By: Gary Buchannan
Posted On: 2009-01-24
Think you have to be a magician to cast a fly? It may look that way, especially when you're watching an expert do it. But fly-casting really is easy, although not as easy as spin-casting or bait-casting. And when you've mastered it, it will pay off in greater sport when your fish are the smaller species because fly tackle can be made lighter than any other kind and it gives your fish more of a fighting chance. You wouldn't be able to do much running if you were tethered to a flagpole and had a ball and chain tied to your ankle; similarly, a hooked fish can't do much fighting when the rod is too stiff and he has to drag with him a bunch of heavy sinkers or a heavy lure! Some fly rods are so limber that a breath of air will bend them. Of course there are heavy-duty fly rods, too, but even these are "light" tackle compared to the 10- to 20-pound, and larger, fish they must fight.
Split-bamboo fly rods are still preferred by expert casters in spite of the growing popularity of "glass," which is really fiberglass. Glass is too "soft" (not stiff enough) for casting long distances. The extra "backbone" (stiffness) of split-bamboo is what gives the rod its casting power. But split-bamboo rods, which are handmade of strips glued together, are much more expensive than machine-made glass ones! Until you become an expert, it may be wiser for you to pay the much lower price for the glass rod, which is only slightly inferior to bamboo. Rod length is seldom important. Anglers used to think 9-footers were necessary for good casting; now even 7 ½ feet is not too short. The shorter rods are stiffer, too, and therefore more powerful. So are the heavier ones, but they'll tire your casting arm. Fly rods usually come in two or three sections, which fit together by means of metal connections called "ferrules." Never twist the rod sections when putting them together or taking them apart since it might loosen these ferrules; always use a straight pull or push. The silk windings on a rod are pretty but don't make it any better. The fly rod's steel guides are called "snake" guides because of their twisted shape.
The fly reel is the least important part of your casting outfit. All it does is hold the line; only when you fight very big fish do you have to turn it while "playing" them. Avoid large reels because they're heavy, unless you need the extra size to hold a lot of line, such as a "backing" line. This is 50 or 100 yards of cheap, strong nylon line tied to the end of your fly line so you'll have enough for a big fish that might run out a long distance. Your fly reel should have a simple "click" device so it won't unwind by itself.
Your fly line is the most important item of your tackle. If you have the right one, casting is easy, even if you're just a beginner. The standard fly line is about 30 yards long, made of enameled silk or treated nylon with a very smooth finish so it will slide through the rod's guides easily. And it must be heavy, because in fly-casting you don't really cast the fly—you cast the line. The fly just follows along! This weight, or thickness, is specified by letters of the alphabet from "A," the thickest and heaviest, to "G," the thinnest and lightest. It can be a "level" line, having the same thickness over its entire length, or a "double taper" which is thicker in the middle, tapering to thinner line at each end. Such a double taper is an "HEH," which is "H" thickness at the ends and "E" in the middle. The reason for its design is that it's thin and less visible on the end, which is the part the fish is most likely to see, but still heavy enough in its main section to have sufficient weight for casting. And when one end wears out, you can turn the line around on the reel and use the other end!
The third type of line is the real secret behind good casts; it's the "torpedo taper." It consists of three thicknesses in the same line: very thin on the fishing end (for about 3 feet), tapering to very thick and heavy line for the next 38 feet, then tapering to a medium-thick line for the remainder of 49 feet which is tied to your reel. Such a line is an "HCG." The torpedo taper's advantage? The thick, heavy part is right up front where it gives you a perfect weight concentration for casting. Lines made by different manufacturers may differ slightly in the lengths of the three sections, but the differences are insignificant. You must choose a torpedo taper to fit your rod, however. The stiffer the rod, the heavier the line needed. To solve this problem, ask your tackle dealer for help. By testing your rod, he'll know which line you should have.
Your fly line must be kept soft, pliable and free from cracks so that it will slide unhindered through the rod's guides. Lubricate it often with line dressing which you can buy at the tackle store. This dressing also helps the line to float, which is necessary when fishing dry flies. To be sure they'll float, some lines now are made with hollow cores. There's still another type designed for extra-long casting for fish that don't care if your line floats or not—a lead-core line. The purpose of the lead core, of course, is to add weight for the cast. Only exceptionally powerful, stiff rods will handle this type of line.
