January 5th, 2003

How to Reel Really Good
By James Castwell

This is mostly pointed at you new guys, the ones who have not yet set in concrete your bad habits; or if you have some, it may not be too late to change them. The problem is this, you are exposed to too much T.V. You see fellows fly fishing and you think they know what they're doing. At least they know more about it than you do, therefore they must be right. Don't count on it. Many have one years experience twenty times, not twenty years experience. And don't blame them for the wrong methods and poor casting abilities. What you see is what they know and have learned from the start.

So, let's start with you. Let us try to get a few things going in the right direction now, not let you make a sap of yourself in the future on some big T.V. show, or at least in front of your buddies. I am going to start with reeling. Seems simple enough, but, some of these fellows who get started wrong ("Hell, Bud, I ain't never had a lesson, I is self-taught!") stay that way for life and will fight anyone who challenges anything they say or do.

It's far too late for them to change (or, heaven forbid, learn anything new) and besides, they have been telling everyone who would listen just why a guy should do it as they do.

A reel is mostly a tool to hold fly line you are not using at the moment. It can become very important should you hook a fish. Right now, I will be writing about trout, small, medium and big ones. And what part the reel should play. First, let me mention that I will get a lot of email about this from some who disagree. They don't know any better and it's too late for them to change, they are stuck defending a defenseless position.

If you're casting with your right hand, keep the rod in that hand when you get a hit. That is obviously your best and most co-ordinated hand. Not smart to switch the rod to your off-hand (if you can't write your name with a hand, do not fish trout with that hand!) Ok, now you have made a connection with a fish. Do not poke the rod straight up (even worse, somewhat back too) and strip in gobs of fly line with your off hand.

Just why do you want to have your fly line getting tangled in weeds, floating down stream, hooking on sticks, getting under your feet and laying helplessly about, uncontrolled at about the same time the fish decides to move to a new zip code? But, you see it done all the time. It is wrong, period. Get the fish on the reel...now. How do you do that? Hold the line against the cork with your first finger of your casting hand while (using the little finger of the same hand as a 'level-wind') you carefully and intentionally pick up the slack line flopping about from your reel to the stripping guide.

One exception to this is, the fish may do it for you. He may take it out for you. Be careful your drag is not too snug, the reel will halt the outgoing line and pop a tippet easily. (Hint, better reels start up better). Oh yes, set the reel as light as you can, just enough to allow the reel to slowly drop if you were holding onto the line. Just enough actually to keep it from over-running when a fish takes out line.

Remember, I am not talking about fish here that need pressure from a drag to help slow them down. That is for another day. If you simply reel in the line as fast as you can (not using the little finger as a level-wind) you take a chance of spooling the line on the reel in loose coils. So what, you ask? So, if the fish starts to take off and you palm the spool a bit, the line may jam into those loose coils, that's what. Fish gone, case closed.

You need to start out fly fishing learning as many of the right things as possible, or you may end up looking like some of these other guys. Who? How about the cowboys who 'fan' the reel. What a load. But, it sure looks fancy on T.V. "Hey, I've been doing it for years and never had any problems!" Ok, I have crossed a lot of railroad tracks, but I don't recommend parking on the things. These are the same guys who will use a single nail-knot to go after twenty pound fish, but that is another column too. See, I told you I will get email, but someone has to tell the truth on this stuff, might as well be me.

There are those who will say you should rest your casting hand when you have a fish on by switching hands, reeling with the casting hand and holding the rod with your off hand. This will keep you from developing tennis elbow. Not. Bad equipment and poor casting causes tennis elbow. Period. Surgery fixes it, ointment doesn't. There is more about reeling, but mostly it refers to salt water fishing and larger fish, I will save that for another column.

Oh, I will leave you with a question. Which reel can you wind line with the fastest, a large diameter one or a smaller one? (I hate myself when I do these things). (No I don't).

Remember, you can make smaller circles...faster than you can make bigger ones. Think about it. ~ James Castwell

Till next week, remember . . .

Keepest Thynne Baakast Upeth

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