Knife making with Adam Parker

One freezing cold Saturday morning a few weeks back found me hammering at a glowing piece of steel on a large old anvil in a shed on a sheep farm near Ballarat.  It was the first day of a knife making course with Australian knife-maker Adam Parker, who has been making knives for over 29 years.

One freezing cold Saturday morning a few weeks back found me hammering at a glowing piece of steel on a large old anvil in a shed on a sheep farm near Ballarat.  It was the first day of a knife making course with Australian knifemaker Adam Parker, who has been making knives for over 29 years.

My brother and I had chosen the 3 day course making “modern damascus” steel kitchen knives, this is a method of pattern welding that gives a similar patterned steel to the original Damascus steel.  Steel smiths in the Persian city of Damascus made their famed blades from the 3rd until the 17th century. They sourced their steel “wootz” from somewhere in Pakistan, brought to Damascus along the old trade routes. Recent German analysis of old damascus steel shows it contains nanowires and carbon nano tubes and micro alloying elements.  Some claim to have come close to making a matching steel but sadly the method of manufacture is lost in the mists of time.

Fortunately, Adam explains, we have plenty of great modern steels we can use, and he has chosen a mix of two, which when welded and forged would give us a very strong patterned blade.

Day 1. Steel Making

Before our arrival he had prepared some billets of steel, by alternating the two layers of chosen steel, spot welded on the edge to keep them together.  Both types of steel contain sufficient carbon (as well as traces of other metals) to make them suitable for blades.  The two types of steel will provide the contrasting colours in the final patterned blade. 

The billets are heated up in Adam’s home made gas forge until glowing, these are welded together using a hydraulic press.  Adam controls the hydraulic press carefully to squeeze the metal together, and then returns it to the forge.  He repeats the process, squeezing and lengthening the billet.  Once it has reached the right size, Adam grinds all the scale off one side to reveal shiny steel.  The bar is cut into two equal lengths and one is laid on-top of the other, newly ground faces together. A quick spot weld to ensure they don’t come apart.  He heats it a little in the forge, and we sprinkle borax in the crack, then back in forge.  The Borax melts and acts as flux filling the gaps and excluding air to ensure the next weld goes well.

Doubling up the bar, doubles the layers of the steel and we spend the rest of the morning heating, welding , shaping and cutting and doubling the steel three more times. By then there are over 100 layers of steel. Adam lets us help, but ensures that their are no cracks, and the layers are welding together. By lunch time we have two grey lumps of steel.

After lunch we heat the billets and begin to forge them roughly into shape.  Adam lets us try for ourselves, explaining how to shape the tang, and then make a point.  Hammering this steel into a knife shape is harder than it looks, and Adam quickly fixes all our mistakes with a few practiced blows of the hammer. Once the blades are roughly shaped Adam shows us how to make the patterns on the blades. He does this by drilling some shallow holes or cutting some shallow grooves on both sides of the steel. The steel is returned to the forge and heated, he then hammers the blades, flattening them, reducing the depth of the holes as the steel reforms.

The final step of the day is a three step heating process to change the steel’s inner structure so it  will be softer for the following days work.  The first step is very hot, the blades glowing orange almost yellow, and removed from the forge to cool. Once Cool Adam evenly heats them to a cherry red before letting them cool. The final step is a dull rose colour.

Day 2 – Shaping , Grinding,  Hardening

In the work shop. Adam uses the grinder to shape our blades, cutting off the rough edges  giving them the final knife shape: removing excess from the back of the knife, cutting  and curving the edge and squaring up the tang.  We use the file to tidy up around the edges.  Adam then ensures the blades are straight, ready for the next step. He uses some die on blade edge, and then scratches a mark in the middle, showing where the edge will be.

Adam sets up my blade on his jig and shows me how to bevel the blade. I need to remove some meat from the knife so it tapers from 3m thick at the back down to about 1 mm at the edge. This  where  Adam’s 29 years of experience and the jigs he has developed, makes this a a little easier for us.  All we need is a steady smooth hand to pass it back and forward on the grinder. Adam regularly adjusts the tilt of the jig, and we progressively bevel the blade.  To make sure we don’t mess it up, Adam completes the delicate process. Next is hardening the blade.

