A quarterly newsletter from Clear Creek Fly Casting LLC.

Your source for efficient, controlled, effective fly casting

Fall 2020

Clear Creek Fly Casting Lessons

Welcome to another newsletter. Hope you have had a great season so far despite the pandemic. There is still plenty of good fishing to be had. The rivers have been crowded it seems to me, which I suspect has to do with folks off work and flexible schedules. Still, so much water, so little time.

In this edition of the newsletter, I will cover 3 errors I see at all levels of skill. When clients overcome these obstacles, they can often make great improvements in their casting. More importantly, we have a guest author: Carol Northcut. Carol is a Certified Instructor candidate and her article comparing fly casting with mountain biking is quite enlightening and therefore I wish to share it here. It is full of teaching pearls so it will be that section of the newsletter. I think you will find it refreshing to hear a different voice besides mine.

If you enjoy and benefit from this newsletter, please tell your friends. It would be great to have a broader audience.


Three errors seen at all skill levels that are often related.
ERROR #1: SLACK—Most are not aware of this and it comes in three forms. The first is the most obvious, which is starting a cast without getting the line straight (removing slack). This leads to a wide pick up stroke or arc that causes a wide loop back cast which is essentially slack line in the air. The second is starting the cast with the rod tip more than about 1 foot above the water’s surface. All of that dangling line down to the water is slack, and often the same wide arc and wide back loop result. The third is the poor back cast itself with a wide lazy loop. This trains the caster to make the other two errors. Start every cast with the rod tip low and line straight and learn to make narrow loop back casts.

ERROR #2: EXCESSIVE CASTING ARC--Casting arc is the angle through which the rod butt moves throughout the casting stroke. It must be matched to the rod bend (load) to obtain a straight-line path of the rod tip resulting in a narrower loop (3-4 ft.) with efficient delivery. Often casters do not pay attention to loop size and therefore guess at arc size. They guess big, especially at distance and in windy situations, causing a wide loop. Slack plays a role as noted above. Let your loop be your guide: wide arc-wide loop, narrow arc-narrow loop.

ERROR #3: OVERPOWERING—The amount of force needed is proportional to the amount of line past the rod tip. The line is the weight that loads or bends the rod. However, the weight when we make a 30 ft. cast with a 9 ft., 5 wt. rod and a 9 ft. leader is about equal to 3 business cards!! We simply do not need much force or power overall to make the cast! That is half of the overpowering problem. The other half is the quality of force. If the force application through the stroke is less than smooth tailing loops can result. The top leg of the loop dips down and may collide with the bottom leg, causing tangles. Both slack and excessive casting arc on the back cast can encourage overpowering. I have even seen clients with wide back cast loops followed by tailing or nearly tailing forward cast loops. Slow down and smooth out!!


Clear Creek Fly Casting Lessons

After 28 years of riding mountain bikes, some years more avidly than others, I did an “endo” that injured my neck. I was off the bike for two years, but at the encouragement of my hubby, I am riding again and very glad. I started riding mountain bikes in 1991 before there was such a thing as lessons or if there were, who’d pay for them? The instructors didn’t know much more than anyone else. Learning was pretty much a matter of trial and error, sometimes painful error, but the learning curve was steep and it was easy to become competent quickly, relying on big muscles and balance. Fly casting is not so easy. It requires finer movements within larger movements, a knowledgeable instructor is paramount, and the tool used is very different. But despite the differences, my mind looks for comparisons while riding, and I find some similarities. Analogies to other sports frequently are used by fly casting instructors, but I’ve not seen any analogies to mountain biking. Think about it: Not everyone has played baseball, thrown a javelin, or golfed, but most people have ridden a bike, if not a mountain bike. So perhaps some of the analogies I’ve found will have more meaning to one of your students than other sports.

