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Part V: How to Get Started in Fly Casting

If you’ve followed TFO’s How to Get Started in Fly Fishing series, you have a rod, reel, fly line and leader from parts I, II, III and IV. Now you need to be able to cast.

You don’t need to be Lefty Kreh or Flip Pallot to catch fish, but you do need to be able to cast effectively. Freshwater is more forgiving. If you can cast 20 or 30 feet and maintain good line control, you can catch freshwater species consistently, particularly if you are willing to fish subsurface.

In saltwater, the game is more demanding because of wind and moving fish. The rule of thumb is 50 feet with only a couple false casts. You can catch fish on shorter casts than that, but you’ll also need to be cast farther.

Distance is just one factor. There’s speed, your ability to get the fly to the fish before the window of opportunity closes — and there is accuracy —- the ability to put the fly where it needs to be. Could be on the fish’s nose. Could be a few feet in front. It all depends on the angles involved and the speed of the fish in relation to the angler.

Since I’m not a casting instructor, I won’t go into the mechanics of learning to fly cast. Instead, I’ll wade into a few insights I learned along the way. And I’m still learning. Casting is akin to a good golf swing. It’s never perfect. It’s something that can be honed during a lifetime. You can always make it better. Below are a couple ideas that should help you do that.

Get Some Instruction

You don’t necessarily have to find a certified instructor. The important thing is to find someone you’re comfortable with who can teach. A lot of people can cast. Not everyone can teach. Teaching is a skill. Not everyone has the knowledge and patience to communicate. You don’t need to find the best caster. You need to find the best teacher —- for your needs and personality.

Lefty, who passed away last spring, was a fabulous teacher. So is Ed Jaworowski. Both TFO advisors produced The Complete Cast, an outstanding DVD. However at some point, you might need in-person, one-on-one instruction.

How do you find that? Go to seminars. Go to YouTube. Ask around at the fly shop. Then assess your personality and needs. Not everyone can teach beginners. Not everyone can teach intermediates or advanced casters. So assess yourself and abilities and try to find an instructor to match. It takes time, but it’s worth it.

Use Video

Ten, 15 years ago video was cost prohibitive for any type of instruction. Now, thanks to technology, it’s not. Grab your cell phone or your point-and-shoot camera. Both devices should have decent video. Get someone to take footage of your casting. Then watch it. You’re probably not doing some things you should be and you’re probably making some mistakes you’re not aware of. The tape won’t lie. And after you look at, get your instructor to do so as well. Now you’ll have an idea of what to correct because you have a visual roadmap.

Casting hinges on timing. Ideally you will be able to feel the rod bend on the back cast, but in the beginning it’s difficult. TFO’s Accelerator can expedite the learning curve. It’s an auditory tool, which allows you to hear when to actually stop on your back cast and forward cast.

Practice

You can’t get better without it, and if you don’t practice, your skills will erode. Let’s assume you can’t get out on the water as regularly as you would like. In that case, your yard will do. Set up targets for accuracy. Crosswinds, tailwinds and headwinds are all available. Most back yards are not compatible for distance casting, but work with your available space. You can work on delivering a good back cast or go across your body. And if you’re really ambitious, cast with your non-dominant hand. The main thing is to develop repetition. After you’re done, it’s smart to clean your line. Grass can gunk it up easily, which is why I often use a retired fly line, although I still clean that to make it cast better.

The Low Elbow

I’m assuming you know the basics of the grip and have picked up a fly rod once or twice. If you’ve haven’t, that’s OK, here’s the bare-bones version. Grip the rod with the thumb on top of the cork and aligned with the guides. Your back cast should start low near the ground or water and end abruptly near your ear. Pause. Let the line straighten. Start the forward cast ending at roughly eye level before coming to a quick, complete stop, at least to start out.

If you can’t see your rod in your peripheral vision on the back cast, you might need to shorten your stroke. The easiest way to make sure you lock into these positions is to maintain a low elbow. As Lefty says, keep your elbow on a shelf. You keep your right elbow (if you’re right handed) at your side. Don’t raise it. Don’t let it flare. Pretend you can only use your forearm, hand and a bit of wrist. Essentially, you have a short lever. A short lever gives you more control. Why? It’s easier to maintain a straight line for the path of the rod and it’s easier to stop the rod.

Many anglers, once they reach the intermediate level, lengthen their cast for more distance. But, the longer the stroke the more that can go wrong. Think about it. It’s akin to a hitter in baseball. Big cuts can lead to home runs, but they also yield a lot of strikeouts. It’s the same thing with fly casting. You don’t need a big stroke for the majority of your fishing. If you want to win casting competitions, you need a big stroke with hard stops and a straight-line path, which is easier said than done.

None of the above information is rooted in absolutes. There are a lot of ways to cast. There are a lot of ways to learn. Find what works for you.