Heating them to an exact temperature and quenching in oil evenly is a practiced skill so Adam does this carefully, making sure not to drop the blades. This makes the knifes very hard (too hard) so Adam tempers them for a few hours in the oven to soften them off a couple of Rockwell points.

While this happening we select the wood for our handles. Adam marks them up and then cuts them roughly to shape on the band saw.

Day 3 – Polishing, handles and sharpening

In the morning our fist job is to remove all the scratches left by the grinder, polishing up the blade. Once polished it is into the acid for an etch to bring out the patterns.

While that is happening, Adam prepares the metal guards, routing a slot for the tang. I chose stainless to match blade, my brother chose brass for his. Out of the acid and the blades look good, they get a final treatment in Adams secret ingredient (instant coffee) which helps set the black colours.

IMG_3520

We mount the blades into their rough handles, gluing them with epoxy. Letting it dry over lunch. Adam drills the handles and knocks in a small pin. After shaping the handles on the grinder, a final polish with sandpaper, and some oil and a buff. Knives are sharpened till they can slice tissue paper.

The knives are looking great at the end, which is all down to Adam, and his skills, but at least we helped a bit like good apprentices. We had a heap of fun and would like to try again, next time I reckon I’d like to try making a fishing knife!

Adam runs 1, 2 and 3 day courses.  Students participate in the knife making as much as they desire and their skills allow. You can find Adam Parker on Instagram @AdamParkerKnives and Facebook.

 

Advertisements

My Hat

A short piece dedicated to my father, Brian, who we recently laid to rest.

My Hat

“I want to buy you a hat”, he said one day.

“I bought your brother one;

I want to buy you one.” 

“Who needs a hat these days?” I wondered.

 

“There is hat shop near the station, downstairs,” he said.

“Choose any hat you want,

Then I’ll buy it for you.” 

“Who needs a hat these days?” I wondered.

 

Last November, at lunch, again he insisted,

“I bought your brother one,

 “I want to buy your hat.”

“Who needs a hat these days?” I wondered.

 

 In the shop, down the stairs at the station;

Pork pie, trilby’s, city hats,

Too many hats to choose.

“Who needs a hat these days?” I wondered.

 

“Something to protect me from the sun,” I  said,

“Rain, all the elements.

One of those farmer’s hats.”

“Who needs a hat these days?” I wondered.

 

It fitted well on my head, the farmers hat,

But at home I felt a fool,

a fraud,  a city slicker.

“Who needs a hat these days?” I wondered.

 

Since that day it has hung at home on its peg,

Each time I went fishing,

Never worn, clean and fresh.

“Who needs a hat these days?” I wondered.

 

The other day, I took the hat to the bush,

Chasing trout, in alpine streams.

It felt right, the farmers hat.

“Who needs a hat these days?” I wondered.

 

I do Dad. I need a hat to keep me safe,

to protect me from sun,

rain, all the elements.

 I need a hat these days Dad, I do.

 

 

 

(C)opyright  2019

Fly fishing in Australia: How dangerous are snakes?

How dangerous are snakes?: This is a question I am often asked, along with “Do you ever see snakes?”, “Aren’t you worried about being bitten?” and “Have you ever been bitten?” – (Yes, Yes and No in case you were wondering ).

I guess most people want to know What are the risks and what can we do about them?  Apart from staying at home and not going fishing that is.  Since just my personal experience was sufficient to answer this, I undertook some research, and ran a short survey (100 anglers)  and I have based this short blog on the results of both.

The Research

How venomous are Australian snakes?

Australia’s snakes are very venomous: Australia has the eleven most venomous snakes in the world. [ref. 1]  Of these the ones that may live near our trout streams (TAS, VIC, NSW)  are:  Eastern Brown Snake (2), Tiger Snake(4), Black Tiger Snake (5), Gwardar or Western Brown Snake (9), Copper Head(11) and Mulga or King Brown(20), Red Bellied Black Snake(21).  Note the figure in bracket is how they rank in venom toxicity.

