Lessons ? Practise ? Why bother?

“Why bother with lessons and practise? I cast well enough to catch fish nearly every time I go out ?”. This was my response some 15 years ago, when a fishing mate suggested we share a lesson.  Proud of my skills back then,  I couldn’t see the sense in standing in a park making the same cast after cast, endlessly, monotonously.  Especially when I spent most of my time fishing streams and rivers.  My older wiser self, would now side with my mate on this one, and has a few answers to that question.  However I am not sure my younger self would have listened or understood.

I have no idea what his response was, but I remember being sceptical, and it was probably only the promise to go fishing afterwards that finally convinced me to join him.  I remember it was a very windy day, the coach was an experienced angler and had me working on getting rid of the tailing loops that annoyingly and reliably appeared every time I strived for distance. I still remember his sage advice (and his Sage advice), “try not to grip and rip, try to feel the cast”.  When I asked him how , he suggested I try a rod with a more forgiving action.  I tried his Sage SLT 5 weight, I loved it.  It did help, but I still didn’t understand how to develop feel. Also, whilst I am certain this was not his intention,  I took this to mean a new rod would make me cast better. It didn’t.  (Good rod though, glad I bought it, glad I still have it !). Sadly (for me), I didn’t pursue any more lessons with him or anyone else, and forgot about it for a while, enjoying myself nonetheless.

Why I finally took lessons

Five years on, and I was living in London,  trying to learn Italian, and on advice from my language teacher, I took to reading websites in Italian, on something that interested me (fly fishing unsurprisingly).  In this way, one spring day, whilst on vacation,  I found myself fishing on one of the rivers in Umbria in central Italy with some guys from the SIM Italian fishing association.  The river was fast and clear, and I had some great success fishing weighted nymphs.  One of my hosts suggested I try casting a dry near the far bank, where he claimed there were some big ones hiding under the overhanging shrubs.  I probably put at least 50 or more casts over there, landing the dry in the current seam, only to have it whipped away by the current.  At this point I declared, that :

  1. Clearly there were no fish there, and
  2. Even if they were there it was impossible to fish the spot, the drag was horrendous.

My host, didn’t seem fazed and made a leisurely cast across the current, his fly landed, and sat… and sat…. for at least a count of 3, before a sizeable hole opened up beneath it.  A relaxed lift of the rod, and the hook was set into the biggest fish I’d seen all day.  He did it twice more to prove it wasn’t a fluke.  He presented that dry-fly with studied precision, and injected just enough slack in the leader to let it hang enticingly in the still water. I begged him to tell me how he did it. Easy , he said, come to a course, and you can learn. Here was an art, and an art worth my learning (sorry for misquoting Mr Walton). I now had an  answer to that question of a few years before. Why take some lessons: to learn some skills to catch fish, good fish, that I otherwise couldn’t !

It was through the Italian SIM association I learned there was a whole lot more to fly-casting and fly fishing than laying a line out straight and accurately. Their approach to fly-casting is all about casts that catch fish, controlling the line, leader and fly to present the fly, in and around and under obstacles, combatting swirling currents to maximise the natural drift. Over the next few years I attended 6 or so courses, improving bit by bit, discovering the joy of playing around with rod and line.  Even more so on the river, where there is a lot of satisfaction to be had making a difficult cast, even better if a fish cooperates.  Another answer to my question : Have more fun!

How to Practise

None of this came without practising between the courses.  Not just any practice either, what is needed is focused practice. For example, when I was on a golfing crusade to earn a single figure handicap. I used to hit a bucket of balls at the driving range twice a week thinking this would really help, until a conversation with my golf-pro. He asked me how I practised, “I take my driver twice a week at the range” I said. “Hmm” he replied, “you drive quite well, but what about the rest of your game? Chips, putts ? fades ? draws ? High shots low shots ? Practise the shots you use most on the course. Spend half your time on your short game, half the rest on the short irons, and then rest on long irons and woods.” Good advice , practice the skills you need!

I advocate applying this approach to fly-casting. In the off-season I practise at least once a week for an hour or two at a time.  I make a rough plan for each session , I go with the intention of working on a four or five skills in particular. I break up my practice time and spend no more than 10 – 15 minutes on each skill.

Don’t be afraid to take a few lessons.  If you are in Melbourne we have casting lessons available. Click here.

Try it for yourself: you may catch more fish and may have more fun doing so!

Practise Drills for Fly Casting:

Loops and line control:

  1. Loop control : Try making false casts with consistent smooth loops. 3 or 4 casts then rest. Try doing this at different distances.
  2. Loop size: Practice casting tight loops, medium-sized loops, wide loops.
  3. Rod plane: try casting on various rod planes. from vertical, to horizontal and angles between. Concentrate on timing and making clean smooth loops.
  4. Double hauling.

