Posts Tagged ‘Fly Casting’

Tailing Loops 101

December 24, 2015


This is the third of a series of articles  written for Vagabond Flyfishing Magazine , this one a little more detailed still and focusing on the relationship between rod flex and casting arc. You can’t escape it, fly fishing is about fly casting, or at least that is the starting point. So in the next few pieces for Vagabond I am going to be looking at some structure in terms of what makes fly casting work, what is happening when it is going wrong and how to fix it. So this and other articles on casting will also appear on The Fishing Gene Blog, for the benefit of those yet to discover Vagabond.

Following on from the previous articles some slightly more advanced thoughts on the mechanics of fly casting.

Last time we looked in some detail at the concepts of arc and stroke, the basic movements of the fly caster and those which ultimately determine the track of the rod tip and thus the movement of the line and shape of the loop.

Trouble is that with fly casting, unlike any other form of casting in different types of angling, one is not casting a constant mass; the weight of the line cast varies all the time as a function of the length of it out of the rod tip.

So how does that change the structure of the casting stroke?

The issue here is that the more line out the more weight and the greater the inertia and it then follows that the rod will load more (bend to a greater degree). In effect then the rod gets shorter under more load and flex, “The effective rod length”.

If one is aiming to move the rod tip in a straight line the starting point of that straight line is the height above the caster that the rod tip finds itself when bent. The more bend the “lower to the ground” the starting point of the stroke and thus the wider the casting arc has to be. Now that isn’t very easy to explain in words but perhaps a diagram will assist in understanding.


Images are copyright protected and generously provided from Tim’s latest book on casting which is still in the process of being completed.


In the above diagram the rod has been bent to 80% of its original height above the angler. So the correct point to start the stroke is with the rod at an angle which starts the stroke with the rod point at this height. In other words the starting point is where the tip of the rod at zero flex is in line with the tip of the rod under maximum flex..


If you let out more line, or to a point apply more force the rod will bend more, the effective height above the angler will reduce further and the starting point of the stroke will have the rod at a greater angle.


Above, you will note that as the rod bends more deeply the starting point of the stroke is at a greater angle, and the width of the casting arc becomes greater. More line out requires a greater arc and longer stroke.

In addition to the above obviously the more line out the more power that is required , but one of the absolute keys to casting a fly line is to adjust the arc and stroke as the amount of line in the air changes (or as the amount of rod bend changes if you wish to think of it like that).. For the most part anglers adjust this naturally but understanding the relationship is the key to spotting the cause of some faults which may appear in your casting.

So what happens if you don’t get the adjustment correct?

Although there are more than a few ways of creating tailing loops, those annoying squiggles in the line which look remarkably like the ebola virus and which can be as devastating to your casting, resulting in tangles and wind knots in your tippet. Virtually all of them stem from the rod tip dipping down below the ideal line and then flipping back up again. Failure to extend the arc and stroke as you let out more line will cause the rod tip to do precisely that, dip down and climb back up again during the cast which will result in the line doing the same.

Stroke and tailing loop

In the diagram above one can see that based on the amount of flex in the rod it should have started “lower” and the arc should have been wider. Now the rod starts in the incorrect position, the rod tip bends down as it loads and then springs back up during the cast producing a tailing loop.

This isn’t the only way to get a tailing loop but all of the various faults that can cause one are based on the same thing. The rod tip dipping down in a concave arc and climbing again. Next time we will look at a couple more ways that you might inadvertently produce the same effect and create wind knots in your line.

Tight lines and tighter loops.. and of course MERRY CHRISTMAS. 🙂

Tim Rolston


Tim Rolston is a fly fishing guide, past World Flyfishing Championships competitor, captain and coach, an IFFF certified fly casting instructor, fly tyer and author. His book “Learn to Fly-Cast in a Weekend” can be downloaded from his website at . He is also available to run fly casting workshops for groups, clubs or fishing venues as well as offering personal tuition. Tim can be contacted on



It ain’t that hard.

April 9, 2015


Recently I sat in the car with an eleven year old fishing addict, driving him to the river for his first ever fly fishing experience. On the drive and whilst discussing his fishing pedigree I queried “so what do you know about fly fishing?” The reply was heartbreakingly simple and, as is oft the case with the young, poignantly reflective of a common misperception. “I know it’s very difficult” said Ben.

So the question really is “is that true?” I mean is fly fishing that difficult? Is it beyond the scope of mere mortals, harder than golf or touch typing or flying an aeroplane? Does it require mastery more acute than computer programming, is it more tricky than chess or harder to learn than Mandarin? I don’t think so and I believe that we all owe people like Ben, and his more aged neophyte buddies, the courtesy of encouragement and enthusiasm.


It bothers me that there is a level of self aggrandizement here that is unnecessary and unwarranted, counterproductive and negative in the extreme. Why on earth wouldn’t we wish to encourage people like Ben to get out there into nature and benefit from the same level of enjoyment and healthy recreation as us? Is it so important that we portray this egotistical value of difficulty as though in some way it is a badge of honour? Are we all so frail in our sense of self that we need to pretend that what we do is incredibly tricky and best left to us supposed masters of the art?

What do I risk by encouraging Ben and his fellow beginners? What threat do they pose? None that I can see. It matters not if these newbies aren’t exceptional at our sport to start with and it matters less if they get really good at in time. Would any of that demean me? Would it affect your fishing in any negative manner?

I have a sense that fly anglers are unique in this sense, kite boarders, golfers, judo black belts and others are wont to suggest , when discussing their chosen passion, that you should “give it a try”. So why not us? Why do we almost universally appear to pretend to hold the moral high ground, to suggest to people that what we do and love doing is beyond them?

Why should it be that we imagine that whacking a golf ball is a skill, touch typing is a learned behavior but that fly casting is an “ART”? What an absolute load of tosh, fly casting is no more an art than hammering a nail into a piece of wood, it is a learned skill that can be mastered by anyone.

Animated Casting Gif

In fact there is the rub, when people suggest that fly fishing is “difficult” what they are usually referring to is that they think, or have been told, that “fly casting” is difficult. Firstly that isn’t true and secondly for those of us who have moved on, fly casting is simply the starting point. The real trials come later, the mental agility, the deceptive bent, the understanding of natural behavior and an “intellectual curiosity” which leads to total immersion in our chosen sport. Fly fishing rapidly becomes more of a mental pursuit than a physical one but one has to start somewhere.

I would be the first person to tell you that flinging a woolly bugger into a small pond isn’t what I consider to be flyfishing, but hell it isn’t a bad place to start for people like Ben so why should we discourage him with negative perceptions and ideas of complexity?

What would happen if we started every enquiry of the young with “Oh it’s difficult”. Dad I would like to learn to drive a car.. “oh son that’s very difficult”. I should like to learn to surf, kite board, play squash, learn computer programming, chess, or whatever “Oh son it’s very difficult”.. How much of that comes from a desire to prove that we are better, special, more important?

People like young Ben have already mastered at least one language, understand stuff about computers, the ozone layer, physics and biology, have physical skills in terms of kicking footballs, doing flick-flacks, throwing cricket balls, jumping skipping ropes and more. Why on earth should I be so arrogant as to imagine that he can’t learn how to cast a fly and catch some fish in the same way that I have learned to do?

I have of late been party to a number of social media “Posts” suggesting that there is a great deal of skill and difficulty in what we fly anglers enjoy. Sure you can keep learning, only a fortnight ago I learned a lot more about casting from Master Casting Instructor William van der Vorst, than I had known previously. I have fly fished for over four decades and still gain knowledge from my clients, instructors, friends and the fish themselves but I would have to admit that I have enjoyed forty years of apparent relative ignorance without harm.

In an age when I strongly believe that we should be doing all in our power to encourage people to be out in nature, to be reflective in terms of its wonders and simply “Get out there and enjoy it” we seem to be hell-bent on discouragement.

So perhaps, next time someone asks us, we should tell them that fly fishing is fun and it ain’t hard to learn. That it is within the mental and physical scope of anyone capable of walking and chewing gum. What would we all lose if we did that? More to the point what would we gain? People who were passionate about our rivers, our oceans, our natural world? People who would fight against dams being built, who would concern themselves with overfishing, fish ladders, privatization of waterways, pollution, abstraction and any other of the ills that tend to damage what we care about. People who would fight the good fight and in looking after the fishing perhaps be better custodians of the planet than we have been. The future of our fishing and for that matter our planet, lie in the hands of people like Ben and it is our responsibility to encourage him and his fellows.