Prior to the development of anti-venom therapy less than 10% of brown snake bites were fatal but nearly 50% of all tiger snake bites were fatal.  [ref 2.] Brown snake venom is very toxic and fast acting, so it would seem other factors preventing envenomation may have contributed to the lower death rate.  For envenomation to occur, the fangs must penetrate skin, and the snake inject/exude venom. Tiger snake fangs can be up to 3.5mm ( between 1/8 and 9/64 of an inch) and Eastern Brown snakes have fangs up to 2.8mm ( about 7/64 of an inch). [ref. 2].

The good news is that since the development of anti-venom, there have been very few deaths in Australia (4-6) per year. [ref. 3] . However it is important to know how to treat a bite, and to get medical assistance as soon as possible.

How likely are they to bite us ?

The Eastern Brown Snake is fast moving, and often aggressive, and is responsible for the majority of snake bites in Australia. Mainland tiger snakes are responsible for the second-highest number of bites in Australia, while the Red Bellied Black Snake, and Copper Head Snakes are usually less aggressive, and normally escape from human’s if possible.  The King Brown Snake is not found in Tasmania or Victoria, and whilst reputably less aggressive and venomous than Brown and Tiger snakes, they can inject a large amount of venom in a single bite.

However, in Australia, according to Bryan Fry, an Associate Professor, herpetologist and venom expert at the University of Queensland: “Snake bites are very, very rare and often the fault of the person being bitten. Most bites occur when people are trying to kill a snake or show off.” [ref. 4]

 

The Survey (100 Anglers)

How likely are we to encounter a snake ?

snakesightings

99 out of 100  respondents have seen snakes while fishing. The frequency of snakes varies by location but a third of respondents, see snakes more than half the times they go fishing.  So un surprisingly, you are almost guaranteed to see a snake if you regularly fish for trout.

 

What type of snakes do you encounter?

typesofsnakes

87% of respondents have seen tiger snakes, 50% have seen copper heads, 40% have seen red belly black snakes and brown snakes.  Interestingly (white lip/whip snakes are regularly seen in Tasmania).

 

How likely are they to bite us ?

where struck

Seventeen of the one hundred anglers surveyed have had a snake strike them (fourteen on the lower leg, one on the upper leg and two on the hand or forearm). Of these seventeen, three were struck on bare skin.  Those struck on the leg all reported to having stepped on or near the snake without seeing it initially, and all except one were wearing some protection on their legs.

typesofsnakesthastruck

Based on the survey the snake strikes were mostly from Tiger Snakes (65% of strikes), followed by  Brown Snakes (12%), Red Belly Black Snakes (12%) and then Copperheads(6%).

 

What protection do waders/gaiters/boots give ?

Six people reported being struck while wearing rubber/plastic waders, but none were  envenomed, two of these also wore gaiters. Four people reported being struck while wearing breathable waders, three were never envenomed (two of whom were struck on the boot), and one had a possible partial envenomation but did not require treatment. (This person reported having a headache the next day, finding venom on their waders, and a scratch on the leg). One person was wearing gaiters when struck, they reported feeling ill the next day. None of the respondents had to have anti-venom. Only one went to hospital.

Based on this survey it would seem: rubber/plastic waders give the best protection.  By themselves breathable waders may provide some protection, but it is possible that a snake bite, and venom may penetrate.  Similarly gaiters themselves may not fully protect from snake envenomation. Waders plus gaiters seems to provide better protection.

Conclusion:

If you go fly fishing in Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales it is almost certain you will see one of our venomous snakes.   If you do see a snake, leave it be and give it a wide berth to minimise your risk of being bitten.  No matter how vigilant you are, there is still a reasonable chance, sooner or later , that a snake will strike at you, and it will probably be the one you did not see.

Based on the results of the survey, it seems that wearing waders and or gaiters provide some protection, but will not guarantee 100% protection from envenomation from snake bites. To prevent envenomation, protection is needed: Either a material tough enough or thick enough to prevent the needle sharp snake fangs penetrating the skin is required. Based on the length of fangs (3.5mm for a Tiger Snake), protection that is 4 mm or thicker when compressed should reduce the risk significantly.

So be vigilant, keep at least one eye on the bank (while you have the other on the river)   and if you see a snake, leave it alone, and it will most likely leave you alone.  But still be prepared.  Learn what to do and how to treat a snake bite should it happen to you or someone you fish with. St Johns Ambulance offers the following advice for treatment of snake bites: St Johns Ambulance snake bite treatment fact sheet.

