If you have it, accuracy might be something that you take for granted. Oh, I’ll just punch the fly under those tree limbs and land the fly with an upstream curve to compensate for the swift current rolling sideways off the mossy rock. If that’s easy for you, then you’ve likely spent decades on the river trying to improve your craft every time your boots were wet. But if your casting is average, then you probably avoid that same spot. The limbs are too low. And the mossy rock might look inviting, but you’ll hang up under that tree — you’re sure of it. So, you move on.
I don’t need to tell you that you’re passing on some of the best opportunities of the day — and possibly the biggest fish. Only a small percentage of anglers have the necessary accuracy to tackle the tough situations. And big trout seem to know where to hide from average anglers.
Set aside the greedy limbs and cross currents for a moment. Because even in wide open spaces, accuracy is paramount. In fact, it’s the most important skill an angler can learn. The simple ability to throw a fly in exactly the same place, over and over, with subtle, nuanced differences in the tippet each time, is the most valuable skill for any fisherman.
One cast and drift down a lane doesn’t mean much. Any trout can miss the chance or can literally be looking the other way. So in the best lanes, we must repeat the presentation. Then we adjust the cast and the drift on consecutive passes to refine the look, to improve each time, using data gathered from the previous passes. Maybe a side current accelerates as it merges, so we throw an upstream mend in a dry line. Or maybe the riverbed deepens into a short bucket, so we allow our tight line nymph to drop on the fifth pass. But if you can’t hit the same seam over and over, if you lack the accuracy for precision placement, then you’re just hoping more than fishing.
Accuracy makes the angler effective. It is more fun, more productive and puts more trout in the net — a lot more.
So, the next question: How can you be an accurate caster?
I have a few ideas . . .
Cradle It and Squeeze It
Controlled casting starts with the right hold. Where and how the hand connects to the rod is elementary, but it’s the start to making everything else easy or hard.
Slide your hand up and down the cork to find the balance point. Then place the trigger finger at that point. From here, everything feels most natural.
Use a thumb on top or an index finger on top grip, and learn to squeeze on the power stroke. The hand should cradle the rod at the balance point with minimal tension. Then, at the power stroke, the thumb or index finger pushes forward and the pinky and ring fingers pull. It is a squeeze. And it is the heart of fly casting power and accuracy. The subtle squeeze puts the finishing touches on a great casting stroke.
Cast the Tip
Once the hand is comfortable on the fly rod, it’s time to shift your focus. Stop thinking about the hand, and feel the rod tip. The fly line and leader go where the tip goes. The rod tip is in charge. So think not of the whole rod, but focus instead on the last few inches at the top. Feel the tip perform. Learn its flex. Feel the rod load and release. If you know where the rod tip is and learn to control it, you can cast a ten-foot fly rod in tight cover. The tip is in charge of everything. So, master it.
Cast the tip. As a full time guide who sees hundreds of anglers each year, I’ve learned that this is the most effective piece of advice I can give.
A Tighter Casting V
I stumbled across an article recently that suggested we should stop teaching the concept of 10:00 and 2:00. No, we should not. What would we replace it with? The author didn’t offer any solutions but did fairly point out that 10:00 and 2:00 is variable and conditional. Well, of course it is.
Ten and two on the clock is a wonderful communication tool, and these are the baseline stopping positions for the rod tip. As we work up and down the stream, each cast and situation requires some adjustment. More speed here, and a tighter throw there. There’s also a lot of room for style and preference. I stop more often at eleven and one. And that choice is not just a function of how much line is being cast. The caster’s line speed, rod flex, and many other things all factor in for precise casting.
In general, a tighter casting V is more accurate. When the tip moves further, there’s more room for error. Less movement, less error. It is that simple.
Cast With More Speed
The trouble with fly lines is that they are so damn forgiving, practically inviting the caster to form bad habits. You can get a fly to the target with any number of horrible casting strokes — a slow, lazy, lobbing form works well enough to put the fly near the target. But such strokes do nothing good with the tippet. And where is the fly going next? Well, if you haven’t thought about that yet, now’s a good time to start. (Flies follow the tippet.)
Cast so you have authority over tippet placement. And the only way to do that is with speed.
Many of the great casters I’ve been around are amazing with a tight line. Truth is, excellent tight line and euro nymphing starts with perfect and precise casting form. Light euro lines and Mono Rigs paired with superb, crisp technique are a thing of beauty — speed between two points, with sharp stops and a tight V. And if you have a handle on a twenty pound Mono Rig butt section — throwing tight loops into narrow windows — then you surely have the skills to make a fly line dance right into the same narrow slots.
I won’t make strong arguments about this one, because there’s a lot of room for personal style. But a rod that recovers quickly is a more accurate tool for a wider variety of styles. An extra-flexible rod can be a dreamy, accurate tool for dry flies, but it’s a beast as soon as fifty centigrams and a nymph are added to the line. Then, all of the sudden, getting close is thought to be close enough. But it should not be. Accuracy under the water is just as critical as it is on the surface — actually more.
I chuckle a bit when I see accuracy touted as a selling point for any fly rod. Of course, it’s the angler who is accurate. That said, a rod with poor recovery is a liability to any serious angler, because accuracy suffers if the tip won’t stabilize.
The worst habit on a river is fishing too far away. There’s something in our human nature that wants to push everything we do to greater distance. We strive to hit a baseball over the fence, drive a golf ball across the water or chuck a cast to the opposite bank.
But distance and accuracy are opposing forces. With more line in the air we are less precise. At longer distances, our eyes see less detail in the water. And there is rarely a time on a trout river when casting over thirty feet is necessary.
Be disciplined. Wade more and fish closer. Stay behind the trout. Be stealthy, and you can approach within fifteen or twenty feet, even in clear water conditions. Then, closer to the chosen target, accuracy becomes repetitive and attainable.
Get It Together
Placing the fly, leader and line exactly where you want is a reward in itself. Forget the fish, and focus on the landings. Be an accurate caster, and the fish will certainly follow.
Accuracy on the water starts with the rod hand, cradling the rod and then squeezing at the power stroke. Then, by learning to feel the flex of the rod tip, we know the path that our line will travel by using short, crisp motions and speed.
Accurate casting requires a disciplined approach. So, find a rhythm at short distances. Stay in that rhythm and keep wading to reach the next seam or slot. Then take that accuracy all the way over to the greedy bankside limbs and the mossy rock with the swirling seams. And catch all the trout you have been missing.
Fish hard, friends.
Attend the Maryland Fly Fishing Show on Saturday, March 18 from 9-4 at West Village Commons, 404 Emerson Drive, Towson, MD 21204