OUT WEST, the summer months are high season. In June, July, and even August, you want to be on the Madison or the Henry’s Fork. But in much of the rest of the country, Fall is when it really happens. Big trout will be on the feed to lay in stores of fat for the winter. Brown trout will be fattening up for the fall spawn in particular.
The time to start dialing in your cast isn’t when you’re standing in the front of a drift boat trying to remember how that whole double haul thing went. You need to get the juices flowing again NOW, and the following drills will help you do that in just 20-30 minutes a day.
Drill #1: Calibrate the Double-Haul
Double hauling is hard to explain in writing, but you will know when you get it right. The most common double hauling error I see in the students I teach is the failure to return the line hand to the base of the rod in time to make the forward haul. To double haul properly, your line and rod hands should both start near each other with the line out on the grass in front of you. As the rod hand lifts the rod into the backcast, the line hand should pull, accelerating to a hard stop, in the opposite direction. THEN, when the backcast is shooting out behind you, the line hand should RETURN to the base of the rod (usually up by your ear) so that when you haul in the forward cast, you have some room to actually make a haul. Many anglers forget this crucial step, leaving their line hand extended in front of them at the end of the backcast haul, meaning they can only make a weak, off-kilter forward haul at best.
To calibrate your double hauling, SLOW IT ALL DOWN. Lay the cast on the grass in front of you then, instead of hauling into the air, make a slow-motion backcast and haul along the grass. (Use an old line for this). The grass blades will act like car brakes to slow the momentum of the cast down, allowing you to practice hauling in the backcast and then returning your hand into position for the forecast haul. Although the grass will slow you down, it won’t prevent you from feeling the rod load–and crucially you should still feel the extra load generated by a proper double haul in BOTH directions.
Drill #2: Tighten Your Loops
Throwing tight loops is an art made possible by a swift, snappy power stroke that ends firmly in a hard stop. This closes the arc of travel of the rod tip to the narrowest possible distance at the end of the cast, thus shaping the loop.
To really dial in this speed up and stop motion, hang a hoola hoop with a couple pieces of string from an overhanging branch, carport roof, or basketball goal. Now stand 20 to 60 feet away and practice shooting your loop THROUGH the hoola hoop. If you can still punch it through the uprights at 60 feet or greater, your loop is as tight as it will ever need to be.
Drill #3: Grass Haul for Roll Casting
Roll casts are an important part of the well-rounded angler’s aresenal, but the vast majority of us neglect this important skill. A poor roll cast loops like a big floppy bicycle wheel, lazily ambling along until it turns over in a desultory splat. A good roll cast is aerodynamic, pointed at the front edge and oval shaped to maximize energy transfer. Making a good roll cast is all about catching the load in the backcast properly and maximizing the forward speed-up-and-stop with a tight arc of travel in the rod tip to form up a tight rolling loop.
Because roll casting is hard to practice without water, most anglers only do it when they need to be concentrating on fishing. To practice at home, make a grass leader! Take several sections of relatively heavy monofilament (12 lbs. or so works fine) and lash them together with blood knots or double surgeon’s knots. Instead of cutting the tag ends of your knots, however, leave them dangling at a foot or two each in length. Add yarn to the end of the leader to serve as a fly, and if necessary add more yarn to the tips of a couple of the tag ends as well. Such a leader will snag on the grass tips of your yard, setting you up for a perfect roll cast!
Drill #4: Micro-Shooting Heads
I am a huge fan of yarn practice rods like those made by Echo and others. These little rods are perfect for demonstrating casting techniques and flaws, and also great fun for kids and beginners (not to mention cats). But these rods can also be used to teach you one of the most important distance casting techniques you can learn: how to handle overhang.
Overhang is the distance between the back of the fly line’s “head,” or thick heavy front section, and the tip of your rod. The more overhang you release, the harder a shooting-head style line gets to be to control. The effect is very much like a ball and chain. The problem is, with proper shooting heads, the ball and chain effect is so great the system can get downright scary, as anyone who has ever striped their back with a mis-timed shooting head cast can explain.
Using the yarn rod, untie the yarn “fly line” from the base of the rod and pull it through the guides. Get a length of heavy monofilament, ideally Amnesia (which has very low memory), and stretch about 60 feet carefully. Tie the mono to the butt of the yarn rod where the yarn was secured, then string the mono through the guides as though you were going fishing. Now, tie the other end of the mono to the back of the yarn “fly line” with a simple clinch knot. You now have a micro shooting head. You aren’t going to be able to pull the yarn through the tip top very easily because of the size difference between yarn head and mono running line, but that’s ok. Shooting is all about testing different amounts of overhang and dialing in the soft, dampened release that will prevent premature turnover or “dumping.” Take your yarn head rod out in the yard and practice. I guarantee you you’ll be turning over most of that 60 foot line soon!
Drill #5: Fine Tune Your Alignment
Everyone knows you have to get your car tires aligned so they don’t wear improperly, right? The same principles actually apply to fly casting. When the front and rear tires of a car are out of alignment, one of the wheels is going one direction while the other is slightly off-kilter. The result is a squirrely wear pattern in the tire tread, which is the result of one tire resisting the other tire as they both roll down the road. Similarly, if your fore- and back-casts are out of plane, you will immediately see the wastage in the form of weaker, squirrely casts that may turn over sideways or fail to unroll all the way. Your casting is inefficient, just like the out-of-alignment tires fighting each other down the highway.
To fix this, get a long straight object, like a garden hose or better yet a 300 yard measuring tape. Stretch this line out on a field and make sure it’s straight. You want a longer length than you may cast because you need to stand in the middle. (200 feet of line is a good number, as that gives you the full length of fly line to work with in both directions).
From the middle position, begin casting over the line. For this drill it helps to have a buddy standing on one end of the line as a spotter, but you can also videotape yourself and check it. The goal is to turn over both your front and back casts IN LINE WITH the line on the ground. It doesn’t actually matter if you’re a sidearm or overhead caster, but the front and back casts must still be “in plane” with each other. You’d be shocked to learn how many otherwise good casters–some with excellent double hauls–are giving up 30% to 40% of their total power and reach due to out-of-plane errors.
If you challenge yourself to run through these five drills on a regular basis; say 5-10 minutes each, two or three times a week for a month, I guarantee you will see improvement in the accuracy, distance, and power of your casts. Besides, it’s fun, right?