Let’s face it, the more time your fly spends “in the zone” the more likely a fish will eat it! Each method of fly fishing, be it nymphing, dry fly fishing, or streamer fishing, is more successful when you can consistently hit your target. There are very few occasions where being in the trees is the desired outcome, but beyond that each method has its own particular issues that arise from failing to put your fly where you want it.
My buddy Domenick over at Troutbitten always does a great job of emphasizing (reminding me) to put the nymph rig “all in the same current.” Whether it is a single nymph, multiple nymphs, or nymphs and a suspender, having parts of your rig in different currents will lead to drag. Fish often won’t tolerate drag on food they expect to be drifting freely in the current. Be accurate with your placement of where your leader and flies land and enter the water. Set up the drift before the rig enters the flow and your fly will get deeper quicker and reduce the time you spend needing to mend.
Dry Flies are where accuracy can really make or break your game. Fish that are elevated in the column feeding just below the surface have a reduced field of vision. If we think of the fish’s view as a cone, the greater the distance they are from the surface, the greater their view area. When fish are deep, it can provide protection, but it requires more energy to come up through the current and pick a bug off the surface. Small fish often can’t afford the vulnerability of sitting just below the surface to feed and they are often the ones rising faster from the river bottom and creating splashier rises. The fish we want to catch are sitting just under the surface letting the forage drift to them. Efficient, right? That means they are less likely to move very far for your offering because it’s out of their field of vision. If you want to use the net, get your fly in the lane they are feeding in.
Accuracy is hugely important with streamers, as well. Casting accurately can set you up to retrieve your fly through the correct holding or feeding water depending on what the fish are doing. As with any form of fly fishing, it’s important to try not to cast across multiple currents. It’s a total misconception that streamer fishing is blindly casting at the bank and pulling your flies back. Be deliberate and target the lies where the fish are and be aware of what is between you and your target. Avoid the conflicting currents that will result in slack. Covering water is one thing, but do so intelligently and with a plan. Pick a target, hit it, and get that fly moving.
So, how about those 5 tips for casting more accurately?
LOOK at Your TARGET
It’s an easy concept in theory, but on the water there are countless ways to lose focus on our actual target. I love to share the Delaware River system with folks for their first time. This spring we were working our way down the river, looking for heads breaking the surface. “Oh, there’s a fish! Ten feet off the bank, he’s really coming up! Oh! No, that’s two fish! They are coming up one after the other,” the angler said as he shuttered with anticipation. I shook my head and chuckled to myself before explaining, “Nope, that’s one fish. That second thing you are seeing come up is his tail. Yes, he really is that big.”
When casting to rising fish like this, we want to land the fly upstream of the fish so it can drift down through their feeding lane. The distance above the fish that we need to target depends on the situation. Honestly though, how do you focus on your target and NOT focus directly on that feeding fish? If you keep your eyes on the feeding fish, guess what happens next – we splat the cast on his head and put him down. First, find the fish you plan to cast to and make a plan. Then, pick your target and look at it while you are casting.
Have a Strong Fundamental Cast
I previously wrote about The Five Essentials of Fly Casting. The first step to improving any facet of your casting is to have a strong grasp on the fundamentals and how to form our basic loops. The next step is understanding how you can change your cast to fit the situation you are faced with discussed in The Five Variables of Fly Casting. When you understand what HAS to happen to complete a successful cast, and you know what CAN VARY in a successful cast, you can fit your presentation to fit the puzzle in front of you.
Check Your Stance
Square up! The stance we start casting with is usually with feet shoulder width apart. Don’t start off balance. Once you are comfortable, you can alter your stance to improve accuracy. If you are looking to focus solely on accuracy, place your dominant foot (the same side as your casting arm) forward. Adjusting your stance this way will align your cast closer to your eye, like lining up to throw a dart. This is a difficult stance to be in to cast 80′, but it will help you when you try to keep the entire cast in the same plane.
Keep the Entire Cast in the Same Plane
While we’re talking about throwing a dart, have you ever done so side arm? Probably not accurately! Did you stand crooked and off to the side? No. If your target is directly in front of you, line everything up. Remember trigonometry and figuring angles into the equation? Not very well, right? Keep it simple. If you cast off to the side, you have to compensate for the angle created between your eye, your target and your rod tip. Avoid creating the angle by casting directly overhead. Straight lines whenever possible.
Your back cast should be 180 degrees away from your target and your forward cast will be right on the money. Place your thumb on top of the rod and point it away from the target on the back cast and directly toward the target on the forward cast. Stop your backcast about eye level, near your cheek. This will dial in your aim and make accurate casts much easier to make.
These aren’t things to be figured out on the river. Take your nice presentation leader off of your fly line, tie on a stout 7 1/2′ leader and a piece of egg yarn for a fly and go throw some line in the yard. Set up targets and practice hitting them on the first try. Figure out what stance is most comfortable and how many false casts it takes you to get from fly in hand to 40′. Play around and get familiar with the over-engineered piece of graphite we use to unfold plastic coated string and drop fur and feathers in front of fish. It’s the Jedi, not the Lightsaber after all. Master your craft. Use the net. Thank me later.