Presentation Casts:

If you have learned how to do these, practice and perfect them, if not consider hitting me up for a lesson or three:

  1. Curved casts
  2. Wiggle casts
  3. Bucket Casts
  4. Aerial Mends

Accuracy:

  1. Simple accuracy I take a few hoops or targets with me, and set them up at various typical fishing distances, and practice a few casts at each , then try the next one, trying always to judge the distance by eye. I move around so the distance is never the same.  On the river you don’t know the distance in advance!
  2. Altering the plane: e.g. Side casting to a target, simulating casting low under overhanging foliage , yet still hitting the target.
  3. Presentation cast accuracy (curve, bucket, wiggle) : Using a hoop, I imagine that I need to make a presentation cast to some slack water, the loop is the target.
  4. Reverse cast (over your other shoulder)
  5. Other hand if you know how

 

On Water:

If you have suitable water nearby, try practising:

  1. Roll casts (and single-handed spey techniques )
  2. Mending
  3. Different presentations ( fly first, gentle)
  4. Different retrieve patterns (etc.)

Here are a couple of videos from my practice sessions

Lessons ? Practise ? Why bother?

“Why bother with lessons and practise? I cast well enough to catch fish nearly every time I go out ?”. This was my response some 15 years ago, when a fishing mate suggested we share a lesson.  Proud of my skills back then,  I couldn’t see the sense in standing in a park making the same cast after cast, endlessly, monotonously.  Especially when I spent most of my time fishing streams and rivers.  My older wiser self, would now side with my mate on this one, and has a few answers to that question.  However I am not sure my younger self would have listened or understood.

I have no idea what his response was, but I remember being sceptical, and it was probably only the promise to go fishing afterwards that finally convinced me to join him.  I remember it was a very windy day, the coach was an experienced angler and had me working on getting rid of the tailing loops that annoyingly and reliably appeared every time I strived for distance. I still remember his sage advice (and his Sage advice), “try not to grip and rip, try to feel the cast”.  When I asked him how , he suggested I try a rod with a more forgiving action.  I tried his Sage SLT 5 weight, I loved it.  It did help, but I still didn’t understand how to develop feel. Also, whilst I am certain this was not his intention,  I took this to mean a new rod would make me cast better. It didn’t.  (Good rod though, glad I bought it, glad I still have it !). Sadly (for me), I didn’t pursue any more lessons with him or anyone else, and forgot about it for a while, enjoying myself nonetheless.

Why I finally took lessons

Five years on, and I was living in London,  trying to learn Italian, and on advice from my language teacher, I took to reading websites in Italian, on something that interested me (fly fishing unsurprisingly).  In this way, one spring day, whilst on vacation,  I found myself fishing on one of the rivers in Umbria in central Italy with some guys from the SIM Italian fishing association.  The river was fast and clear, and I had some great success fishing weighted nymphs.  One of my hosts suggested I try casting a dry near the far bank, where he claimed there were some big ones hiding under the overhanging shrubs.  I probably put at least 50 or more casts over there, landing the dry in the current seam, only to have it whipped away by the current.  At this point I declared, that :

  1. Clearly there were no fish there, and
  2. Even if they were there it was impossible to fish the spot, the drag was horrendous.

My host, didn’t seem fazed and made a leisurely cast across the current, his fly landed, and sat… and sat…. for at least a count of 3, before a sizeable hole opened up beneath it.  A relaxed lift of the rod, and the hook was set into the biggest fish I’d seen all day.  He did it twice more to prove it wasn’t a fluke.  He presented that dry-fly with studied precision, and injected just enough slack in the leader to let it hang enticingly in the still water. I begged him to tell me how he did it. Easy , he said, come to a course, and you can learn. Here was an art, and an art worth my learning (sorry for misquoting Mr Walton). I now had an  answer to that question of a few years before. Why take some lessons: to learn some skills to catch fish, good fish, that I otherwise couldn’t !

It was through the Italian SIM association I learned there was a whole lot more to fly-casting and fly fishing than laying a line out straight and accurately. Their approach to fly-casting is all about casts that catch fish, controlling the line, leader and fly to present the fly, in and around and under obstacles, combatting swirling currents to maximise the natural drift. Over the next few years I attended 6 or so courses, improving bit by bit, discovering the joy of playing around with rod and line.  Even more so on the river, where there is a lot of satisfaction to be had making a difficult cast, even better if a fish cooperates.  Another answer to my question : Have more fun!

How to Practise

None of this came without practising between the courses.  Not just any practice either, what is needed is focused practice. For example, when I was on a golfing crusade to earn a single figure handicap. I used to hit a bucket of balls at the driving range twice a week thinking this would really help, until a conversation with my golf-pro. He asked me how I practised, “I take my driver twice a week at the range” I said. “Hmm” he replied, “you drive quite well, but what about the rest of your game? Chips, putts ? fades ? draws ? High shots low shots ? Practise the shots you use most on the course. Spend half your time on your short game, half the rest on the short irons, and then rest on long irons and woods.” Good advice , practice the skills you need!

I advocate applying this approach to fly-casting. In the off-season I practise at least once a week for an hour or two at a time.  I make a rough plan for each session , I go with the intention of working on a four or five skills in particular. I break up my practice time and spend no more than 10 – 15 minutes on each skill.

Don’t be afraid to take a few lessons.  If you are in Melbourne we have casting lessons available. Click here.

Try it for yourself: you may catch more fish and may have more fun doing so!