Let’s call a spade a spade, flyfishing isn’t hard, it may be tricky to master, it might actually be impossible to master in the sense of uninterrupted success, but it isn’t hard to start and it is a hell of a lot of fun learning as you go.

Animated Casting Gif

I would like to think that if young Ben ever gets to the point of catching more fish than me, casting further than I can, tying better flies than I do I shall have the good sense and common courtesy to sit back and say “wow, well done Ben”.. I ask you, what would I lose were that to prove to be the case?

Learning to flyfish isn’t beyond anyone if they want to learn and I hope that more fly anglers will take up the challenge of encouraging beginners, young and old instead of pretending that it is all too much for the common man to master.



A number of informative books on fly fishing and fly casting from the author of this blog are available on line from or from Smashwords, Barnes and Noble and other on line retailers

Books on disc can also be obtained from and Netbooks/Stream X

Casting About

August 12, 2014



Well this past weekend saw me at the Lifestyle Fishing Expo up in Johannesburg, doing some casting demonstrations and hopefully helping some people improve their casting. Casting seems to be once again something of a hot topic in these parts, with discussion, and of course the accompanying disagreements, being traded to and fro on the local social media. In particular the pages of the Cape Piscatorial Society’s Facebook page.

David Karpul set the whole thing off debating the wisdom of over or underlining rods with different lines and anyone who has read much of my opinion on line ratings, casting and the vagaries of the AFTMA system (read: ) knows that it is something that I find both fascinating and annoying in equal measure.

However the discussion did bring to mind a recently discovered quotation that roughly stated was; “The difference between an argument and a discussion is that in an argument we are trying to decide who is right, in a discussion we are trying to discover what is right”. I rather liked that quote and bearing that sage advice in mind I thought perhaps some further discussion was perhaps in order.

To suggest that I have all the answers to the woes of fly casting would be a gross exaggeration, but I have spent quite a bit of time experimenting, discussing and even writing about it, particularly when it comes to trout tackle. I can’t venture too much of an opinion on double handed salmon rods, switch rods, the snap “T” and such as apart from anything else there is nowhere in these parts where such tackle or casting technique is really warranted.

Fly casting and the discussion of fly casting seems to be beset with myth, opinion and to be frank downright lying more than most pursuits, although I suspect that similar argument ensues amongst golfers discussing their swing. You should be equally be aware that all of the stuff below is, strictly speaking, “opinion” some might be my own self constructed “myth” but I will try to draw the line at actual fibbing.


To me, a certified non-golfer type, even I can see that Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Greg Norman do not swing a golf club in the same way, that is what my friend and exceptional fly casting instructor, Peter Hayes would call “style” and style denotes one’s own individual interpretation, methodology of doing something, like casting a fly rod or swinging a golf club.

Style potentially causes a lot of trouble because that is where much of the debate comes from. Style appears to offer a different way of doing something, but when you get right down to it style is simply an individualistic means to an end, it doesn’t really offer any particular insight. One may remark on the variations of style between Tiger Woods and Ernie Els for example but one couldn’t argue that they are not achieving pretty much the same thing. That is to say that when the club head hits the ball it is, in both cases, doing exactly the same thing, so style to my way of thinking is something of a Red Herring and shouldn’t be confused with the “right or wrong” way of achieving a goal

So anyway, for what it’s worth, my thoughts on a few “topics” related to fly casting.

The loop: The crux of good and efficient fly casting is the creation of a narrow, stable and small loop in the line. Whether the loop comes from the efficiency or the efficiency comes from the loop I couldn’t tell you, I may need to go to college and get a degree in physics before I could argue the point but I do know that you never see an effective cast that doesn’t include a neat, tight loop in the line.

Line speed: You quite obviously can’t cast, throw or hit anything particularly far, accurately or well without speed and momentum. That a fly cast doesn’t look like throwing something, and I always tell my pupils that “you are not throwing something” , the truth is that from a physical perspective that is exactly what you are doing. You are adding speed and thus momentum to the line such that it carries the fly with it. One thing that you are not doing is throwing the fly.

Fly Casting v Bait casting: Bait casting is easy to explain, you have a distinct mass (The bait, sinker or whatever), with a defined weight to it which in the process of the cast is a constant; it never gets to weigh more or less. That isn’t true of fly casting where the amount of line out of the rod tip determines the mass you are casting and therefore the dynamics change constantly. This is one of the reasons that many bait and spin casters struggle to master fly casting, because the same principles don’t apply. Not only that but once you let a spinner or sinker go it still pretty much weighs the same, but for a nominal amount of nylon that it is taking along for the ride. With a fly cast the effective moving mass of the line changes constantly as it unfurls. Such that as the cast progresses through the air, more and more of the mass that you initially cast is now static, that isn’t the case with a nylon line with a weight at the end. Thus if there isn’t something (like a leader and fly) to slow the line down as the effective mass decreases the speed will increase, which is precisely why without a leader on the end your line is liable to flip violently or even crack like a whip. It is also why fly lines are tapered, to slow them down as the cast progresses.

The “River Runs Through it Myth”: Well that is what I call this little bit of casting legend. There is a scene in the movie where the children are supposedly taught to cast using a metronome. This is an impossibility unless you only ever cast exactly the same line exactly the same distance. A fly rod and line are in effect their own metronome, the tempo changes near constantly as the amount of line paid out changes, you simply cannot cast and count the rhythm it won’t work.

The Casting Clock Myth: Admittedly the source of this myth, and it is for my money, one of the biggest hindrances to casting effectiveness for virtually every angler who has ever been introduced to it, was a very limited view of casting portrayed by English gentry with stiff upper lips and a book tucked under their arms.

It suggests that a rod when used to cast a fly, moves in the same manner as the hands of a clock. It is patently untrue, the rod cannot move in an arc like a clock and provide the right sort of action at the rod tip to produce a proper cast. That the clock system is still used as a teaching tool is an affront to anyone who actually has any understanding of what makes a cast work. The only proviso would be that the “softer” the action of the rod, the more it deforms during the cast the more you might get away with such an action and of course, surprise, surprise, the idea of the casting clock came up back when rods were heavy and soft and deformed a great deal more than their modern counterparts. My personal view is that if anyone tries to describe fly casting to you with the immortal words “between 11 o’clock and 2 o’clock” or anything similar, run.. run and don’t stop because you are heading down a cul de sac from which many fly casters never actually escape. The action of a fly rod during a proper cast doesn’t follow the image of clock hands, it simply doesn’t.

The movement of the rod tip: Using once again the example of hitting a golf ball, it is obvious that the only actual influence the club head can have on the ball is the moment, a tiny fraction of time, when the club is in contact with the ball. All the wiggling, fiddling, scuffing and such that we see most golfers undergo really only helps with consistency, it doesn’t and quite obviously cannot, have any influence on the ball. In the same manner the key to a fly cast is the movement of the rod tip. Certainly there may be a whole lot of stuff going on with your hands, body or whatever, you can wiggle, wriggle and stand on your head if you wish but as far as influence on the line is concerned the only thing that matters is the movement of the tip of the rod. As mentioned, style may vary but the line goes where the rod tip sends it and the effectiveness of any casting stroke is entirely dependent on the movement of the rod tip during the cast.

Things that affect the movement of the rod tip: So what can affect the movement of the rod tip? Obviously the way that you move the rod handle is one, the weight of the line, the flexibility of the rod, the amount of line out (and therefore the weight), the timing of the stroke, the inclusion or not of a haul, the direction of the wind, the length of the rod and would you believe the density of the line, because denser (sinking lines) travel through the air faster than less dense ones.

If you wish to effect a quality cast you need to consider those variables:

The flexibility of the rod first: For a good, fast, accurate cast you ideally want a nice tight loop and that is formed by moving the rod tip during the “Power Snap” of the cast in a straight line. One can easily imagine that were the rod not to flex at all then it would be very difficult to accelerate it in a straight line, not impossible but tricky. Were the rod to be as flexible as a stick of licorice, well then again it would be difficult if not impossible to move the tip in a straight line. So the ideal is somewhere in between those extremes. As the rod tip bends under load it effectively shortens the length of the rod, the more stress on the rod tip the more the bend that occurs and the shorter that it becomes. That compression and shortening are what make fly rods cast well, because much of the work in “drawing” a straight line with the tip of the rod is done for you as the rod effectively gets shorter and then longer again.



