Neil Travis - Apr 08, 2013

One of the key components of fly fishing is the cast. The cast is something that separates fly fishing from all the other types of recreational fishing. In fact, it was fly casting that originally attracted me to fly fishing.

When I was growing up in the early 50's kids started out bait fishing. Spin fishing was unknown, at least when I started fishing the small brooks that ran through the meadows on my parents dairy farm in upstate New York. The top of the line bait fishing equipment for a 7 year old kid was a Shakespeare™ Wonder Rod and a level-wind bait casting reel. The challenge of using that equipment was training your thumb to keep the reel from over spooling and causing a backlash. Over the years I got pretty good at picking out the tangle caused by a backlash and, in time, I trained my thumb to keep them to a minimum. However, the skill I acquired in untangling a backlash came in handy later when I had to pick a tangle out of the leader on my fly line.

Despite the fact that I was very successful using my level-wind reel it was not a very challenging way of fishing. Each month I would pick up the latest issue of the big three outdoor magazines; Outdoor Life, Field and Stream and Sports Afield, and the articles that I always read first were the ones that concerned fly fishing. I was intrigued by the entire idea of catching fish with artificial flies, but it was the casting, the process of presenting the fly to the fish that really fascinated me.

The unfortunate thing is that the cast is one of the more difficult things for many anglers. I think that is regrettable but I believe that fly anglers themselves may be partly to blame. If you do an online search you will find thousands of how to fly casting videos. In fact, I think that fly casting videos are second only to videos about fly tying.

In the process of trying to teach anglers how to use a fly rod it seems that we have forgotten the reason for doing it. Fly casting, like bait or spin casting, is simply the method that an angler uses to get their lure where the fish are. There are certain basics that need to be mastered or at least understood; stop your rod near the vertical, wait on your back cast, keep your back cast up, [or upeth as JC would say], smooth acceleration, and a pronounced stop on the back and forward cast. Having mastered these basic fundamentals you have all that you need to make a decent cast with a fly rod.

It's at this point that things generally begin to deteriorate, and the beginner begins to feel that they never will be able to truly become a fly fisher. The discussion turns to controlling the loop, keeping the wrist firm, tip speed, the plane of the rod, distance of tip travel, line speed, etc., etc., etc. Then someone mentions the double haul, spey casting, hook casts, parachute casts, reach casts and aerial mending and many beginners throw up their hands in dismay.

I learned how to tie flies by following the instructions in a book by Helen Shaw, and I learned how to cast with a fly rod by following instructions in articles that I read in the outdoor magazines. I must have learned fairly well because it wasn't long before I was helping teach others at fly casting clinics conducted by Trout Unlimited and sponsored by Scientific Anglers. I joined the Scientific Anglers Field Testing group and with the late Jim Birkholm, better known as JC, we conducted fly casting clinics in a variety of venues across the State of Michigan in the 60's and early 70's. Along the way I polished my technique by picking up tips from Lefty Kreh, Joan Wulff, and Joe Brooks, however I was using a fly rod and catching fish with a fly rod long before I ever met any of those people in person.

My point is a simple one; basic fly casting, the type of fly casting that the average angler needs to be able to accomplish in order to catch a fish, is quite simple. I learned it by following some diagrams in a magazine. In time I learned all the other nuances; the double haul, hook, parachute, reach, puddle and right and left curve cast, but I still find that for most of my fishing situations I still use the same basic cast that I learned over 50 years ago by looking at some diagrams.

The cast is a beautiful thing, but it is just one of the many facets of fly fishing that makes it such an enchanting sport. I continue to work on my casting skills and some of it looks quite unorthodox, but when I make such a cast and it results in a take I don't worry what the cast looked like. I hope you feel the same way.

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