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Some Awful Fly Casting

Recently, I witnessed some truly atrocious fly casting.

No offense, but it was awful. Splashing on the forward cast, snapping on the back cast, whipping the water into a froth awful.

It wasn’t just one guy, or even two buddies out having fun on the trout steam. It was angler after angler. Maybe I fish remote streams enough that I’m not seeing the state of casting in the fly fishing world. What I experienced was eye-opening and shocking. And it isn’t the first time I’ve been shocked by what I’ve seen on the river.

Without being too obvious, I tried to watch as much as possible. What was going on? Could it have been some “fly fishing for beginners” outing that I was witnessing? Was I just being judgmental?

At the end of the day, I realized it was a group of unaffiliated anglers from a wide range of locations fishing with generally high-quality gear.  They were just really bad at fly casting… and they weren’t catching fish. Was there a correlation? Probably.

I’m no Lee Wulff, but I feel like I can get line and fly from point A to point B with relative proficiency. Although I have done a lot of self-teaching, I have also taken the time to learn from others. Hands on, casting not fishing, fly casting instruction. I am hardly perfect, and I could certainly be criticized for a number of flaws in my cast.

I’d gladly receive that criticism (on a good day… if I’m catching fish).

So, well aware that by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you I am  voicing my concern:

What is going on? $300 for waders, $200 for a reel, $35 for a Patagonia hat, and $600 for a fly rod. Somewhere along the line, a few bucks or an hour of time to improve the most important element of the pursuit should seem reasonable. Orvis 101 classes, Trout Unlimited chapter programs, and YouTube tutorials aren’t luxuries of the fly fishing upper-crust.

Perhaps it is the lack of the competitive element that has kept the driving-range mentality out of most fly fishers’ angling worldview. Whereas even golf course duffers will shell out $20 on a bucket of balls to tweak their stroke, casual fly fishers  often just want to fish. Thankfully, what happens above the water is sometimes altogether inconsequential in the trout’s perspective of the fly. Realistically, however, the two are almost always intertwined.

Better casting will always result in more fish. There is probably somewhere on the graph where skills like presentation and reading the water overtake the advantage gained from laser-precision and competition-distance, but that all happens to  the right of what I’m talking about. Efficiency of fly delivery directly translates into effectiveness of fly delivery.

Is someone you know in need of some casting pointers? If you can have that conversation, do it with the grace and tact required. Offer to take a class together. Set up some targets in your yard. Unless they ask, don’t try to fix them on the water.

Do you need to improve your casting? Take the opportunity to just cast. Fishing is fun. But it will be more fun once you get your loops tight and your leader falling gently. There is no shame or condemnation in getting some advice or coaching.

Fly fishing is about so much more than catching fish. If casting is a pragmatic burden, in my opinion  you’re doing it wrong. The experience of a good cast can and should be rewarding and fun – regardless of what the trout thinks of it.

 

14 comments

  1. Calvin says:

    I believe that everyone can improve on their casting, luckily here in Central PA, several of the TU chapters have great events and gatherings to get instructions from beginner to self-proclaimed experts. Whether it is thru their Family Fishing events to the Veterans Service programs. I hope TU is a rich resource in other areas of the nation, because they are top notch here!

    • Matthew says:

      Like a lot of things, I think we’ll never be perfect but always have room for improvement.
      Thanks – and Central PA is definitely a great place do TU involvement.

  2. Ryan says:

    I feel like I’ve seen this (not a great caster). I also wonder in amazement while peering at parking lot rigs and observation how many crap leaders people put up with. Not enough people do anything beyond buying a 9′ 5x leader and use it until it is a 6′ 1x leader because they don’t care?

  3. Worst time to practice casting is when you’re fishing. Better to go to a local unstocked pond or playing field and focus just on casting (without worrying about trying to catch fish). Better yet, join a local angling club

  4. Gin Clear says:

    Well for one, that spot draws them like flies on sh*t, so I’m not surprised on what you witnessed there. As you know, Matt, change comes from within, so after several frustrating days of poor casting to well educated fish and continually getting skunked has two outcomes:

    1) One decides to commit to improvement by investing time into all aspects of fly angling. One may even hire a guide with the goal of catching fish, and if its a good guide, they will improve there overall skill set.

    or

    2) One concludes that fly fishing is a novelty and gives up after having no success with catching. This can have some benefits to those seeking deals $600 fly rods selling for less than $300 on ebay.

    You may want to get a broader sample of anglers at that spot as well. I’ve seen some true fly fishing addicts frequenting that river section tying on #32 midges with 8x tippet just to fool a couple of stocked rainbows with PhD’s.

    I’ve been one of those anglers at that spot and chose path one. I went there at least 1/2 dozen times before catching my first PhD educated fish. On that path, I’ve met many wonderful anglers who have helped me improve and learned of many other spots where the fish are still in high school, but I do like to venture back there occasionally to get frustrated by fish that are smarter than me.

    • Gin Clear says:

      since I can’t edit my comment, here are a few grammatical corrections to the previous post…

      Well for one, that spot draws them like flies on sh*t, so I’m not surprised on what you witnessed there. As you know, Matt, change comes from within, so after several frustrating days of poor casting to well educated fish and continually getting skunked usually results in two outcomes:

      1) One decides to commit to improvement by investing time into all aspects of fly angling. One may even hire a guide with the goal of catching fish, and if it’s a good guide, they will improve their overall fly angling skill set.

      or

      2) One concludes that fly fishing is a novelty and gives up after having no success with catching. This can have some benefits to those seeking deals on $600 fly rods selling for less than $300 on ebay.

      You may want to get a broader sample of anglers at that spot as well. I’ve seen some true fly fishing addicts frequenting that river section. They cast well and know how to catch some pressured fish. Some tie on #32 midges with 8x tippet just to fool a couple of stocked rainbows with PhD’s.

      I’ve been one of those anglers at that spot and have chosen path one. I went there at least 1/2 dozen times before catching my first PhD educated fish. On that path, I’ve met many wonderful anglers who have helped me improve and learned of many other spots where the fish are still in high school. I do like to venture back there occasionally to get frustrated by fish that are smarter than me.

      • Matthew says:

        Thanks for the thoughts!

        First – I’m very disappointed that my 10-second photo editing didn’t fool you.

        Second – There were definitely some good casters there. But if you go to a gun range, you only need to see two or three people looking down the barrel to make you say “yikes.”

  5. Jeff P says:

    I was fly fishing the Shenandoah River once for smallies. Another fly fisherman in relative close proximity thought it would be funny to throw a sunfish at me. I was not amused! The slap of the fish on the water really scared me. The water even splashed up into my hair! I turned to the guy, and he was laughing at me. Really unbelievable behavior, I must say.

  6. Cory Perry says:

    I tend to find that most people who have casting issues (myself included) have those issues because they don’t fish consistently enough, or cast consistently enough. If you only get to fish once every 6-8 weeks, and your gear is packed up otherwise, then casting issues are bound to happen when ‘knocking off the rust’.

    Others just simply find the real pleasure in being on the water, not necessarily netting fish. Netting fish is just a bonus if/when it happens. Those people worry much less about their skills and simply learn as they participate in the act.

    • Matthew says:

      I totally understand. And to be honest, I’m actually pretty pragmatic when it comes to fishing.

      Im really only surprised by, as I’ve intimated, those who identify as hardcore fly fishers who haven’t worked on casting.

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