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Fly Fishing - Practical Casts III

[Fly Fishing Tackle]  [Fly Fishing Tackle II]  [Fly Fishing Tackle III]  [Practical Casts]  [Practical Casts II]  [Practical Casts III]  [Classification Of Fly Patterns]  [More Fly Fishing Articles] 



Lots of times, because of brush and other natural hazards, it is hard to make a long cast on a small stream, so you have to settle for a short one. But the average fly caster has plenty of trouble making short casts because there is so little weight to throw. This is the time to limit the casting action almost entirely to the wrist, keeping the arm out of it, just snapping the wrist hard as the forward cast is made. Then follow through, coming down hard with the rod tip, almost to the water.

The same technique applies when casting into the wind. That means almost always because there is usually at least a breath of air stirring and with the light terminal tackle used on small streams, even the slightest puff will blow fly and leader back in your face. So concentrate on the snap of the wrist and the follow through.

Another aid to short-line casting is to build up the butt section of the leader where it is attached to the line, using a heavy section there, three feet of 30-pound test nylon leader material and tapered down from there gradually to the desired point, 3X, 4X or 5X. With such a taper it is surprising how much more easily short casts can be made.

While trick casts, as previously mentioned, are strictly for the show performer, the bow-and-arrow cast is a good one to learn if the fisherman plans to fish small streams. It's a big payoff deal when you have to get a fly out in really close quarters. The fish it helps you land from tough spots will long be remembered.

Years ago I was standing beside a pool on the Cheat River in West Virginia. The pool was 25 feet long and 15 feet wide. I saw a nine-inch trout swim into view, grab a minnow. He held it sideways in his mouth for a second, turned it, and then swallowed it headfirst. Then he swam slowly upstream for 15 feet and stopped. I was pressed so tight against the bushes that I knew he hadn't seen me, but I didn't dare false cast or he would spot me. My arm waving out over that narrow water was bound to scare him. So I grabbed the fly by the bend of the hook, bent the rod back until it made a bow, and with a hard snap of my wrist shot the fly out like an arrow, so that it hit a foot above the trout. He came right up and took. And many times since then I've found that this is one so-called "stunt cast" which is often practical on a small, brushy stream.

While the roll cast is also very helpful on small water, it should be limited to short line use only. The commotion made by lifting a lot of line and leader from the surface of a little pool is likely to scare the fish and put them down. When conditions appear to call for a roll cast and yet more line is needed than can safely be lifted from the surface, a glance at surrounding treetops may show you a way out. High up, maybe there's an opening where you can put the backcast for an ordinary throw. Sometimes there's a space among the treetops or over a bush, with just room enough for a backcast.

To get into that hole, the angler turns and faces that way and uses a regular forward cast to get the fly up into the opening. Then, while the line is rolling over, he turns in a slow pivot and makes the forward cast, dropping the fly this time on the water. When first trying this cast, the tendency is to rush the cast, with fatal results. Once you get the cast up there, you have plenty of time to turn slowly and make the forward throw.

The same effect can be achieved by using a backhand cast to put the fly up into that hole, and then make the regular forward cast. That is, the angler does not turn bodily. But he must watch his backcast.

There isn't any easy way of taking trout from a still pool, but a light and well matched outfit will help. The lighter the fly line, the better. And the longer and finer the leader, the more strikes will come to the fly. This is the place for a fast action dry fly rod 7 1/2 feet long and weighing from 3 to 3 1/2 ounces, equipped with a double tapered HEH nylon fly line and a leader from 10 to 12 feet in length and tapered down to at least 4X and sometimes 5X or 6X.

That leader sounds long and light and tough to cast? It isn't easy. But such an outfit is not as difficult to handle as many anglers believe. I've often heard fishermen say they couldn't possibly cast such a long, light leader, and when I've handed it over and they tried it they were usually surprised at how well they did. Their mistake was in not trying. And if you don't use a long, fine leader you are going to miss catching lots of trout and having lots of fun. The novice should start with a 10-foot leader and when he has become used to that, lengthen it a foot or two, always keeping the tippet down to at least 4X. In shallow, clearwater, trout are just not going to bust up and hit a fly tied on anything heavier. In glassy pools you either use a 4X tippet or finer, or you don't catch the first trout.

One summer I fished slick water with one of the country's top fly casters, Paul Stroud of Chicago. Trout fishing is an exact science with Paul and his knowledge of tackle and stream technique help him take more than his share of fish. The stream we fished came out of a huge spring, ran through a meadow for a mile or so, and emptied into a bigger river. Here and there in the middle, long strands of grass waved slowly to and fro in the current. Innumerable channels cut through the grass, and the scoured river bed showed clean and gravelly.

We walked upstream along the bank looking for rising fish, rods in hand, ready. It was going to be a job to take canny old brown trout from that mirror smooth water. The stream had the reputation of being so tough that many people claimed the fish in there were just not catchable.

We soon spotted a trout rising in a little run against our bank. Paul did a crouching approach and finally crawled the last ten feet, until he was only 25 feet below the fish. He false cast with his rod horizontal to the water in order to prevent the trout from seeing it, and then threw a curve to the left which landed the fly three feet above the active fish. When the fly came over him, he took.

Looks easy, I thought. But right there, simple as it seemed, is the summation of years of experience plus a nice efficiency with the tools of the fly caster's profession.

A little later I saw Paul pull another neat trick out of his bag of experience. He made a cast to a riser and the fly fell a couple of inches beyond the slow-moving current and sat there, stationary. Paul lifted the rod tip, slowly, and gave the fly a slight boost that moved it into the current where it started serenely along, as if it belonged there, looking exactly like a downed insect floating along with the push of the water.

