Simple moves

A fly fisherman feels frustration at not being able to throw the line well and admits that he lacks the patience and precision to do so. He contents himself with his 75-foot tossing limit, which is short of the 90-foot ideal.
It’s hard not to take issue with the masters who tell us, while casting 90 feet of fly line with their thumbs and forefingers, “This isn’t hard when you make these simple moves. . . .” Then they show us a pig-tailed Brownie hauling the whole fly line.

It has not been easy to admit that a ten-year-old girl with an arm like a knitting needle can do this. Maybe she can also run 100 straight with the 20 gauge, but I refuse to dwell on that. What I am dwelling on is that I can’t throw the whole fly line, at least not well, or often.

I never wanted to run a 4-minute mile or be a dazzling light-heavy, but I do believe that to think of yourself as a good fly fisherman, you ought to be able to throw the whole line at will. I think it improves your normal casting technique and solves a lot of windy day problems. And last but not least, you can sure annoy most of your fishing pals who can’t do it….

Yes, I have taken lessons and they do help. But the minute the instructor leaves, my less-than-perfect timing returns with a vengeance; wind knots the size of sour grapes appear as if by magic in the leader, and rod manufacturers who thought they’d seen everything have been known to weep. I’ve spent my egg money for tapes and books, but they merely deepen the frustration. I have nightmares of nurslings snatched from their mothers’ laps roll-casting 80 feet and laying out long curve casts with rake handles.

Left alone, my consistent best effort is a little better than 70 feet; give me the nod and say 75, but the last 15 feet just don’t shoot. Where is that magical little touch that sends the backing humming through the guides? Where is the payoff for honesty, and hard work they promised me in Sunday school?

And success is as mysterious as failure. The one cast that does come alive and brings the backing knot out of hiding happens often as not when you least want it, sending the Royal Wulff deep into the widows or lining the one big feeding trout. But there is that one brief moment of satisfaction….

I had a whole morning just like that, fishing for Atlantic salmon on the George River in Quebec. A photographer was filming me and it was one of those very rare days when the line was long and straight and the loops tight, and I looked like I knew what I was doing. No doubt I had a favorable wind. The downside was that although we knew there were fresh fish in our stretch of river, I wasn’t catching any. So I went off to another pool and a beginning angler whose best cast couldn’t have reached 40 feet took my place and proceeded to take six nice salmon running 15 to 20 pounds. If I’d known those fish were lying so close, would I have been content to stand there and throw only half the line I was capable of throwing – in front of a camera? Sure, but not every time.

One of my fishing pals, knowing my love for 8-, 9-, and 10-weight rods has, with some disdain, called me a “jock strap fisherman.” I admit to it. I lack the patience and delicacy to toss size 18 and 20 flies to soft, sipping rises. I’m happiest heaving big Zonkers, Matukas, and other stuff the size of a house wren as far across the river as I can. When I was a small boy I believed that the farther away the fish were the bigger they had to be. I guess I still think so.

I’m not at all sure that my 75-foot limit isn’t genetic, like my inability to leap no higher than a foot and a half in the air. But I have practiced. I have also sought the answer in a mad frenzy of rod buying – the time-honored refuge of the inept. I have had rods from virtually every major, and a few minor, makers in the U.S. and several from England and France. I’ve ended up with a few favorites, rods I actually caught fish with. The other day I dug out one of these, an old Orvis boron/graphite for a 9-weight line, to try something I saw on a new casting video. I was pleasingly surprised at how good this outfit felt in the hand, and after a few false casts to get the kinks out of the line, I tried my best to come up to the level of the schoolgirls shown on the casting film. The second or third cast sent the whole fly line out past the rod tip! It was almost as effortless as promised, and I felt I could share a pool with any eighth-grader and not feel foolish.

But then I suddenly remembered last using this rod and reel setup on a big river in Canada where the guides keep you fishing one beat until you have cast the whole fly line or dose to it before they moved the canoe to the next drop. If you couldn’t hack the casting, the guides would grumble and make disparaging remarks.

After one particularly frustrating afternoon, I asked myself why I should be one of the sheep. Where is it written you have to listen to grumbling remarks or that a fly line has to be 90 feet long? So I cut 15 feet or so off the back of my line. I’m happy to report that the guides were thrilled with my improved distance and none the wiser.

You’ll be happy to know that this tactic also works with tarpon and bonefish guides. The moral here is pretty straight-forward: If you can’t reach what you’re grasping for, find a way to stand a little closer.

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