The art of fly-casting is an age old method of presenting a fly to a fish in hope of enticing an eat. Rather than sit with bait under a cork or casting with conventional spinning gear, fly fisherman seek to stack the cards against them. There is an appreciation and respect for the heightened challenge of fooling a fish into eating a hook covered in feathers and fur. The cast in itself takes perfecting, the presentation for each species of fish can vary, and even after you place the perfect cast right on the nose of your quarry, if your fly is no good you will be denied time after time.
Perhaps that’s what draws us to it, the fact of knowing that it is more difficult. Even the smallest of fish caught can be justified with, “hey, at least you caught it with your fly rod”. Maybe this year you will be able to find some of the same joy that it brings us. If that sounds of interest to you, please read on.
To someone who has never felt or handled one before, a fly rod can feel a bit goofy in hand. The concept of casting the line, rather than the weight of a lure, like conventional fishing, is certainly a foreign thought. Just like anything else, you will see scaled improvement over time if you make practicing a part of your weekly routine.
There are a few technical teaching points to focus on when you are seeking to improve your cast. Even though we are firm believers that practice over time is the only way to truly master the cast, there are things you will want to focus on when understanding the dynamics of fly-casting.
The loop of your fly cast is ultimately the highest priority when moving the line through your guides. A nice, tight loop is what carries your line with the proper speed to give you greater distance and allows your cast to be affected less by the wind. On either end of your cast, the fore and the back cast, there needs to be a good tight loop in your line. Stopping the rod abruptly on the back cast will allow your line to form a tight loop as it travels behind you (some will say stopping the rod tip around the 2 O’clock position). The ability to feel the line reach its furthest point on your back cast is crucial, as you will want to time your forecast to punch forward when your back cast is at its full length or when the rod is “loaded”.
The tempo at which you are casting and moving line is dictated almost entirely by the length of your cast, or how much line you have out at the time. A great practice routine for beginners is to start with a short amount of line, no longer than 30 feet. Begin false-casting without letting any more line out and without the goal of making a farther cast. The idea of this exercise is to make fore casts and back casts continuously (false casts) and never let your line touch the ground. Keep this going for as long as you can, minutes at a time. Back and forth, back and forth.
If you are a fast learner, you will pick up on the tempo and the movement of the line and find your timing to mimic a rhythmic motion or the constant ticking of a clock. This tempo changes with the amount of line you have out, as you will have to wait for the line to go further forward and further back at greater distance.
Okay, now you may feel like you have the rhythm of your cast down, now how the hell do you make the fly go where you want it?? We have seen plenty of times when people hop on the skiff, tell you they have been practicing their cast or may even show you in the yard how well they can cast…. UNTIL it comes time to actually apply their practice and cast at an actual fish! There are levels to learning how to cast, absolutely. Once you have mastered the rhythm of casting, that’s all fine and well but you better start working on accuracy! The easiest way to do this is to place “targets” in your yard or parking lot, wherever it is that you practice. (By targets we mean ball caps, cold cans, parking cones, we occasionally use a black lab, etc.) Fine-tuning their accuracy is where most advanced fly casters live, in our opinion, for eternity. The finest fly anglers in the world still miss their target every now and then, that’s just part of it. If you want to become proficient, always practice accuracy. In our opinion, we would say you are ready for a shot at a tailing redfish if you can consistently cast in the area of a hula-hoop from most any distance. As you progress, your practice targets can get smaller and smaller. Before you know it, you will be casting at a coke bottle on your lawn and pinging it every time.
Fly-fishing is not like golf or other sports. There is no score or handicap. There is zero expectation and there doesn’t have to be pressure to perform, just have fun. Buy a fly rod, cast it. You will fall in love with the peace it brings you and the things it will lead you to pursue if you lose yourself in this art, as we have.