01
Jan 17

How to be great at fly fishing

Davin, taking a shot.

I am not sure which coach said it, might have been at a basketball camp when I was in high school, but the coach said “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.”

That resonated with me a bit.

A second concept that has stuck with me is the idea that outcomes are not coincidental. That means if you want to improve a particular thing, you have to work on that particular thing with the goal of improving it… your main goal should not be a coincidental outcome, it should be an intentional outcome.

These sorts of things float around in my head, popping up from time to time and even sometimes getting applied to my life.

I was recently listening to the Freakonomics podcast and they talked about “How to Become Great at Just About Anything” where this idea of deliberate practice was discussed. This is where the 10,000 hour rule comes from, meaning to become elite at anything you need to devote a considerable amount of time, you need to put that time in with the goal of improving and you need to push yourself beyond your comfort zone.

The application to fly fishing is pretty clear. Your casting won’t improve if you only pick up a fly rod 5 or 6 times a year and it won’t improve if you practice in the best conditions only and only at distances you feel comfortable with. Your casting also won’t improve if you don’t have a mechanism to elicit feedback. If you come to understand what you are doing wrong, you can’t fix it.

That same sort of thing goes for writing and for singing and for parenting (probably, right?) and for surgery and for selling and for… everything you want to be good at.

Take a listen to the podcast and thing about what aspects of fly fishing you could apply this to… and what areas of your own life might stand to benefit as well.


17
Jun 15

When the first cast falls apart

On this FL tarpon trip every shot gained in magnitude and importance because there were so few of them. So, each flub was a massive failure, bringing down the skies and ripping out a bit of my soul (to be dramatic about it).

One of the problems I had was on that first cast to really close in fish. Conditions meant we didn’t see fish from too far away. Often we’d see the fish 30 feet away, maybe 20, sometimes 10. Always they were coming at us, closing the distance fast. Trying to get a cast at a 100 pound fish 20 feet away is harder than it sounds on the face of it. The rod is 9 feet. The leaders were were fishing were between 10-13 feet. That means your cast, if you can call it that, was basically the length of the rod and the leader.

Ever try to load a 12 weight with no fly line out? Or even just a couple feet? It doesn’t work so well. You can’t load the rod and you can’t make the cast. On the first cast, everything would fall apart and then… oh calamity.

Trying to correct from a bad cast, that hurry, that rush… nothing goes right when you find yourself in that mode of “trying-to-recover.”

In retrospect, I should have shortened the leader so I could have more line out, so I could have loaded the rod for the super-close-in shots we were getting. A 13′ leader is a clear-day luxury we didn’t have, but tried to insinuate into the situation. It was the wrong call.

The second lesson, which will be learned and re-learned a hundred times over an angler’s life is simple… when it feels like you need to speed up, that’s exactly when you need to slow down. Take out the panic and get methodical with it. Think mechanics, not fish, and concentrate on the movements of your hand, your arm, the rod, the line, and not the movement in the water of that shot evaporating in front of you. If you don’t get it right, it doesn’t really matter if you had a shot or not and you won’t get it right if you panic.

I heard or saw this in some military show or movie… the infantryman’s proverb of, “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”

Truth.

Speaking of casting, here’s Davin, aka Windknot, aka Flatswalker, talking about another bit of casting that he diagnosed me with and that I tried to get right on my last couple days.

 


12
May 15

Flatswalker and Casting and More

It had been a while since I had wandered over to Flatswalker and what do I see when I get there? All manner of goodness.

Example? Sure. How about this post, with some casting tips. Really, he’s got loads of casting tips on there and you should check it out.

Davin will be in the Keys here in a month and we’ll fish together again and that is good.

 


12
Feb 15

The second half of the haul

OK… this is a lazy post about casting as I’m not going to do pictures or a video, but this is an important post if you have issues with your double haul.

One thing I’ve seen a few times is an angler do the haul on the back cast just fine, but then the forward cast has almost no haul on it. What happens is the angler never recovers from the back cast haul. He/She ends up starting the forward haul with the hands far apart, already extended without anywhere to go.

Your forward cast should start with your line hand (for me, that’s my left hand) right next to the reel. If that’s where your hand is, you can haul. If your hands are close together, you can haul. If your hands are far apart, you have no where to go.

If you are out on the flat and your haul is falling apart, just remember that your back cast and forward cast should both start and and with your hands close together.

Casting... work on it.

Casting… work on it.

 


07
Feb 15

Because, wind

Before you take that trip of a lifetime… spend some time getting your cast straight. Pity to go allllll that way and then have the wind kill your trip. There is wind. Almost always and even if there isn’t wind, there will be and it will blow so hard and you’ll think “I can’t cast in this!” and you’ll be right if you don’t work on it. Maybe you can lay out some line when throwing that caddis out on the lake or that 30′ cast on the big river, but the flats are not like that. The wind is sometimes unrelenting and sometimes right in your face as the fish are coming at you.

The wind can be your friend. The chop makes the fish feel a bit more comfortable. It can mask your movements and your noise. A windless day is tough, sometimes tougher than a really windy day.

Wind is a reality. Learn to cast in the wind. It is a skill you can pick up and you can remove that from the list of limiting factors.

So… Mr. Windknot, take it away.


16
Oct 14

Casting from Gink and Gasoline

The folks over at Gink and Gasoline are doing a fine, fine job, Olympic Medalists and all. They have a post with some casting tips to help you on the flats and it is good advice.

Good technique and timing can input far more power into the casting system than sheer muscle and effort. Casting as hard as I could worked against me ten fold. I wasn’t allowing the rod to do the work and I lost control of my casting stroke in the process. Both of which, ended up opening up my loops and keeping me from consistently laying out a straight leader on the water during my presentation.

