Friday, June 1, 2018

Fly Casting 101

Capt. Lawrence Piper is a back country fishing guide at Amelia Island, Florida and a FFI Certified Fly Casting Instructor.  Capt. Piper can be reached at  904-557-1027
When I mention to visitors that I offer fly fishing on my Amelia Island fishing charters they often reply, “where in the world would you fly fish in north Florida?”  A lot of people equate fly fishing with the trout streams up north or out west but here in the North Florida area we have excellent fishing and taking those fish on a fly is a challenging option.  Flood tide fishing for tailing Redfish, low tide fishing for backing Redfish, Seatrout fishing at night under the docks, and bream and bass fishing in our creeks, ponds and lakes are just a few of the great fly fishing opportunities that we have.

But before you step out into the marsh with the long rod you will need to learn to cast!  Casting a fly with a fly rod is unlike any other fishing you’ve ever done.  For one, you will need to incorporate a back cast along with the forward cast, which takes some getting used to.  With spin or bait casting there is usually a heavy enough weight in your tackle that when you make your cast it drags the light fishing line with it. But with fly fishing, the fly is usually so light you will need to use your rod to form loops in a heavier fly line to carry the fly and leader along with it, thus making the cast.
The Fly Fishers International is organization dedicated to the sport of fly fishing, fly casting, fly tying and conservation. Years ago, dedicated fly casters with the FFI set forth 5 principles for a good fly cast.  They determined that many casters would have different styles of casting but in order to make a good cast they all would incorporate the same 5 principles. Just like any other sport, practice will make you a better fly caster. There are many fields and parks on Amelia Island where you can practice your casting. Use a piece of yarn as your fly and practice you casting on grass so that when you get out on the water you’ll be ready to catch some fish!

      Take a lesson then... practice, read, watch a video. Practice, read, watch a video. Practice, read, watch a video….

Principle Number 1:   Keep slack out of your fly line.  As you accelerate your rod the weight of the fly line is going to put a bend in the rod causing it to load with energy. When you stop your cast that rod is going to unbend or unload and propel the line forward on a forward cast and backward on a back cast. If slack is introduced then the rod will not get its maximum load and the cast will be poor. One of the most common errors is starting the back cast when the rod is held too high off of the water – slack is between the rod tip and the water.  Always get any slack out between the rod tip and the water before making your back cast. You can do this by holding your rod tip down at the water and stripping in any excess slack. Or you can perform a roll cast to get the line straightened out. Then begin your back cast with the rod tip down at the water and you will see that the rod immediately begins to bend or load as you accelerate back. Another area when slack is induced is between the line hand and the rod hand. Some casters will hold the line down by their side during the cast, rather than letting the line pull their line hand up towards the reel. When they begin their forward cast, the line hand is down by their side, and slack is induced.  Another common error that introduces slack is called Creep.  After making the stop on the back cast, some casters will “creep” forward before the fly line has a chance to fully unroll, then they will begin their actual forward cast. This introduces slack line in the cast and again, the rod will not get its maximum load and the cast will be poor. If you feel like you are creeping forward you may want to consciously insert a technique called Drift.   Watch your back cast and after you have made your stop, “drift” the rod hand back even further until the fly line unrolls.  You should begin to feel the rod getting heavier which indicates a good load. Now you’re ready to Accelerate on your forward cast… which we’ll cover in the next principle!
Principle Number 2:  Smooth Acceleration.  Your casting hand should accelerate smoothly during the back cast or forward cast, increasing in speed as your hand travels through the casting stroke to a crisp STOP. You can imagine if you just casually waved your rod back and forth – the fly line would never load or put a bend in the rod and no energy would be built up. The line would just fall to the water. However if you accelerate the rod through the stroke the weight of the fly line causes the rod to load and when you STOP the stroke the rod unbends or unloads and the fly line propels forward in a loop. The energy of the unloading rod is transferred to the fly line and the loop which carries your leader and fly along with it. Some of the fly casting guru’s call this a Speed up and Stop. Others call it a Loading Move and Power Snap. Just remember, if you use too little acceleration the fly line will not load the rod and you will not be able to form a decent loop, if any at all. On the other hand, if you accelerate too fast your cast will be all jerky and again, you’ll form poor loops and possibly a crossing loop because the rod tip dipped.  The proper amount of acceleration will also help you keep the rod tip following in a Straight Line Path which is covered in the next principle.

Principle Number 3:  Straight Line Path.   The fly line is always going to follow the rod tip. The next time you’re out in the yard practicing,  get 10-15’ of line out of the rod tip and then just wave it around, making figure eights and such. You’ll see the fly line goes everywhere the rod tip goes.  The best way to get nice narrow loops with your fly line is to make your cast with your rod hand traveling in a straight line path to the target,  and from the target. If the rod tip follows a domed or convex path the fly line will travel in a large arc and you will have wide loops. Wide loops are not ideal if you’re looking for accuracy or distance. On the other hand, if the rod tip dips or follows a concave path there is a good chance the end of the fly line will fall down and cross itself, creating what we call a tailing loop. A crossing or tailing loop will cause the cast to fail and may also tie an overhand knot in your leader! In addition to the paths of the rod tip, good loops are formed by keeping the rod tip traveling in the same plane and not swinging out and in when traveling away from the target and back.  Depending on how much line you have out and how far you want to cast will help determine the length of your Casting Stroke, which is covered in the next principle. 

Principle Number 4:  Length of Casting Stroke.  When a fly caster is making a short cast there will be a short amount of line out of the rod tip. Imagine standing in a small trout stream and your cast only has to be 15’ away.  Your stroke will be nice and short, back and forth, almost like throwing a dart. On the other hand, if you’re standing in our North Florida spartina grass and have spotted a tailing Redfish 55’ feet away, you’ll have more line out and will need to open that stroke up to get that fly line moving.  A good way to remember this is “short line, short stroke and long line, long stroke”.  A more technical explanation for this is that with a short amount of line out, the rod bends or loads less and the stroke length will need to be shorter. With a longer amount of line out, the line weighs more and there is a greater bend or load in the rod. The casting stroke has be longer with the amount of line out in order to keep the rod tip traveling in a straight line path. You’ll now see that with the different lengths of line out there will be a need to time the Pause between the forward cast and back cast, which is the final principle to a good fly cast!   

Principle Number 5:  Timing.   After making a cast the angler will need to allow the fly line to unroll to properly load the rod. This amount of time could be very short if you’re making a very short cast and only have a small amount of line out of the rod tip.  When making a long cast there will be more line out of the rod tip, the stroke length will be longer and the caster will need to have a longer pause between casts to allow the fly line to unroll and get a good load or bend in the rod. Not allowing the fly line to unroll completely will induce some slack in the line and decrease the amount of load in the rod. Waiting too long between casts will cause the fly line to fall to the water or grass  Remember this:  “short line, short pause and long line, long pause”.  

These five principles to a good fly cast are intended to help the fly caster get nice narrow loops, gain distance, be accurate, and present the fly to a hungry fish. Do your practice in the yard or in one of our fine parks and get your casting down so that when you get out on the water you can enjoy catching some fish!


 Take a lesson then... practice, read, watch a video. Practice, read, watch a video. Practice, read, watch a video….



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great stuff on your Web page. Makes me really think about taking up fly fishing in retirement.