Improve Your Casting Presentation

Improvement in the speed of response, accuracy, and distance, and how they relate to each other.

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Folks frequently telephone me to obtain information about fly fishing for redfish in the Indian River Lagoon. If their own fishing happens principally in fresh water, the conversation invariably comes to this point:

Caller: "How far do I have to cast?"

Me: "Fifty feet is a good working minimum, but there are other factors to consider."

I then go on to explain those three factors - speed of response, accuracy and distance - and how they relate to each other. Improving in any of these factors will improve any caster's fly presentation, no matter what level of casting skill he currently possesses.

He Who Hesitates Is Lost
Under perfect atmospheric and water conditions or when the fish are tailing well, you can see them from a much greater distance than you can cast. You then have plenty of time to get ready to make a long, beautiful cast. But speaking practically, how often does that happen? Wind, clouds, low angle of the sun, murky or deep water, or dark bottom all make seeing the fish difficult most of the time.

When the guide tells you, "Ten o'clock at 30 feet," you need to put the fly on the fish immediately. You're almost close enough to spit onto the fish. If you false cast three or four times, the fish will see all that motion, at which point any chance of catching it virtually disappears.

One way to improve your speed of delivery is by over-lining your rod.
A fly caster from Virginia graced my boat recently. He brought two rods with him, a 7-weight and a 9-weight. He wanted to use the 9-weight, but he had somehow knocked the ceramic insert out of the stripping guide while transporting it. The rod was out of commission. There was a fair breeze blowing that day and he struggled with casting the 7-weight. After trying the rod myself I suggested that he put the 9-weight line on the 7-weight rod.

The look on his face clearly showed that he considered such an idea a heresy, but he was having such a hard time that with my encouragement he eventually did change out the lines. His first cast with the modified outfit was a minor revelation to him, and he marveled the rest of the day about what a difference that simple change had made in the rod and his casting ability. In spite of the wind he got several nice fish.

Any fly rod is designed to fully load with 40 feet of line out, if the rod and the line are of the same weight. To put it another way, an 8-weight rod should load fully with 40 feet of 8-weight line out of the tip. This presents two problems, particularly to weak casters. A weak caster can't ever get 40 feet of line out of the rod. They haven't yet developed the timing or line speed that allows them to hold that much line in the air. And for that fish that suddenly appears only 30 feet away, getting any load at all on the rod is very difficult. Over-lining the rod by one or even two line weights will solve both problems.

This works for everyone, not just weak casters. I over-line all of my own tackle. The rod will load more quickly. This means less false casting, which means less motion. Fish vision, like our own, keys in on motion. They will see you if you flail, especially if they are close to you. Over-lining the rod results in less motion from you and increases your speed of response.

Really good casters, tournament casters, usually under-line their rods so they can achieve maximum distance. But they are not throwing to live targets that are close to them. If speed of response is essential, over-line the rod.

Another very simple thing which will decrease response time is how much line you carry out of the rod tip while looking for fish. The end of the fly line should be carried between the ring and middle fingers of the line hand. The fly should be held behind the hook between the thumb and index finger of the line hand. If you do this you will have somewhere between 12 and 15 feet of line out of the rod before you ever make a false cast.

When you see a fish you simultaneously rollcast with the rod hand while tossing the fly and leader away from you with the line hand. The rollcast straightens the line and leader out in front of you and prepares it for a good backcast. With an over-lined rod, one, or at most, two false casts are all you will need to make a 50-foot cast. You will respond quickly. If you don't know how to do this I suggest you practice this simple maneuver at your earliest opportunity.

Pitch It Right In Here!
Redfish (and most other fish we find on flats, for that matter) feed rather deliberately. They will seldom move very far to take a fly. In my experience, if you hope to get a strike from an Indian River red your fly had better be within a foot of the fish's head, preferably out in front of it.

On the other hand, even the relatively small splash a fly makes will spook the fish if that fly lands too close. This means that as you quickly release the fly, you must anticipate where the fish will be when the fly lands, where it will be a second or two after the fly lands, put the fly on a spot about the size of a dinner plate where you think the fish will be, and also make a cast that might be 50 feet long in a wind that might easily be blowing 15 miles per hour, all from a boat that is also moving.

I cannot stress enough how difficult it is to do this if you have never tried it before, even if you have fly fished for 20 years. If you have a flats trip planned, you can practice at home before you leave. Get four or five Frisbees, plastic bucket covers or something similar that you can toss out onto a lawn. Take your rod and try to quickly hit them in succession with a fly from different distances. Change their locations frequently. Try this on both calm and windy days.

What you are trying to do is teach yourself to quickly cast to any angle in any wind condition. The fish frequently appear on the "wrong" side of the boat. You need to know how to cast to your "off" side without hooking the guide. While I cast to my off side on my backcast, the best casters I know simply switch hands. This certainly gives the rest of us something to work toward, doesn't it?

One error I see many fly fishers make when casting to fish is that they release the line from their line hand when making the cast. This is bad for several reasons, the most important of which concerns accuracy. When you release the line you relinquish all control over where your fly will land. If you have used too much force while making your cast, the fly will go too far, and there's no way you can stop it.

Whenever you are casting to a target the line should always run through a loop formed between the thumb and forefinger of your line hand. Why? You can slow down and stop a too-strong cast, dropping the fly on target. By slowing down the line at the rod, the line and leader will straighten out at the end of the cast. Increased accuracy and a better presentation result. If you've made a good cast you can immediately move the fly as soon as it hits the water, should this be necessary. The line is already in your hand. Finally, if you've made a good cast and the fish takes immediately, you can set the hook because the line is already in your hand.

How Far Is That?
Sadly, few fishermen estimate distances very well. Earlier in this piece a guide said, "Ten o'clock, 30 feet out!" Most fly casters will line this fish every time if they don't see it. They will cast too far. Think about that 30 feet this way. Your rod is 10 (well usually 9, but we're estimating here, after all) feet long. Your leader is 10 feet long. Just how much line do you need to have out of the rod to cast 30 feet? If you are holding the line and fly as described above, you could rollcast to a fish that's 30 feet away! It's that close.

A simple way to help both estimating distance and improving casting distance will require 10 minutes of home time, a yardstick and a permanent black marker. Use the yardstick to measure out 30 feet of fly line. Use the marker to make a 6-inch long mark on the line at 30 feet. Pull out another 30 feet of line and put two 3-inch black marks on the line at 60 feet. You have just made an excellent measuring device with your fly line.

The next time you go out to cast at your Frisbees, those marks will help you in several ways. When the 30-foot mark is 10 feet out of the rod tip, that rod is fully loaded. If you have over-lined your rod, the distance the mark will be out of the tip when the rod loads fully will be something less than 10 feet.

If you make a cast that results in that 30-foot mark landing 10 feet from the tip of the rod and your line is lying straight, your distance arithmetic will be this: rod (10 feet) + line (40 feet) plus leader (10 feet) = cast (60 feet). If you can accurately cast 60 feet, a 40-footer will be easy. If you can work up to 80 feet, a 50-footer will be a breeze. Unfortunately, and somewhat redundantly, casting farther requires practice. All skills do. If you want to get better, pay your dues.