As the rod flexes under load it effectively shortens, the tempo is slower but the rod tip moves further in a straight line which implies that the actual tip speed is not necessarily slower, at least to my mind.


The amount of line out: As touched on previously, the line has mass, the more line outside the rod tip the more mass and the more mass the more flexing of the rod (as a result of inertia which is in itself a function of the mass). So the bending and unbending of the rod will be more extreme the more line you have out of the tip. The more the rod bends and unbends the longer the tip can travel in a straight line whilst the rod itself is being rotated.

The timing of your casting stroke: If your timing is perfect you will have maximum force flexing the rod, with a less effective stroke the amount of flexing of the rod will consequently be less and the shortening and lengthening of the effective length of the rod will be different. If the rod doesn’t bend sufficiently it is very very difficult to draw that straight line with the rod tip that you require to get a good cast.

The inclusion of a haul: If a perfectly timed stroke gives maximum force and bending of the rod then a well- timed haul will add even more force and more flex. The rod will bend even more and the effective shortening and lengthening of the rod will be more extreme. This is one of the reasons why single hauls don’t work well, you get maximum flex of the rod in one direction, say the back cast and then if you don’t haul on the forward cast you can’t match the flex and the cast becomes ineffective.

The direction of the wind: Well again obviously the wind is going to have an effect on the line in the air for starters. But if the wind is directly behind you then it will slow down the back cast much more than on the forward cast for example. Once the momentum of the line has been burned off through wind resistance it is going to be more difficult to complete a good cast. Ideally for the best cast you still want some momentum in the line when you switch direction from forward to back cast or vice versa.. (if the line is moving away from the caster then the rod is flexing not only as a result of the inertia of the static line but also the momentum of the line in the opposite direction)

The length of the rod: At one level at least the fly rod is a lever, the longer the lever the greater the leverage and all things being equal the faster movement of the rod tip for a given movement of the handle. Of course if the leverage disadvantage becomes too great, such that you are unable to move the rod quickly then the advantage is lost. The very simple reason why most very long rods are double handed. That also happens to be a large part of why is easier to cast prodigious distances with double handed and switch style rods. Twice the power input (Two hands) and more leverage..

Density of the line: Because of the loss of momentum due to wind resistance more dense lines, which are consequently thinner, tend to move through the air faster and lose momentum less readily. If you think of the weather maps that indicate the temperature and then also say what the temperature will actually feel like based on humidity and wind chill then you can think of dense fly lines in terms of something like “Rated as #8 weight, feels like #9 weight”. Dense lines feel heavier and cast differently to the same mass of the less dense floating lines. You could well make the argument that a rod that casts a #6 floating line best may well benefit when using a fast sinking line to having that line downgraded to a #5.. Which you will note is a further limitation of the AFTMA system purely relying on a given mass of line.

The AFTMA system:
Much as the AFTMA provides a framework far better than that which preceded it there are massive gaps not least of which in that whilst the line weights are fairly well accounted for on a scientific basis the rods are measured in purely subjective terms. Whether it is possible to be more exact I am not sure but , as the teachers used to write on my school reports , there certainly is room for improvement,.

So what about under or overloading rods with different lines then?

Firstly you can’t really under or overload them, there is a number written on the rod based on the rod manufactures view of what line is “ideal”, but what is ideal? Casting short, casting long, with a tail wind a head wind what, a floating line or a fast sinker? There is no ideal, the AFTMA rating is little more than a guideline, particularly these days.

A heavier line with the same amount of line out will flex the rod more, will decrease its effective length more and apparently “slow down” the action of the rod. A lighter line will do the opposite. So if you like to aerialise a lot of line on average you would be happier with a lighter rated line and if you like to make short back casts and snap the line out there, well a heavier line will be more the ticket. The trouble with that argument is that the taper of the rod may well not be, let’s call it “linear” in that as you apply more force, more weight or more speed, the rod will flex more and bring into play parts of the rod which were previously effectively inactive. You might well argue that if you put on a heavier line then you are not actually casting with “the same” rod. I could potentially make the case for a nine foot rod being a fast action 8’9” #3 weight, or an 8’6” #4 weight or a slow actioned 7’9” #6 weight. With different line weights the rod will flex differently, will have a different “effective length” during the casting stroke and will flex in different ways depending on where in the blank the flex is occurring. However it seems highly unlikely that an increase in line weight, or (the same thing) and increase in the amount of line out of the rod tip will not make the rod action, the metronomic timing, slow down. To me that seems assured.

Rather like the leaf springs on a car, without load only the first spring is bending, put in a couple of bags of cement in the boot (trunk) and more springs will be responding by flexing and unflexing.

The extremes: So taking the car springs as an example, if there is no weight on the springs they don’t flex at all, whilst on the other hand if you overdo the sacks of cement and exceed the capacity of the springs to absorb any more stress they equally will not function. It is for exactly this reason that leaf springs in a car provide compounding resistance as weight increases and the same reason why fly rods are tapered, offering more flex and greater recovery as the degree of bending increases under the influence of more force.

Limits: Within the limits of no flex and maximum flex you can actually cast virtually any line on any rod. With no flex it is difficult as the rod isn’t offering you any storage capacity in terms of the energy that you put in, with maximum flex you simple cannot get more out of the rod and it will either fail to spring back with any speed or alternatively it will break.

The average caster:

For the average caster, the ability of the rod to store and then unload energy, transferring it into momentum in the line is what makes casting possible. Without that effect, rather like a capacitor storing electrical energy, your timing has to be near perfect. It is of course possible to cast a line without a rod at all, but that leaves very little room for error in your timing. So rods that flex, what many manufactures and anglers refer to as “slow action” (apparently a dirty word in fly fishing these days), are in fact much easier to cast for most people. It also happens that good casters can make them work as well as quicker actioned rods anyway. In my opinion very many people would cast better, be far less frustrated and less tired if they used rods which flexed a bit more easily. It is for precisely this reason that many people, anglers and shop assistants alike “overload” rods, changing their action to a slower one which more people can make work. In fact from what little I understand about golf the same holds true for golf clubs where a more flexible shaft as part of a golf club will provide easier driving for the average golfer.

In case you think that this cannot be true I want you to look at the embedded video clip of: Johnny Dieckman the 1959 world fly casting champion.

In particular take a look at a couple of things, firstly the classical “clock hands” rubbish at the beginning and then the form that he used later for distance. You will notice that with more line out of the rod the rod is moving over a far wider arc, no clock hand movement there!! Then note the flexing of the fiberglass rod. This guy is casting further than most people will ever manage even though he is using what we consider to be primitive tackle and that rod couldn’t be considered anything like a “fast action”.  (This wasn’t the video I was looking for of Johnny, there is another out there somewhere but this will suffice to show the points I wanted to make.) The loop shown in the video isn’t particularly neat or tight but you can see that the rod tip is traveling in a pretty straight line when the power is applied and that equally the incredible flexibility of the fibreglass line doesn’t stop the caster from achieving that form.

CastPlasticPipeThe Author casting a length of plastic electrical conduit at the DuToit’s Kloof Expo

Not long ago we experimented casting a #5 weight line with a piece of white plastic electrical conduit in the region of 8ft long. Obviously there is no taper, the walls are the same thickness throughout the “blank” and compared to a fly rod the stuff is heavy and flexes even without a line threaded up the middle. Guess what? We could cast it and in fact could cast it reasonably well, achieving distances of about 20 metres and getting loops that weren’t bad.