Now enjoy your fishing, or try to!

 

Survey Notes:

I kept the survey short (9 questions), and posted it to a few Facebook fishing groups.  I asked a number of questions in relation to frequency and types of snakes, and whether people had been struck by a snake, and whether envenomed. In retrospect, I should have added a question about the respondents location.  The results are based only on 100 respondents, and these may be weighted/skewed  more heavily towards those who encounter snakes more often (i.e. those who have encountered snakes may have been more likely to respond).

Acknowledgments and thanks:

Many thanks to all who responded to the survey and agreed to let me use their photos. In particular thanks to Brett Chatwin, Brendan Turiff , Peter Watson and Damo Blackwell.

References:

[ref. 1] The Australian venom research unit (January 11, 2014). Facts and Figures: World’s Most Venomous Snakes (archived). University of Melbourne.

[ref. 2] . “CSL Antivenom Handbook”Tiger Snake , Brown Snake.

[ref. 3] List of fatal snake bites (Wikipedia).

[ref. 4]  “Australia’s 10 most dangerous snakes”. Australian Geographic. Australian Geographic.

Late Season North Island Fishing

When a fly fisher hears the word Tongariro, they think of the river made world famous by Zane Grey in his book Angler’s Eldorado, and the wonderful winter spawning runs of large rainbow trout. In June, July and August every year, when the cold heavy rain falls, it swells the tiny tributaries, that flow into the main river down to the river mouth, where the chrome bodied torpedos, ripe with milt and eggs await arrival of water that carries the irresistible scent each trout’s birthplace. With each wave of rain, pods of these magnificent sort fish head to their home tributary to spawn the next generation.

However, the spawning runs are not contained just to the winter months, but continue into Spring, with a constant trickle of late runner right up to late October.  With early spring, the nymphs are starting to move, bringing mayfly hatches of an evening.  This makes for more varied and interesting fishing than just upstream nymphing with glo-bugs and heavy nymphs.  So when my kiwi mate Perry, suggested I come over in late September, I jumped at the chance.

A few days later he picked me up from Rotorua airport and after easy drive , we arrived late morning at to Turangi, on the shores of Lake Taupo.  Crossing the highway bridge, I glanced downstream, and as always there was a picket fence of anglers trying their luck.  Since there had been no rain for at least a week, and with none on the horizon, the river was low and clear.   I glanced above the bridge, and an angler was hooked up to a leaping silver fish.

Wanting to avoid the crowds, we headed up river to check out some of the pools at the top end of the relatively short stretch of the Tongariro that is open to winter fishing.  Every few hundred metres, we passed yellow signs pointing to the river, each bearing the name of the famous pools on this iconic river:  Birches, Hatchery, Major Jones, Stag and Blue.   We had decided to explore and fish a variety of pools to see if we could locate a trout or two.

Typically, without rain, the Tongariro can be a hard mistress.  It is not uncommon to be faced with a blank session or two.  We came away fishless from our first foray so we headed back down stream.   When we crossed the bridge, there were no anglers on the true right bank so we decided to try our luck.  Perry was into his first fish before long, landing a 1.5kg rainbow, I missed a chance before hooking a decent fish briefly; the hook pulling after some angry head shakes.  An hour or so later with no further action we moved upstream to rest the pool. Perry hooked his second rainbow on the tail end of his first drift, but I was still fishless.  After a further hour or so, we decided to drop back down below the bridge, where I finally opened my account.

By this time, the light was starting to dim , and we were treated to a brief hatch.  The trout appeared to be taking something on and in the surface, but we could not tell what. They were moving around a lot,  but with only one dry fly between us, an ugly looking Caddis emerger, we were only able to get one missed take on the swing.

Up early the next morning we decided to head to the middle reaches to try to pick up a fish or two at first light.  This time I was first up and managed my first within a few casts.  We worked the pool for an hour or so to no avail, so headed further downstream.  A good decision as we both hooked some good fish in this pool.  After a quiet spell, the passing of some white water rafters seemed to stir the fish up, and we had a short spell where we caught a few more.

