The secret to catching more fish
by Greg French
There was a time when I found it easy to brush aside criticism of my casting performance - I simply asserted that I am an angler, not a caster, and proved the point by catching trout.
Five or six years ago a friend and I located a solid trout cruising the outer edge of a pin-rush marsh. Long casts were required and, when several presentations failed to attract the fish's attention, I wondered out loud why it wouldn't take. My exasperated mate stripped some line from his reel, muttered something like "It didn't take because your casting was bloody ratshit!" and then performed a single well-timed double haul which shot out twenty five metres of line and delivered his nymph a tidy foot in front of the quarry. Ah, this expert undoing of a most difficult eight-pounder - what a joy to watch. Nonetheless my pride was hurt.
Since then I've noted with alarm just how often my lack of casting finesse has let me down. When fishing very fast streams (especially those in New Zealand) I often fail to achieve sufficient drag-free drift. In very tight situations, where trout are rising under overhanging scrub, or where there is zero scope for even a small back cast, I am forced to pass fish up. And my relatively slow rate of delivery when aiming at speeding trout is a constant source of frustration.
I've had to face it - while my casting is by no means atrocious, it is quite less than perfect. I think I know why. First, like many others, I am not a natural caster - my flair is sighting fish and reading water. Still, after observing the rapid progress of my peers, I am assured that practice is the only thing which stands between my current ability and a degree of competence which would cover most real-world situations.
I took up fly fishing because, as a spin/bait man, I became frustrated with fish I could see but not catch - a common enough progression for Tasmanians - so from the very first time I went out with a fly I was looking for fish to cast to, not flogging the water. To this day, when polaroiding, I often cast only a dozen or so times in a session! No wonder I under perform.
Furthermore, while most of the fishing I've done has called for some accuracy, the need for diversity in casting has not been so obvious. In Tasmania most trout in lakes and estuaries are found close to shore. I estimate that some ninety five percent of all fish I have caught have been spotted just five to fifteen metres from where I've been standing at the time. In fact it is by no means unusual to reach trout by flicking out only the leader! And the best fishing in Tasmanian streams occurs in sluggish broadwaters where there is little need for long drag-free drift. Shortcomings in my casting have only been highlighted when the most competent of my peers have shown me up during "unusual" conditions. I've suffered the indignity of watching one well known identity extract three or four wary dun feeders from the middle of Silver Lake by casting not just the whole fly line but several metres of backing besides. I've witnessed another mate extract rainbow after rainbow from the swollen Coxs River by effortlessly obtaining ten metres and more of natural drift. And yet another friend has an eerie ability to accurately cover wind lane feeders and sea trout no matter how quickly or irregularly they move.
In the winter of 1998 I vowed to attend to my Achilles heel. The lower Derwent Estuary seemed like the ideal place to practice because, at this time of year, the runs of sea trout are sporadic and I am compelled to do my share of blind flogging. But I quickly came to realise just how much of a hunter I am. I could not concentrate on casting because I was constantly reading the water, studying subtle changes in tidal currents and watching for atypical upwellings, my mind ever alert for the sound of a splash or sip. When I tried to concentrate on casting, I became inefficient at hunting, so I didn't bother. It became obvious that, for me, the best casting practice would be on my front lawn or, for longer casts, in a sports oval, park or paddock.
Rewards have come quickly. After just a few serious one hour sessions I had my best ever result with early morning midgers, finally achieving both precision and speed over fifteen to twenty metres.
I've studied several books on casting techniques and I'm out there every chance I get - puddle casting, Galway casting, curving to the left and right, double hauling, bow and arrow casting. I am even determined to get some professional tuition - I know it will take an expert to properly assess my faults and strengths.
To my fishing mates - I am putting you on notice. I now accept that your superior casting is a significant edge but I have set my sights on getting better - much better - and I am fast closing the gap.