April 3rd, 2006

Ball and Chain
By James Castwell

"Yup, ball and chain," he repeated. It was on a float trip down the Bitterroot in Montana a few years back. Our guide that pleasant afternoon was explaining that if my wife and I didn't mind after we both pounded the section of stream we were casting over, that he would be glad to, "get down and dirty" as he put it. Now, we've been fly fishing for a good number of years and do know a few things about the game, but I had a notion I was about to further my education once again. About four in the afternoon we had beached the boat on a strip of sand and rocks on a gentle bend in the river, crawled out and began some intensive dry-fly work, casting to the opposite side of the river.

We would cast across and slightly upstream, then flip as many mends into the floating line as needed to produce a decent drag-less (we hoped) presentation.

If you have been fishing for a number of years you probably already know about this, but I had not seen it performed exactly this way. Let me set this up for you so you can actually understand it. I read a lot and sometimes a writer will lose me fast trying to describe some action of sorts. I get bored, confused, lost and then I'm 'outta there'.

The moderately flowing stream is about thirty feet across, flowing from our right to our left. Picture yourself standing right behind my right shoulder, my wife is off to my left and the guide is ten feet to my right (upstream) side. The three of us are lined up on one side of the river casting to the other side. We were on a bend and our side was shallow but there was a nice dark channel running all along the far side. Perfect spot for some nice browns or rainbow. Ok, now make sure you have the picture.

She and I had well covered the far side of the run with a couple of dry attracter patterns without so much as even a refusal. De nada. Zilch. But, darn it we knew there just had to be fish down there, but the only way was to dredge for them and that was not the game we were after on this day. We will stick to dry's whenever possible, even if it means a few less fish.

"I like to use a good stiff rod for this business," he said, putting his IMX together. "This is a 9 foot, six weight. What it takes to get the mends I need on this river." With that he ran the line up through the guides and started to give some attention to the leader. After studying the water some he made an adjustment of the tippet, tied on his weighted 'buggerish' fly and from his shirt pocked removed the secret weapon. With a twist he formed a loop in his leader about five feet up from the fly and fastened the weapon right there. He said it was about one and a half times the depth of the stream.

A clump of yarn. Or rug stuff, about the size of a golf ball. Hunk of something with a tiny loop at the top. Bobber? Strike-indicator? "Ball and chain," was his answer. What he proceeded to show me next was a real education. When you know a river, the fish and live on it, you can truly get the job done if you want to. He wanted to and did. Follow this closely; it's how he caught fish on almost every single cast.

He made sure he had more line off his reel than seemed necessary. His cast was awful. A thing of beauty it was not. The big fuzzy thing whirring along behind the heavy fly was awkward at best. A 'chuck & duck' cast if ever there was one. But slightly upstream it went. And now the magic happened. You have to be good to get this right, but with practice anyone can do it. The fly had only landed and the fuzzy thing hit the surface, he pointed his rod straight up but allowed slack to go up the rod. He did not move the fly any. Okay, that's a slip-cast, done vertically, no big deal. The next second he whipped a half a roll-cast just upstream of his fly.

Get this right. Only enough power to flip the fuzzy thing up, out and directly in line with his now falling fly. Then he did it again. As it drifted along the fly went deeper and deeper. And into fish of course.

Alright. You and I have used a mend on our dry fly lines for years to get a drift. We have done it just so the line flipped out to where we wanted it in the flow. But to have a fuzzy on there and flip it just right to make the thing hop up and over is cute to see and...does it ever work. ~ JC

Till next week, remember . . .

Keepest Thynne Baakast Upeth

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