This month NGTO is proud to present the "Casting Tip of the Month" courtesy of Scott Swartz and the Atlanta Fly Fishing School. I had the pleasure of meeting Scott last year and attending one of his schools. Hopefully these tips will also help you!
Casting Tip of the Monthcourtesy Atlanta Fly Fishing School
Answer: This is one of the most frequently asked questions regarding casting. It usually comes in the form of “I just got a rod…where do I begin”? Or “How do I teach my spouse / kids to cast a fly rod”?
The first cast we teach students at Atlanta Fly Fishing School is the pick up and lay down cast. To learn this cast, find a lawn or field area at least 80 feet long without obstructions. Stand in the middle of the open area and strip 30 feet of line from the reel. Lay the rod down and walk the line out stretching it on the ground, this removes slack from the line, and should be done prior to each cast until you or your student can cast the line straight yourselves. Grip the rod and secure the line under the middle finger. Stand with feet shoulder width apart and at a 45-degree angle from the target. (Right handers will have their right foot dropped back). Begin the back cast with the rod tip pointing at the ground so the line will begin to move the moment the back cast is started. The upper arm, forearm, and wrist work together to form the cast. It is best, in the beginning, to use little or no wrist movement, as the tendency is usually to use too much. Raise the forearm and rod in a smooth motion until the rod is pointing up at about 45 degrees between vertical and horizontal. (This is the pick-up). Without stopping the rod, continue the movement of forearm and upper arm smoothly accelerating until the hand and rod are vertical just in front of the face. Stop abruptly and pause for a moment to allow the line to straighten out behind you. (This is the back cast). To execute the forward cast, reverse the motion of rod and arm. Be careful to apply power smoothly, gradually increasing speed and power back to 45 degrees where an abrupt stop and pause will allow the formation of a loop. As the line unrolls and begins to fall, follow it to the ground with the rod tip.
This basic cast involves all elements essential for casting and should be practiced until you see consistently good loop formation both on the forward cast and on the back cast, and the line lays out straight on the ground after each cast. Once this is accomplished you may want to lengthen the line in increments of one to two feet at a time, and /or add a target such as a Frisbee to work on accuracy.
NOTE: To get the most improvement from practice sessions keep them short with a pause for thought after each cast. Take time to think about what was done with the arm and hand on each cast that created the resulting line formation on the ground in front of you. Rather than cast-cast-cast-cast-cast-, try cast-pause, cast-pause, realizing that what you do with your arm movement causes the results.
False casting is the image we get when we picture someone casting a fly rod. It is a beautiful sight to see the loops unrolling forward and back with perfect timing. The spray of water from line and fly shatter into a thousand diamonds of sunlight as they fall back to the stream. That is the poetry of our beloved sport. If you fly fish for poetry and the joy of casting then don’t change a thing…however, if you have days when you are fly fishing to actually try to catch fish then read on as this month’s tip is for you.
The false cast is simply a series of backward and forward casts that are made in the air. Although it is beautiful to watch, there are no fish in the air! In fact, there is an inverse relationship between false casting and fish catching. Also, the longer we aerialize line before allowing our fly to return to the water, the greater the odds of spooking fish, hooking a tree, a bush, or tying “wind-knots” in our leaders.
While false casting should be used sparingly it has at least three distinct purposes that allow even the hardest core fisherman an opportunity to enjoy their poetic side. 1) Use the false cast to dry the dry fly: a couple of casts should expel the water allowing your fly to once again float high. 2) Use the false cast to change the direction of your cast: false cast the minimum number of times it takes to turn your body toward the new target. An even faster way is to perform the change of direction cast. To execute this cast sweep the rod tip toward the new target (keeping your fly and line on the water) then make a back cast 180 degrees away from the target, and bingo, your forward cast is on course to the new direction. 3) False casting is the perfect way to lengthen the distance of your cast by shooting line, or to shorten the distance of your cast by retrieving line before allowing your fly to land on the water.