In the end for most of us the actual mechanics of it all are less important than teaching ourselves to cast effectively and you don’t need a degree in physics to be able to achieve that. My book “Learn to Fly-Cast in a Weekend” provides sixteen simple exercises that you can practice in the garden or on the local sports field which will build muscle memory to the point where you can cast effectively. It has worked for hundreds of anglers and there is no reason to doubt that it may assist you. You can obtain a digital copy of “Learn to Fly-Cast in a Weekend” from Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, or Kobo,  as well as from my own website at The book can also be purchased on disc from , Urban Fly Fishers and Netbooks/StreamX

In Search of the “Silver Bullet”

August 1, 2014


In search of the silver bullet:

Over some 45 years of fly fishing , including guiding anglers from around the world and bouts of frenetic competitive angling there is a theme which crops up all the time. The constant striving for some magical edge, some mythical silver bullet that will provide more success and more fish in the net. The search for the magic fly, the effortless casting rod, the super clear high contrast polarized glasses, the higher floating fly line or the superior taper that will allow greater accuracy and distance when flinging your chosen twist of fur and feather.

You may well think this theme is reserved for the “weekenders”, those anglers who view fly fishing as a getaway pursuit to occupy their spare time. That they would be more prone to this affliction than the serious competitive angler or fishing guide, but alas, even the most competent aren’t immune to the allure of a quick fix.

Groups of fly anglers, when put together on a stream, lake or indeed in a car park are far more prone to discuss their fly boxes than their time on the water. Comparisons of rods, leaders, hooks and such are far more probable to become topics of conversation than simply fishing more or God forbid actually practicing, and I can’t help but wonder why that should be the case.

Certainly it is common cause that we as human beings are rather likely to look for the easy option, and the advertising pages are filled with ”get rich, thin, fast, sexy , fit or beautiful easily” sorts of promotions. It seems that despite ample evidence of rowing machines tucked away under the bed, exercise bikes hung in the garage roof, or for that matter, hoards of fly fishing gear stacked away in the cupboard, we can’t help ourselves.


The appeal of a quick fix is somehow wired into our DNA, and to a point that isn’t a bad thing. No doubt the underlying motivation of the industrial revolution was the innate desire amongst us to do things quicker, more efficiently and yes more profitably too. We seem driven by the “out with the old and in with the new” mentality that assumes that there is always a shortcut or a quick fix, and to be honest much of the time it works. It is a level of progress that to a degree aids us all, but our love affair with apparent “progress” doesn’t come without a cost.

Frequently, to my mind it is a hidden price, not that obvious, a subtle loss of value to many things that in the end stifles us, takes away our pleasure, diminishes us in a way that we don’t really recognize but of which, at some visceral level, we become aware.

Fishing Rods

You don’t need to learn to type anymore, you can just buy voice recognition software, you don’t need to work on your golf swing, just get the latest “Mega Wallop Driver”. Why chop a carrot when you can buy them frozen? Why make a dress, knit a jersey, why cook when you can eat out? Don’t feel like practicing your fly casting? No worries, just chuck some more money at a fancy rod and the latest hi tech fly line.

We are inundated with excuses to avoid the hard work that generally results in success in many things, athletes are tempted to dope rather than to train more, the overweight are conned into swallowing the pill rather than going to the gym and who isn’t at least curious about all these messages that suggest you can become an instant millionaire through “Forex trading” or some equally inane promise of success without effort?

It all seems great, until one recognizes the illusion of it all, not least because the true pleasure of success, of achievement, is in the effort that it takes and the journey that it requires. There is little value in being good at something if everyone is, and not a whole lot of pleasure in achieving a “goal” that another person obliterates moments later with some new-fangled technological wonder.

Wild Rainbow

It seems to me that one of the underlying causes of our affliction with this mentality is that it is easy to sell. Far less troublesome to tell people that the pill, the bike, the golf club, the fishing rod or the washing powder will elevate them to God like status overnight than to suggest that perhaps they put in a bit more time at things.

In fishing, one of the generally accepted measures of success is the size of the fish that you catch. As a rule bigger fish are older and we at least imagine them more wily. So we expect them then to be harder to catch, demanding of more skill, and value such catches more highly as a result. But along comes the marketing department with their quick fix mentality and you have waters stocked with tailless trout, beefed up in stew ponds and as naïve as the rector’s cat. None of us actually believe that capturing such a fish is on a par with a wild trout of similar dimension, no matter how hard we try to fool ourselves.


No; fly anglers, just like everyone else; do actually recognize that the true pleasure, the real value of aspiration lies in the journey, in the individual skill involved and that comes from practice, from time on the water, of making your own decisions and trusting your own thoughts.

As we approach a new river fishing season here I know that within months I shall be with clients on the stream whose single greatest limitation will be their casting skill or lack thereof. I shall try to encourage them to practice, to spend a bit of time on the lawn with a rod in hand, to understand the principles of good technique, but most of it will fall on deaf ears. I can’t compete with the glossy paged brochures with the promise of instant gratification wrapped up in the latest technological advance.

Of course I am equally unable to escape from the reality of it all, instead of the catchy “Learn to Fly-Cast in a Weekend” title of my book, which let’s face it does offer at least the allure of instant gratification; I could have called it “Improve your fly casting with hours of effort”.

I suspect that one can easily recognize the flaw in that suggestion. Truth be told it doesn’t take hours of graft but it demands at least some level of dedication. All I will say is that with or without that book, whether you take advice from your mentor, guide or highly esteemed fishing buddy, practice is what counts and in the end the true pleasure of fly fishing is the journey to success. The effort required to move towards, first competence and hopefully in time expertise.

So as you prepare for the forthcoming river season try to avoid at least some of the pitfalls of the Marketing department and the instant gratification societal model and think a bit about actually getting out on a lawn somewhere and putting in a little bit of effort. In the end the rewards will make it all worthwhile, of that I am certain.

FlyCasteBookFBLearn to Fly-Cast in a Weekend, is available on line from Smashwords , Barnes and Noble or Inkwaziflyfishing, of course it works better if you actually go through the exercises within it, but gratification although not instant is easily within reach.

What’s Luck Got To Do With It?

October 18, 2013


An interesting discussion this past week on the Flyloops Forum, “how much is fly fishing about luck”? Which was stimulated by a previous blog “The Last Word”, from “The  Fishing Gene Blog”. Undoubtedly there is some element of fortune, good or bad, to angling. There is far too much out of our control for there not to be. The weather, hatches, wind direction, temperature and such are all beyond our manipulation but how much of it is really luck?

Perhaps for the neophyte luck plays a significant role but for the more proficient success lies less and less within the realms of good fortune and more and more within the sphere of proficiency. In fact I would suggest that the same is true of much else.

Perhaps for me, the more important distinction is whether you believe it is luck or not. The concept that should you be successful you have been blessed in some way by celestial powers removes the idea that you have, at least some, control over your situation. The idea that it is all in the hands of the Gods diminishes your scope to be able to do anything about it when things go poorly and that ultimately to my mind disempowers you. I am quite sure the exact same is true of much else from business dealings to relationships. If you focus on your good or bad fortunes you are reduced to a mere rolling of the dice each time you venture out onto the water.


If on the other hand you embrace the idea that success or failure is based on your own actions, your own skills, you own determination, your own level of expertise, your experience and such then you are empowered.  With such a mind set you are now able to make adjustments, improve your skills, practise and learn and become more effective. As I say that is undoutedly true of anything, golf, tennis,  hunting, backgammon, photography, poker and more, I see no reason to imagine that it is less true of fishing.

It is a well accepted idea that 20% of the anglers catch 80% of the fish and that strongly suggests that the 20% of anglers are doing something that the other 80% are not. From a fly fishing perspective I believe that although there are a lot of factors one of the key elements is that the 20% of anglers who catch most of the fish cast well.  I can just imagine someone chucking a fly randomly into the water, the terminal tackle landing wheresoever the wind takes it and hanging on expectantly for a tug on the line. They are going to think that they had good luck should they be successful. On the other hand the more proficient, will put the fly where they want it, in the way that they want it, into places where experience tells them there are likely to be feeding fish, surprise surprise, they get “lucky” a lot more often.

It isn’t all about hi-tech analysis, much is simply common sense. I recall asking a client who caught a lot of salmon about what it takes, what’s the secret?  (I am not a salmon fisherman and know next to nothing about this branch of our sport). His eminently pragmatic and undoubtedly true comment was simply this “I only go fishing when I know that there are salmon in the river”.. I suppose you can see that would tend to improve his chances of succes by quite a degree. I suspect equally that a lot of his colleagues imagine that he is “just lucky”..


So here is a list of a few things which I believe are within everyone’s scope to improve your efficiency and effectiveness.

