In preparation for my upcoming tarpon fly fishing trip to the Florida Keys with my sons John and Bill I took a long distance fly-casting class yesterday with Sheila and Bill Hassan www.cast90.com . Bill and Sheila are both FFF Master Certified Casting Instructors and offer a number of fly casting classes geared to all levels of expertise.
It’s All About Physics
Making long distance casts is not about how strong or tall you are, it’s about using the properly matched fly rod and line, understanding how they're meant to operate, and mastering your technique for maximum efficiency and distance. I used my Orvis Helios 10 weight rod with a forward weighted floating line. With respect to understanding how the rod and line are meant to operate keep in mind that only the first 40 feet of the line is weighted, so once you get out 40 ft. of line, all you are doing is flogging yourself and expending unnecessary energy by false casting to get out more line. You should “shoot” the rest of the line by properly “loading” the rod with your cast and then using the weight of the first 40 feet of the line and a nice tight loop to pull out the rest of the line. The Hassan’s recommend marking your fly lines at 40 and 60 feet. If you are a reasonable caster you should be able to comfortably cast 60 feet by false casting the first 40 feet of line and shooting the next twenty. Most of the time I’m fly fishing 60 feet is plenty. Getting further than 60 feet is all about technique.
To be honest about it, understanding and mastering great technique is pretty complicated, at least for me. I found myself having to unlearn a lot of stuff. I’ve fly fished since I was 10 years old but never had a formal lesson until yesterday. Even though I’m self-taught I’ve always been able to cast better than most of my friends so I’ve never paid too much attention to how they cast. That said I learned a lot from Sheila and Bill in the course of four hours that will make me much better and less tired after a long day of continuous casting. Speaking of which, pick up an Orvis Helios fly rod and you’ll see why they are popular. They are light as a feather and definitely easy on the arms on a long day of fly fishing.
Technique Makes All The Difference
Take it from me. If you want to learn how to cast properly, and learn fast, take a class or two with a certified instructor. My wife Sue previously took a class with Sheila and was damn good right from the get go. Much better than most beginners I’ve seen. That’s one of the reason I took the long distance class. I figure they had some secret sauce, which they do. I can’t write well enough and am not an instructor so I won’t even attempt to go into great detail about technique and how to maximize the distance of your cast, but here are a few easy to remember things I learned yesterday that will improve my casting.
· Mark your line at 40 and 60 feet with a permanent magic marker
· Make sure your rod tip is pointed at, and close to, the water and the line is straight in front of you when beginning your back cast. The surface tension of the water will cause your rod to flex as you lift the line on the back cast and further “load the rod” to increase the velocity of the line on the back cast.
· Place your thumb parallel to the rod handle and forward right up to where the cork angle bends upward.
· The rod butt angle should be 45 degrees on the back cast and zero degrees on the forward cast.
· Accelerate the upward motion of your arm on the lift (back cast) and gain maximum speed towards the end.
· Squeeze your rod handle and stop the backward motion of your arm when your hand is approximately parallel to your ear. This provides maximum load and velocity and helps maintain a high back cast with a nice tight loop. Tight loops retain more energy so the line goes further.
· Use a single or double haul to further load the rod to increase distance.
· Use a foot apart stance and slight side arm angle when saltwater casting for more power and stroke length.
· To maximize the length of the “stroke” use “drift” on the forward and backward cast (extend your arm further a split second after you’ve stopped the travel of your arm in either direction). Longer stroke = more power.
· Pinching the line on the last false back cast for a split second at the “proper moment” will further bend (and load) the rod tip increasing the distance when you “shoot” the line on the forward cast.
You can learn plenty by reading a book or watching videos but I highly recommending taking a class if you want to be a better fly caster. It’s inexpensive and a fast way to learn and you won’t develop bad habits that you will have to unlearn later. The class was only $75 for a half day of concentrated training and there were two instructors and only eight students which was a good ratio for individual attention. By the way, Sheila wrote a book about all of this which has great photos and detailed explanations on what I’ve covered here and much, much more. Having a reference guide like hers makes it easy to remember each step and I intend to use it as a guide when I practice what I learned yesterday on the water. I bet the tarpon are getting nervous already! See www.cast90.com for more information.