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"What am I doing wrong?" he wanted to know. "What causes all this?"
"In water like this," I said, "the line is moving so fast that when you try to pick it up, your arm goes way back and you are just pulling the fly in closer all the time. Half the time it never even gets into the air."
"What can I do?" he asked.
"When the line and fly are riding down on you like that," I said, "and when you raise the rod to pick up line-right then, you are in a perfect position for a roll cast. The line is out on the water in front of you, your rod is high, so it's no trouble to bring it back to the one o'clock position. From there, all you have to do is make the forward part of the roll cast."
Paul tried it and made a perfect roll cast. The line came in close to him, then rolled up and over as he made the forward cast. Line, leader and fly flipped over and the fly hit nicely about 25 feet out.
"That's easy enough," said Paul. "But I want to cast 40 feet."
"Do the same thing," I said. "But this time, when the roll has been completed, and the fly gets out there all the way, make a back cast just as the fly starts to drop, and there you are. You can continue to false cast till you're ready to make the throw." Paul tried that, and again did fine.
"All right," he agreed. "It works. But what if I'm bringing the fly in for a roll cast pick-up and a fish hits just when I'm about to pick up? I'll have slack line and won't be able to strike him."
"Not by pulling back on the rod the way you usually strike," I agreed. "But you can rush the roll cast and get the same effect. It will jerk the line toward you and hook the fish."
Carried still further, the basic roll cast becomes the aerial roll cast, a maneuver that will get a trout fisherman out of many a jam when both he and the fish are surrounded by brush. I recall a perfect illustration. On Fishing Creek in Maryland I was trying to get to a fish that lay in a small run at the head of a pool that was hemmed in with bushes. I was hemmed in, too, and the only way to cast was from a 20-foot opening in front of me directly across to the head of the pool where the trout was slowly working his fins, waiting for a natural.
I stripped off 15 feet of line and gripped the fly by the bend of the hook so it wouldn't catch my fingers. Then I flipped the fly and leader into the air ahead of me and started to feed line through the guides. Then, line in air, I made a forward cast, picked the line up in the air, and made a back cast. Still false casting, I gradually got the line going in a neat vertical circle, like a wheel rolling, a bit to my right and a little in front of me. When I had 15 feet of line out, I made a forward cast and dropped the fly right on that trout's nose. He took.
If I had put that fly down on the surface in such a confined space, even once, for a regular retrieve and pick-up, the fish would have busted out of the county. Such a cast is seldom needed, but on occasion it's the only one that can pay off.
The roll cast is also a great help in freeing a fly snagged on a log or other obstacle. The harder you pull toward you, the deeper the hook sinks. But nine times out of ten, if you slack up on the line and do a roll cast to throw line out beyond the fly, it will pull the hook out of the obstacle, away from you.
All these casts will be used many times in a season of fly fishing and they help to make fly casting great sport. But the cast that provides the fireworks is the double haul, a cast originally worked out by tournament casters. We owe them many, many thanks. Plenty of anglers who know the double haul never think of applying it beyond bass bug fishing or salt water fly fishing, where they're using heavy duty tackle. Yet the power supplied by the double haul is needed even more when the outfit is small because then even the slightest wind will cause plenty of trouble.
On the Big Hole River in Montana, Walt Weber and I were fishing a beautiful stretch of water where we knew there were some good fish. We were using 8-foot rods and HDH lines, with 12-foot leaders tapered down to 4X tippets. Walt's fly was a No. 10 Whitcomb and the wind was trying to blow it right back every time he cast.
"You need more power to get out into the wind with that big fly," I said. "Why don't you use the double haul?"
"Never thought of it with this small outfit," he answered.
"You need it now, more than any other time," I told him. "Because you're casting a long, thin leader, and it needs that extra push."
"Won't it slap down too hard on the water?"
"No," I said. "First of all, you're casting it several feet above the surface. The great force of the cast is dissipated in the long leader as it rolls out and over. The fly acts as a buffer. It slows up and drops quietly."
The double haul takes all the work out of casting and saves the angler's arm a lot during a whole day of fishing. It lets those who get a kick out of casting a long line-and who doesn't? -really go to town. It calls for perfect timing, but is otherwise easy. As you start the pick-up, take hold of the line immediately below the butt guide with the left hand, and pull down. At the same instant you start this pull, snap the right wrist back and upward. This pull, coupled with the lift of the rod, will give great speed to the backcast. While the line is speeding back, let the left hand, still holding the line, drift up to below the butt guide. As the line and leader straighten out behind you, start the forward cast with a snap of the wrist and at the same time pull down on the line with the left hand again. False casting this way gives the line such terrific speed that you can shoot out slack line held in the left hand for amazingly long casts.