1) Practise your casting: as Gary Player famously said “the more I practise the luckier I get”,  for him it was swinging a golf club, for you it is being able to cast well and effortlessly all day. Not just distance but also accuracy.  If you can’t cast you can’t fish, simple as that.

2) Be prepared: There is a great deal out of our control when we go fishing, so it is all the more important to control what you can. Have your tackle in tip top shape, have your leaders prepared, your fly boxes filled with suitable imitations depending on the location, season and target species. And try to be ready for every eventuality that might occur when you are on the water.

3) Learn and understand the various elements of what most would call “presentation”. That embraces everything from how to achieve effortless drag free drifts on a dry fly to being able to put a weed fly in front of a feedling milkfish at 20 metres. Presentation is probably the most important element in the entire equation.

4) Sharpen your hooks, it sounds foolish but what is the point of going to all this effort only to fish with blunt hooks? Even modern “chemically sharpened” hooks can benefit from a quick once over with a quality hook hone. (My personal favourite is the Model “S” from Ezelap)

5) Avoid the “what fly are you using” mentality, certainly there are times when having the right fly counts for a lot, but not as often as you might imagine, casting well, presentation, fishing in the right place, having correctly structured leaders etc are all probably more important most of the time. Read “What Fly ” on “The Fishing Gene Blog”.

6) Dress conservatively, it amazes me how many people will pitch up to fish a clear stream wearing a white or fluorescent orange hat, that’s just stupid and you aren’t improving your chances. You don’t need to be kitted out with facepaint and camo like some piscatorial Rambo but it behooves one to be conservative. On a trout stream olive is “the new black”

7) Improve your casting…yes I know that I said that already but it deserves repetition. For most of the anglers I guide or coach their casting ability or lack thereof is the most significant limitation to their success levels. It doesn’t matter how many flies you have, how expensive your rod is or much else if you can’t cast well enough to put the fly where you want it most of the time.

8) Fish with people better than you are, it might open your eyes to all manner of posibilities which you weren’t aware of. You can fish for twenty years or you can fish the same year twenty times, the choice is yours but the benefits of the former are far greater than the latter.

9) Expect to catch fish, develop a mind set that says you will catch fish. It isn’t the power of positive thinking so much as the fact that if you expect to catch and you don’t you will change something. If you don’t expect to catch then you will write the day off as “bad luck” , keep doing what you were and end the day with a dry net.

10) Have a check list, getting to the water missing some piece of your gear is likey to spoil your day and at the very least put you off your stride.

11) Check and recheck, if you miss a fish, check the fly isn’t tangled or the point damaged, if you make a poor cast check there are no knots or tangles in your leader. Check every time.

12) Learn to wade softly, no amount of good fishing technique is going to help you if you are bashing the rocks about with your feet and scaring all the fish before they are within casting distance.

13) Practise good line control, such that you can mend the line to avoid drag, be in touch so that you can set the hook and not have yards of the stuff wrapped all around your reel or legs when you finally hook a fish.

14)Ditch the idea that luck has anything to do with it, to be honest it might, but that won’t help you. Believing that you are in charge of your own destiny, that you hold the cards when it comes to your fortunes, that will empower you to reach greater heights. Of course that doesn’t only apply to fishing, it probably applies to pretty much everything.

15) Practise and improve your casting. 🙂

If you would like to take some of the luck out of your fishing and gain a bit more control over the outcome perhaps you would like to read some of the book titles available from the author of this blog:


A Universal Truth

January 16, 2013


The more things change the more they stay the same. Or how to call a spade a shovel.

Odd how things happen, a few days ago I was on the water with a beginner fly angler; at least I knew he was a novice and more to the point so did he. We had done some casting practise on the lawn prior to departure for the river but it was going to be tough.

The water hereabouts is now low, possibly not at its lowest but getting that way, the sun is in its zenith and the temperatures are soaring into the upper twenties. (That’s Celsius for those still living in the dark ages and measuring things in pints, gallons, miles and Fahrenheit).

All in all, tough fishing, and added to that every one of the beautifully spotted and elusive trout inhabiting these waters was born in the stream. They have seen every manner of fly and presentation and have been annoyed over and over in the course of the season by myriad anglers,  they have PhD’s in poor presentation and artificial flyrecognition. They will spook if a cloud crosses the sun, a dragonfly flits over their lie or a leaf falls from a tree  It isn’t the place to be taking a novice; actually it isn’t the place to be taking anyone who wants to catch lots of easy fish. Right now the streams are tricky. There are big fish to be sure but even the tiddlers can be heartbreakingly difficult to tempt- TOUGH.TOUGH TOUGH    .

Still we had been trying to put the trip together for the better part of a year and various commitments, combined with high water, low water, weather and such had meant that now there was a window of opportunity and we were going to take it. Come hell or low water.

It was of course no surprise then, as we worked upstream, spotting the occasional fish holding languidly in the low flows, that most of the time a wayward cast would send the fish running in panic.  The flat water was simply impossible and even for me with a 20’ 8x leader I wasn’t getting near anything so we focused on the moving stuff, the shade of the trees and such in an effort to give ourselves some slight advantage. Under these conditions the trout hold all the cards, it is an education and it can be fun with the right mind-set, but it is dastardly tricky.

I have fished in Wales, France, New Zealand, Spain and England, on waters ranging from rapid and slightly turbid freestone creeks to glassy chalk streams, there is nowhere (with the possible exception of a few waters in France) where the going is so technically demanding.

I am not talking technical in terms of selecting the right fly, any decent guide, fly shop or even someone with a smattering of entomological knowledge can pick out a fly most of the time. No the key is “Presentation”. Presentation, presentation, presentation, and whilst that might mean a whole heap of different things in different circumstances you absolutely have to be able to cast.

ElandsTroutThis guy may be small, but he knows more about fly presentation than most anglers

In the end we prevailed, the client got his fish (his first ever trout on a fly, and isn’t that a moment to savor), we landed a few more with tricky throws under the bushes and he had a great day, apparently enjoying the wonder of it, the sight fishing and the “heart in the mouth” moments of throwing a fly over a paranoid schizophrenic trout, with ADD and OCD all rolled into one.


 Gavin’s first ever trout on a fly, caught in the hard school and aren’t we glad we did that casting practise?

The real key however was that he knew he was a beginner and so did I, the trouble comes from those who aren’t so aware of their limitations and to be honest that is most anglers.

I estimate that over 80% of the clients I guide suffer the greatest limitation in terms of their ability or inability to cast well enough. Sure they can put it out there on the lawn when the breeze is cooperative, there is no intervening herbage and the target is somewhere near the rose bushes.

On the river with one cast, a nasty downstream breeze, clear water and a target about the size of a fleas wedding tackle the game changes. Nobody gets that right all the time but the better you cast the more chance that you have.

So I was most interested to be put onto a lovely piece of writing by a client and friend Jonathan Meyers, the post is from a blog called “The Trout Diaries” written by Derek Grzelewski, you will note that I have added it to the blog roll because it really is worthy or your time to read.

The Essence of Fly Casting – The Trout Diaries Blog..

TroutDiariesImageImage courtesy of “The Trout Diaries”.

I shan’t steal the thunder, you can go and read it but it seems that other anglers and, at least honest guides, recognise the exact same failings. A quote from the piece, and a reference to guide and tutor Stu Tripney “People often come to me psyched up for big trout and action-packed fishing,” he told me. “I look at their casting and say: ‘well, I can take your money, drag you around the river all day and show you the big fish but, casting like that, you haven’t gotta show to catch them.”

When you get right down to it, for all the fancy tackle, the aerospace reels, the dainty and complex flies and leader formulae that look like something from a quantum mechanics equation, if you can’t cast well enough you aren’t going to catch many trout and you sure as eggs aren’t going to catch the tricky ones. (which frequently but not always also equates to the big ones).

To hear that other guides have the same problems made me feel a whole lot better, and I frequently tell myself that I am fortunate that I am at least not asking someone to hit a bonefish at 25 yards on a windy Seychelles coral flat.


When you have got this in your sights can you make the cast?