A beginner would never know just what that little boost meant-that it avoided the possibility of downing nearby fish by lifting line and leader for another more accurately executed cast. Many anglers, anxious to rectify a bad cast, will rip the line off the surface and slam it back again, causing all kinds of water commotion and as often as not getting no nearer their objective with the second try. When trout fishing in almost any kind of water, it pays to take things slow and easy; and when fishing low, clear pools, the more careful you are, the more fish you will catch. You must even watch your shadow in such a pool, so it doesn't run ahead of you to the spot you want to fish.

Even in the largest rivers it is necessary to exercise considerable care both in wading and casting to avoid frightening fish. Many a time I've seen a fisherman plunge into the pool in what he thinks is a safe spot, only to find he has chased half a dozen trout off their feeding stations, or from their resting spots.

One of the most common mistakes beginners make is that they shy away from the difficult looking shots. It's surprising how seldom a fly does get hung up on obstructions, and if it does so occasionally, what does it matter? Those are the spots where the trout usually hang out, resting and feeding.

Once I was fishing with Ray Red on the Tomichi, a slowmoving meadow stream just on the edge of the town of Gunnison, Colorado. We saw a nice fish rising only a foot out from the bank. But just below him, between his position and ours, a dead stick was lodged. It jutted four feet out from the bank and was about a foot above water. This was a puzzler. We couldn't go above him or even opposite him on the pool without being seen. A curve to the right wouldn't reach him, and it was impossible to throw a fly under that low-hanging stick and get a float over him.

"Guess we'll have to pass him up," whispered Ray.

"There's one chance," I said. "Cast as if that stick weren't there. Throw some slack and the line will fall loosely across the stick. When you strike, the line will leap up from the stick and come tight between the rod tip and the fish."

"Suppose he doesn't take?" Ray argued. "In that case the fly will be sure to catch on the stick."

"Not necessarily," I said. "As line and leader pull over the stick and you see the fly come off the water, give the rod a quick pull. That will jerk the leader against the limb, and the light little fly will maybe be flipped over it. It's worth a try."

"Yeh," said Ray. "Maybe. And if he does take he'll probably slam back this way and break me off. But here goes."

He cast just right. And sure enough, the trout passed up that first try. But Ray flipped the fly over the stick all right, so he got a second chance. That time the trout took. He darted upstream and Ray was able to lead him across the pool, away from that pesky stick, and into his net, as if he had a nose ring on him. He got a nice 14-incher that he nearly missed for not trying.

Confidence in your own ability and in your knowledge of what a fish will do when hooked goes a long way in fly fishing, too. Last summer Frank Rose and Bill Boyd of Twin Bridges, Montana, took me to the Ruby River at a point near Laurin. The Ruby is small as Montana rivers go, with pools 50 feet long and from 15 to 25 feet wide. Dead tree limbs hang down into the water everywhere you look. There are so many hazards you might think it impossible to get even a short float. It's strictly a dry fly stream because a nymph, wet fly or streamer is almost sure to snag on all that bric-a-brac.

The first trout we saw was feeding an inch in front of some bare limbs that hung well down into the water.

"A two-pounder," I said as we watched him rise.

"Yes," said Frank. "But if he hits he'll break you off on those limbs and if he doesn't hit, you'll get tangled in them."

I knew that nine out of ten fish in such a situation will hit and take off upstream, away from the feeding spot which has suddenly produced that barbed fly. So I said nothing but dropped the fly three feet above the trout. We saw him rise slowly, open his mouth and take. And when I set the hook he slammed upstream like a shot and came out in a beautiful jump right in the middle of the pool. I kept the pressure on and held him out there, away from the bushes. I finally landed him, a nice 15-incher.

The next one we spotted was in a similar location. It was Frank's turn.

"You were lucky," he said. "Your fish took the first cast. What if mine doesn't? I'll be hooked for sure on that dead limb."

"If he doesn't take," I said, "skid the fly out of there in a hurry, before it catches. As long as you do it with an even pull and don't yank the fly off the water, its disappearance won't scare him. Then you can throw to him again."

On the first four casts Frank had to pull his fly away from that overhanging branch, but he always managed to get it out smoothly, and in time. And on the fifth float a good pound fish hit the light Cahill as if he hadn't eaten for a month. And like my fish, this one dashed to the middle of the pool and came out in a nice jump.

At the next pool we saw a riser out in the middle and another right in front of a branch that dipped into the water. It was Bill's turn.

"You'd better try the one in front of the branch," I suggested.

"Why?" asked Bill. "The one out in the pool will be easier to get to."

"Sure," I said. "But he'll break you off."

"I'll try him anyway," said Bill. "He looks bigger."

The trout took his fly on the first cast. He charged right in to the bank and wrapped the 4X tippet around a submerged tree limb. He broke Bill off, but fast.

Bill turned to me. "You meant," he said, "that if I cast to the one that's in by the bank, he'd run out into the pool, while this one, already being out there, would head for the bushes."

"Sure," I said. "Think back. Every trout we've caught from those difficult lies busted right out into the pool, away from the jumble of stuff he could have cut us off on. But hook a good trout in the open, on a small stream and he'll invariably dash for cover-a cut bank, a log jam, brush of any kind."

"I never thought of it before," said Bill. "But that's the way they act, all right."

"Yes," said Frank. "When they're in a tight spot, feeding, and they feel the hook go home, they think the trouble must come from all that stuff around them. So they want to get out of there. And the ones feeding in the open figure the oppositethat safety lies in heading for cover."



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