Saturday, 22 December 2012

Casting Too Far

It's midwinter and with a mix of cold, windy and damp weather I'm not motivated to go out fishing. I try to snatch an hour here and there to practice my casting, but that's all I can motivate myself to do on these short winter days. No fishing means nothing to blog about so I thought I’d put together a series of posts on the most common mistakes I see anglers making when I’m out guiding...

The rivers of the Yorkshire Dales (and in general, the hilly areas of the British Isles) are what the Americans call freestone rivers, though I prefer the English term of rainfed (or spate) rivers. Whatever title you prefer, it distinguishes them from chalkstreams and spring-fed rivers.

Rainfed rivers are generally rocky, fast flowing and have a series of pools, glides and riffles. As the name suggests, the flow is determined by recent rainfall and to a lesser degree long term rainfall. As a generalisation, chalkstreams, fed by springs and aquifers, are slower flowing and smooth at the surface, making good presentation and control of the fly easier in most circumstances.

To fish any river effectively we must be in total control of our line, leader and fly, and this is never more so than on the uneven flows of a rocky, rainfed river. I expect people who come to me for guiding and instruction to make mistakes and to have faults - that’s why they come to me. My job is to put them right and improve their techniques. With guiding experience one starts to see a pattern; the same faults and mistakes are replicated with each client to a greater or lesser degree. In a series of posts I will describe the most common mistakes and faults I see and explain the solution, starting with...

“A cast too far!"
In my opinion this angler has
cast too long to be fully in control
of his flies. Notice how the line
has started to snake on the river as
it interacts with the differing currents,
which is likely to result in dragging flies
and missed takes. It would be
far better to wade carefully
into a position where the flies
can be presented on a shorter line.
(click to enlarge)

Casting too far – a large proportion of my clients are accomplished stillwater anglers wanting to ‘convert’ to river fishing. They are accustomed to casting long distances because that is what stillwater trout fishing demands. Once in the river I get them fishing a short line, but, ‘mysteriously’, the line gets longer and longer, until it becomes obvious to me they are casting beyond an efficient range. This is because they are uncomfortable fishing what they consider very close and it’s not just confined to anglers from a stillwater background; beginners and experienced anglers frequently do the same. On a river we are fishing to a different set of rules, because, quite simply, we are fishing moving water. Not only is it moving, it is moving at different speeds throughout. The flow will vary across the width of the river, upstream to downstream and from the surface to the river bed. Beyond a certain distance it is impossible to control the drift of your fly because of this variation in flow. I always say to my clients “the faster and more complicated the water, the shorter the cast should be”. My good friend Jeremy Lucas talks about fishing in the 6-10 metre range and I would agree with him, though I would say on smooth glides and slower water it is possible (and often more desirable if we are to avoid spooking fish) to cast longer. Casting too far will result in one or all of the following:

  • you can’t control the drift of the fly (dry, nymph or wet) so that it doesn’t drag (remembering that drag is any unnatural movement of the fly, upstream, downstream or sideways);
  • you can’t strike effectively if a fish takes;
  • you can’t spot a take at any point during the drift.

Crystal clear water but still the
angler is casting less than 2
rod lengths of line.
(click to enlarge)
As my fly drifts with the river I am continually asking myself 2 questions: if a fish takes now will I spot the take? And, if a fish takes now will I be able to strike successfully? If the answer to these two questions isn’t yes then my line is too long and I fish closer. Modern river trout and grayling anglers wear chest waders with felt or rubber soled wading boots, such as the superb Hardy EWS range. Utilise these to wade into position rather than fishing ineffectively by casting too long. Don’t go for long, potentially dragging drifts, instead, be content with short, drag free drifts and perfect presentation - you will be rewarded with more fish.