CLEAN YOUR LINE: Fly fishers often say to me, “My casting stinks. What am I doing wrong? How can I improve?” Before watching them cast and helping them diagnose any flaws in their mechanics, I ask two simple questions. First…
“Do you clean your line?” Take out your handkerchief, fold it over your line, squeeze, and draw the line through the cloth pressed between your fingers. Then look at the streak of grime left behind! If you never thought before about how much gunk gets transferred to your line after a day on the water, you will now.
Consider the drag this dirt imparts on your line when you think it is smoothly and speedily gliding through the line guides on that brand new $700 rod you asked Santa Claus to get you for Christmas. And you thought that if only you had a more expensive rod you would cast farther and finer! Cleaning your line after every day on the water WILL improve your distance and accuracy. Guaranteed!
Should you just wipe your line down with a dry cloth? Or should you use one of the commercial line cleaning and dressing solutions on the market? Either is better than not cleaning your line at all, but I prefer to use a three-step method. (Note: some lines require special cleaning techniques. Always follow the line manufacturer’s instructions.)
First, I clean my line by drawing it off my reel through a clean dry cloth compressed between my thumb and index finger. Second, I tie the leader-end of my line to a tree or post and string the entire line to another post or tree and secure the reel-end there. Third, I put a few drops of one of the commercial line dressings on another cloth or paper napkin and run it along the entire length of line stretched between the two trees or posts. Often I’ll go back over my line with another coat of dressing. In addition to giving your line a smooth, clean coating, the dressing solution will remove most remaining grime not taken off during the dry rub.
Let your line dry fully (it only takes a few minutes), then polish it by again drawing it through a clean dry cloth before re-winding it on your reel. You are then ready to go on your next fishing trip with a clean, smooth line that will glide unimpeded through your guides.
The second question I ask is, “Do you practice?” But that’s the subject of our next column. Stay tuned.
“MY GO TO FLY”
In more than 60 years of fly fishing for trout, I have relied on no fly more than a Marabou Muddler. Marabou, especially with a long wing, produces an enticing movement unlike that of other feathers or hair. When fishing is slow, or when I simply want to search the water, throwing ‘meat’ enables me to cover water fairly quickly, and has salvaged many otherwise unproductive days for me. No fly is any better than its presentation, and the Marabout Muddler affords great versatility. I fish it shallow, without weight, with a split shot 12” above it, or weighted with a conehead, usually tungsten. It lends itself to slow or fast stripping, fished down, across, or upstream (my usual approach). I have gone through as many as six dozen in a season, generally on #8 or 10 hooks, and have had equal success with both white or yellow wing versions, resorting to black in stained water.
“Addressing the ball”: I know, I know. This is supposed to be a column about fly casting tips, not about golfing. But bear with me.
How many times do we approach a fishing situation, perhaps a pocket through which we want to drift a pair of nymphs or a trout taking terrestrials under overhanging tree limbs, and immediately start throwing an overhead straight line cast to our target? Might it not be better to think through FIRST, before launching the cast, where, how, and in what attitude we want our fly to land and drift to the target? Much the same way a golfer should decide where and how he wants his ball to land before he selects the appropriate club and strikes the ball?
Ed Jaworowski, whom Lefty Kreh has described as the best instructor of fly casting he knows, taught me this simple casting philosophy that has much improved my fly fishing. If you spot a trout feeding on terrestrials under overhanging branches, and the window between the vegetation and water is maybe a foot high, might not a side-arm cast offer a better chance of getting your fly through that very tight window? Is the stream’s velocity just outside those branches faster than where the fish is lying under them? If so, would you not be better to throw an upstream reach mend? If the fish is feeding in the film rather than taking floating insects, might a hard-bodied sinking ant be a better fly in that situation?
In our pocket nymphing scenario, how deep is the pocket? What is the velocity of the water? Do we want to target the tail of the pocket first before fishing the head, where depth and velocities may be different? Once you’ve made these considerations, then decide what type of cast you want to make. Straight overhead cast? High tuck? Shallow tuck? Side approach, with Leisenring Lift? Weighted nymph? Split shot above your nymph to get it down to the fish? Drop-shot nymphing rig?
Any obstructions behind you to affect your back cast? Would a roll cast be more appropriate? Oval cast, with change of direction? Or how about simply moving up- or downstream a few feet to get away from the obstruction behind you?
Before you start throwing your fly, think through your cast in reverse from intended end result to the start of your first back cast. You’ll likely catch more fish if you plan like a golfer does before he strikes that little white ball!
(This is the first of a regular column on casting tips that will appear in the PFFA Newsletter, Website, and Facebook Page. Jim Rainey is a Fly Fishers International Certified Fly Casting Instructor and operates ROLLING LOOPS fly casting and fly fishing school.)