The purpose of a fly leader is to serve as a connection, as invisible as possible, between your fly and your line. The longer and thinner the leader, the more invisible it will be. But there are limits to its length; 12-foot and 9-foot leaders are difficult to cast because they lessen the weight up front. And thin leaders aren't very strong. In general, use as long a leader as you can cast satisfactorily. Leaders used to be made of gut; now nylon is preferred because it's stronger, more durable and can be tapered smoothly from a thick length where it joins the fly line to a spider-web thinness where it is tied to the fly. Gut leaders were tapered by knotting together pieces of different thicknesses. The fine end of the leader that's tied to the fly is called the "tippet," and its size determines its breaking strength. These sizes range from "OX" (2-pound-test) to "7X" (¼-pound-test). The commonest size for dry-fly fishing is "4X" (⅝-pound-test); for wet-flies, "2X" (1-pound-test). Strong plastic leader material of incredible thinness recently became available to anglers. To make it even more invisible, it is dyed blue or ash color. Although fly lines must float, especially for dry-fly fishing, all leaders must sink. Since nylon is waterproof, leaders made of it must be rubbed with a special "sink" preparation before they're used.
Artificial flies are intended to imitate insects and small fish. The dry fly resembles a live fly that has just hatched from the water or fallen on the surface; the wet fly is the drowned fly being swept downstream by the current. The small, less colorful dry and wet patterns look most real—and get the most strikes—such as the Light Cahill, Dark Cahill, Black Gnat, etc. The bright colors usually attract more fishermen than fish, but there are exceptions; when fish become "ornery" they seem to take the unreal patterns just for spite. What natural flies could the Scarlet Ibis, the red Parmachene Belle or rainbow-like Silver Doctor imitate ? Yet they've all taken their share of fish on occasion.
The streamer flies are intended to imitate small minnows on which the fish feed. They're more difficult to cast than dry or wet flies because they're bulkier, meeting greater air resistance which slows up your line during the cast and throws off your timing. Still another fly that fish love is the nymph. It imitates a fly that is still in its underwater larval 84 stage before it hatches into a flying insect. Actually the hellgrammite is the nymph of a fly called the "Dobson." Trout depend largely on nymphs for food during the early spring days when other insects are scarce. Your best artificial patterns are the Caddis Case (Caddis fly nymph), the May-fly nymph and the Stone-fly nymph.
The standard knot for tying a fly to a nylon tippet is shown in the drawing—after threading the hook's eye, twist the end around the leader several times, pass it through the loop formed just above the hook's eye, then pull it tight. To keep the knot from pulling loose, touch a lighted cigarette to the end of the tippet; this will form a small blob of plastic which can't pull through.
How to Cast
To get the "feel" of your fly tackle, assemble your rod, reel and torpedo line without a leader. The reel should hang below the rod's handle, or "grip." Stand in an open space and pull out about 20 feet of line beyond your rod tip. Grasp your rod with one hand; with the other, hold the line that hangs from the reel so no more of it will pull out. Now flip the line that extends from your rod tip from side to side in a constant motion, letting the whippy rod do the flipping. Don't move the rod tip very far from the vertical position. Flip the line with a wrist action while you hold your elbow close to your side. Note how the line will curl out one side in a loop, and then, if you wait until just the right moment—just before the loop has straightened—a slight snap of your wrist will pull it in and roll it out the other side. This is your "timing." Practice until it's perfect, then try casting a longer line. Next, turn your cast so it's front and back instead of side to side, and "feel" the timing instead of watching the line. In either a forward cast (when the loop is rolling out in front) or a back cast (loop rolling out in back), if you snap the rod in the opposite direction too soon or too late, the line will simply wrap around your neck. Your timing must be in a "1-2-3" count for both front cast and back cast—-"1," the snap of the wrist that curls the line outward; "2," the hesitation until it uncurls just the right amount; and "3," the snap that brings it curling in the opposite direction.
Add a leader and a tuft of cotton to imitate a fly. The timing will remain the same. Only the length of line will alter that. Now, on one of your forward casts, let the line fall ahead of you. Just before it touches the ground, lift the rod tip a few inches so it tugs on the line slightly; the leader will curl ahead of the line and the cotton will fall first—just the way you'll want a fly to fall when you're fishing. To prepare for the next cast, pull in the slack line, raise your rod quickly and the line will lift over your head and curl behind you in a back cast. Notice that your back cast takes as much room in back of you as your forward cast does in front. Remember to cast high and vertically to keep the line over your head. Casting back and forth without letting the fly fall is 86 called "false casting." It is used to dry a fly which has become waterlogged, or to work out line for a cast. For extra distance, work out the line as far as you can, then pull off several yards more, looping it in your hand. Then, at the end of your forward cast, let these loops go and the extra line will "shoot" out through the guides. Retrieve this extra line before picking up your regular length for the next cast. Retrieving a line is done with one hand; twist your hand back and forth, grasping a few inches of line and pulling it in with each twist. This is the way to work a wet fly. It's also how you retrieve slack line without letting go of it while you're playing a fish.