To many coarse anglers, the sight of a fly fisherman casting is tinged with awe. Yet if you follow a few simple rules and take the advice of the experts, casting a fly need not be difficult.
The technique of fly casting was described by Izaak Walton like this: ‘In casting your line, do it always before you, so that your fly may, first, fall upon the water and as little of your line with it, as is possible’. This advice, in The Compleat Angler, is as true today as it was in 1653. The aim is to present the artificial fly to the fish in as natural a way as possible.
This means that it must alight on the water in imitation of the natural insect, creating that small spreading ripple which induces the fish to take. But fly casting is a practical skill, very difficult to illustrate as a single, flowing motion. It is not a difficult skill to learn once the basic requirements are understood.
The basic problem
It is important to understand that there is only one basic problem and therefore only one real mistake to be made in fly casting. The problem is that you must make the fly rod do the work, and not your arm. The rod must be made to act as a spring in order to propel a virtually weightless object, the fly, through the air. The function of the spring is to store up energy, and then release it when required. This can be understood in terms of two simple arm movements, which are equivalent to the loading and unloading of the spring.
The back cast
The action of fly casting, simply described, is that the line is lifted from the water by the rod and briskly thrown back behind the caster. This is called the ‘back cast’. There
is a pause while the line streams out and straightens behind the caster, who prevents the rod from straying back beyond the vertical by thumb pressure on the top of the handle. In that essential pause, the line, while streaming out behind the caster, is also pulling back the rod tip, making the whole rod flex. The rod and line are then driven forward again on the ‘forward cast’. This flexing of the rod is the equivalent of a spring being wound up.
The base of the spring, in this case, is the butt of the rod. As with all springs, the base has to be locked firmly, or its energy will leak away. The locking action is achieved by the ‘stopping’ of the wrist at the point when the rod butt is roughly level with the ear during the back cast. The wrist is locked and as it is dragged back by the power applied to the back cast and the weight of the pulling line, the rod is forced to flex.
The role of the wrist is actually far more complex than this necessarily simplified description of a cast. Experienced fly casters use wrist movement and virtually nothing else to control the rod and line, both in basic overhead casting and in other kinds of cast. Beginners should concentrate on stopping the wrist from following the rod backwards, as it would naturally do. If this is allowed to happen energy will not be stored in the base of the rod. This means that the angler will have to compensate for the lack of energy in the rod by applying extra muscular power to the forward cast. This in turn will lead to a weak or lazy back cast, simply because it becomes un-necessary to have a strong one.
Correctly done, fly casting will seem to require little effort or have little power behind it but will have maximum results, that is, the angler will be able to cast a long way without feeling tired. It is correct to say that if the casting arm is tired after half an hour, then there is something wrong with the angler’s casting technique.
Use the spring – not force Really good fly line casters are extremely rare, and the gap between the standard of their performance and that of the average fly fisherman is enormous. Many fly fishermen with years of experience do not use their fly rod as a spring. They use force instead, but never-theless believe that they are casting correctly because they can send the line some distance. In Britain there seems to be very little interest in casting as a separate, important part of fly fishing. There are fly-tying clubs but casting clubs usually fail for lack of support. Most anglers seem reluctant to learn from an expert and seem quite happy to go on casting in a haphazard fashion.
It is important to have several lessons with a professional instructor as this allows the student to gain a natural technique based on direct observation.
The technique of fly casting has been shown many times as a series of frozen poses, each one illustrating where the angler’s arm, wrist, or the line, should be at a given moment. But it must be stressed that the action of the fly rod and line is a fluid motion which should comprise one graceful arm movement. Any errors picked up and not corrected immediately by a teacher could easily become a habit. If you practise the wrong technique several times and become used to it, it will be very hard to correct later. Rather than focusing on the errors and trying to correct them one at a time, you would probably have to start from the beginning again, because the process must be learnt as a whole rather than broken up into stages. It is a mistaken approach to teach or
learn such a technique on the basis of correcting errors, since concentrating on only one small part of the casting routine will cause it to lose its fluidity and be broken up.
In spite of its importance as a technique to be mastered, casting is a means to catch fish, and not an end in itself. Where the fly lands on the water is an essential part of the skill: for example, successful reservoir fishing often depends on the ability to throw a very long line. But wherever you fish, accuracy of casting is vital. Right from the beginning of your tuition in fly casting, aim to reach the fish. Ac-curacy will enable you to do that.
In recent years fly fishing has lost much of the mystique with which it was once surrounded and is now en-joyed by many reservoir anglers. Though deplored by many purists, this trend does offer the newcomer an opportunity of developing his skills and also of landing a big fish.