Tails you lose

Tails you lose

Gary Meyer | Tuesday, 16 April 2019

So, after weeks of feeling poorly, just when I start to think I’m back to my old self again, what do the weather gods bring? A weekend full of blustery winds, that are, of course, blowing from probably the worst direction for what I like to do this time of year. It is not like this is uncommon though. Late spring or early summer, however you like to look at it, is usually windy around here. I know that, but it did not make staying home any easier. The bright side is that soon I can expect to find increasing numbers of small tarpon in the back waters. Then, in about a month, I will head down to the Keys for a short vacation and take my annual beating at the hands of the big tarpon in migration.

The smaller tarpon I expect I will be able to put into the air with regularity. The larger ones I expect quite the opposite: it will likely take days to feed a handful. The funny thing is – neither of those scenarios supplies me with that feeling of anticipation that once was akin to addiction.

Don’t get me wrong! The little guys are a hoot. From what I can tell, they are possibly the most acrobatic fish that can be found at the end of a flyline. If you know where they will be, you can usually count on them to be more than willing to play for as long as you can stand it. The thing is, for me, that mystery has faded. My real enjoyment, with the little guys, these days, is to introduce other anglers to them and watch what happens. There is usually entertainment on both ends of the flyline.


The Keys fishery is more like a spectacle. I imagine it is somewhat like observing the bison migration in the old west of the US, or maybe the famous migrating herds in Africa. To make it even better, every once in a while a tarpon might even notice your fly, but for me at least, the percentage of eats is very low. Then, if you actually hook one of these prime-of-their-life transoceanic swimmers, you are in for one sweaty, muscle-fatiguing battle that will end, either way, with the fish swimming off. It is a sun-drenched form of masochism.


In one case, I feel like I have solved the puzzle, in the other case, I don’t think the puzzle can be solved. Even the best big-tarpon anglers I know, if they are being honest, will admit it is so much more about the fish than it is the angler. There is definitely some geometry involved in getting the fly in the right place, but it seems, more often than not, these fish have something more important than eating on their minds.


More and more, these days, it seems to me that my motivation is solving the riddle, much more than winding in a fish.


So, this weekend I entertained myself with practice casting once again. I am still not happy with my backcast with my left hand. It is frustrating. I know what I want the loop to look like, and I know how the rod needs to move to form that loop, but I keep searching for what I need to do, physically, to get there.  Paul’s “April Fools” challenge, if that is what it really was, highlighted, to me, my lack of “lefty” backcast loop control. Since the beginning of March, since I have spent so little time actually fishing, I have literally worn out a 5 wt. practice flyline.


It is not because I have been striving for that 100-foot cast though. I knew that was beyond my ability right at the start. The majority of my work, however, has been on accuracy and simple loop morphology. One of my idiosyncrasies is a desire to deliver the fly with a minimum amount of energy. To me, a beautiful cast is one that delivers the fly accurately and with touch with the minimum of energy needed. The better the loop, the more efficient the cast, and the less muscle it takes to get it there.


Much of my casting, throughout the upcoming summer will be placing flies under mangrove branches. Besides lacking “beauty”, a tailing loop will often roll the fly up and into the branches. So, they especially must be avoided. It was while practicing my under the branches accuracy casting this evening that I believe I uncovered something new (at least to me) about tailing loops.


It began with trying to dampen a strong backcast, since a fast line is needed when the backcast is low to the water – a trajectory necessary to get back under low branches. I concentrated on delaying, somewhat, the return feed of my haul until the loop was about to turn over. If you look for it, the line will ask when it wants this feed. My thought was that I would reduce any kick by doing this. It seemed to work. Then, if I waited until I felt the rod acknowledge the weight of the extended line before I began my deliver stroke I began to throw nice straight fly legs time after time. No dangle, no waves, just a nice straight fly leg.


So, what say ye, all wised fly casting gurus? This fix seems to suggest yet another cause for a tail. It is less about creep or arc, as far as I can see. It might be considered about misapplication of power, sort of, but it seems to be more about overpowering during the backcast, which is well before the commonly blamed spike on the delivery stroke.


Or am I suffering delusions from lack of fishing?