Heading back to town we grabbed some lunch and then headed to the lower reaches.  By this time it was Friday afternoon and the weekend anglers were arriving, so it was now difficult to find vacant water let alone unfished water.  Unsurprisingly we weren’t successful and headed back to the Bridge pool for the last few hours of fishing. The Bridge pool was crowded, yet the odd angler had success, and before the light started to fade numbers thinned out.  Armed with some dry flies, I hoped to catch one or two , if we were lucky enough to get a hatch. Finally I saw a couple of large Mayflies come off the water.  I persisted with a small Adams emerger, and a small nymph, but could not raise any interest.  I finally changed to a large Royal Wulff , which was good enough to fool a fesity fish of about 1.5kg before the hatch died.

The next morning we were up early again and headed to the middle reaches for some peaceful fishing, and we managed to land half a dozen fish between us.  Before we left for an early lunch, we were rewarded with a rare treat. A pair of blue ducks , normally shy creatures that avoid humans, were so engrossed in chasing of an over amorous male, they circled us a number of times, coming closer than a rod length, and even flying under the arch of my bent rod, whilst I was trying to play a fish.

In the afternoon we shifted to a broad expanse of river, and had glorious fishing in the early spring sunshine.

We lost count of the number of prime conditioned rainbows we caught between us, most in the 1.5 to 2 Kg range, all caught on natural nymphs.  It was a great finish to a short but superb adventure.  I am pretty sure come next spring I’ll be heading across the ditch again.

Sage Dart Fly Rod Review

“The DART is the perfect tool for making precise presentations in small streams,” said Peter Knox, Sage R&D design engineer. “Whether your game is shooting tight loops under overhanging trees or dropping a size 18 in front of a spring creek bow, the DART is a creek fisherman’s dream rod.”. As soon as I saw this press release from Sage, I knew they would be right up my alley.

In August 2018 , Russ from The Fly Fisher  kindly accompanied me to a nearby laneway Melbourne for a test cast of the 3 and 4 weight Dart.

alley

It might seem an odd place for it, but since opening of the trout season was still a couple of weeks away, I couldn’t think of a better place to road test a small stream rod. Apart from there being no water and no trout, it is just right for testing this little gem: tight and narrow like my favourite streams albeit with some unusual hazards: rubbish bins or the odd car.

General Impressions

The dart has a stealthy Sapling Green blank, perfect for blending in to the natural small stream environment.  Sage describes the Darts as fast rods, and I like fast rods for fast tight accurate loops, but sometimes they can feel a bit stiff and lifeless.   Somehow the designers at Sage have managed to make the Dart’s action fast enough to deliver smooth tight loops, but still feel lively and responsive over a range of distances.

Darts

The Details

I put the rods to the test through a range of casts. Starting with short little casts with less than a rod length of line, all the way out to a 75 foot double haul.

In close (no more than a rod length of line) the 3 and 4 weights both have a smooth crisp recovery that delivers the fly predictably and reliably. Yet the tip is responsive and will allow the caster plenty of control. It feels alive. As you increase the line length they both load progressively and evenly.  At around 30 ft. , the 3wt starts to behave more like a mid action rod, and that will please those that prefer a softer dry fly presentation. The  taper on the 4wt provides a slicker action than the 3wt, yet the tip of the rod is still very responsive and gives great feel and accuracy in close.  It has the power to hold up 40 – 50 ft. of DT line without losing its crispness, which is more than enough for most small stream fishing.  I would advise against up-lining these rods as I believe it would dull the action down too much.

Next, I pushed the rods around to see if they were well behaved when delivering some specialty casts; slack lines, curves, over and under powered at various ranges.  For fast tight loops the top third of the rod delivers them with speed and feel. It is easy to use just the tip if you wish, yet the butt is supple and powerful enough to be used when desired. For throwing controlled curve casts the tip recovers quickly and even at long range.

On the Water (Jan 2019):

I needed to replace my favourite small stream rod (a 3 piece that is now a 4 piece), so it was an easy choice: the 7’6 4wt.  With Hopper season upon us I had the chance to put this to the test. The water is low, the trout hungry but very spooky, long leaders and big flies.  Better fish could be had with long accurate casts in and around structure.  The Dart excelled, with great accuracy and control.  Any such cast was rewarded with a splashy take and a satisfying bend in the Dart.

