Hello and Happy New Year to all! I had a busy 2019 as an instructor and offer many thanks to all my clients, new and returning. Unlike some businesses, my rates will not increase this year. Besides private instruction, I continue to work with Project Healing Waters and High Plains Drifters (local FFI club), offer clinics through the Colorado Mountain Club and Anglers All Fly Shop, and work with those who aspire to become FFI Certified Instructors. New this year will be clinics offered to Colorado Women Fly Fishers. Does your group want a class? Contact me to discuss this. Also, my on line booking and payment application has been well received and proved a benefit to me for keeping track. One goal for this year is to improve advertising outside of recipients to this newsletter. Be sure to read about the FFI Fly Casting Skills Challenge described below. It’s a great and fun way to learn new casting skills and improve overall!
A new section of this newsletter is “Teaching Pearl.” These are tips I will share with those interested in instructing, whether or not you are certified or wish to become certified. One of my 3 goals as a Master Casting Instructor is to help all casting instructors improve regardless of certification. This section reflects that. If you have questions or wish to present teaching scenarios for this section, just contact me for more details about any of these at
FFI Certified Master Casting Instructor
UPCOMING EVENTS AND INFORMATION
Contact me for more details about any of these at firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to be a better fly caster!? Contact me, either as a group or individual, about trying out the FFI Fly Casting Skills Challenge at the Bronze, Silver and Gold levels. This is a great way to assess and improve your skills. All of the challenges are fishing casts that you will use frequently in various situations. This is not the instructor certification program; those interested in becoming better casters, but not in teaching, are encouraged to take up these challenges! You will start with pick up and lay down cast, roll cast, basic accuracy and casting to 50 ft. and work your way up from there.
You can see the Fly Casting Skills Challenge at www.flyfishersinternational.org >Education > Learning Center > Casting > Fly Casting Skills Challenge.
Improving your fly casting with the FFI Fly Casting Skills Challenge
I am a firm believer that fly casting skill should translate into better catching and all round fishing experience. Those that love casting for casting’s sake are welcome, but the majority of my students want to catch more fish, do better, with distance, in the wind and have fewer tangles.
The Fly Casting Skills Challenge was created by 4 Master Certified Instructors about 3 years ago. It was an honor for me to be included in the working group of 4! We tasked ourselves with creating a fun, self-paced progressive way to improve casting for fly fishing. Casting skills applicable to fishing situations of increasing difficulty are rated Bronze, Silver and Gold. Casters that achieve each level have the option of obtaining an award document and pin indicating their achievement for a nominal fee. The Fly Casting Skills Challenge can be found at www.flyfishersinternational.org under Education > Learning Center > Casting > Casting Skills Challenge. This is not the instructor certification program for which the FFI is known. There is no instruction or in depth understanding of casting mechanics requirement for participants. At Bronze and Silver levels, there is no loop shape or size requirement.
Since then, I’ve started incorporating the Skills Challenge into my lesson plans. I try to get many students through Bronze level in 3-6 lessons. There are some casters that can achieve Bronze quicker, but that’s not my typical student. Bronze is not beginner level. It starts with a 40 ft. pick up and lay down cast in a near vertical plane. This is the foundation of all casting and is the most efficient way to get the fly out of the water and back again. Limit false casting--it spooks fish and wears you out! This is followed by a cast where the delivery is sidearm or horizontal, as if one is casting under overhanging brush. This is followed by 35 ft. roll casts on both dominant and non-dominant shoulders. Roll cast is critical when there are obstacles behind or on either side of the caster and for multi-fly and nymph rigs, just to name 2 uses. The next one challenges the caster to pick up at 40 ft. and shoot line to at least 45 ft. with no false cast. This is done when stripping in slack or retrieving a streamer, and casting back out with no false cast is most efficient. You must develop a good back cast to succeed. Accuracy comes next at 20, 30, and 40 ft. Learning how to aim your loop at the target and estimate distance are fundamental skills when you’re trying to hit that small pocket where you think the fish is. Finally, the participant must make a 50 ft. distance cast. Sometimes there is a fish rising out there and you’ve got to get to it—with confidence. Also, the long game helps your short game in fly casting: casting at distance requires improved technique which translates to shorter casts.