Truth be told, the money you might spend on a rod, a guide or a fancier fishing vest might well be better invested in some quality fly casting instruction, but beware there are still plenty of people out there who profess to be able to help you and can’t. There are still videos suggesting you should use “The clock system” ( a pet hate of mine), and there are still those who suggest that you should hold a book under your arm, or similar rubbish.

Thanks to Jonathan for linking me up with Derek and his lovely blog, thanks to Gavin for allowing me to shout at him on the river and on the lawn, it proved to be worth the frustration for both of us.

Finally thanks to Stu, it is so nice to know that I am not the only one out there preaching the message and trying to politely call a spade a shovel.

Of course if you are interested in my opinion on how fly casting works and you would like to have some exercises to do which will help you make that trip of a lifetime more worthwhile you can download a copy of “Learn to Fly-Cast in a Weekend” from Smashwords. It won’t cost you more than the price of a few flies and not only might it help you but I think that it might well make the life of your next guide a lot easier too. Even if you don’t appreciate it, he probably will. 🙂


Casting 1,2,3,4,5

October 26, 2012

Engrams, natures little shortcuts.

For committed readers of this blog you will know that I have been intimately involved with fly fishing and in particular fly casting for some years. Indeed I have published a book on the subject “Learn to Fly Cast in a Weekend”. Which in its original format is out of print but which is equally well still available as an electronic book.

There are numerous references in that book to the way that we learn things, we would love to imagine that it is all intellect and skill and such, but mostly it is just about practising, and perhaps more importantly practising correctly. How we learn to do stuff has become something of a fascination for me, not that I am in any way qualified to investigate it, just that it is of interest and it seems to me that much of it is actually the same as you were told as a child. The same way that you learned your times tables, or how to write or drive a car or cast a flyline.

The modern world of instant gratification would have you believe that there is a “quick fix” to everything, “lose your belly fat in five days”, “Speak another language in a week” etc but life suggests that isn’t the way to go. So why call a book “Learn to Fly-Cast in a Weekend”. Firstly because beginners actually can learn to do that, for the simple reason that they don’t have to “unlearn” anything.

Now it so happens that I have recently set about trying to learn something new, some years back I taught myself to touch type, it is going pretty well, whereas it started at about ten words a minute with a lot of mistakes it is now sitting closer to seventy words a minute with reasonable accuracy. How did I achieve that? By simply sitting down every day and bashing away on a keyboard with an electronic tutor making the most mind jangling noise each time I hit the wrong key. It is tremendously frustrating stuff, and equally very effective.

For some bizarre reason though I never did teach myself to use the number keys, which by default equally means the #%^)(*& and stuff that goes along with them. So I would have to look down at those keys each time, rather spoiling the effect.

It’s not unlike having to look down to pick up the line at the end of each cast, if you do that you will by now be aware that it will cost you some fish, because you weren’t ready.. bad habit.

So I decided it was time to put that matter straight and am busy bashing away once again, warning bells ringing in my ears as I try to train my muscles with new Engrams. Engrams are those highlighted and stored pathways between the brain and the nerves and muscles that provide, over time, shortcuts to actions. They are the things that allow you to change gear with your stick shift, put a cup to your lips without spilling coffee down your front or indeed hit the “P” when you want to on a keyboard. In time they may be the things that allow me to hit the 123456890 keys too, but those pathways are still in the baby stages and currently being laboriously hot wired into my nervous system through constant repetition.

Why discuss typing practise on a fishing blog? Well because the process is exactly the same if you are learning to cast a fly rod. Repetition works, it is the only thing that works, you simply cannot learn to fly cast properly without practising. More to the point practising the correct thing, (it is a sneaking little caveat to engrams, if you practise the wrong stuff you will get shortcuts to the wrong stuff.) A classic case of Garbage in Garbage out.

Now back to the typing, you see because I neglected to “do the numbers” at the same time as I did the rest of the keyboard, the numbers don’t have allocated shortcuts,(engrams) not only that but because I was looking down at them I was using any random finger that happened to be available at the time. So in fact they do have engrams attached to them, just the wrong ones and that is where a heap of the frustration comes from.

Now that I am trying to learn to do it properly I have a double problem, not only do I have to teach my little finger to reach to the far left to hit the “1” key, but I have to train my index finger to leave it alone. My index finger keeps sending messages back to my brain along the lines of “what happened? you used to let me do that, why can’t I do that anymore, and what’s so special about your pinky anyway, he never did any work for the last ten years”

The analogy with fly casting gets stronger, many of us get to cast well enough to catch a fish, in some places that doesn’t require a whole lot, and then we stop. We carry on fishing; we ingrain those bad habits and fix those erroneous engrams into our nervous systems. Even fly casting tutors have them in some instances and in the worst case scenarios they are so ingrained that the tutors will try to teach you the same thing.

Because I neglected to finish the whole course when I first set out to learn to type, I now have to go through the entire process again, not only that but I have to “unlearn” all those bad habits that have accumulated as a result of my neglect.

There is only one way around it, to sit down, make a concerted effort not to go back to what I was doing and go through the pain of getting it right. I have one advantage, I got it right before and I know that I can again; it is simply a case of repetitive practise.

Interestingly enough, you can’t really practise typing by just typing, you don’t apparently pay any price for your mistakes and you don’t get anything much by way of feedback. In fact most programs automatically correct your errors before you even notice them. The same applies, at least to my mind, to casting, you cannot practise casting when you are fishing. Firstly you will get away with things often enough not to notice and secondly you are not focused on the casting but on the fishing, much as when typing I am focused on the language not on the right keys.

If you are not happy with your casting (and don’t feel bad, by my estimates at least 80% of fly anglers aren’t really that happy with theirs) there is a solution, it is possibly slightly painful or if not actually painful, at least a tad uncomfortable and frustrating. But you can make a decision, as I have with my typing. You can either live with the way that it is or you can change it. It doesn’t take much, some understanding of what you are trying to achieve, the right practise exercises to follow and some diligence.

The Holy Grail at the other end though is that once you have mastered it you won’t ever have to look back. It is a choice, it is a choice that I would recommend that you make and if you want some help my book “Learn to Fly-Cast in a Weekend” provides 16 exercises to follow that will provide you with the framework for your practise.

To give you some hope have a look at this 1234567890 !@#$%^&*() 🙂 see and that after a week of practising, I promise that I didn’t even have to look. 🙂

Where I live the fishing season has recently opened in other parts it has just closed, in either case, it is the perfect time to sort out your casting, and I assure you that it really is well within your grasp, it just takes a bit of practise. Today I still have to focus on reaching that “6” because it isn’t quite ingrained yet, but I could probably hit the darned thing with a fly from twenty yards, because I have put in the work on that front..

People always tell me that “If you aren’t getting the results that you want you have to change the things that you do”.. that applies to fly casting as much as anything else, and as said, if you take the trouble to go through the process properly once, you will never have to do it again. It is what allows me to type this blog post in little more than 20 minutes and what will allow you to spend the rest of your life enjoying your fishing without worrying about your casting.. In the end that has to be worth the effort.

If it ain’t broke, Don’t fix it.

June 5, 2012

“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, words of wisdom from my father and probably everyone else’s Pater as well for that matter. So what is it that possesses people and in particular companies to do exactly that? Generally I like to keep blog posts upbeat, cheerful, joyous and inspirational and this one is dedicated to a fat moan because the fly fishing marketing department really does give me the gip some of the time..

So let me start out by saying that it is pretty much known that I am not a Sage fan, not that I don’t like some of their rods, to be honest I love some of their rods, and the click reels are a revelation,  but you had better hope that I don’t love one of the rods that you want. No sooner do I find one that I think is a real honey than the people at Sage remove it from the market.

Some time back a friend had a gloriously soft two weight that presented a dry fly as well as any rod I have ever cast (I confess I have forgotten the model, all these numbers just confuse me). I had plans to save up some of my limited funds and invest in one of these sticks only to find that when the required cash accumulation was complete the rod was no longer available. So I purchased the “newer model” instead, it proved a disaster, darn thing wouldn’t present a fly on a short line, snapped tippet because it was too feisty and in general to my mind just wasn’t a two weight in the first place. So I took it back to the shop and got the one weight version, that was better because I fished it with a two weight line and treated it as a two weight rod. It wasn’t the best I have ever used but it sufficed. Having dropped that amount of cash though I should have greatly preferred to have purchased what I had originally hankered after. A compromise is fine but for that amount of hard earned after tax dough I am not sure one should have to compromise.