 

Summary:

The folks at Sage have outdone themselves in producing these Twigs.  They are sweet fishing rods that balance speed and precision with the feel essential for fishing enjoyment.

They are destined to become a classic for  small stream specialists, who I doubt will ever give them up . Mine you would have to prise one from my cold dead hands I fear.

PS: Those familiar with the Italian Style of Dry fly fishing will go crazy for the 7’6″ 4wt, it is the first commercial rod for ages that seems designed for this style.

4764Dart

Models tested: the 7’6″ 3 weight and the 7’6″ 4 weight.

Line used: a true to weight DT floating line with a 9 foot simple front taper.#

Leader/Fly : Long 15 foot Tapered leader/glow bug yarn the size of a #10 Royal Wulff*, on the water I used a #10 Foam Hopper

 

# I prefer to use a true to weight double taper line with a simple fairly standard front taper for my rod tests.  Using a true to weight line with a simple front taper, ensures that the way the rod load is experienced is not affected by a specialty taper.  The line has a consistent weight distribution through the belly, and  being a double tapered line the belly is 80ft long. Which means each additional foot of line in the loop beyond the front taper adds the same incremental amount of weight to the load.  This is the fairest way to see how a rod loads over different distances.  Any flat or dead spots in the rod become quickly apparent.
* When I am fishing a dry fly on smallish streams I use a leader between 10 and 15 feet, and dry flies up to the size of a #10 Terrestrial.  So I like to test rods with a long leader and suitable fly size as cast this leader/fly combination a 3 to 4 wt  rod needs a tip that can generate a good tight loop.

Five ways to hold a fly rod.

There are a lot of different ways to hold a fly rod, and it really doesn’t matter which one you adopt, as long as it is the right one for you. Most have pros and cons, but your grip should be relaxed and soft, and allow you to feel and control the rod. Here are five common grips to try out.

Thumb on Top – basic

IMG_2721

The simple grip is how you might hold a golf club or a cricket bat with ypur strong hand. Hold the cork with the palm to the side of the grip and the thumb on top. When casting the thumb stays on top and points in the direction of the cast.

Pros: This grip is simple and it makes it harder to over flex the wrist in the direction of the cast.

Cons: If the wrist is allowed to flex sideways, it can cause the back cast to be hooked behind the angler (poor tracking). This grip has less feel than the Thumb on Top index finger variation, especially on the back cast, and can sometimes lead to an overly tight grip.

Thumb on Top – Index finger variation.

IMG_2723

This is my personal preference, it is a variation of the Thumb-on-top grip, with the index finger crooked and extended further up the grip.  It is on the opposite side of the grip as the thumb and level or with it, or slightly higher up higher the grip. The rod should be held and controlled with the thumb and forefinger. The thumb should feel the pressure of the forward cast, and the index finger the pressure of the back cast. The remaining fingers should be loosely and passively curled around the grip.

Pros: This makes it harder to over flex the wrist, with the benefit of giving more feel, and lends itself to a softer grip.

Cons: If the wrist is allowed to flex sideways, it can cause the back cast to be hooked behind the angler (poor tracking).

Finger on Top

top

This grip is made with the palm and index finger top of the grip, with index finger extended in the direction of the rod tip. This grip is more often used by small stream and light rod enthusiasts.

Pros: it can aid accuracy, in that the finger can be pointed at the target on the presentation cast.

Cons: A downside of this grip is that it is very easy to over flex the wrist on the forward cast, and introduces too much or badly timed rotation. It also can put a lot of pressure on the index finger tendon, especially with heavier rods.

V-Grip

IMG_2727

This grip is made with the palm almost on top of the rod, but slightly rotated towards the side, with the index finger crooked underneath the rod.

Pros: This grip also provides good feel between the index finger and the thumb. It also helps with a crisper rotation at the end of the forward and back cast as it is more natural to snap the wrist this way.

Cons: However it can be a problem for those who want to over use the wrist( over rotation) or use it at the wrong time (loss of tension mid cast).

