Thursday 11th September, 2008
I'll let you in on a secret - casting isn't as hard as you might think.
I thought I would bring up casting before I talked about rods, flies or other equipment, because for a lot of people casting is the most intimidating thing when they're thinking about starting flyfishing. Of course we need to cast as we do because the fly (our "bait" or "lure") is usually very light and we need to use the weight of the line to get the fly out to the fish. That's why flylines are as thick as they are. In that respect casting is fundamental to flyfishing, but when you're fishing it's actually only a small part of what you're doing.
You can definitely catch fish without being the world's greatest caster. I've seen people out and about who were technically terrible casters, but I bet they still catch fish. You don't need to be able to cast a long way. I was at a lake last Sunday. I'd been walking the shore slowly for a couple of hours looking for cruising trout, and much to my surprise hadn't seen a thing. I had waded out about 10 metres from the shore and was casting across to the edge of some weedbeds, just fishing blind. I decided to head back to the car and go to the other end of the lake. I thought I may was well have one more cast, using a different nymph just for laughs. Of course right as I was starting to tie on a new fly the first fish I'd seen in hours went by in front of me, going quite fast. I lost track of it in the glare on the water. As I was clipping the tag of the knot two fish went past, a big one chasing a smaller one. I wasn't really expecting them to come back, but I waited. A couple of minutes later, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a fish coming back over my left shoulder. I flicked the flies out to where I thought the fish might pass, which was only a few rod lengths in front of me. The fish went by me so close I could almost have reached out and poked it with my rod. It passed in front of me, caught sight of my nymph and changed direction slightly. My top fly went under and after a good tussle I had a 3.75 lb brown trout in the net.
The moral of that story is that you can catch fish without casting to the horizon. I've been fishing in lakes where I've waded out to where I thought fish were more likely to be, perhaps 10 metres from the shore, and had fish jump between me and the bank. That gives you a fright! At another lake I fish I usually cast a long way out but more often than not hook fish when my flies are within a short casting distance. On my favourite river more than two rod lengths of line is a long cast. If I were to cast as far I can I'd be fishing 3 pools up.
You also don't have to cast with pin-point accuracy to catch fish. On the lake I fish most often it's very hard to spot fish, so the best tactic is often just to blind fish, heave and leave. The trout there move around a lot so unless you notice a fish rising repeatedly there isn't much point casting to rises. If I'm fishing with dry flies or dry flies with nymphs tied underneath I usually just cast out and let the flies drift round in the wind. Sometimes I'll aim for the edge of a weedbed or clearer looking area, places trout often cruise along looking for food, but you only need to be there or thereabouts. When fishing with a streamer you can just fling it out to a likely looking spot and retrieve it back, so accuracy isn't an issue.
The same goes for fishing in rivers. Fishing to sighted trout you've snuck up on is often (and justifiably so) seen as the pinnacle of flyfishing here in NZ. Conditions don't always allow it though. The river might be a bit (or very!) dirty - spring floods I'm looking at you - or the river might be tannin stained, as they often are on West Coast of the South Island. Sometimes the bottom makes it very hard to spot the fish, or it might be too windy to see into the water easily. In these sorts of conditions the best, or only, option is blind fishing. Once again, you don't have to be hugely accurate to be successful. You get your flies out to likely looking bits of water and let them run through it. Of course it's better to be able to get the flies where you want them, but I've caught more than a few fish on some less than ideal casts.
Hopefully you get the idea that you can catch fish without being a very good caster at all. So how do you actually learn to cast? There's an easy way and a hard way. The hard way is to teach yourself. This can certainly be done, in fact I taught myself the basics. The problem is that you can spend a lot of time finding out how to go about it and you also run the risk of teaching yourself bad habits which are hard to break. I was never quite sure if I was doing things right, which knocked my confidence. I mainly taught myself using Sexyloops, as well as from reading a few other sources and watching some DVDs. You can also find some helpful stuff on video websites like YouTube.
The easy way is to get some lessons, preferably from a qualified instructor so you know you're being taught properly. With the benefit of hindsight, if I was starting out again I would definitely get some lessons. It will cost you money, but in my experience it'll be money well spent and a sound investment in your fishing. After I had been casting for some time I did pay for a lesson and I'm really glad I did it. I learned a lot. Although we ended up mainly covering more advanced casts, it helped me with a basic cast called the roll cast. This is often one of the first casts taught but when teaching myself, even using all the sources I had, I didn't really get it completely until it was shown to me.
A good instructor should have you casting well enough to be able to go out and catch fish within one or two lessons. They'll be able to get you started and let you know the common mistakes beginners make so you can watch out for them and correct them when you're by yourself. If you get some lessons before you buy a rod then you'll be able to make more of an informed choice, and stand a better chance of ending up with something which suits you.
From my own experience there were a couple of things I found really helpful when I was getting started. The first relates to what is called "the stop". The stop is an important part of casting, because it's what forms the loop (as in a sexy loop). I found stopping to be quite an unnatural movement, along with the "speed up and stop" part of it, and it definitely took some getting used to. What helped me was to take the butt section of the rod (that's the bit with the handle) and practice making stops. For some time I could be found at odd moments, when walking down the hall or watching TV, waving the bottom section of my rod about. Just using the butt section made it easier for me to check I was stopping the rod in the right place and not taking it too far back, for example.
The next thing which really helped me was to practice. You don't need to be able to get to the water to practice casting, you can practice on the grass. Having a pond or something nearby is ideal, but the grass is good too. Many of the very good casters you might come across on The Board spend more time practicing on the grass than on the water. You can even practice on other surfaces, although apart from snow most other surfaces are likely to give your flyline a bit of a battering. You don't need a lot of room to practice, as little as 20m long and a few metres wide can be enough. Of course if you have more space at home, or you can get to a park or playing field, that's even better. When I'm staying in town I go to a nearby park to practice and I've had people walk a long way out of their way to tell me there aren't any fish there, which is very kind of them.
One thing you don't want to do is only "practice" when you're actually fishing, unless you're lucky enough to fish a lot. By practicing on the grass you'll make more progress in a shorter time as there's less to distract you. Chances are good that you'll find your first few trips a bit frustrating, because there is a lot going on aside from the casting that you have to deal with. If you can remove or minimise one of those sources of frustration by practicing casting and being reasonably confident you can get the flies out there on the water you increase your chances of enjoying yourself that much more. If you've invested in some lessons it's a good idea to practice so you cement what you paid good money to learn. Even just 10 or 15 minutes a day, several times a week, will really help you to progress. If you have somewhere you can keep a rod rigged up and ready to go that makes it a lot easier. You might even find you start enjoying it, these days I often do a bit of casting just because it makes a relaxing change from work.
I should make it clear that although you can learn to cast well enough to catch fish pretty easily, that doesn't mean you'll be able to catch fish everywhere with just basic casting ability. Demanding situations require better casting, without a doubt. Don't let the thought of learning to cast put you off getting started flyfishing though! As always, don't be shy, post on The Board if you have any questions. Either the Beginners section or Flycasting sections would be ideal. It gets so you can't turn around in there without knocking over a casting instructor!
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