Just recently I became the proud owner of a Sage ZXL two weight, again a honey of a rod for the fishing that I do. Great at short accurate presentations, light in hand and soft enough to protect the delicate tippets that I prefer to fish. With this rod not long ago I landed a fish over ten pounds in weight on 7X tippet and a size 18 dry fly.  Fantastic you may think, but alas I now hear that Sage have discontinued this one too. To no doubt be replaced by yet another lighter, faster tippet smasher geared to thrashing giant hoppers into the middle distance on Western Rivers or something. Don’t the guys at Sage do anything else but throw giant flies on strong tippets into howling gales? What is it that makes them think that all of us are out there fishing thirty metres away all the time?

Fly fishing rods are exactly that, “FISHING RODS” not “CASTING RODS”, there is more to rod design than chucking flies as far as possible and I am for one not convinced that faster actioned rods necessarily help with distance casting anyway. In fact I recently came across an article where there was a comparison of rod price v casting distance, and to everyone’s surprise except mine there was an inversely proportional relationship. The higher the price the less the distance..

I have complained about this love affair that the marketing departments seem to have with fast actioned rods previously on this blog. An AFTMA fairy tale.

Fly rods should help you cast sure, but cast the way that you need to in different applications, short dry fly fishing, nymph fishing, whacking it out there from a boat, whatever. It makes no sense to me that the focus is purely on rod speed.

A good fly rod in my opinion should variously:

* Assist casting the size of fly and the distance required for a specific application.
* Should protect the tippet that you are fishing for that application.
* Allow you to play the fish effectively in terms of the pressure exerted and the risk of breakoff.
*Provide hooking power based on the fly size, fish size and distance cast.
*Offer accuracy where required and feel when casting and playing fish.

If some of these rod designers were creating hammers instead of fly rods we would all be wielding ten pound lumps of iron to knock a drawing pin into a felt board.

Just this past weekend I was fishing with my mate Mike, I was using my favourite boat rod, a Stealth Magnum 10’ six weight. The rod has buckets of power lower down but isn’t particularly quick in action. I find that it affords me comfortable casting and yet protects the tippet and doesn’t bounce the fish off when hooked. I can cast that rod all day, thirty metres on virtually every throw where the line doesn’t tangle, two false casts only. It will hook fish effectively at full range but not break the tippet. It is a pretty ordinary looking thing and some might even suggest that it was a “piece of cheap Sh1t” but it is a favoured rod for almost all of the competitive boat anglers that I know. It isn’t dreadfully light and actually has pretty crumby single foot wire guides which I don’t particularly like. Mine has been sanded down to remove rod flash and is scratched and battered from over ten years of use,  but it does its job better than almost any other I have fished. If I break that rod I am going to shed more than a few tears but after ten years I can still buy another one exactly the same if I want to.

Mike was also using a ten foot six weight rod, not the same as mine and not a Sage either for that matter, but he broke off fish and dropped fish over and over and I strongly suspect that the rod was in part to blame.

Yet another fish on a “piece of cheap rubbish rod”, which can still be replaced and does the job it was designed to do as well as it did when I got it ten years ago.

So why can’t we purchase “horses for courses”? It seems nonsensical to me for manufacturers to have a “range” of rods from two to ten weight actually. The requirements for a two weight rod are simply not the same as for the ten. They are designed for entirely different purposes and different size fish, different casting distances and different sized flies. A two weight rod with the same action as a ten weight is more than likely completely useless when you get right down to it.

I suspect that the most popular rod weights are probably fives and sixes, so one may well find that the six weight ZXL is a tad too floppy for its purpose, I don’t know I have never cast the six weight version. I have however loved fishing the two and three weights. So maybe Joe Public says “The six weight isn’t fast enough” and Sage then blow the entire range as a result. I am not sure what it is that motivates the process, but I am saying that the ZXL in the lighter weights did the job that I and more than a few other anglers wanted it to do. Now you will no longer be able to buy one.

I read one comment from an angler unknown to me, who after casting a light weight ZXL posed the question “Should I sell a kidney to get one?”, I hope he either bought one already or hasn’t booked the surgery, because he may well find his nephritic sacrifice was ill conceived if he arrives at the shop too late.

I don’t suppose that Sage are the only ones out there playing this silly game of faster is better, and I am not actually “anti Sage”, I love some of their rods, but I am very tired of the fact that you cannot be assured of getting the one you want when you can afford to because the range has been “updated” once more. More to the point, why pay a premium for a guarantee when your claim will result in your being forced to get a different rod which you may well not like if you bust it?

A while back I asked a female friend “why do you girls all buy smock tops and hipster jeans when they don’t suit you?”, “why don’t you wear what you like and what suits your figures, not everyone looks good in hot pants or the latest pink”. Her reply was a warning to us all, “we all buy the latest fashion because there isn’t anything else on the shelves”, yes and we are heading that way with fly rods too. You are going to have to buy what someone wants to sell you and not necessarily what you want. The marketing departments would have you believe that this is progress; mostly I think that it is just crap.

Angling Mathematics

March 27, 2012

The Mathematics of “Fishing under the Radar”.

A recently posed question about trout vision, diffraction and all of that had me reaching for the maths books and trying to recall school day trigonometry. But the exercise produced some interesting thoughts none the less.  Not least I think that it added mathematical proof to the way that I like to fish. Long leaders and aggressive casting with tight loops aiming low, relying on the leader to bleed off energy at the last moment.

The much discussed “Trout’s Window”

Irrespective of the fish’s visual acuity there are physical properties associated with the bending (refraction of light) which have significant effects on what a trout could possibly see.  The trout’s world consists of a window, the diameter of which is determined by a thing called the Snell’s equation. In simple terms the window is 2.26 times as wide as the trout is deep. So it can clearly see things on the surface over a wider area the deeper the fish is. At one meter the fish can clearly see things on the film in a 2.26 metre wide circle above its head.

Many angling writers have made much of this, because a relatively small increase in depth radically changes the size of the window. At 0.5 meters the window has a diameter of 1.13 metres, but at a depth of a metre that window grows enormously to 2.26 metres across. If you take the area of the window the results are all the more dramatic. At 0.5 metres depth the area of the window is 1 square meter, at one metre in depth that window jumps to 4 square metres. Double the depth and you effectively quadruple the size of the window.

Click on the diagram to see larger image

I think that frequently this has been misinterpreted along the lines that if the trout’s window is 2.26 meters across (about 8’6″) a nine foot leader is all that you need to keep the line out of sight of the fish. I am going to suggest that the following mathematical gymnastics offer solid proof that isn’t the case. (I am not even factoring in the disturbance of the mirror, of which the fish is undoubtedly aware).

It has long been held, and probably correctly that the shallower the fish the more accurate your cast needs to be for the fish to see the fly.

A fish feeding directly under the surface, let’s say 5 cm has a view of the world condensed into a circle only 11 centimetres across an area of about 100 square centimeters. That’s not a lot to aim at with a fly. (Fish can “see” the fly, in the mirror, as pointed out by Goddard and Clarke in their excellent book “The Trout and the Fly”. But for now we are going to stick with the window).

However what started this discussion was what can trout see that might scare them? This doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the window at all in my opinion and a lot more to do with the refraction of light and what falls below the critical 10 degree mark.

If the fish were actually looking up through an eleven centimetre wide tube, a sort of tunnel vision if you wish it would be easy to sneak up and drop a fly right on their heads. That window however encompasses all the light coming from an approximately 160 ° arc. It is bent to fit into the window by the refractive properties of the water, but remember that to the trout that is normal.

Anything above the critical ten degrees is at least theoretically visible.  The light hitting the water below an angle of ten degrees is to all intents and purposes reflected and doesn’t reach the trout’s eye.

Click on diagram to see larger image

Taking a trout at half a metre depth in calm clear water, how far away would an object (say an angler) a metre tall have to be to be unseen?

Effectively the fish only gets light from objects above a ten degree angle of incidence. (Actually it is slightly under ten degrees but I am trying to keep things simple).