As for me? I can be competitive especially when fishing with friends. Those days my fly will hardly leave the water in hopes of upping my odds of catching fish. I do however, enjoy fly fishing because of the element of casting, and I must admit there are days I’ll false cast more than necessary…some days way more than necessary…and some days I just have to call it practice rather than fishing.
Question: I have trouble casting with wind. Normally I can cast a nice line but on windy days I would almost rather stay home. Can you make any suggestions?
Answer: Yes, stay home...(just kidding)
Wind presents difficult casting conditions for everyone. But as the saying goes "Good captains are made in deep seas and rough waters" likewise "good fly casters are made in the wind". You do, however, need a plan to meet the challenge wind presents and here are some tricks and techniques you can use to save a days outing. First: A good basic overhead cast with increased line speed (fast casts), good loop formation (tight loops), assisted by the added power of the single, double, or triple haul will give your line a decided advantage in slicing thru the air. (More about speed, loop formation, and hauling in a future article) Second: You may want to change the plane in which you are casting. These alternative casts can be quickly learned even if you are new to the sport. The plane in which you cast is determined by the wind direction, and fly fishing can be like sitting around a camp fire, the wind is always coming from the wrong direction. The easiest wind direction to work with is from your non-casting side. Using the example of a right-handed caster, this would be wind coming from the casters left side. This direction will naturally blow the fly and line away from you and allow a relatively normal overhead cast. When the wind is coming from the casting side however, the tendency is to have the fly and line blow toward your body. This creates an uncomfortable feeling causing you to wonder if you're going to hook your clothes or get an unscheduled body piercing. Changing the plane of your cast can really save the day. If we stand behind our right hand caster and use the rod tip like an hour hand on a clock, then an overhead cast would be at approximately 12 o'clock. When wind comes from the casting side, simply drop your rod tip sideways to 2 o'clock or even to a sidearm position of 3 o'clock. In light wind this will be sufficient to keep the fly and line safely away from you. In stronger wind the only safe way to cast is to keep the fly and line down wind from your body necessitating an across body cast. Again, standing behind our right hand caster the rod tip will now be at 10 or 11 o'clock. There are two easy ways to accomplish this cast. While holding the cork with the usual grip of thumb on top, rotate your wrist so your thumb points across the front of your body and your palm faces out toward the target. This will allow a normal arm movement similar to the basic overhead cast but with the rod tip going over your head pointing to the down wind side. The second way you can accomplish this cast is to rotate your forearm across your chest making an across body cast. One method has the rod above your head, while the other has it below your head across your chest. Experiment with both styles using the one that is the most comfortable and accurate for you. Other wind directions you will encounter is when the wind is coming from in front of or from behind you. When the wind is coming from in front you will want to make a high trajectory back cast and a low forward cast. The low forward cast should have your fly landing on the water as soon as the loop unrolls keeping the fly and line from being blown back. When the wind is from behind the opposite rule applies. Make a low trajectory back cast and high forward cast using the wind to carry the fly and line like a kite to the desired target. Optionally, a side-arm cast may be helpful when wind is coming from in front or behind by keeping the fly and line closer to the water. Due to the resistance wind encounters close to the ground or water, wind speed there will be substantially less than it is 10 or 15 feet in the air. Another trick that can be used with wind coming from behind is to turn around and make a forward cast into the wind and allow your fly to land on the water with your back cast. This is helpful for casters who have a weaker back cast than forward cast and should only be used until you can train yourself to made your back cast as solid as your forward cast.
NOTE: Practice casting in all planes before you encounter a windy day and the need to use these casts. At our casting school we use targets to cast toward which assists students in developing a smooth casting stroke and the accuracy needed to confidently use these casts. Once you're comfortable with your ability to cast in all planes you'll find yourself using these casts for much more than overcoming wind. With a new arsenal of casts you'll be getting around low hanging limbs and stream-side obstructions with ease. And that pocket water behind the rock that was impossible to reach with an overhead cast...now you can go see what it holds.