Summer is almost here and the arrival of Florida’s suffocating heat means one thing if you’re a dedicated sight-fisherman.
In a few weeks, many Florida flats will welcome the popular game fish. And fly fishermen will be waiting. Some will struggle, muddling along with the hope that enough shots will yield a Kodak moment. Others — albeit a small fraction of the long rod elitists — will catch and land fish regularly.
The difference, quite often, comes down to casting. The better you can cast, the more fish you’ll catch. Period.
Below are a few tips to consider while preparing to dance with the Silver King.
Practice makes perfect.
Saltwater fly fishing is a skill, yet many anglers treat it as a hobby. They fish, but they don’t practice and if they practice, they don’t put in enough time to truly hone their craft.
“You have to practice,” Peter Kutzer, an Orvis casting instructor, said. “You don’t see golfers going out on courses without practicing and taking practice swings. They go to the driving range. They chip and putt to help with their short game. You have to practice your fly-casting game as well. Chasing tarpon is not a poor man’s sport. It’s tough. You’re going to be a lot more successful if you spend some time practicing.”
Lighter is Better.
And if you do practice, go with a lighter rod at first, which should help shake off the rust from a long winter layoff.
“I’d recommend they get some time under their belt and if saltwater fishing is what they really want to do, then get some time with a 7, 8 or 9 weight,” Kutzer said. “Start with one of those rods. They’re a little easier to handle. They can help you develop some of that muscle memory with something a little lighter. Some of those heavier rods can be tougher.”
It’s OK to Break Your Wrist
One of the first things we’re told as novice fly casters is to never, ever break our wrist. That’s fine if you want to chase bass and brim at your neighborhood pond. Tarpon on fly requires sharp loops to pierce those nasty headwinds and generate casts of 50 feet and longer.
“When you’re an experienced caster, you’re looking for ways to increase line speed,” Keys guide Bruce Chard said. “When you snap your wrist and allow for more application of power throughout the casting stroke, you’re going to increase line speed. But, you’re timing has to be impeccable, and you can’t have good timing if you’re not an experienced caster. I’m not saying you can’t do it. It just makes it a little more challenging to form a nice tight loop.”
The bottom line: If you’re a beginner, don’t break your wrist. If you’re more advanced, check out Joan Wulff’s videos on the power snap, but the learning curve is anything but a snap, which is why a stiff wrist is better for the newcomer.
“It has everything to do with that,” Chard said. “Usually when you’re a beginner, you have too much movement. You’re moving your arm. You’re moving your shoulder and everything all over the place. And we (as instructors) need to get them to quit moving long enough to have a nice short stroke and feel the rod load, stopping abruptly while keeping that rod on a straight-line plane. That helps them form a nice, tight loop. Once they start forming nice, tight loops, then you can do whatever your want to increase line speed, and there’s a number of different things you can do and snapping the wrist is one of them.”
Different Strokes for Different Folks
There are, in general, two distinct approaches to fly casting. On one side of the spectrum, there’s Joan Wulff. At the other end is Lefty Kreh. Joan teaches a more vertical stroke that pulls the butt of the rod through the last part of the motion. Her motion is compact with a minimum of body movement.
Lefty uses a more horizontal approach to the stroke. He pushes butt of the rod towards the target and uses more of his body with an open stance.
Many top distance casters — Paul Arden and Peter Hayes — are pullers. Many weekend anglers are pushers. Kutzer believes in both methods and says good casters can make either work and quite often they have to, depending on the conditions. Lefty’s low-elbow horizontal approach can work great on a flats boat elevated above the water. But use that while wading a thigh-deep flat and your back cast will smack the water. Vertical is the way to go.
“What a lot folks see is their accuracy gets better,” Kutzer said. “They’re pointing at their target; they’re more lined up. When you cast vertical, it’s a little easier to know if you’re going too far back. The downside, though, to being vertical is you’re going to be a little more susceptible to the wind.”
That’s when you have to flatten out your forward stroke. But executing a quality back cast is pivotal. A poor one often ensures a lack of accuracy or distance. Or both.
“One of the big hurdles people deal with is being aware of what their back cast is doing and being aware of their tracking,” Kutzer said. “Tracking is huge. If you want to make a long cast, the easiest way to do that is to have a good loop on your back cast and to do that you have to track well on you back cast. Loop way around to the side, twist your hand and you bring that rod out and around, it’s going to be really hard to get that line nice and tight and get some distance on your forward cast.”
We can debate Joan versus Lefty and their merits of both for years, but Kutzer, as instructor, has to simplify the physics of fly casting into palatable bits for his students. Maybe we should do the same.
“Three things,” Kutzer said. “You have to make a rod bend. You have to make it stop. Twice. And that’s not easy because in everything we do (in sports) we almost always follow through. The third thing is you have to keep everything in a straight line.”
Sounds simple, but it’s not. Time to go practice.