Silver level hikes the challenges up a notch, as it should. One starts with vertical to horizontal casts ending with a cast that would deliver the fly under an obstacle. However, it is done on the non-dominant side (rod tip and line on left side for a right handed caster). This is followed by reach mends to the right and left. The reach mend is at once the most useful and easiest of the aerial mends. Most often it is used to obtain a better drift of the fly. Slack line presentations are important, and this is the next Silver challenge. If uncontrolled slack is your enemy, controlled slack is your friend as it allows better drag free drifts and time for sinking flies to sink. The Belgian Cast (Oval Cast) follows. This is a casting technique often used to fish streamers and is quite helpful in windy situations. Silver level accuracy is at 20, 30, and 40 ft. also, but the caster does this off the non-dominant shoulder! Imagine casting a dry fly to a target upstream with a tree obstructing your dominant side casting stroke. It’s also helpful for wind blowing into the casting arm. Finally, we’re back to distance, which is 60 ft. at Silver level. By this point some want to try double haul, but it’s not required.
Gold level requires more skill, especially in that 4 ft. loops and no or few tailing loops are required. This level of loop control makes Gold level easier. More importantly, wind and obstacles are less of an issue and more targets are available to the better caster. The first challenge assesses good loop formation and control at 45 ft. off the non-dominant shoulder. The second Gold challenge is a curve cast--that is where the line and/or leader curve around an obstacle. This can be an indispensable technique when dry fly fishing, and is occasionally used for streamers when you want the streamer to retrieve parallel to the bank. Roll cast pick up is next. This is an efficient way to get sunk lines/flies to the surface and can be a surrogate for the salt water quick cast. The fourth challenge at Gold level is changing direction. Many do this frequently, but few do it efficiently. Imagine having your fly and line washed downstream and you want to cast to a rising fish across the river. This is change of direction and the caster demonstrates 2 ways of doing this. What would Gold level be without accuracy? It’s one of our most important skills! At Gold level, targets are at 20, 30, 40 and 50 ft. Sometimes casts from drift boat, in a lake, or in salt water are this long or longer! Next, the caster must make a cast to 40 ft. while seated or kneeling. Anyone that has cast kneeling behind a bush or from a float tube knows this casting position can be a challenge. The next challenge is a cast which is very helpful in the wind or with obstructions on the casting arm side: the back cast presentation. The caster must have a good back cast in order to deliver the fly to 55 ft. Finally, the successful Gold level participant will cast to 70 ft. Four foot loops with no tailing loops make this much easier. The long game helps your short game.
I hope this description has inspired you! Don’t be intimidated. You can do this at your own pace, but most importantly, you can do this and it will help you when fishing! Seek help from a FFI Certified Casting Instructor if needed; it will speed your progress. Remember the words of Joan Wulff: "...if you don’t know where the fish lie but can cast well enough to cover all of the water with finesse, you are likely to solve the mystery and catch fish. If you know where they lie but can neither reach them nor present the fly naturally, you are not even in the game.”
Start by understanding what your student wants.
Ask about goals. If you get a response like “my casting sucks,” you haven’t learned anything. Find out why the student thinks it sucks. When you start to get answers like “my leader always piles up” or “I can’t fish when it’s windy” you’re getting somewhere. You can help the student understand what they can do to obtain real progress during the lesson and then improve with practice. Your casting instruction moves from potentially abstract concepts to results!
I GET QUESTIONS
Great question! There are some circumstances where it really helps. Over-lining (e.g., using a 6 wt. line on a 5 wt. rod) is done more often done than under-lining. This answer will address 2 common myths, influences from the caster, rod action, fishing circumstances and how some line manufacturers are responding to this issue.
