Learning to cast a fly rod effectively is essential to your success as a Trout Fly angler. There are many ways of learning, loads of books on the subject, dvd’s, youtube videos and Google is a wealth of information but by far the best way to learn to cast properly is to take some lessons from a recognized instructor or casting school.
Lessons can vary in price form place to place and person to person but for as little as a couple hundred dollars you will learn more in one day then you will stumbling through for 10 years self learning and more importantly you will learn the techniques correctly. There are some basic fundamental tips I can give you to help on your journey, whether you are new to fly casting or are already learning. Do not cast with a stiff body, relax and stay lose, casting a fly rod should be a fluid and poetic motion and the rod should be considered an extension of your arm. Your casting motion should be initiated with body movement and in particular you’re forward casting action, as in most sports learn to understand how your body transfers weight. Use soft hands and don’t grip the cork handle like its life or death, relax your grip and feel the motion of the rod. The right grip will be one of the most important assets in achieving the powerful and fluid casting motion. Like playing Golf or Skiing its important to bend your knees, this comes back to the weight transfer dynamic of your body, stiff legs and you will be stiff everywhere else. Aim to be light on your feet and smooth in your motion just like a boxer would. Think of it as being an art, like water in motion, sexy even but it should never be aggressive or painful. A good cast should be powerful yet graceful at the same time and when you become good at casting it should be effortless and anyone watching should want you to show them how. And most importantly after you have learned to cast, practice, practice, practice and then practice some more……there is no substitute for practicing casting technique.
I am not a big believer in setting aside specific times to do it and limiting yourself to an hour or 30 minutes or whatever as I believe it to be counter productive. Practice when you can and for however long feels productive at that particular moment. Sometimes a quick 15 minute session is as productive on one day as 2 hours on another, but don’t make it a chore, it should still be enjoyable and fulfilling, you are trying to make casting second nature not cram for a test.
Choose the Right Gear
This topic could fill a book on its own and everyone has a different opinion on what to buy and why. I look at it in a very simplistic way and when offering advice on this subject I will not be mentioning brands or specifics, that’s where your local tackle store comes in and most will be able to steer you in the right direction.
First of all work out where you will be spending the majority of your time fishing, is it small streams, large rivers or lakes and dams, some gear will cross over all styles and some will not. Waders are an important piece of equipment and there are models out there to suit all budgets, if warmer climates allow, you may not need them at all, but I have rarely come across those situations. There are generally 3 types of waders, standard PVC style chest, waist and thigh waders, Neoprene chest, waist and thigh waders and of course the breathable style of wader which generally come in chest format, sometimes waist. If fishing small streams you may be able to get away with only thigh waders but in my experience there is always somewhere you need to wade that will just tip over the crutch and you head home looking like you wet yourself. If the climate is cool, neoprene or PVC, and if it’s warmer or during summer, the breathable are the way to go. When fishing larger rivers and lakes I recommend the waist and chest models as whilst you may not always be wading that deep you may often need to sit or kneel down on the bank to conceal yourself from a fish, and that’s no fun when you only have thigh boots on and the ground is wet or muddy. Once again depending on climate conditions as to whether you need the warm insulating qualities of neoprene or the cool sweat less qualities of breathable waders. A good fly jacket or vest to hold small boxes of flies, leader material, floatant, sinkant, scissors, sunscreen, and all manner of other bits and pieces that you collect along the way is essential. Fly vests vary from budget models that do the job to some fancy top end models that have all sorts of pockets and extras that we often wonder whether we need or not. A good wide brimmed hat and a pair of quality Polaroid sunglasses are probably the most important tools you will need to add to your arsenal of fly fishing equipment. When looking at sunglasses I always recommend models with amber or amber/brown coloured lenses, these will offer excellent low light polarizing abilities as well as fantastic vision through the water in high contrast conditions that are encountered in our fresh water rivers and streams.
Rods are a very important purchase and do not under any circumstances buy a fly rod without first casting with it. Most tackle stores will allow you to do this and I recommend trying a few different models at the same time and get a feel for what suits your casting style and fits you as a caster, as the old saying goes “oils aint oils” and neither are rods. While there are some fundamental basics in casting mechanics everyone will develop their own slightly different casting styles and not all rods will suit all casters. First of all choose a budget and then choose a rod in that budget that suits your casting style, do not make the mistake of just listening to a sales guy tell you this rod is better than that rod, try them out and decide for yourself. A classic example is a good customer and fishing buddy of mine, he has an old self taught style of casting and was after a new rod. We took a few down to the local river to try with a couple of my personal reels, I had rods all the way from $150 slow action rods through to $900 modern super fast action rods and in the end he settled on the $250 model…..why….because he could cast well with it, simple as that.