I explained to Walt, that day, that it acts something like a bow and arrow, with the rod tip taking the part of the bow, firing the line forward.
"Did you see that?" he interrupted. "Looks like a good halfpound fish about 6o feet out there."
"Quite a rise," I agreed. "But in this wind you haven't been getting 6o feet."
"All right," he grinned. "You win. I'll use the double haul.
He got line up, false cast some line out, using the double haul, then let it go. It bored out into that wind right to the spot 60 feet away. He couldn't have walked over there and placed it more accurately. I saw the fish when it took. It was plenty big. When Walt set the hook, it tore down our way.
"How'd you like that double haul?" Walt asked me.
"How do you like that fish?" I countered. "You wouldn't have got to him without the double haul."
"He's only fair," said Walt.
Then that brownie jumped. I shot a glance at Wall-- His eyes were out on crutches. He couldn't talk.
"He's only fair," I said for him, but he was too busy to even give me a dirty look. Finally he beached that fish. It was a 4 1/2-pound brownie and put Walt on the Wall of Fame in Dan Bailey's fly shop in Livingston, Montana, with those anglers who've been fortunate enough to take trout over four pounds on a fly.
I made another cast and this time brought the rod tip down to the surface. The line shot out under the wind but not quite to where I wanted it to go. It needed more of a trick than that.
I stripped more line from the reel, false cast the entire 40 feet into the air, and using the added weight of that extra line, made the forward cast again, brought the rod tip down hard, and threw the fly out the 30 feet I needed.
"That's something to know," said Len. "I believe I'll start fishing again."
The next time I saw Len he had two nice rainbows, taken in the teeth of that wind.
A strong wind blowing from behind the caster can be just as troublesome as a head-on blow, but there are several ways, besides the downwind roll cast already described, by which an angler can outwit the wayward wind. It is often possible to cast horizontally, with the rod parallel to the water instead of overhead, and thus get the fly out without losing an ear. And another way is to shorten the backcast, let the line and fly fall almost to the water behind you, then make the forward cast upward, at a 45-degree angle, stop the rod at about I I o'clock position, shoot the line, and let the wind take it on out. The fly and line will clear your head with room to spare and at the end of the forward shoot the line will fall to the surface. Never having found this cast described, I have named it simply "the downwind cast."
Poor handling of the retrieve in windy weather will cost the caster fish, too, because it will prevent him getting all the strikes he should. If the rod is held too high the wind will catch the line and blow it along, causing drag to the fly. Or it will blow the line in such a way as to give slack line when it is least wanted; and sometimes a heavy wind will lift the whole shebang, line, leader and fly, right off the water. But if the rod tip is held down almost to the water, within an inch or two of the surface, the wind doesn't catch the line at all and retrieve can be made without either drag or slack.
The handling of the retrieve is important with all casts because the way the line is retrieved affects the pickup, and hence the following cast. Some anglers, particularly trout fishermen, work the line around their fingers, or make a figure 8 with it in the palm of the left hand. But for general mobility, quickness and line control, the strip method of retrieve is best.
To execute this retrieve, the rod is held with the thumb and middle finger sticking out from the grip, the thumb over the top and the middle finger coming around underneath. Hold the line between the extended thumb and finger and strip it in below that with the free left hand. At the conclusion of each strip, transfer control of the line to the waiting thumb and finger and hold it taut until the left hand brings in another strip. You can drop the line as it comes in, either in the bottom of a boat or on the surface of the water. It may also be held in coils in the left hand. With the strip method of retrieve the line can be brought in fast or slowly, as the angler wishes, and he always will have a tight line, ready for a strike or for the pick-up for the next cast.
The strip method is especially good in fast water. When fishing a riffle, or rapids or a fast glide, I usually make a 25- to 35-foot cast upstream-a short line is always best in fast waterthen give a couple of fast, arm-length strips as the line charges down. I raise the rod tip then and do a roll cast pick-up. Or, when the line is 15 feet above me, I toss it up and backward, and then deliver the forward throw. The result is the same.