Mountain biking Casting
Grip the handles lightly and only squeeze when you need to slow down/stop. The handlebar is a lever. Grip the cork lightly and only squeeze when you need to stop. The rod is a lever.
If you have a death grip on the bars, (a) you won’t feel the nuances of the trail or your steed; (b) your steering will be jerky and (c) you likely will over-steer. If have a death grip on the handle, (a) you won’t feel the nuances of the rod, and (b) your movements are likely to be jerky.
When you stop hard, you’ll catapult over the bars. (Been there. Done that!) When you stop hard, the line catapults over the rod tip.
Let the big muscles do the bulk of the work. There are big muscles for pushing the pedals and lesser muscles for pulling back and up. Use both to smooth the pedal stroke. Let the big muscles do most of the work. The big muscles make smoother movements. Use the smaller muscles judiciously.
Adjust your pedal position and stance for balance. It is not static. Adjust your stance for balance. It is not static, especially with distance casting.
Focus on “the line” you want to take, not on the obstacles you want to avoid. If you focus on what you want to avoid, you’re bound to steer right into it. Pay attention to tracking: With rare exceptions, try to get the rear tire to track where the front tire went. Focus on your casting target. If you focus on where you don’t want the fly to land, you’re almost certain to cast your line there. Pay attention to tracking: With rare exceptions, keep your back and forward casts aligned.
If an obstacle is ridable but too hard at present, practice a similar obstacle that you can ride. Practice that until you are confident. Then practice the approach to the harder obstacle, then integrate it with riding the obstacle. Practice a problem cast. Dissect it and practice a problem movement until you get it right (or at least close). Then add the movement that leads up to the problem movement; then add the movement that follows.
When avoiding an obstacle, your back wheel should follow the same path as the front one, in other words, it should track. In most casts your back and front casts should track, that is, they should be in the same vertical plane..
Psychology has a lot to do with it. Fear and doubt will psych you out. Assess the problem to ensure that, with practice, an obstacle is ridable.
Assess if it’s a risk you’re willing to take. Some risks are just stupid and it’s wiser to “walk today, ride tomorrow,” walk the bike so you can still ride tomorrow.
Psychology has a lot to do with it. Doubt and frustration will psych you out. Assess the problem and see if you can break it down into tiny tasks. Work on tiny tasks until you have each one down. Then string them together. When you want to quit, remember what Louis Pasteur said: “Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal. My strength lies solely in my tenacity.
Assess the risk. Well, there isn’t much risk in fly casting except that you’ll improve!!
Cycling is good for the heart. Be respectful of the earth and others. That is good for the soul. Fly fishing is good for the soul. Be respectful of the earth and others as that, too, is good for the soul.

Timing and speed are critical when riding some obstacles. There is an obstacle I ride on an exposed single-track. It’s scary because if you mess up and fall, you’re likely to tumble down a hill. The obstacle is two parallel rocks that are just above pedal height, followed shortly by a similar obstacle. I call it Scylla and Charybdis. The pedals have to be moved “just so” at just the right time so that they don’t hit the rocks and cause you to fall. And your speed has to be sufficient, but not too slow or fast. I psyched myself out many times on S & C and then would watch my hubby ride right through it. It wasn’t until I did it once (I did it!! I did it!!) that I knew it was repeatable. Now I can ride right through it … unless I psych myself out.


Is it harder to cast longer leaders?
Is it more difficult to cast a long leader? It sure seems that way, doesn’t it? But like so many questions, the answer is “it depends.” What it depends on is: what you want the leader to do, the configuration of the leader, tippet length, type of fly, and casting skill. The purpose of the leader is to transfer and diminish the energy of the cast and present the fly to the fish. Do you want the leader to land straight or do you want some slack to help with drag free drift? Long tippets may not straighten because there is no energy left to transfer and it collapses in a heap. Average length tippets with a long taper section above it can be easier to cast and will still land with slack if desired. There is a balance to be struck.
Configuration of the leader refers to the taper profile (how much is thicker butt section v. taper v. tippet). A leader with a butt section that is 50-60% of the leader length is easier to cast. Leaders with the traditional 50-60% butt, 20-30% taper, 20% tippet generally land straight with a well-formed cast. If you take a 7.5 ft. leader and try to make it a 12 ft. leader by adding tippet, you will struggle with getting the 4.5 ft. tippet to straighten and not tangle. A 12 ft. manufactured tapered leader has the appropriate length butt section built in.
Increasing tippet length is a common way to lengthen leaders, but it only works to a point. I find tippets longer than 3.5-4 feet often fall in a “spaghetti pile” and often tangle. The fly is trapped like a lonely meatball in the pile and does not present naturally. This is not useful slack. Average length tippets with a long taper section above it can be easier to cast and will still land with slack if desired.
The type of fly primarily has to do with mass and air resistance. A weighted fly on the end of a long leader may be easier to cast because of the mass, assuming appropriate tippet size. Air resistance increases with bushy dry flies. Energy is dissipated faster and the leader may not straighten.
Casting skill is the most important thing an angler can develop. Casting a long leader requires a long smooth stroke that pulls everything straight. The rod tip should travel in a straight path during the casting stroke and come to an abrupt stop to release the energy of the bent rod at once. The top leg of the loop should appear relatively straight. Just using more force or a wider casting arc (angle change) is not the answer.