Sure, the $900 rod was a far superior rod and in my hands was an awesome weapon able to cast most of a fly line out across the river with a single false cast, however in his hands he struggled to cast with it at all, the less expensive rod was a slower action and suited his style much better and when he cast with it he was only a few metres shorter in the cast than I was with the expensive rod…..moral of the story is your casting style and ability will dictate the rod you buy, just because the rod is expensive doesn’t mean you will cast better with it. For small stream work I would recommend a #3, #4 or #5 weight rod with matching weight forward lines. Weight Forward (WF) lines will allow you to pick up the line and load the rod quickly in the fast moving water with minimal false casting. For larger slow moving rivers and lakes go for a #5 or #6 weight rod and matching Double Taper (DT) line which will allow for more delicate presentations .
Choose a reel to match the rod, essentially the reel really only holds the line and most of the time you will more than likely play the fish on the line not the reel but its always nice to purchase good gear, look for light weight models, choose wisely and choose once. Other items that are essential would be flies of course, aim to have a small box of dry flies for surface action, a small box of nymphs both unweighted and bead head and a small box of wet flies for the days when there is nothing hatching.
A good pair of fine sharp scissors, small spools of tippet material (2lb, 4lb, 6lb and 8lb), a few spare tapered leaders just in case a full leader change is needed, bottle of fly floatant, bottle of sink cote or “mud” and some line cleaner in case of a dirty fly line.
There are many other items that can prove useful, some will be location specific as will be many of the flies, check out your local tackle store and they will be able to give you all the advice you need on any flies that are suitable for your local area.
Rivers and Streams
Effectively fishing a small stream or river requires a basic ability to be able to read the water. Small streams are a dynamically exciting stretch of water that are made up of sections that are shallow and fast running called “riffles” usually followed by a deeper slower flowing pool. There will often be large rocks, logs and sections of bank side that interrupt the flow of water and you need to learn where the fish will lie in this environment. A trout will sit in its chosen feeding station, there will always be a pecking order in any section of stream and the most dominant trout will take up station in the most productive spot. The trout will lay waiting for his meal to be delivered and you can observe this behavior on any stream where you can sneak up on a high bank, using it as an observation post, wearing polarized sunglasses to see below the waters surface film. The trout will lay in front of or behind an obstruction of the current, or in a depression in the stream bed. These locations provide shelter from the current but allow instant access to the food brought by the current. As trout expend a lot of energy holding their place in a stream and will take maximum advantage of the food available.
Trout have a relatively extensive field of view depending on the water depth, but they can only see up and to the side. As they are facing upstream they are looking for food coming from in front and above and to either side. There are blind spots where they can’t see and that is directly behind and low to the horizon. This allows the angler a few choices when presenting a fly to the fish, stay low when moving into position to cast and move slow as to not spook the fish and cast just too either side of the fish and see if there is a reaction to the fly. If the fish does not move out to the fly cast just up and in front being very careful not to lay the line over top of the fish.
Trout also need plenty of oxygen in the water, the heads of pools just below a riffle and the tails of pools where the water starts to speed up again and usually has obstructions to create turbulence are perfect positions for trout to hold station. Look for the bubble lines also; they are a great indicator of where there may be highly oxygenated turbulent water as well as being an area where food items will be concentrated.
Lakes and Dams
Lakes and Dams present a totally different set of environmental factors. Some of the same basic principles apply; the fish need a good supply of food as well as oxygen and some potential cover from predators, however they will generally have to move around to access these areas. As the water is static and not moving like a stream the fish swim around looking for their food, this could be terrestrial insects blown onto the water by wind, aquatic insects hatching on the surface or aquatic insects under the water in amongst the weed beds. When searching for trout in a lake or dam look for weed beds along shore lines and any type of structure such as logs and stumps. This offers both food and the availability of shelter when danger presents itself so trout tend to hang around these areas. Good shallow weedy shores will have trout tailing searching for food items early in the morning and will also see insect hatches during the day. The trout will usually follow a bit of a beat and will swim from area to area in a pattern searching for food, sit and watch for a while and you will see the fish in the water come and go. Points of land jutting out into the lake are also areas worth a cast or two, any breeze will create a surface current and if it’s blowing along the shoreline will create an area of back eddy, food items will collect here and there is also an underwater current of more oxygenated water that the trout like. This can be a very productive section of water.