3 Point grip

IMG_2724

Attributed to Jason Borger, this is a variation of the V-grip. In this variation the Index finger is extended along the side of the grip, and the rod is held between thumb and middle finger. The remaining two fingers are curled lightly around the grip. This grip can feel strange to start, but advocates will tell you this soon passes.

Pros: This grip offers similar benefits to the V-grip, with the index finger providing stabilization, preventing unwanted sideways wrist flexion. It also provides good feel between the second finger and the thumb. It also helps with a crisper rotation at the end of the forward and back cast as it is more natural to snap the wrist this way.

Cons: This grip can be a problem for those who want to over use the wrist (over rotation) or use the wrist at the wrong time (loss of tension mid cast).

Summing up:

Some grips will have benefits over others, but the most important grip is one that is comfortable, relaxed and soft. A white knuckled tight grip will hinder your movement and line control, as well as being very tiring. Soft relaxed hands will help you feel the rod and thus control the loop’s form and shape. You only need to hold the rod with just enough force so that it does not slip from your hands. Try them out, you might find a new grip you prefer.

How to Cast in Fly Fishing

Fishing flies generally don’t weigh much, usually they aren’t much more than a piece of fluff, so how can we cast this far enough and accurately enough to catch a fish ? Casting in fly fishing can seem a lot harder than it looks. But if you can understand the basic dynamics of what makes a good cast and how to spot a bad one, you are well on your way to learning this art.

Fly Casting

The aim of fly-casting is to cast a very light weight fly far enough and accurately enough to catch a fish. If you would like to learn about this fine art, read on and then why not book a lesson or two, or join us on one of introductory courses.

How does it work?

In regular fishing, you rely on the lure or sinker having some weight to enable you to cast far enough, and the more weight there is the further you can cast. In fly-casting, however, we have a virtually weightless fly and no sinker to cast with. So how do fly fishers cast so far?

Casting is achieved because of the special Fly Line that is used. In fly fishing we tie the fly to some thin nylon (leader), which in turn is tied to a special thick fly fishing line (Fly Line). The Fly Line actually has enough weight of its own to help us cast. The weight of the fly line is distributed along its length, and the more fly line we have out the more weight we have to work with, however there is some skill and timing required to cast it successfully. If the line is stretched in a straight line, it is easy to cast, but if the line is not fully straight, it is very difficult. More on this important topic later.

How far do you need to cast?

Current world record for fly-casting your typical stream rod is now around 40m (130ft) or more. Most anglers cannot consistently cast further than about 20m, yet they have no trouble catching fish. More than 95% of trout are caught within 10m, and in small streams even closer. So all this should be good news to the new fly angler; an accurate cast within 5 metres is all that is required on a stream, and on a lake 10 -15m is more than enough.

Getting started

We start with the line laid out in front of us in a nice straight line, holding the line in our other hand, or trapping it against the rod with our finger. We use the rod to pull the line and speed it up, and then when we have the line moving at maximum speed, we need to stop the rod in a short space.  When the rod slows and stops, the line keeps going, passes the rod tip, and forms a loop. This loop keeps travelling and straightens out behind us. When the line has straightened out (and before it falls to the ground), we reverse the process and pull the line in the other direction, speeding it up, then stop the rod to make the line go forward.

The loop is the shape the line makes as it moves through the air. As the curved front of the loop moves through the air, it leaves behind line attached to the rod (rod leg) and pulls the line attached to the fly (fly leg) through the air. As the loop unrolls, the rod leg gets longer and fly leg gets shorter, until the line straightens out completely. This is when we need to cast the line in the opposite direction. We can make many different shaped loops, however some loops are more effective than others are.

This casting forwards and backwards in the air is called false casting. False casting is used to lengthen how much line we have in the air, in preparation for the presentation cast. To false cast, we must have enough speed in the loop, so that we can let some loose line slip through our fingers and shoot out as the loop is travelling away from us.

The presentation cast is the final cast where we place the fly on the water. For the basic presentation cast we let the line straighten out above the water, and then land gently. This means that we do not disturb the water too much or scare the fish.

Basic casting Dynamics.