The answer is given by the following equation:

[FD (Fish depth) x 1.13] + [H / 0.1763]


(0.5 x 1.13) + (1/0.1763) = 6.237 metres  (about 20 feet)

(if you want to know where that came from the mathematics, and they are mine and therefore questionable at best:  Snell’s constant provides that in water the diameter of the fishes window is 2.26 x its depth the radius of that window is therefore 1.13. The tan of a ten degree angle of a right angle triangle is the ratio of “opposite over adjacent” sides. That is to say that the height h is 0.1763 of the distance.

For a trout half a meter down, anything a meter tall comes into view at 6.237 metres distant. However we have all been lead to believe that the shallower the fish the closer you can get, and that is true, but it isn’t true by much.

If our imaginary fish comes closer to the surface , to a depth 20 cm for example a metre high object stays hidden up to 5.9 metres, darn you can sneak an extra thirty odd centimetres closer. The bending of the light doesn’t change and so trout sitting close to the surface can actually see pretty much as well as those that are deeper.  Perhaps the picture is a little more compressed and I am not a trout so I can’t vouch for what that does to them, but I figure that they are probably used to it and the important bit is that you are going to be in view before you get that close, no matter how shallow the fish is.

The full Monty: Ok for those of mathematical bent, or simply owners and proud possessors of the fishing gene who don’t consider such reflection as entirely insane,  here is the maths in tabular form:

You can click on the table for a larger version

However, having pondered the questions a little further I am not sure that the visibility of the angler or the diameter of the window is really as important as another aspect that I have never seen discussed in print.  The effect of casting into the fish’s line of sight even if you aren’t yourself visible. It struck me when I was making these calculations that your line is going to flash above that ten degree horizon and when it does chances are it is going to come as something of a shock to the fish.

Let us for the moment assume that you can cast a metre above the surface,  as your line unfurls it is going to appear in the trout’s vision at somewhere around six metres from the trout. Then your line is going to come flashing into the trout’s line of sight, not only that, but because everything  that a trout sees appears to march down a hill straight at it, your fly line is going to suddenly appear like a rocket belting straight at the fish. That would scare me and I am pretty darn sure that it scares the fish too. How often have you watched a fish only to have it spook the moment you aerialize the line.?

Click on diagram to see larger image

So how would a longer leader help?

So let’s play another bit of mathematical hypothesis, just for the sake of it. Say that you can unfurl your line a metre above the surface and just to humour me we are going to imagine that the leader is invisible but the fly line not.

How long should the leader be if cast a meter above the surface for the fly line to remain “out of sight” if the fish is half a meter down?

Using the same maths we can calculate that the leader would have to be 6.25 metres long (Just over twenty feet).

However if you can unfurl your leader just half a metre above the surface then you can get away with a leader of only 3.4 metres (About eleven feet).

To me then it becomes patently obvious that a leader of only 2.74 m (Nine feet) is entirely unsuitable if you are trying to keep the line out of the fish’s view.

Click on diagram to see larger image.

Oddly enough the longer the leader the more that you can power the fly in low and hard without getting poor presentation. The very thing that you need to do if you are going to keep the line “under the radar”, in fact with a long unstable leader you can angle the casts down at the water just a tad and afford yourself an even better chance of getting in “under the radar”.

To sum up:

  • The  depth of the trout and the size of the trout’s window doesn’t actually have that much effect on what it can see of the angler or his line.
  • The height of the angler and or his unrolling line in the air is far more critical than the depth of the fish.
  • Tight loops will come in under the trout’s line of sight better than wide ones
  • Casts angled downwards will stay out of sight better than those lobed high and “floated in”.

So after all that tiresome mathematics I would have to say that I believe the trigonometry supports my view that long leaders, fired in hard with narrow loops low to the surface offer the best and least visible presentation. That old fashioned “aim high and float the fly in” is all too likely to flash the line into the fish’s view and scare the living daylights out of it.

I hope my old maths teacher is still alive, he would be most impressed for me to use trig to prove a point, actually if he is still kicking and he finds out the shock would probably finish him off.

Note: I am a better caster than mathematician so open discussion is welcomed, please do feel free to leave a comment, observation or thought on this blog.

Brought to you by the author of  “Learn to Fly-cast in a Weekend” now available for download as an eBook for PC, Kindle or ipad from Smashwords.

The Casting Coach

February 15, 2012

The casting coach.

The casting coach:

I have been fishing for longer than I can remember and guiding for a good part of that time and the one thing that stands out is that many anglers simply don’t cast well enough. It is not the fly or the leader design that limits most anglers but simply their lack of ability to put the fly where then want it in the manner they would wish.

Now that is a contentious issue, you can tell a guy he has an ugly wife, is less than well-endowed in the wedding tackle department or that he looks pretty dumb in his golf pants and he probably won’t take offense, criticize his fly casting and you are on thin ice. As an aside it was pointed out to me once that the English language is the only place you can be on thin ice and end up in hot water, but I digress.

Not only does this casting problem translate into less enjoyment when fishing, and less fish caught for that matter, but it is also I suspect a secretly troublesome little niggle in the minds of many, and yet they are reluctant to admit it. Particularly for those of us sporting a “Y” chromosome, we are supposed to be naturally able to cast a fly aren’t we? I mean who needs to be taught that? There must be something to this, anyone who has bought a golf club has headed to the pro shop to book some tee off time with the instructor and yet anglers the world over spend hundreds of dollars on rods, trips to exotic locations and yes even on guides but they don’t want to get help with their casting. So they learn from Uncle Joe or their mate down at the pond, the errors compound and bad habits become ingrained. It is just silly.

Indeed some four years back I became so concerned about this issue that I published a book, “Learn to Fly-cast in a weekend” based on the work that myself and my good friend Gordon McKay did on improving our own casting. We spent days if not months, reviewing material from Joan Wulff, Lefty Kreh, Charles Ritz and a variety of others from around the world. We read the books, watched the videos and tried to come up with a solution. In the end we did, we practised and critiqued one another and our casting improved, improved beyond recognition actually.

Then we did something even more difficult, we decided to work out how best to teach someone else what we had learned. That isn’t quite so easy but over time a method was born which worked. It worked for us and it worked for our clients at a variety of casting clinics and fly fishing retreats. It worked for men and women young and old and it differed significantly from what most instructors suggest. It even worked for two clients well into their sixties who ended up after a few days throwing the entire 30 metres of fly line with a couple of strokes. Something that impressed them enough to want to purchase my fly rod and I had to point out that it wasn’t the rod, it was their new found technique that was doing the trick.

So what works? Well I can tell you what doesn’t work, even though I have seen these ideas suggested in numerous places by some very well known anglers.

The casting clock doesn't work, if it did there would be more good casters out there.

Holding a book under your arm doesn’t work; using more force doesn’t work, putting your left leg forward, strapping your wrist up with some infernal and overly expensive brace or casting like the hands of a clock doesn’t work.  What actually works is so remarkably simple that you wouldn’t credit it. That book sold out, despite the fact that the publishers never saw the need to make it widely available. Add to that the cost of transporting the tome about the world and the obvious lack of eco sensitivity in chopping down trees and jetting heavy books around the globe the printed version had its limitations. Plus of course there is the issue of being too embarrassed to go into your local fly shop and admit that you want some help with your casting.

Well now after four years and not inconsiderable effort the problem has been solved. “Learn to Fly-cast in a weekend” has been revised, re-edited and produced in eBook format so that it is available to everyone, around the world. It can be downloaded in a format to suit your PC, your ipad, or Kindle and it comes in the metaphorical electronic brown paper wrapper, nobody even needs to know that you got one (just remember to clear the history on your browser).. So for a nominal fee of less than the cost of a few flies you can improve your casting once and for all. The system works, if fact I am prepared to guarantee it. If you get a copy of this book, work through the exercises in it and it doesn’t significantly improve your casting I will refund you the purchase price. Not only that but you can go through the first 20% of the book without even having to buy it.

You can download the electronic version of “Learn to Fly-cast in a weekend” from Smashwords if you have the nerve to risk upsetting someone you can send them a copy as a gift from the same link.

Hopefully it will also soon be available from other electronic book stores such as Barnes and Noble as a Nook Book.  If you are secretly thinking that your local stream is too bushy, the fish are too far away or you are tired of undoing all of those tangles then do yourself a favour and check out this book. For the price of a few flies you can’t really go wrong.

Happy casting.