First, some definitions. Every single hand line has a designated weight. The line weight is standardized by AFFMA (American Fly Fishing Manufacturers Association): the first 30 ft. of line has a given weight (in grains) for a given weight designation. The first 30 ft. of a 5 wt. line weighs 140 +/- 6 grains, for example. This matches with a 5 wt. rod in theory. However, the rod designation is part objective, part subjective. The subjectivity is due to the rod designer’s preference about a given rod’s performance and action. His or her opinion about what should balance with a 5 wt. line may not be yours. This line wt. standard is a great way to start, but then the caster, rod action and fishing situation must be considered.
Some myths must be addressed first. The first is that one will damage the rod by over-lining it. Today’s rods can easily be over-lined by 2-3 line weights without harm. Not sure you believe me? Consider casting a 5 wt. rod with 40 ft. of 5 wt. line (meaning 49 ft. past the rod tip including 9 ft. leader). It’s entirely possible that the weight in grains of the line being cast is the equivalent of a 6 or 7 wt. line. No harm will come to the rod. The second myth is over-lining the rod will spook fish because “that extra weight will land too hard.” Hogwash! The difference between a 5 and 6 wt. line is 25 grains. The standard business card weighs about 21 grains. I don’t believe that an extra business card’s worth of weight will make a difference in presentation. Presentation (how the fly, leader and line land) is the caster’s responsibility and rarely related to the weight of the line.
Now the rest of the story.
Everyone has a personal preference. I remember purchasing my first rod (6 wt.) and showing it to an experienced friend. He stated: “I think I’d like it better with a 7 wt. line.” That was confusing! He was really stating a personal preference. The rod would have “felt” better to him with a 7 wt. line. His personal preference differed from that of the rod designer. So, the rod wt. listed near the cork is really an educated suggestion, opinion and/or starting point. Another caster to consider is the beginner. As an instructor, I have over-lined student’s rods on occasion in order for them to feel the rod bend (load) better, especially when they can’t handle much line past the rod tip. It can speed learning.
Fast action rods are quite popular. (See my discussion of rod action in last quarter’s newsletter.) They are great for developing high line speeds quickly and casting longer distance. However, at shorter distances it can be hard to feel the rod load or bend with only a little line out. Therefore, some people like to add one or two line weights when casting short. Conversely, underlining a rod when casting long distance is occasionally done. Slow action rods rarely get over or underlined, it seems to me. Perhaps others have had a different experience.
There is overlap here with the above two categories, of course. Casting short with a 4 wt. rod in small streams is easier with a 5 wt. line. Sometimes over-lining a rod (more mass) will help in the wind simply because the projectile (the fly line) is heavier. Casting a slower action rod with more line past the rod tip may call for underlining the rod, although my impression is that this is rarely done.
HOW LINE MANUFACTURERS HAVE RESPONDED
It seems to me manufacturers have responded to 2 things: faster action rods and the realization that casters hardly ever have 30 ft. of line past the rod tip. How they have responded is by making lines that “fudge” the AFFMA standard. Not to pick on any manufacturer, but for example the RIO 5 wt. Gold fly line is really a 6 wt. by AFFMA standard. (It’s on the box, and they also make true to AFFMA standard lines.) If you have a faster action rod and/or rarely cast beyond 30 ft. (9 ft. rod + 9 ft. leader + 12 ft. of line) such a line may work better or you. The myth debunked above that over-lining a rod will harm it may have played into this line design strategy, but that’s my speculation. One can view the manufacturer’s response as confusing but they are just trying to make an array of products that complement the vast array of rods and rod actions with which we are blessed. It’s still up to the consumer to educate themselves. I hope this article has educated you a bit better about this topic! Do not hesitate to contact me with comments and questions at email@example.com