I went fly fishing with a friend last week and noticed he had some habits that were preventing him from casting well, as in distance, as the most important, making placement of fly a distant second. Part of the etiquette of fly fishing is that you don’t comment on anyone’s casting, unless they ask for some. He asked.
First I told him to stand below me and cast first, as I wanted him to catch fish, and because I could cast further than he could, meaning I could catch fish that he couldn’t reach. In addition, I said to take a step after every cast, and followed up by continually moving downstream and forcing him to move. This is a very important point when you fish for steelhead because they will come from much farther away than 10 feet, so you are always moving.
Second, I was surprised to see that he did not use the second finger of his rod hand to strip line over. The problem is that there is nothing to anchor the line between strips, meaning it could actually be moving backwards out the line guides between strips. It also makes it more difficult to grab the line with your stripping hand as the line can move around without the anchor of the rod hand, and also that water current could move the stripped line, resulting in missed strips, not to mention missing fish if a bite occurs when no hand is holding the line.
I also gave him a stripping finger ‘glove’. I make several dozen from time to time out of spandex. Measure the circumference of your stripping finger, add a quarter inch, fold the spandex in half and run a seam an eighth of an inch from the joined edges, (meaning you have used up that quarter inch). Turn the glove inside out, and voila, you have a stripping glove.
And then I made him start stripping over the rod finger. The glove’s purpose is two fold: it is far more sensitive than your skin, and you pick up bites quicker and thus successfully hook more fish; and, a wet, ungloved finger gets that wrinkled-from-being-in-a-bathtub-for-a-very-long-time skin, and thus it impedes line and you register this as a strike and strike the rod, taking it out of the fishing zone, when no fish has actually struck.
The next thing was that he fished with his rod tip in the air. It is very important in both gear and fly fishing (but not mended mono to a rod tip for float fishing) to put your rod tip in the water in front of you. You have full room to strike a fish, and thus you hook more fish.
Once he had a fish on the line, he turned sideways, putting his rod parallel to the water. It is better technique to learn to always have the rod tip in the air allowing the rod to fight the fish. (If you disagree with this, do the opposite, which is point the rod at the fish, and see how many you lose). Once the basic technique is mastered, the occasional horizontal approach becomes useful for turning a fish in fast water, something of much use in fishing steelhead.
The other issue is that once a fish was on the line, he had trouble getting it in, which lead to the sideways turn, rather than stripping while turning the reel rim to lift stripped line in the water, so as to get the fish on the reel as soon as possible. You have to do both things at the same time, and it takes awhile to get this down.
He also had the habit of dropping stripped line in the water in front of him. The alternative, something that took me more than a year to get down, is managing line. Based on how much line you have cast, you strip it back in sequentially shorter loops, hanging the longest loop on your pinky finger, the next longest on your third finger and so on.
When it comes time to cast, you have lifted all that line out of water’s grip, and thus immediately can cast further, as you are not making the cast line pull the line from the water, something that becomes very obvious in fast flowing water, that takes the line downstream and further grips the line. You teach yourself to point your fingers at the departing line on your forward cast. The purpose is to let the line move freely and, most importantly, don’t end up with a loop over a finger and a failed cast.
An example of the line management loop length is: 12 strips, first loop; 10 strips, second loop; 8 strips, third loop. The purpose of different length loops is so they will not tangle, and will shoot out. Do remember that if you get tangled loops, they are loop within loop, and thus, technically not a knot, you just slowly pull a loop through the ‘knot’ to solve the problem. Don’t tug on the line, as it will make the ‘knot’ tighter.
Finally, he was casting by slowly feeding line into the cast with a half dozen false casts and ending up with a 40-foot cast. I judged that teaching him to double haul was still a bit much to take in on the same day as line management. But, the basics are: lift the rod tip from the water in increasing speed, and stop at 12 o’clock. At the same time, you pull or haul on the line with your stripping hand, with the hand coming back to the rod as the line unfurls behind you. Then your rod tip drifts back to 2 PM.
For the forward cast, bring the rod tip forward and haul the line with your stripping hand, bringing it back to the rod. Then stop the rod tip on the forward cast. The closer you can make the tip stop to 12 o’clock, the tighter the bullet you are putting into the line, as it casts out in front of you. Finally, let the rod tip drift forward, and then down to the water.
Double hauling is easy to write in a couple of paragraphs, but mastering it takes years, and there are days when the best caster flounders, but typically, good casters can analyze what they are doing wrong, and correct it over the day’s casting.
At a deep pool where we ended, he was catching some big fish right in front of him. The reason was that his tip had more sink in it, and the large fish were indeed holding in deep water right in front of him. My tip had less sink, and so it was hard to reach the deeper fish. So he caught a lot of fish and improved his casting in the same day, something that seldom happens.
And here is a nice image of a cutthroat he caught, fly line, fly and finger glove: