It turns out I had the right idea, finding an open space to practice and the coffee can to aim for as a target, but I had no idea HOW to cast. I can't stress enough how important your cast is when it comes to catching a fish. With some species, like Bonefish, it is a huge percentage of what actually gets the fish to even give your fly the time of day.

There are many types of casts and they all depend on your own style, what scenario your in, and what type of fly fishing your doing. When I cast growing up (with a spinning rod) I usually did it side-arm unless it was with a saltwater surf rod which I usually cast overhand. So, when I started fly fishing, I got into a bad habit of casting side arm. This technique isn't totally wrong, it works well given the proper situation (you have a low lying branch directly above you for example). It was good for me to learn because I have used it quite a bit now with some of the large trees that hang over the Breeches but, it did take me awhile to break the habit and learn the "proper" technique or basic fly cast. Its actually quite easy, with some practice and proper instruction. I'm hoping this post gives just that, the proper instruction.

Lets start with the physics behind the cast. The fly rod, because of its nature, always wants to be straight. When you move the fly rod against the weight of the loaded fly line, leader, and fly, the rod flexes but  the rod wants to straighten back out. When you pull the rod towards you, its called the backcast, this is generally how you begin your cast. During the backcast, the fly rod arcs forward. But, when you stop the movement of the rod behind you, the rod straightens out. When the line, leader, and fly catch up and straighten out on their plane behind you, the power of your backcast is transferred from the rod into the line. As the line is moving backward or "unrolling" it forms a loop. The bend in the loop is where the energy is being transferred. Before the loop completely unrolls, you begin your forward cast. When you cast forward, the rod bends toward your rear thus creating more energy. As before, when your rod stops in front of you, it straightens out and your loop in your line is going forward. The energy in the loop pulls the line forward, unrolls it, and lays it out on the water with your fly at the end...boom.

The basic fly cast...Your line will always move on the plane of movement of the tip of your rod. This is why it is important to keep your rod on a level plane parallel to the water (in most cases). If you think of  a clock, you see the face and the dashes every 5 minutes right? A good basic fly cast has the backcast stopping abruptly at the 11 o'clock position and the forward cast stopping abruptly at the 1 o'clock position (2 hours apart). How do you know when to begin your backcast or forward cast? The backcast is generally your first part of the cast, where you pick the line up off the water or start stripping (pulling) line off your reel. Your backcast goes until your loop is just about to totally unroll behind you and then you begin your forward cast. You can do this back and forth over and over until you feel as if your forward cast will perfectly unroll your line to present your fly in the best way possible. This is called "False Casting". It becomes more useful later in the Double Haul cast but is good for getting the best feeling cast for you without disturbing the fish. You always want to keep the rod on the same line above you, not moving it in a circular motion. Another important aspect of the basic fly cast that I almost forgot to mention is what your other hand does! That is, holding the line. You want to strip off about 20 ft of line give or take a few feet and as your stripping the line, begin to false cast. As your stripping the line off the reel, you are false casting with your rod hand, usually dominant hand. The hand you are stripping the line out with is obviously the other hand. This is how you maintain your line and lengthen your casts, by holding more line in your hand to allow to be pulled or shot through the eyes of the rod by the energy of your unrolling cast, this is called "shooting" your line. This is also the hand you strip your line back in with when using wet flies. It simply gives you more control.

NOTE: When it comes to holding the rod someone once told me the best way to visualize the proper grip, its best to grip it as if your holding a paint brush full of paint on the tip. Casting it is as if you are attempting to splatter the paint all over one area of a wall. Pretty good eh?

So...heres a preview of the basic fly cast written out by Paul N. Fling and Donald L. Puterbaugh in their book Fly Fisherman's touches on everything you need to know aka stuff I missed:

  • Hold the rod securely, but loosely. ( remember, like a loaded paint brush)
  • Strip off line from the reel.
  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, right toe even with left heel.
  • Face in the direction of the forward cast.
  • Pull off enough extra line so you can hold it in your left hand while extending the casting arm to its full length.
  • Pell reel quickly and smoothly to shoulder as left hand pulls extra line from the reel and drops to your side (assuming your right handed). Don't allow any wrist movement in the rod hand until the arm demands it.
  • Stop rod movement with the rod at the 11 o'clock position.
  • Look over your shoulder (to see your backcast).
  • When tip of line enters the loop, begin forward cast.
  • Move reel forward quickly and smoothly by straightening out your arm.
  • Don't allow any wrist movement in the rod hand until the arm demands it.
  • Stop rod movement with the rod at the 1 o'clock position.
  • Repeat to false cast, adding line at the completion of each forward cast until desired line length is reached.
Now, on to my favorite cast, one that is great for long casts and is the basic cast for saltwater. It's called the Double Haul. A lot of fly fisherman regard the ability to double haul as evidence of someone who is a good fly caster (thats actually someone who can spey cast...they are the great casters) but it is really just another cast to add to your arsenal. It is used in a special situation just like the Side Cast. The situation is simple, when you need to cast further. It enables you to put more energy into the cast thus shooting more line out of your rod to lay out onto the water a greater distance. As you begin your normal basic cast, you begin with your backcast. As the line begins to reach to end of its loop behind you, you begin your forward cast but at the same time, with your line hand, pull across your body with the line in a quick yanking motion. This puts more energy into the line. Then as your forward cast loop unrolls, let some line shoot out, lengthening your line. Still maintain a hold on the line, do not totally let it go. Grip it again as you begin your backcast and give it another quick yank, letting go of the line to shoot some more out behind you. As the loop begins to unroll, repeat until you have your desired length, this continually charges the line with every cast since you need more energy to move or shoot more line. Once finished or at desired length, shoot your line in front of you. This cast is not only great for long distances but for powering through tough winds.

NOTE: Make sure you always have enough clearance behind and in front of you for casts, spending time getting a fly out of a tree can really put a damper on your attempt at a fish.

The last cast I want to go over just to give you the three you really need to know for now, at least as a beginner, is the Roll Cast. I love the roll cast, it saved me a lot of frustration on the Breeches. Its really quite simple and can, depending on where you fish, be used often. This cast is used when you have trees or an obstacle behind you hindering your backcast. Start with your line in the water. Grab the line with your line hand and pull in slack. At the same time, raise your rod tip to the 11 o'clock position. You notice that the time begins to be pulled along the water towards you, the resistance of the water is loading the lines energy for you. With a quick snap of the wrist, move the rod forward and down. The line will then continue to move towards you but then start to unroll away from you. Boom.

I can't stress enough how important it is to continue to read and keep up to date with modern techniques when it not only comes to casting but fly fishing in general (thats probably why my coffee table is full of half a dozen fly fishing magazine subscriptions and my computer is full of fly fishing website bookmarks).

Thanks to Z and Mike B for showing their great casting technique on the Breeches.

Tight Lines...Morgan

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