Longer casts, stiff wind, and moving targets require that freshwater anglers adapt their casting techniques to the marine environment. Here’s how to master the basics.
[by Jon B. Cave]
Stimulated by images of streaking bonefish, vaulting tarpon, and other scenarios with marine game fish, it’s no wonder that a substantial number of freshwater fly fishers eventually want to test their skills in salt water. However, transitioning from a freshwater to a saltwater setting presents many new challenges, especially with regard to casting. And that’s where newcomers to the salt, particularly those whose experience is limited primarily to small trout streams, most often fall short. Comparatively long casts and speedy presentations to moving fish are the norm in saltwater locales. More often than not, wind is a factor as well, and it always seems to be blowing in the wrong direction. To be consistently productive, any fly fisher worth his or her “salt” should be able to accurately deliver a fly 60 feet or more in three or fewer false casts, without struggling—and that should be the minimum goal.
Here are eight tips to help make the progression from fresh to salt water a smooth one.
1) Vary Casting Stroke Length
To make longer and smoother casts that require the least amount of effort, lengthen both the forward and back strokes as the amount of line in the air increases during false casting. In other words: long line, long stroke; short line, short stroke. As the length of line increases, the casting hand and forearm should extend progressively farther past the elbow at the completion of a backcast. The arm may be extended as much as three-quarters of its length when aerializing an extremely long line (50 feet or more). Similarly, at the end of a forward stroke, the arm and hand should reach farther ahead with a long line than a short one. To additionally lengthen the stroke for the longest casts, the shoulders can be rotated slightly as the rod moves back and forth.
Many saltwater novices commonly use the same short, jabbing or punching motion to make a cast regardless of whether the length of line is long or short. Their rod hand always stops approximately even with the casting shoulder on the backcast and then advances a distance of two feet or less on the forward stroke. The stroke strongly resembles an inefficient clock-casting routine. As the amount of line increases during false casting, the short jab becomes more abrupt in an effort to accommodate the extra length. Shock waves in the line, inefficient loops, reduced casting distance, and a poor presentation are the results of trying to cast a long line using a choppy and compact motion.
In striving to adapt to a longer stroke, think of throwing a baseball as an analogy. The arm must reach back and follow through farther for a long throw than a short one. That same correlation can be applied to swinging a golf club, throwing a javelin, or some other activity that requires a similar movement. In each case, distance is easier to achieve with a long and fluid motion.
2) Vary the Rod Angle
Tilting the rod slightly off to the side at about a 45-degree angle affords the casting arm the widest range of movement and, thus, the longest stroke for achieving greater distance and a smoother line with less effort. That angle also provides the clearest view of the line and rod in situations where they must be monitored. Furthermore, with the rod slanted to the side, the chances of the line or its shadow spooking fish in clear water are greatly reduced because the loop is closer to the surface than it is with an overhead presentation. On the other hand, a vertical cast is the best choice in tight quarters where the only clear casting space is directly overhead. Mangroves and other shoreline shrubs require a sidearm motion in order to form a horizontal loop that will deliver a fly underneath low, overhanging branches.
3) Effective Double-Hauling
The double-haul should be a part of every saltwater fly fisher’s casting stroke. When a properly executed double-haul is used in conjunction with a good stroke, casting in general becomes easier, and longer presentations are much less difficult to make. The haul is implemented by the line hand pulling sharply at an angle that is directly opposite the alignment of the rod shaft during the speed-up-and-turnover segment of a cast. At this point, the rod should have achieved its maximum bend. When performed correctly, the haul should end precisely when the rod is stopped at the conclusion of each progressive stroke. Hauling prematurely at the beginning of the casting stroke or at any other time before the rod becomes fully loaded is an inefficient technique. After the simultaneous completion of the haul and casting stroke, the line hand should gravitate with the pull of the line back to the rod hand in a “line hand–to–rod hand” motion. Once the hands are close together again, the acceleration phase of the next casting stroke can begin until the time comes to make another haul during the following speed-up-and-turnover. False casting and hauling should continue until the rod is sufficiently loaded to shoot the fly toward the targeted fish.
4) Effective Line Pickup
In many saltwater situations, a rather lengthy amount of line must be quietly lifted or picked up off the water in order to make a backcast and another presentation without spooking any nearby fish. To initiate an efficient pickup, begin with the hands relatively close together and the rod tip situated barely above the surface. Eliminate all slack in the line so that the slightest rod movement will cause the fly to move as well. From that position, simultaneously slide and lift the line off the water at an accelerated rate while keeping the hands close to each other during the process. When the fly is the only thing remaining on the water, execute the speed-up-and-turnover at exactly the same time as the haul (as described in the double-haul tip) to form a loop on the backcast. As the line unrolls, allow the line hand to reposition itself back to the rod hand (line hand to rod hand). Once the rod is optimally loaded, the forward cast can begin. Ideally, the speed of the slide-and-lift should be fast enough that the fly line forms a straight line between the rod tip and the line’s contact point with the water. If the pickup is too slow, a belly will form in the line so that the rod doesn’t load sufficiently for a good backcast. Contrastingly, yanking line from the water causes the rod to bend excessively and creates shock waves in the loop. The ensuing surface disturbance also scares away any nearby gamefish.