We use the rod to move the line, and we need to get it moving fast enough so it will carry the fly to our target. There are two main ways we can use the rod to move the line: like a giant lever (rotation) using our wrist or elbow, or moving it back and forth without rotation(translation).

Rotation: This is the natural way most people start to cast by using the wrist or elbow.  In doing so the rod rotates through an angle and the length of the rod multiples the movement of our hand. So much so that the rod tip (and hence the line) can be moved ten times faster than by our hand alone. This is the easiest way to speed up the line, except the rod tip will follow a convex curve (see diagram), which in turn creates wide-open inefficient loops, sometimes they are so wide that they are not really loops.

Bigloop

Translation: If we cast by moving our hand back and forth in a straight line, without flexing our wrist or elbow and rotating the rod (this is quite an unnatural movement), we can move the line only as fast as we can move our hands. This moves the rod tip in a straight line, and helps create narrower loops; however, it is requires a lot of effort to obtain enough speed for any respectable distance.

To make a great cast, you need to combine both movements.  If you look at videos (try YouTube) of great casters, you will see they use both rotation and translation in their casting stroke.  However, the amount and timing of each may vary between casters according to their unique style. You will also see that the wrist flex is generally kept to a minimum and the rotation occurs late in the stroke. If you watch in slow motion, you will see that their hands generally move in a straight line and manage to keep the rod tip moving in a straight line. This is helped in part by the fact a rod bends as force is applied to it, and unbends at the end of the rotation near the end of the stroke.

Loop shapes and casting efficiency

Our aim is to make smooth efficient loops that do not tangle. A good loop has smooth straight rod and fly legs parallel to each other. By keeping the legs of the loop parallel, we prevent tangles and knots forming in the leader. Knots (wind knots) in the leader are not caused by wind, but are caused by tailing loops. A tailing loop occurs when the loop legs cross over, which usually creates a knot in the leader.

tailingloop

We refer to the distance between the fly legs as the width of the loop. If the rod legs are close together, we call this a narrow loop and far apart, we call it a wide loop.

An efficient loop will be relatively narrow, with both the rod and fly legs smooth, straight and parallel to each other.

Narrowloop

Why is a narrow loop more efficient? Imagine you have a ping-pong ball and a small stone that weigh exactly the same. Which one can you throw further? The stone of course, but why?.

Air resistance: the stone will go further because it has much less air resistance than a ping pong ball. The air resistance will slow the ping-pong ball more than the stone; as the ping-pong ball moves forward it needs to push more air out of the way than the stone, so slows down much more quickly. It is the same with loops. A narrow loop has to push less air out of the way than a wide loop, so is more efficient.

How to cast efficient loops?

Some simple principles govern casting and making smooth straight narrow loops.
1. Smooth acceleration of the rod tip will keep the loops smooth.
2. For straight loops, we need to accelerate the line in a straight line. The rod tip pulls the line to speed it up, and the line will follow in the direction that the rod tip pulls. If the rod tip travels in a straight line, the line will travel in a straight line.
3. To form the loop, there needs to be a defined deceleration, a defined stop of the rod at the end of each stroke will achieve this.
4. Keep the line under tension and wait until the line is straight. The line needs to be straight and tight before a cast in the other direction is made. This means waiting for the loop to unroll and straighten between each false cast. The longer the line you are casting, the longer you must wait.

Common mistakes to avoid:

1. Too much rotation at wrist or elbow: leading to big wide loops and non-loops. Catching the ground behind or in front. (Rod tip following a concave curve)
2. Waving the rod. No acceleration or deceleration, just moving the rod at the same speed. Leads to lack of distance and open loops.
3. Too much force for a short stroke. If you try to use too much force, or hurry up a rod over a too-short stroke, the rod will bend too much and the rod tip will dip too much in the middle of the stroke leading to a concave rod tip path (see tailing loop diagram above). This always results in a tailing loop and knots in the leader.  This usually happens when we try to go for a bit more distance, especially on the presentation cast,
4. Weak back cast. If the back cast is weak, the line will not straighten out behind, leading to a loss of tension, and an ineffective forward cast.  This is because a lot of the forward cast is used to straighten out the line behind, and there is no weight to pull on.

If you would like to learn this fine art, why not book a lesson or two, or join us on one of Introductory Courses.