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Learn to Cast

I’ve been fishing with relative newbies to the sport of smallmouth fly fishing lately. The fishing has been quite good with all matter of strikes from subtle trout-like ring rises to the typical smallmouth blast strikes.

The take-away observation from my seat, usually in the back of the canoe, is basic casting issues that plague most fly anglers of all skill levels. Fly casting can take on a life of its own, as one progresses through the myriad of intricacies such as mending and double hauling. But in it’s basic elements, there are some rules that can’t be broken. Some things basic fly fishers must do to be successful.

Here are the most common mistakes newbies make when venturing into the fly fishing realm:

  1. People don’t practice fly casting. Most guides will tell you the single biggest issue with most clients is their inability to present the fly where it needs to be. People show up for a day on the water with their equipment organized and ready to go. That’s great, but the problem is they don’t know how to cast. Many think they do and get testy if the guide suggests some augmentation to their technique.
    Nonetheless, fly casting is the single most important aspect of fly fishing success.
  2. Here are the most common casting mistakes for beginners with little  to moderate experience:
    1. Loops: When the caster positions the rod at the 9:00 and 3:00 position, you’re going to get a big time open loop. Open loops are bad with the only exception being when throwing a heavier fly, then a forced open loop is a good thing. I constantly remind my guests to use the 10 and 2 positioning with a hard stop on either end. Most will do it a cast or two and then revert to the 9 and 3 and dump the cast.
    2. Rod Loading: Most beginners and even seasoned fly fisherman don’t know their equipment well enough. Yes they may have expensive rods, etc. but that doesn’t mean much if they can’t throw. You must practice with your rod, line, leader, tippet and fly (remove the hook if needed). In that way you can begin to develop the feel you must have when your outfit loads. Sadly, many fisherman never really get the incredible feel of a properly loaded rod launching a matched fly line as it drills a fly to the intended target.
    3. Patience: The single biggest mistake I see is rushing the fore cast. One must unquestionably wait until the fly line nearly straightens on the backcast before the forward thrust is initiated. Most rush the cast, not allowing the aforementioned backcast to do its thing. I’ve seen well instructed fly fishers use a more sideways body positioning to allow them to watch the back cast. Unfortunately, some anglers are never able to extricate themselves from that learning behavior. But it still works. As some point, you should be able to forget the backcast observation and concentrate only on the target and let the feel and loading of the rod and line dictate the motion.
    4. Rod Positioning: I’ve seen so many fish lost after hook up for several reasons in the last two weeks. The main reason was poor rod positioning before the hit.  A low rod position prior to the hit is paramount to a good hookset. In most cases, the fly fisherman stripped in the fly with the rod in a 10:00 position thereby limiting their ability to bring the rod back for a solid hook set. The preferred rod positioning is to have the rod down, nearly touching the water pointed directly at the fly. In some cases if one imparts a rod twitch while stripping to exaggerate the motion this will take the rod out of the aforementioned alignment, but that’s OK as long as the angler is ready for the strike. That said, the best positioning is directly at the fly.
    5. Line Handling After Hook Up: Many fish were dropped because sufficient line tension was not maintained. When the fish is initially hooked the angler must generally strip very quickly to determine the tension and force needed –  offset by the size of the fish. Often the fish will move toward the angler and tension cannot be maintained as the angler won’t strip fast enough and the fish is lost. In many cases, one cannot strip fast enough. Once the “stage has been set” relative to the size of the fish, the angler should always keep a good arc on the rod. Many times the fish will “bum rush” the boat only to turn and rip line out when the real fight begins. The angler must learn when to strip and when to take up line and put the fish on the reel if that’s what is called for. This is where experience comes in and this takes some time. The bottom line I tell anglers: Always keep the rod bent!

Some of these mistakes are easily remedied, others take time and experience to perfect. If one only takes a few minutes once a week to take the rod out to the back yard or nearby park or open area, your proficiency will skyrocket. Unfortunately for some reason, most people just don’t have the desire to become a good fly caster. Perhaps it’s our day-and-age, perhaps it’s the way it’s always been.

Fly fishing is a beautiful sport that, when done properly, is not only fun to do but an extremely effective way to catch fish. The single biggest issue for fly fishers is casting and that’s where most put the least amount of attention. Please take something from this essay for if you do, and put in some extra practice, suddenly you’ll be the guy who’s other anglers long to be.

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