last month i had the honour of being invited to write a little piece for Eat Sleep Fish‘s third year anniversary.
here’s the article in its entirety. enjoy !
– Catching trees and not fish is every fly angler’s dream –
Let’s check out a few ways on how to do this and up your game.
– One of the best ways to snag everything thats snaggable around us is to be completely oblivious of our surroundings.
Get to the water, jump in and start presenting your fly immediately. See a fish or a rise ? Forget everything else and cast to it instantly ! Somewhere deep inside us we know that fly casting takes roughly the same amount of space behind as it does in front but who cares ?! There’s a fish that needs tending to right away and we can’t be bothered with all that ‘theoretical‘ stuff at the moment. Follow those simple rules and you’ll be one of the best snaggers there is, loose a maximum amount of flies, turn a few hairs grey(er) and gain the highest respect among your fellow snaggers.
– Stage Two: Snag Mastery
Through experience most probably acquired from the realisation that more trees have been caught than fish, we’ve also noticed that there are yes, trees and bushes but also a whole host of other snaggables such as barbed-wire fences, shores, fellow snaggers, rocks, the guy at the oars and more than a few cows and/or sheep. This has to be a conspiracy, they’re everywhere !
Even if we don’t want to publicly acknowledge it, Stage One left us some empty fly boxes and long-term bitter memories but we’re still intent on snagging everything that can be snagged so to get even better at this we start by staring at the snaggable with the idea that some magic will occur and the fly will just travel through or around the snaggable and the end result a less than fifty per cent chance of finally presenting the fly to a fish (at best). Non productive wishful thinking at its best !
Ok, I can hear you snickering and I completely agree: Enough with the reversed psychology silliness ! But, lets see why those two tips aren’t so silly after all once we’ve reversed them.
– Stage One is quite obvious but let’s think about why this phenomenon occurs.
Most of our senses, with vision being the most important for our fly fishing needs, are geared towards what’s in front of us. It’s just the way we’re made. Of course we all know this but its something that’s very easy to forget. Add the ‘buck fever’ effect, the senseless panic that can happen when seeing say, a rising or tailing fish to the equation and even that forward vision gets blurry and greatly reduced and its all downhill from there but luckily, solutions are easy and just need a little work.
– Firstly, practice your casts (and I do hope you do this at least somewhat regularly) by watching your back cast because we can’t know what’s going on there if we don’t look. As a first result of this observation, what inevitably happens is there’s a much greater overall control of the line. All the little details that aren’t details at all start getting better.
The timing of the Pause which tells us when to start the reversal stroke and helps preserve Line Tension and, Stroke Length and Rod Tip Trajectory which will give us better loops, specially tighter loops that are really necessary when aiming the cast in between obstacles. Add in working on efficient Power Application and there you have The Five Essentials of fly casting that lead to great line control and accurate placement of the fly.
A great way to do this exercise that I highly recommend is to cast across the body from left to right / right to left instead of front to back / back to front. Not only does this allow us to easily see the whole cast even with a very short line but maybe more importantly, this enables us do all this without any special neck twisting or back breaking contortions and wait ! There’s yet another bonus to this drill: You’ll also be practicing an essential cast that’s a real necessity when casting in tight places such as under trees and bushes: Side casts that keep the line low and to the side through those lovely tunnels we’ll so often find in small stream fishing.
This time I’m hearing mumbling but don’t fret ! All I’m suggesting is to learn to look at the back cast and be comfortable with turning back now and again to be sure everything’s spot on. We all know that watching the back cast isn’t what we typically want to be doing when we’re actually fishing but what we’ve learned throughout the practice sessions will follow us to the stream. Call it muscle memory, conditioned reflexes, magic or whatever you want but its real and its there to help us when we need it most but most definitely won’t be there if we don’t practise it. It’s just the way fly casting works.
One more thing before moving on to Stage Two. As noted above, we don’t always have the possibility to look behind at each back cast but a very simple tip that we can always do and seems to work for everyone is to look where the back cast will go before starting the casting cycle. We seem to have a sort of short-term spacial recognition memory within us and this looking back before keeps us out of a lot of trouble and that all sorta fits in with Stage Two.
– To be honest, this is the trickier one but it can be controlled and needs a bit of practice as well but its a mind-thing, not a casting one but one we’ll want to work on after the casting part is down pat. Here’s why.
Simply put, we’re conditioned to throw things at objects which we look at. As I often point out at courses, “if I want to throw a bowling ball at your nose I’m not gonna look at your feet”…
The more we concentrate on an object before and while we throw a projectile at it, the more chances we have of reaching our target. Apart from the inevitable casting motions, this is in my opinion the real key to consistent fly placement accuracy. Give it that ‘death stare’ and it goes straight to the target, but ! As far as the snaggables go we want to do the exact and very unnatural opposite which means being completely aware of the snaggable(s) without actually looking at it/them or we end up with what happened in the photo at the top of the page.
How do we do this ? Easy. Given the above, look elsewhere ! (couldn’t help it.. ) But more seriously, just as with the ‘death stare’ accuracy tip above we simply need to learn to shift our focus away from the branch, to that empty space between those two sheep and most definitely away from the guy with the oars or the pole if you want to get home in one piece or to a lesser extent, not loose flies. Luckily, we’ll often have some other object behind and out of casting range to aim at. A leaf on a tree, another far away sheep or a blade of grass on the bank or a cloud or whatever. Give those things your ‘death stare’ and your line will go there and you’ll miss the obstacle. The biggest challenge happens when there’s absolutely nothing to aim at such as a blank sky or a snow covered bank but it still works well if we concentrate really hard on that ‘nothing’.
Lastly, I’d like to point out that flies left in trees obviously don’t catch fish but can catch, wound and/or kill a whole host of other animals like birds, small mammals, bats, monkeys and whatever else that climb or fly through trees and waterside vegetation and let’s not forget other anglers and people that like to enjoy the waterways as much as we do. Much more than the flies themselves or the gutting shame that occurs when I snag obstacles, its this last point that makes me want to be extra careful.
Post Note- The image at the top wasn’t staged for this article and was a direct result of Stage Two. There was absolutely no other obstacle anywhere within casting range except this dead stupid stump and for some reason, I stared at it just long enough to catch it from 18 or so metres away on my back cast. Yes, this indeed happens inevitably a few times in the year and its almost always because I let my concentration slip. No-one’s perfect, specially not me…
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