The beginning fly-fisher will undoubtedly face a multitude of challenges when hitting the surf or jetty for the first time. A pounding surf, wind in your face and ominous rock piles are but a few obstacles to be aware of. For the most part, and rightly so, your greatest challenge remains casting a line so that you can catch fish. But once that is achieved, what next?
As a guide, I have noticed that many beginners fail to watch what their line does immediately after the cast -that brief transition time you position your rod and hands to begin stripping. After the cast, most beginners immediately focus on stripping to catch a fish. However, during this transition time your line can become hopelessly entangled in the jetty rocks or swept away by encroaching or receding waves.
There is a mental checklist that beginners should go through immediately after the cast to properly manage their line to prevent mishaps. They also need to recognize that different conditions will produce different outcomes with their line at theend of the cast.
Such awareness usually comes from experience -for many, only after they lose or damage a line. Solutions to the following problems are offered to shorten your learning curve and avoid a lot of frustration after the cast.
The first major postcasting problem that the fly-fisher must think about is losing line out of his basket. Thisbecomes especially important when fishing from a jetty. A lost linewill put a budget-conscious fly-fisher in the hole before a fishputs a bend in his rod.
If you are wading in the surf, losing line fromyour basket doesn’t carry the same consequences but it can stillcause a constant headache. The lack of structure eliminates theworry about snagging and losing the line, but the line will wraparound your legs or ankles as the incoming waves sweep it away.This will prevent you from effectively shooting your nextcast.
We all have to consider the wind when casting,but it can also wreak havoc after your cast. As you begin to strip,a head-on or crossing wind can push your line over the outside ofthe basket and drop it to the rocks, water or sand. Once your linehangs out of the basket, its weight will pull out each successivestrip that goes into the basket. By the time you realize what hashappened, a good amount of line will already be in the rocks or thewater.
THE SOLUTION: To prevent the wind from blowingthe line out of your basket, make sure that your first couple ofcoils lie flat in the bottom. Rather than just letting go of theline above the basket, let your hand touch the bottom of the basketon your first series of strips.
Changing to a wider and deeper basket also helps.And as simple as it may sound, your best preventive measure remainslooking to see that the line sits in your basket.
When crossing winds cause the line to drop, youcan also move your stripping basket so that it sits slightlydownwind of your body. This will allow you to act as a naturalbarrier to the wind. If you normally strip line directly in frontof you and don’t like stripping to the side, then as an alternativeyou can reposition your entire body to block the wind.
Oncoming waves can also pull line out of yourbasket after the cast. Even on windless days, oncoming waves stilloccur as wave energy reaches the shoreline or jetty rocks fromprior offshore wind events. They wreak havoc, especially onjetties, when anglers focus only on the part of their line thatrests in the water.
From a jetty, your height above the water’ssurface helps produce a belly in the line that extends from yourrod tip to the water. The higher up, the more belly will exist inthe line. You should also notice that your line drops straight downas you lower your rod from the final casting position to yourstripping position. It is during this repositioning that even asingle wave will sweep your line back into the rocks, especially onrough days.
THE SOLUTION: The solution lies partly in beingaware of what this section of line is doing as you prepare tostrip. It takes slightly more time to position your reel for atwo-handed strip than it does to begin a single-handedretrieve.
In both cases, however, quickly repositioningyour rod and developing good hand-eye coordination to find yourline right away are important. Also, immediately coming tight toyour fly removes any belly from your line and gives you better linecontrol. It also eliminates any chance that sweeping waves willpull line out of your basket.
Another technique to master when fishing from ajetty is the ability to time incoming waves or pushes of whitewater as they move past you. Once you learn this, you can cast sothat the line lands on the backside of a wave and not in front ofit. Additionally, you can throw a mend in your line over that firstoncoming wave. Your mend should lift and place your line on thebackside of the wave. Both techniques will give you additional timeto pick up your slack and get ready to strip.
For the jetty jock fishing quick sinking lines,the belly of line that extends beyond the rod tip causes anotherproblem: It takes longer for the line to sink to the requisitedepth. Any water that hits the belly of the line during this timewill pull back your line or keep it from sinkingappropriately.
THE SOLUTION: To manage your line in this case,hold your rod tip high immediately after you cast. This will keepyour line up off the water and eliminate any drag that may resultfrom an oncoming wave. As your line sinks, begin to slowly loweryour rod tip while extending your arm slightly outward to allowmore line to sink below the surface. If a current moves your line,then feed line from your reel while holding your rod tip fartherout.
Finally, if your line does drop from your basketafter the cast and gets caught in the rocks, don’t try to retrieveit by pulling from the line nearest the reel. Pulling on this endof the hanging loop just buries your line more deeply. It will alsopull your line across any mussels or barnacles and frayit.
THE SOLUTION: If safety permits, try to grab thefront part of the line loop just below the first stripping guide.Try to position yourself over the spot where the line is caught andpull upward on the line as you work it back toward you. This pullsthe line over the rocks rather than through them.
Seeing a beginner lay out a line and hook intoand land a nice fish always gives me great joy. It brings with it asense of accomplishment, success and self-sufficiency that ispersonally rewarding for my client and me. But even more satisfyingis watching a beginner gain an awareness of those little, oftenoverlooked line-management techniques. Now he can graduate to thenext level.
Jim Freda is author of Fishing the New JerseyCoast and co-owns and operates Shore Catch Guide Service (www.shorecatch.com;732-528-1860) in Manasquan, New Jersey.