A good cast is a thing of beauty. Few moments are more satisfying than feeling your rod flex just the right amount and stop just the right way and watching the line unroll straight and smooth over the water.
My first half-dozen casts usually go like that, and then it’s all down hill from there.
OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But it really does seem like my best casts happen early in the fishing, when I’m fresh and relaxed. Often, as time goes along and the day’s particular challenges begin to emerge – trout rising in a tricky spot, a bothersome wind, go-to flies not going to – a bit of tension creeps first into my mind, and then into my casting arm.
It’s not desperation; it’s just problem-solving. But it can degrade my casting a bit. Trying harder morphs into trying too hard, and suddenly I’m getting less distance and casts aren’t landing in the right spots anymore.
At times like this I pause and remind myself of a few things. Most of the time, it’s enough to get my fishing back on track.
These are things I try to keep in mind:
--Don’t overpower the cast. This is probably the most common casting flaw of all. If I can feel my biceps tightening, I’m trying to shove the line where it needs to go, and that never works. The old saying, “let the rod do the work,” isn’t entirely accurate, but it’s true enough. The tapers and properties of fly rods and fly lines are the product of decades’ experience and experiment. Too much muscle negates the potential of the technology; a light touch unleashes it. After 30 years of fly fishing, I’m still amazed at how less effort equals more distance.
--Keep your hand moving straight back and forth. If your rod hand wanders to the side, on the back cast or the forward cast, you’re interfering with your rod’s ability to fling. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was to imagine the back of my casting hand is rubbing a wall. It works like magic.
--Another very common casting flaw, and one that occurs when you’re getting anxious about reaching fish, is going too far back on the back cast and too far forward on the forward cast. Again, less is more. Being careful to minimize bending your wrist helps a lot. The old standard is to move your arm like a metronome between 10 and 2, but with today’s fast-action rods, 11 to 1 is plenty. Stop the cast high in both directions.
I’ve heard it said that it doesn’t matter how you get the fly out there; what matters is how you bring it back – meaning the retrieve, or the drift, is the important part. It’s true that even ugly casts catch fish. Still, you need to get the fly in the right place, and often you need to drop it there carefully. Good casts will catch more fish.
Some people are just naturally graceful casters, but I think for most of us, fly casting is something you keep learning all your life and never master. Fine-tuning is always in order. A refresher course is never a bad idea; most local chapters of Trout Unlimited and the Federation of Fly Fishers offer fly fishing classes for experienced anglers as well as for beginners, and the prices are usually modest.
Meanwhile, the Orvis Co., wisely, has embarked on a large-scale program of free fly fishing education. Orvis stores in 39 states and Canada will offer free Fly Fishing 101 courses April 19 and 26, May 3, 10, 17, 24 and 31, and June 7 and 14. Fly Fishing 201 – an outing on local water – will be offered on a few dates for a nominal fee.