The pickup is one of the most overlooked aspects of the casts. And by learning to shoot line on the pickup, the options for delivering our flies with precision and with subtle variation are wide open . . .
Accuracy. It’s an elementary casting principle, but it’s the hardest thing to deliver. Wild trout are unforgiving. So the errant cast that lands ten inches to the right of a shade line passes without interest. As river anglers, our task is a complicated one, because we must be accurate not only with the fly to the target, but also with the tippet. Wherever the leader lands, the fly follows. Accuracy holds a complexity that is not for the faint of heart. But here’s one tip that guarantees immediate improvement right away.
Learning to use the natural curve that’s present in every cast produces better drag free drifts than does a straight line.
It takes proficiency on both the forehand and backhand.
I’ve seen some anglers resist casting backhand, just because it’s uncomfortable at first. But, by avoiding the backhand, half of the delivery options are gone. So, open up the angles, understand the natural curve and get better drag free drifts on the dry fly . . .
Rod tip recovery is the defining characteristic of a quality fly rod versus a mediocre one.
Cast the rod and watch it flex. Now see how long it takes for the rod tip to stop shaking. Watch for a complete stop, all the way to a standstill — not just the big motions, but the minor shuddering at the end too.
Good rods recover quickly. They may be fast or slow. They may be built for power or subtly, but they recover quickly. They return to their original form in short order.
For better casting, for more options after the power stroke, for more available adjustments regarding where the line will end up, shoot most or all of the necessary line on the backcast. And if you’re really good, do it with no extra false casting . . .
In my early twenties I drove a delivery van for a printing company while finishing the last few semesters of my English degree. Life was pretty easy back then, and I spent much of my leisure time playing guitar and fishing small backcountry streams for wild trout. It was a tight-quarters casting game. And making the transition from the five-foot spinning rod of my youth to a much longer fly rod gave me some trouble. Until, that is, I received one of the simplest and most transformative pieces of fly fishing advice . . .
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. Somehow, 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 — we try too hard at first. In fact, even experienced fly casters start reaching with the casting arm when presented with a new technique.
So 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 should be in a natural position — not stretched out and reaching for the target. Here’s why . . .
Casting styles change with the water. The same stroke that lays a dry line with perfect s-curves in a soft flat is useless in pocket water. As the river picks up speed, so must our casting. Effective drifts are shorter, so we cast more. Mixed surface currents greedily pull our built-in slack over to the next seam. So our casting matches the currents. It’s more aggressive. Faster.
But fishing rough or mixed currents doesn’t mean we give up on a good dead drift. And the best stroke for the job is one that I call the Crash Cast . . .
A backcast loop unfolds, parallel to the rolling current. The tapered fly line straightens and joins the rod tip on its forward path. It punches through the wet air with a second loop — a horseshoe arc with all the power and energy needed to drive a bushy Royal Wulff to the target.
The rod tip stops above that target — in vertical alignment with the mark, but well above the water’s surface. Tip stops high. Leader shoots out and releases its power. Fly reaches the end of the line. Then the rod tip drops. The line recoils in s-curves as the dropping rod pushes more depth into those bends and arcs.
Fly lands and drifts. Fish eats. Perfection.
That’s the stop and drop. And this simple move is the key to good dead drifts with a dry fly. Let’s look at it closer . . .
The tuck cast is a fly fishing essential. It’s a fundamental component of good nymph fishing, and it’s useful on streamers and wets. Even dry flies get some necessary slack by completing the same motion of a tuck cast on a dry leader. It’s a vital fly fishing tool, not a specialized cast for rare moments. The tuck cast is an elemental part of the fly angler’s casting approach.
The tuck cast shines brightest given a tight line nymphing method. So let’s start there before branching out.
A good tuck cast forces the nymph into the water before the attached leader follows. Understand that first. This simple concept is the tuck cast. And from this idea, endless variations abound . . .
My first experience with modern sighter material was an opaque line from a Czech company. I paid more in shipping than I paid for the line, and I waited a couple weeks, wondering if the package would ever arrive.
It did. And I immediately noticed how different it was. The material was extremely limp when compared to the same diameter of the Gold Stren and Amnesia that I favored. And at the tying desk, where I’d opened the package and inspected the line, I loved how visible the new bi-color was — it was opaque, not translucent. So I was eager to fish with the new line, assuming it would become my new favorite sighter material.
It didn’t. Instead, just a few casts in, I realized what I’d given up by using the new material — turnover.
For better or worse, modern sighter material is all quite similar in design to that first line I bought from the Czechs. It’s opaque (great). And it’s limp (great only sometimes.) . . .