Take a “Bite” Out
Of False Casting
I was browsing the UpperMidwestFlyFishing web site last night and happened to look at an old thread that dealt with the merits/need of using some sort of a “haul”—either single or double—when casting.
One of the posters mentioned that he uses “a short single haul” on all of his trout stream casts “instinctively.” He wondered if others do, too, and why.
One of the replies was from a fellow BB member named Joseph Meyer, who’s an old friend of mine from my days as a rep in the fly fishing biz. He made a comment about just making a pickup-and-laydown regardless of what distance the cast is going to cover.
As a guide both in Michigan on small, heavenly dry fly streams such as the Au Sable and Manistee, as well as the broad expanses of the Gulf of Mexico in southwest Florida, I heartily echo an “Amen, Brother!”
In fact, I was just thinking about that issue earlier today, after talking with a couple trout guys from Michigan and New York who now spend the winter down here in Venice and Sarasota.
The issue of “false casting” came up, mostly because it’s been rumored that tarpon already are cruising the nearshore beaches—we didn’t see any during my trip this morning, though, so I can’t confirm that it’s true—and that’s a situation where the pickup-laydown is absolutely mandatory.
The reason, as I mentioned to Tom and Bob, is that far too many newcomers to the salt in general and tarpon in particular spend far too much time waving fly line in the air while the fish are swimming away!
“What’s the whole point of false casting?” I asked them.
“To dry out a dry fly,” Tom replied without hesitation.
“Right,” I agreed. “But there aren’t any fish down here in the salt who eat floating insects. You sure as heck don’t have to ‘dry out’ a minnow or shrimp pattern.”
They both looked at me blankly for a few seconds.
“Bob, why would you false-cast?” I asked.
“To get more line out,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.
“Well,” I asked, “how many false casts does that take you before you feel like you’re going to drop the fly, oh, eighty feet away from where you’re standing?”
“Gee, I dunnow,” he said, cocking his head. “Four or five?”
“Why that many?” I asked.
“Well, I guess just because I feel like I have to be in the groove,” Bob said.
Okay, here’s the reality of casting in the salt, where we make long casts because we can—no trees behind us like on a tight little trout stream—and so that the fly lands far away from the noise of waves hitting the boat’s hull, or our elevated silhouette.
Fly lines generally are “rated” depending upon the physical grains of weight in their first thirty feet of length. For instance, in order to meet the standards established by the American Fishing Tackle Manufacturers Association (AFTMA), a five-weight line must weigh between 134 and 146 grains. An eight-weight must weight between 202 and 218 grains, and a twelve-weight must weigh between 368 and 392 grains.
Obviously, that means the heaviest part of the line is thirty feet back from where the tip of the line joins the leader. That’s your LOAD POINT that will provide the most “bend” or “flex” in the tip section of the rod. And remember, that tip section is what generates line speed.
So, the issue is how you can throw a long line with very little effort and only one or a maximum of two backcasts.
First, buy an indelible black laundry marker. Then pull a measured thirty feet of fly line off the reel (measuring from the leader knot) and make a nine-inch long mark all the way around the line.
Then, from the thirty-foot mark, measure back fifteen more feet and mark the line with three three-inch long marks. Measure off another fifteen feet, and make another nine-inch mark.
Now you have a “load point” at thirty feet, and reference marks at forty-five feet and sixty feet.
Now go to an open pond or lake that has plenty of backcast room. Strip off the leader and line until the thirty-foot mark is inside the tip section of your rod.
I’m a Certified Casting Instructor for the Federation of Fly Fishers, and what I tell my students is that learning to cast—particularly long distances—is like eating a sandwich. You take one bite at a time.
So, with the black mark in the tip, hold the line under the fingers of your casting hand, against the rod handle.
Make a roll cast to get the line out front, and then—standing sideways so you can watch your backcast unroll—start raising your casting arm in one smooth stroke to “clear” the line off the water so hardly anything but leader is on the surface when you actually apply power and throw the line behind you.
If you see a line of bubbles on the water’s surface, that means you’ve applied too much power too soon, and that’ll create shock waves in the rod blank that will ruin your cast.
Once you’ve adjusted your power stroke, the first “bite” is just getting comfortable picking up that thirty feet of fly line and IMMIDIATELY laying it back down without making a single false cast.
When that feels good and the cast is smooth, the second “bite” is to simply hold the fly line with your other hand and repeat step one. Don’t do anything else.
Except, concentrate on keeping your line hand up high, near your face, during the backcast and forward stroke. Again, DO NOT FALSE CAST. Make a pickup-laydown.
Now we come to the all-important third “bite.” With your line hand held high near your face as you make the backcast, give the line a very short tug as you apply the backcast power. Then come forward and let the line down lay down onto the water. DO NOT FALSE CAST.
Once that becomes second-nature (and it might take a second session on the pond before this happens and you can progress to the next “bite”) you’re ready to shoot line.
Holding the line between the thumb and index finger of your line hand, make the backcast and tug on the line as you apply the backward power. On the forward stroke, let the line pull itself out of your fingers, while forming an O with the thumb and index finger.
You should, by simply making one backcast and then shooting the line forward, throw the forty-five-foot mark past the rod tip.
Just remember to stop the rod tip higher than you probably do when casting on a trout stream. Think of it as shooting an arrow. If the target is close by (such as on a trout stream) you can hold the arrow level or even at a downward angle while drawing the bowstring back (like loading the rod in a backcast). But if the target is further away, you automatically tilt the angle of the arrow’s trajectory higher, so that it can fly through the air.
Making a distance cast is exactly the same principle!
So, now you’ve become comfortable shooting the line out and casting forty five or even fifty feet of fly line (based on seeing your three black “hash marks”). Stop and think about what you’ve just done. Fifty feet of fly line, plus a ten-foot leader, plus a nine-foot rod (which is typically the length of a seven-to-nine-weight rod) means your practice fly just landed sixty-nine feet from where you’re standing!
Now for the last “bite” of the sandwich.
Make that same “shoot” but don’t let the line fall to the water. Instead, as the line shoots forward and is almost straight, make ONE MORE backcast, tugging the line on the backcast again. Come forward with the rod and shoot the remaining line that you’ve stripped off the reel.
You will see the sixty-foot black mark flow through the guides, meaning you’ve thrown your fly eighty to ninety feet away!
Congratulations. You just threw nearly an entire fly line with only TWO backcasts.
Go practice that stuff. You’ll be amazed at how simple it is if you just relax, use your eyes to help you get “in the groove”, and let the rod do its work. Believe me, you’ll catch a lot more fish with a lot less effort.