** NOTE ** The addition of the video below makes this article, first published a few years ago, more complete. While the video focuses on the downsides of reaching while tight line nymphing, the article expands on the negative effects of reaching, across fly fishing styles.
Whenever we learn a new skill, our tendency is to exaggerate the motions. Beginning guitar players, for example, arch their last finger joints too much, desperately straining to keep their fretting fingers away from the neighboring strings. Eventually, experience teaches a more relaxed approach, and music begins to flow from the instrument.
Curiously, there’s a connection between fly rodders and guitarists — there’s a similar draw. I know a lot of artists who can both sling a fly line and strum a six string. And fly anglers have the same trouble as guitarists — they try too hard at first. In fact, even experienced fly casters start reaching with the casting arm when presented with a new technique.
But don’t do it. Don’t reach on the forward cast. When the backcast ends crisply, the forward cast begins. And when the forward cast ends, the arm remains in a natural position — not stretched out and reaching for the target.
Check out the photo above. Notice how my casting arm is in a comfortable and normal position at my side. The elbow is down. My arm is not reaching. My friend and fellow musician, Rene Witzke, took the photo. And he snapped the camera shutter about a second after I made the cast. Look one more time. This is where my arm finishes a cast. It also stays there and leads through the drift — almost all the time.
(Please select 1080p HD for the best video quality.)
You could argue that where you finish the cast and how you lead through the drift is a matter of personal choice. You could say that one arm slot isn’t inherently better than another. But I’d argue back. I’m all for individual style, and I constantly encourage anglers to find their own ways of doing things. Because my own habits are tailored around my strengths and my talents, around my goals and my gear.
But I feel strongly about the arm position. It’s simply a better way of fishing. It’s better than reaching.
And here are two reasons why . . .
In the last eight years, I’ve thrown so many baseballs for Little League hitters that whatever tendons and fibers still hold my right shoulder together are wearing thin. I’m a great batting practice pitcher, because I throw like a twelve-year-old kid. Which is to say, my skills for the hardball stopped improving around the fifth grade. So if I throw a couple hundred baseballs into the strike zone some evening, then I spend the next morning in waders, my shoulder reminds me pretty quickly if I’m reaching.
Here’s the truth: It doesn’t matter how old you are. No one can spend more than a few hours on the water extending their arm without fatigue. Even if the shoulder doesn’t ache, arm muscles grow tired, and the drift suffers.
But, what about that pretty magazine pose of a nymph fisherman with his arm high and extended, reaching the rod out to maximum length? It’s silly. It’s unnecessary. And it won’t last for long.
I’ve addressed the drifting position of the arm, or where the arm is while the fly is on or in the water. But the reaching problem often starts at the end of a cast. And nothing good comes from it. Here’s why . . .
Line on the water
If you’ve ever taken your buddy to the river for his first crack at fly fishing, you probably have some funny stories that he wishes you’d keep to yourself. And you’ve likely seen this: He treats the fly rod like a gear rod. And at the end of the cast, he reaches toward the target, arm extended.
With long lengths of thin monofilament and a weighty lure, that’s a fine tactic. But reaching while fly casting results in more line on the water. That’s the difference. Now try picking that line up and returning your arm to its natural slot. You create drag. Remember, any line that touches the water eventually drags — it’s just a question of when.
Reaching the arm takes power from the forward cast. A good fly cast goes back, stop, forward, stop. But a reaching motion eliminates the forward stop. The line doesn’t turn over as much, and it flops down. The loop doesn’t unfold over the water. Instead, it unrolls onto the water. And again, anything that touches the water . . . eventually drags— it’s just a question of when.
By keeping the elbow in a natural and relaxed position, our casting accuracy improves. When our arm casts from the same slot, with the elbow down, the repetition of the cast is predictable. Our body can learn the nuances of a cast when those nuances are repeatable. But when the arm reaches, the elbow leaves its natural position, and too often the next cast starts with the elbow forward. Reaching creates too many different arm slots and starting positions for the next cast, so it’s simply harder to learn the necessary motions for an accurate cast.
Reaching while fishing dry flies limits what can be done with aerial mends or things like the stop and drop. In short, reaching makes the dry fly angler one-dimensional.
Reaching while tight line nymphing takes away the angler’s ability to tuck cast or to control the entry angle. More leader lands on the water. And that leader would be better in the air. Because anything that touches the water eventually . . . well, you know.
Stop reaching and fish better.
Fish hard, friends.
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Enjoy the day.
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