Practise Drills for Fly Casting:

Loops and line control:

  1. Loop control : Try making false casts with consistent smooth loops. 3 or 4 casts then rest. Try doing this at different distances.
  2. Loop size: Practice casting tight loops, medium-sized loops, wide loops.
  3. Rod plane: try casting on various rod planes. from vertical, to horizontal and angles between. Concentrate on timing and making clean smooth loops.
  4. Double hauling.

Presentation Casts:

If you have learned how to do these, practice and perfect them, if not consider hitting me up for a lesson or three:

  1. Curved casts
  2. Wiggle casts
  3. Bucket Casts
  4. Aerial Mends

Accuracy:

  1. Simple accuracy I take a few hoops or targets with me, and set them up at various typical fishing distances, and practice a few casts at each , then try the next one, trying always to judge the distance by eye. I move around so the distance is never the same.  On the river you don’t know the distance in advance!
  2. Altering the plane: e.g. Side casting to a target, simulating casting low under overhanging foliage , yet still hitting the target.
  3. Presentation cast accuracy (curve, bucket, wiggle) : Using a hoop, I imagine that I need to make a presentation cast to some slack water, the loop is the target.
  4. Reverse cast (over your other shoulder)
  5. Other hand if you know how

 

On Water:

If you have suitable water nearby, try practising:

  1. Roll casts (and single-handed spey techniques )
  2. Mending
  3. Different presentations ( fly first, gentle)
  4. Different retrieve patterns (etc.)

Here are a couple of videos from my practice sessions

Autumn Challenges

As I watched the third bow wave for the morning disappear at the heavy tread of a wading boot behind me, I had to remember I was fishing with a beginner. . My companion for the day was more used to heel-first striding along the footpath in the urban landscape, and blissfully unaware of the noise he was making and the impact he was having. They are common mistakes we all make at times, that cost us the opportunity to catch our prey.

Moving on, I suggested that he should wait, and I would advance to the next pool and see if I could spot a fish. After a few minutes he should sneak up and join me. I tip-toed to the next pool, keeping low and against the bush, and watched a few moments before I found a tail waving gently over the gravel. (A tell tail sign perhaps?). I had been watching quietly for a few minutes, and was about to turn, when a quiet voice beside me asked, “Can you see anything?”. Nice sneaking I thought and replied, “Yep, don’t move! There is one in the middle”. “Just there” he said, as his arm sprang to point it out. Unsurprisingly our finny friend departed in a hurry at this too-sudden movement. Another lesson learned.

At the next stretch, we stood well back, and I pointed out the likely lie, and suggested a sneaky approach that would put him into casting distance. He slipped into position, taking his time, and dropped his fly onto the quiet water. It had barely drifted a foot before it was sipped down. A strike and a shout of joy, and we soon had it in the net. The highlight of a great day on the water, with new lessons for him, and good reminders for me.

Autumn stalking:

After a great summer, where a few weeks ago, the trout that were so focused on hoovering hoppers hard against the grassy banks and you could almost wade right up to them, it is easy to forget that autumn is a testing time, even for the stealthy angler. The trout are to be found in the quiet pools, supping on errant nymphs, or sipping on the trickle of duns that occasionally hatch in the still cool air of autumn air.

In summer, trout often sit the faster water, and it is easy to get close to them; movement is masked by the rough surface of such water, sound and pressure waves are muffled by the faster moving water, but in autumn stealth is mandatory.  Low clear water give the trout the upper hand.  They are afforded an excellent view of their surrounds, and are sensitive to any vibration or pressure wave that carries easily through the super-still water.

The following advice is not new, and is there in nearly every trout fishing book I have read. But we often neglect to heed it:

  • Tread lightly,
  • Avoid wading,
  • Move slowly, and keep a low profile.

Tread Lightly. I like to tip-toe along, walking on the balls of my feet, feeling for the ground, and letting the rest of my foot slowly descend till my foot is firmly on the ground.  You can practice at home with barefoot, sneaking around from room to room, although this may get you in trouble.  At one time I was practising this so much, it became a habit, people would accuse me of sneaking up on them!

Avoid Wading. On small streams, this is good advice at all times, as fish are sensitive to noises, vibrations and pressure waves. If you have to wade, stay out of the still slow water, fish from the faster water just below the tail of the pool. The advice from another author is to wade like a heron, given the disparate thickness of my legs and those of a heron, I could never make any sense of this. Perhaps the author himself had chicken legs. I suggest moving slowly as if walking through honey, almost slow motion, if you are making a bow wave or you create pressure waves your pace is too fast. Pressure waves will always lead you up the pool, and any trout will be long gone before you or your fly arrives.

Move slowly, keep a low profile. Trout are attuned to fast moving dangers from above (think birds of prey!), so will spook easily at fast movement, especially when silhouetted against a sky. Due to the physics of light bending at water surface, trout can see you quite easily. Check out the diagram below that I found on the net.

cone-of-vision

You can see, on level ground, that an average person can get within 10m without being seen, crouch down and you can get within 5 m or closer, especially if you have bush behind you and you are wearing drab clothes.

Enjoy the Autumn.  Light feet and tight Lines !