For many years I worked to develop my casting skills on smaller waters. Accuracy and delicacy were paramount, and distance was not normally required. As I fished more and more on the larger Catskill Rivers, I gradually worked to increase my distance casting. The trick was to maintain the accuracy and delicacy, particularly when the winds would blow.
I was somewhat satisfied that I could make good presentations at 85 feet when I needed to though, this being fishing, there would still arise situations where I needed an extra foot or two. This scenario seemed more common when some larger fish presented themselves, often in the wind, leading to some frustration. I continued to work on my casting.
I learned a valuable lesson last year during my first full season on these rivers.
Wading through the interminable winter I decided to sell my best 6 weight boron rod. It was a pleasurable rod to fish though it never proved to be the answer to my quest for greater distance. I was offered a good price so I sent it along its way.
I never pay any attention to fly rod advertising, and, fishing bamboo as much as I do, a new graphite rod really wasn’t part of my thinking. Spring arrived at last but with a continuation of 2018’s high water. I had every day available to fish, though I couldn’t get out on the water. Reports of hatches started filtering in and still nothing was wadeable. Finally I set out to fish regardless, wading rivers at much higher flows than ever before. I caught a couple of nice brown trout but then that distance issue entered the equation.
During all of this spring mania, I began to miss my big 9 foot 6 weight and started wondering if rod makers really had made any progress in the decade since I had acquired my old rod. In talking with my friends at West Branch Angler I had heard some very favorable opinions on Thomas & Thomas’s new Avantt rods. I have always like T&T rods so I finally tried the new 6 weight and was impressed enough to buy one. Distance improved, and was easier to achieve, but that high water still kept me short of some of the places I needed to present my fly.
If you fish bamboo long enough, you will learn that fly rods can respond very differently to different fly lines. Cane rods tend to cast several lines well, and are often versatile enough to work nicely with a couple of different line weights. My experiences with bamboo led me to experiment with the new graphite. The T&T was a very powerful rod, but the half size heavy lines manufacturers push for fast action rods didn’t prove to be the perfect match.
Several years back I picked up a J. Ryall reel with a pair of extra spools, one with a nearly new fly line on it. Thankfully the previous owner had placed the little label on the back of the spool allowing me to identify the line: a Scientific Anglers Mastery Expert Distance WF6-F. A bit of research revealed that was a 105-foot fly line of standard weight for a number 6 class, so I spooled it on the reel I was using with the Avantt and headed out to wade deeper than I should once again.
I had continued to work on my distance casting technique all the while and, with the right tools, I started to present the fly repeatedly to the fish I had not been able to reach. I laid one hundred feet of fly line and a fifteen foot leader out there, kicked the slack into the tippet as I would on a thirty-foot cast, and watched my fly drift perfectly along the far bank of the river until it was taken by one of those 20″ and better browns that had been frustrating me.
The importance of working hard and experimenting with lines and rods truly came into focus during my favorite hatch of the season. The river was much higher than normal when the hatch got going, and there were a lot of anglers out despite the conditions. There were good browns eating Green Drakes, and the best of them were close to the far bank. The other fishermen seemed timid to wade very deep and, with no more than average casting abilities, they simply could not fish to the risers along that far bank. I saw only one angler out of ten manage to hook a fish, though he lost it in short order.
In a pool full of fly fishers, I was the only guy that could fish to those rising trout. I landed four of them, all more than twenty inches long. Many of those guys saw me catching fish, and none of them even tried to cast their fly past mid-river. I guess they simply admitted defeat, feeling that same frustration that I used to when I came up short.
When I guided and owned a fly shop I talked with a lot of fly fishermen. When I saw them on the stream, most proved to be very marginal fly casters. The surprising thing was, they wouldn’t do anything about it. I offered free casting lessons to a lot of folks back then, and it amazed me how few would take me up on my offer.
Fly casting is a lifelong learning experience for those who are passionate about their fishing. I am certain that all of us want to experience more of those remarkable days, the days when we solve all of the puzzles and make all of the difficult casts. I for one will never stop learning and working toward improving my skills; the rivers won’t let me.