Show me a man who can fish a small stream successfully and I'll bet he'll do all right on bigger ones. But the reverse is not always true. The little stream separates the lucky from the skillful. In a couple of weeks on a small stream an angler learns more about trout and the way they operate than he does in three months on bigger water. First of all, he sees practically every fish he casts to. He watches how they feed,, on minnows or digging in the gravel for nymphs, and how they take flies. He soon discovers that in shallow water trout are extremely wary-as are all fish, for that matter-and on the alert all the time, and that therefore they are hard to take.
I remember one novice fisherman who asked me to take him out and give him a few tips. I took him to just such a low, clear stream as I have been describing. He just looked at it, then at me, and headed home.
"What's the idea?" he shouted back at me as he went. "I'm just a beginner."
"That's why we're here," I answered. "You'll find out more about trout in one day on a stream like this than you would in a week on bigger water. It's like going to a movie. You can see everything that goes on."
He came back and we started out together. He didn't wet a line that day, just waded along beside me, taking it all in.
He soon learned that the basic principle of fly fishing is that feeding trout face upstream, waiting for food to come to them with the flow of water. They use one position so consistently that "feeding station" is a common term among fly men; and they take that position at a spot where they can see an approaching tidbit in plenty of time to rise up and snatch it, and then return to their feeding station without ever having moved more than a few feet from that one spot. So that, in order to reach all the fish in a pool, and to reach them without first being seen by the fish, an angler must start at the bottom and work up. Old advice, to be sure, but it pays off in trout fishing. The tail of the pool should be fished first because there are generally some fish hanging out there, facing upstream. If the caster enters the pool above them, he is sure to be spotted in a hurry. Rushing into a pool will kill it, quick. Waves pushing up, gravel grinding under waders, line slapping down hard or ripping off the surface as it is picked up for the next cast-all these things keep creels empty. So move slowly and quietly into casting position. If you chase the trout ahead of you, wait a while before starting to cast. Give them time to forget, which, fortunately they do rather quickly. Once you have established yourself as part of the scenery of the pool they will return to their feeding stations and immediately become fly conscious again.
The best way to put them down so you won't catch any, is to fish downstream, for they'll see you a mile away and though they may not flush, they know you are there. You must come in behind them and crouch, creep and crawl into casting position. Then, working upstream, you can hit every spot where a trout might be, especially with a dry fly. If the situation is such that it is necessary to fish with a wet fly, then the wet fly should, in most cases, be handled as much like a dry as possible-cast up or up and across stream, rather than below your position. Before the first cast is made, the angler should scan the pool very carefully, and figure where trout should be lying, and where is the best spot from which to cast, and how much float he can get over a riser he has seen, or over a point where he thinks there may be a fish. It takes a great deal of patience and care of approach and presentation. But the reward, when he takes a nice fish from small waters, is worth all he has put into it. This is fishing when fishing is an art.
Many a fisherman has felt mighty foolish when caught in some of the peculiar attitudes necessary when stalking a trout in a small stream. But if occasionally he gets the last laugh plus the tricky trout, he is indeed well paid for his foolish look. One time I was kneeling at the edge of the water halfway up the left side of the Pumphouse Pool on Big Hunting Creek. in Maryland. I had crept in on hands and knees and eased into position in about the only spot among the trees and bushes that a cast could possibly be made.
I was ready to swing into action when another angler came ploughing through the bushes behind me. He hesitated and stared.
"Just what are you doing?" he asked. "Praying?"
"That's just about it," I said. "Praying that I can get my backcast under those tree limbs so I can put a fly out there about 30 feet where I saw a fish come up."
"You sure look foolish," he said, and then, as the trout rose again, took a natural, and sank back down, he cheerfully added,
"You'll never get a fly over that fish, anyway. It's impossible. If you keep your backcast low enough so you don't catch r the trees, you'll only hook the ground."
There was a space of only four feet between the tree limbs and the ground and only 20 feet between where I was kneeling and the bushes through which the fisherman had come. It looked tough, all right.
"That's why I'm kneeling," I said. "With a horizontal cast I may be able to do it. If I get the line going back and forth fast, it'll stay on a level plane. Then I can get 20 feet distance back of me and shoot the other 10 feet of this line I've stripped off. Takes wrist action," I went on. "And terrific line speed." "You'll never get a fly over him," said the scoffer.
I made my backcast on a level plane. It just missed the trees behind me and when I shot ten feet of line the fly dropped neatly right above the riser. It floated down. He took.
Before releasing that trout I silently held it up for that joker to see. He didn't say a word, just walked away. But I'll bet he now uses his knees for something besides praying.