Keep it simple. It solves a lot of problems.

For more info on fly casting, check out this video from Mad River Outfitters.

 

Thoughts on fly casting? Struggling with you cast? Feel free to weigh on one of our social media pages.

The Complete Cast Can Help You Become a More Complete Angler

It’s late June and getting warmer by the day, so the fishing in the North Carolina mountains has slowed to a trickle. Recent rains have filled the lakes to the brim, so our tailwater rivers are running full bore; and the mountain streams, while bulging, are a bit too warm for trout.

I frequently use this type of downtime to work on a particular angling skill, usually either fly tying or casting. I recently chose the latter.

It didn’t take me long to find quality instruction. TFO offers The Complete Cast, a three-and-a-half hour DVD that covers all aspects of fly casting. TFO advisors Lefty Kreh and Ed Jaworowski are the instructors.

TFO, unfortunately, because of Lefty’s passing, has sold out of the DVD; however the digital version is available on Vimeo, which was perfect for me since I didn’t want to wait to order by mail. I grabbed a credit card and $39.95 later, I was immersed in one of my happy places, fly-casting geekdom.

I love fly casting. I can cast in the yard for hours and not get bored. Sometimes, Waylon, my young English Cocker Spaniel, will watch from the hill above our house. He’s as loyal as any dog I’ve owned, but even he can only take about 45 minutes of back casts, reach casts and curve casts before fleeing for the front door.

During my nearly 30 years of fly fishing, I’ve taken casting lessons from some of the best in the business: Joe Bressler at the Western Rivers (Orvis) Guide School; Bob Cramer of Mossy Creek (Va.) Fly Shop; Enver Hysni of Tampa Bay on the Fly; Mac Brown of Bryson City, N.C.; Henry Williamson of Brookings Anglers in Cashiers, N.C.; Billy Kingsley of the Blue Ridge Angler in Harrisonburg, Va.; and Dayle Mazzarella of Tampa’s Plant High School among others.

If there’s a fly-casting video in existence, I’ve probably seen it. Years ago, I used to watch Lefty, Mel Krieger, Billy Pate, Joan Wulff and Jack Dennis. When YouTube was born, I turned to Bill Higashi, Steve Rajeff and Davin Ebanks aka Mr. Windknot.

Suffice it to say, I’ve seen just about every shred of info there is when it comes to fly casting. Still, it was not enough.

I can now add The Complete Cast to my vast fly-casting/fly-fishing library.

Here are my thoughts. Keep in mind this DVD is nearly four hours long, so there is no earthly way to summarize the content in a single blog post. That said, here goes:

  • The Complete Cast is comprehensive. It covers freshwater and saltwater casting with in-depth instruction from two voices. Don’t expect to grab a beer after work and knock it out before dinner. Cherry picking the best parts or the parts you think apply directly to you probably won’t work, either, because you need to see the entire DVD to comprehend an overview of the concepts. It’s best to see the forest first, then the trees. My advice: Watch it in sections of an hour or so.
  • Lefty is a fine caster, a great fisherman and a phenomenal teacher. There are a handful of folks who have a good grasp of fly casting, but Lefty separates himself from the pack with his communication skills and analogies. Both Jaworowski and Lefty are big on sports references. Lefty often uses baseball comparisons. Jaworowski uses golf to get his point across. Both are spot on.
  • There are no absolutes. Obviously, the fundamentals of fly casting are pretty rock solid, but one of the themes in the DVD is that the angler’s objective and how the principles of fly casting are applied often hinge on the fishing situation. For instance, we all want distance, but how much is enough? That, of course, depends. If you’re in your yard trying to impress your spouse, 80 feet might work, but if you’re fishing for bones in the Florida Keys against a nasty headwind, 30 feet might just be the ticket.
  • It pays to have a firm grasp of the obvious. I, for one, could never really master a good steeple cast or a roll cast. With the steeple cast, you have to point your rod and hand toward the sky as if you’re casting the fly (with a forward cast) toward the heavens. I did the reverse (using a back cast) for years. On the roll cast, I usually pulled the rod downward instead of forward. Actually, I give myself partial credit for figuring the roll cast out before watching the DVD. The info merely confirmed my flaws.
  • Practice makes perfect. Featured are drills for loop control and accuracy. Casting through a hula hoop develops loop control; casting toward a hula hoop on the ground, by contrast, helps with accuracy. To up the ante, Lefty is shown casting toward a mousetrap.

 

The Complete Cast is a good DVD with a ton of quality information. It doesn’t matter if you fish for brook trout or bonefish, there’s something for every fly fisherman, from the beginner to the expert. To purchase digitally, go to Vimeo’s website: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/thecompletecast/

And, as always, let us know what you think with a comment on one of our social media pages.