Saltwater flats casting is just different from most anything else you are going to do. It has its own set of skills and you are not magically imbued with them just because you’ve caught a bazillion trout.

The big difference is the wind. The wind can be your friend, putting a little chop on the water makes the fish feel more comfortable and masks your approach and cast. When you are looking into the face of a 15 mph wind, or a 25 mph wind, things can go badly, and quickly.

Read the tips from Gink and Gasoline and then go practice a bit. Doesn’t make sense to spend a couple grand on getting to some dream location without working on your ability to deliver at game time.

Me, casting, in Belize.

Me, casting, in Belize.


20
Jun 14

Casting Further

The good folks over at Deneki have an article all about how to get a little more out of your casting.

Always a good thing. Never stop learning. Never stop trying to get just a little bit better.

Casting... work on it.

Casting… work on it.


04
Feb 14

Been there

I’ve landed well, I have to say. There was a rough patch when things weren’t going so well as my first marriage was crumbling and I was basically just waiting for the end. Sometimes, in those tough days, I’d grab my fly rod and head down to the school at the end of the street. I’d just go to cast and not think. Casting requires being able to block out everything else except the cast, to feel the flow of things, to get a rhythm and to just let it happen.

I recently came across this video from that time of me out on that field, casting and working through it all. My cast is either a little better or worse than it was then, but I understand what that guy was going through and I’d like to just reach out and let him know… you’ll be alright.


01
Nov 13

Thoughts from Flatswalker

Flatswalker wrote a great little bit about casting, about the cast being the heart and soul of fly fishing and about how casting is not about strength, but about finesse.

Of course, I now realize that it was exactly my own effort that defeated me. Casting is about finesse and control, not strength, and certainly not anger.

I pretty much agree with all of that. I think about how little energy it takes a casting master to lay out their line and then contrast that with the effort less accomplished anglers put into their casting strokes and you can see a clear distinction.

Davin, in FL

Davin, in FL

However, I have a different view about where the heart and soul of our quiet sport can be found.

For me, it is the fly that sets us apart. When we catch a fish we have fooled it with the fly… something that is, on its own, scentless and lifeless. It might be easier to attach a shrimp to a hook, or a crab, the actual food these fish are seeking. It might be easier to put some scent on the fly to light up the olfactory senses of our target species. But we don’t do those things. We throw bits of metal with feather and fur and we inject life into them.

It’s like robbing a bank with a picture of a gun drawn on a post-it-note. It is artistry, both in the fly and in the presentation of the fly.


02
Jul 13

How far do you need to cast to catch bonefish

It is a question a lot of people have when they head out to pursue bonefish for the first (or second or fifth) time. The outside-looking-in impression would have you believe bonefish require coffee-cup accuracy at 80 feet.

They don’t… usually. The ones that do aren’t going to get caught by mortals, so don’t worry about those.

Deneki had a great post with rigorously invented numbers to convey how far you really need to be able to cast. Their take, which I whole-heatedly agree with, is 30-50 feet.

That's me, working the Mojo

That’s me, working the Mojo

Casting distance breakdown from my own limited experience

  • Shots at 10′ I’ve never made. The fish is just too close and they see you and they aren’t fans. While wading I’ve run (almost literally) into fish at 10′ and those, for me, have been 100% unsuccessful.
  • Shots at 20′, I’ve certainly caught a few at 20′. They might see you, they might not, but it needs to happen soon or they are going to be at the boat or at your feet and you won’t have any room to strip. I’ve heard lots of stories about fish caught with the leader stripped in, but that isn’t the norm. That’s why those stories stand out.
  • Shots at 30′, yeah… that’s pretty common and that’s a good shot.
  • Shots at 40′, probably the most common distance I’ve heard called out.
  • Shots at 50′, I’ve had them, I’ve made them, but they are less common.
  • Shots at 60′, I’ve had those and I’ve made them, but it starts to get to the point, for me, where my casting can, on occasion, let me down.
  • Shots at 70′, maybe I’ve had 70′ shots called out, but not many and I can’t really remember being asked to cast at or over 70′ more than a couple of times. When you start casting at 70′ you have a lot of line out and that means you are starting to be removed for what’s happening on the other end. It’s harder to feel the take and it’s easier to be in the wrong spot, for the fish to change directions or the current to take the fly away from the fish. Distance multiplies all the things that can go wrong.
  • Shots at 80′, very rare and even less often successful.

The wind is not your friend

While you don’t usually have to cast 70′ for a bonefish, what you do have to deal with is the wind. The wind will mess you up and destroy your confidence, leaving you a sobbing, quivering puddle on the deck. Wind is an A-hole. If you can cast 40′ to that rising trout it does not mean you can get the bonefish fly to the fish in a 20 mph wind. You need to get your double haul down and once you do, you are well armed… otherwise, you are always going to be under-gunned.

Me, casting, before I even did it very well.

Me, casting, before I even did it very well.

There is wind in the tropics. Sometimes there is a LOT of it. Your pants and shirt will flap like a flag in the wind. Your line will get swept off the deck. Your floppy hat will flop in your face. Wind is the game changer and the thing that causes people to lose their minds.

Learn to double haul. Also, learn to double haul.

No Casterbating

The other thing you need to be able to do is get it to 40′ or 50′ in one or two false casts. No “casterbating,” which is what some guides call the need to carry the line in the air for way, way, way too long. I’ve done it. It’s a bad idea. One. Two. Shoot. Get it there, get it there fast and get to fishing. No “shadow casting” on the flats (or on rivers, that’s a movie device, not a fishing technique).

Go forth and cast like a boss (at ranges of 30-50′, in the wind).

Cuba Bjorn Casting