(Understanding your fly rod)

“The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain”

—Eliza Doolittle 

If there is one thing in the sport of fly fishing that we all struggle with, it is the cast.  Even those of us who have dedicated an immense amount of time wasted in the study of a fly rod and the cast, and through that dedication and waste of time have been able to obtain the level of “proficient;” still find ourselves lacking in certain situations.  One can literally be “at one” with a river and its moods and fluctuations, know the insects down to the microscopic level of dead languages, understand currents and feeding lies vs. resting lies, at the vice be so talented an artist that there is risk of reaching up with the razor sharp hair scissors and lopping off an ear; and still if one cannot reach the fish with a proper cast the result will be naught.  

There are a myriad of books, videos (both online and in various hard copy formats), instructors, demonstrators, and if you attend a fly fishing show, carnival barkers and freak shows of casting. Any fly fishing guide worth his salt ought be able to teach you a basic cast so that you can at least get your fly to the water  where a fish may be, and leave you with some bit of fundamentals that he or she will encourage you to take home and work on in your spare time (you won’t, I know you won’t and you know you won’t, but that is neither here nor there).  

There is a reason that whether or not you work on it at home is neither here nor there.  It doesn’t matter.  If you are practicing wrong then you will perform wrong; and most of us are practicing wrong, myself included.  

I would consider myself a fairly decent caster inside of 70 ft (which is better than 99% of the fly fishing population) but that is also neither here nor there.  For when I hit that magic number of about 71 feet I become just another duffer.  I look great on a trout stream, but were I to be placed on a bonefish flat; I’m pretty sure there would be a frustrated guide pushing into the wind and either biting his lip or letting me have it.  

Inside 70 Ft

Inside 70 Ft

If we watch someone who has spent a considerable amount of wasted time with a fly rod, their casts seem effortless.  They seem to flow. They seem as if they aren’t even trying…right up to the point that they are.  At some distance, they will begin to put forth effort and falter.

The first instance of detailed writing we have on fly fishing comes from a book titled Treatyse of Fysshynge with and Angle, written in 1496.  The book is commonly attributed to an English prioress named Dame Juliana Berners.  Being that she was both a prioress and a Dame, we can assume that she was of high birth.  The fly rod, and fly fishing itself, was born of these well bred folk of the old country; and has now, through an endless process of emulation, filtered down to us the ugly Americans.  In fact, in the time of cane, and still to this day in the world of cane (bamboo fly rods), an American made rod was, and is, the best you can own if you wish to consume both goods and time in a conspicuous manner.   To these noble gentlepersons of old, there was nothing more ignoble and vulgar as effort.  To exert oneself was the the very antithesis of a Patrician lifestyle, so a fishing rod that required it would not do if they were to participate in the sport of the chase during their leisure time, which was all the time.   I would go so far as to argue that it was built into the design and spirit of fly rods from their very inception, that not only should a cast be effortless, but should one be so boorish and coarse as to make an effort, the rod would not cooperate.  In this way, no barbarian should ever, through their own exercise and discipline, achieve competency and inclusion.  

Modern day fly rod design and engineering is attempting to circumvent this built in barrier to the more laborious and operose.  Fast action rods, quick recovery speeds, specialty taper lines, etc.; all this to turn a fly rod into a bait caster rather than face the uncomfortable reality.  That uncomfortable reality being that your fly rod is an aristocrat.  

Thats right.  YOUR FLY ROD IS AN ARISTOCRAT.  You may not be (yet) and I certainly am not (no hope), but that does not mean our rods are not.  They are made to be cast effortlessly.  Even the most powerful, stiff action, salt water  or big game rod with an over extruded forward taper line will still cast better, if you cast it without effort.  The reason someone’s cast looks effortless, is because it is.  The reason we struggle is because we try.  I cannot count the times on a trip (especially toward the end when everyone is tired) that I have said, “You want it too bad, stop trying so hard, let the rod do the work.”  With this in mind, I want to offer you a bit of advice for that yard casting and practice that you probably won’t do. 

NOTE: I am not admonishing your for not practicing in the yard with your fly rod (maybe a little) I am just assuming your are like me.  Deer season opens next week and I just shot my bow for the first time since last year.  

The next time you decide to step outside for a bit of lawn casting try this method.  Instead of stripping off a massive amount of line, and then giving it everything you got to make it go as far as you can… Instead of “hero casting” that thing,  and either saying to yourself, or aloud, “Ive still got it’” or worse “PIECE OF MONKEY @#%$#@, MOTHER #$*@#, %*#*@ FLY ROD,  ILL NEVER GET THIS!!!”  Just strip off about 20 or 25 feet of line and see how little effort you can apply.  See how effortless and undemanding with your cast you can be. 

Your rod is an aristocrat.  There is nothing you can do about this, except head down to your local big box retailer and go straight for the gear section.  Your rod, however, does not know if you are an aristocrat or not (well unless you cast like a chimney sweep).  When you pick up the rod, pretend you care nothing for distance, cast with ease and grace and poise, exerting as little effort as possible; and you might pull off a Pygmalion level stunt. The rod will never know the difference…but you will.