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Montana Fly Fishing Skills: Learn How to Cast a Fly Rod

Montana Fly Fishing Skills: Learn How to Cast a Fly Rod

How to Cast a Fly Rod

Teaching anglers how to cast a fly rod and cast it well is something our Montana fly fishing guides do on a daily basis. Sometimes we work with seasoned anglers to polish up their stroke but many times we are starting from scratch and teach novice anglers who have never picked up a fly rod the basics. From our experience teaching hundreds of anglers the fundamentals of the cast, we have found a way to break it up into 3 basic steps. These steps are geared primarily toward casting a fly rod with a single dry fly, out of a drift boat, for wild Montana trout as we do so often, but is applicable across the whole wide world of fly fishing.

1. Start Low, Pause High, Finish Low

This is the core of the fly fishing cast. Forget 10 and 2 and leave your metronome at home. While all of that works well in the movies, modern fast action rods don’t respond as well to the slower and wider casting stroke of yesteryear. 90% of all fly casts during a day of fishing are the “pick up and lay down cast” where an angler already has line out and simply needs to recast, reposition the fly, or possibly shorten or lengthen their line. So this is the cast we are most concerned with.

The first step to mastering this cast is to always start your cast with the rod tip low (in the water), pause on your backcast with the rod tip high (closer to 12 than 2), and finish with your rod tip low (in the water). The result is a downward trajectory to your cast that will ultimately result in a fly-first presentation where your fly lands prior to your line. This allows for better mending, hooksets, and accuracy.

2. Slack is the enemy

The fly cast works when energy is directly transferred from your body, through your fly line and rod, and to your fly. In order to accomplish this, your fly line has to remain tight and connected to each other part throughout your casting stroke. The fly cast is all about efficient use of energy. Simply put slack line in your cast kills energy and kills your cast.

Starting your cast with loose line on the water is akin to starting off behind the 8-ball. You are setting yourself up to fail. Defeat slack in all parts of your cast. Make sure your line is taught before you attempt to pick up your line. Pinch the line under the index finger of the hand you hold the rod with and pull it in. Make sure the rod tip is low and line is tight before you start your cast.

The fly cast should be thought of two separate casts: a back cast followed by a forward cast. It isn’t one continuous motion but rather two separate casts with a defined pause in between. This pause should occur at the apex of the back cast and is what gives your fly line a chance to roll-out and remove slack in your back cast. If you do not wait long enough and you start your forward cast before your back cast you will just be beating air, your line will not go back forward. You can’t go two directions at the same time.

Defeat slack in your line and pause at the top of your cast. Combine this with starting low, pausing high, and finishing low and you will be well on your way to great casting.

3. Cast with your big muscle groups

Keep your elbow glued to your hip and cast with your arm and shoulder, not your wrist. It is common to see new fly anglers that have previous spin fishing experience to try to cast with just their wrist. If you follow the previous two steps and use your wrist you will get passable results. But you will tire out, quickly, trust me. Some wrist casters may make it a whole day but most won’t make it to lunch with out complaining about tired hands and wrists. The fly cast is a dynamic and powerful motion. Your wrist muscles are too small to handle all of the force. To fix this, glue your casting elbow to your hip, keep your wrist totally stiff, and pivot around your elbow with your arm and shoulder when you cast. Using these larger muscle groups will quickly translate to more power, better distance control, and longer days on the water with less fatigue.

The fly cast isn’t a super human feat of strength but rather a deliberate stroke that requires commitment to each step along the way and efficient use of your body and fly rod. If you ever feel like you have to muscle the fly out, stop, you are doing too much. Reset, go back to the basics, and think about stopping sooner, waiting longer and casting with your shoulder, not with your wrist. This will save you a lot of frustration and sore muscles.

Top 5 Reasons for Fly Fishing with Barbless Hooks

Top 5 Reasons for Fly Fishing with Barbless Hooks

Benefits of Fishing with Barbless Hooks

To pinch the barb or not to pinch the barb? This is a question every fly fishing angler faces each and every time they go fishing. Most hooks on commercially available flies come with barb in tact. Some newer flies, inspired by euro-style nymphs, are available on high quality barbless hooks. Many of the fly tyers among us pinch the barb as soon as the hook goes into the vice. But for most of us, hooks come with a barb and whether or not we choose to fish with a barbless hook is a streamside decision. For us and our Bozeman, Montana fly fishing guides there is only one answer: just pinch it. And here’s our reasons why.

1. It Makes the ‘Release’ Part of ‘Catch and Release’ Easy

Most fly fishing anglers practice catch and release most of the time. We practice catch and release on all of our Montana guided fly fishing trips. We have gotten very good at the catching part and having barbless hooks makes the releasing part dead easy. Simply put if you are going to put the fish back after you catch them, it only makes sense to make it as easy as possible on you and the fish. Sure you might have a ‘long distance release’ every now and again, but we have found from years of outfitting and guiding anglers in Montana that maybe only 1 out of 25 properly fought fish will be lost due to a hook being barbless. And if you are going to be letting it go anyways, who really cares? Pinch that barb and spend more time catching than releasing.

2. Better for the Fish

95% of the fish we catch are wild trout. Their mouths are fairly fragile and skin tears easily. They are sensitive to high water temps and don’t fare well out of water. Catching them with barbed hooks means ripped mandibles, torn flesh, and more time spent in the upper part of the water column where surface temps can be high and, inevitably more time out of water during the release. The mortality rate for fish caught with barbed flies is roughly double that for fish caught with barbless flies. Don’t believe us? Check out: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/get_documents.asp?session=28&docid=1945 for more scoop. Pinch your barb and save trout lives.

3. Better for the Anglers

Over the course of our time as Montana fly fishing guides and outfitters we have had to remove lots of hooks out of people. Sometimes from our anglers, but most of the time from ourselves. When multiple hooks are going multiple directions, many times a day, at some point the odds will catch up to you and hooks will end up where there not supposed to be. And when they do, you will sure be glad you are fishing with barbless hooks or be wishing you had been if you aren’t. No tricks, mono-loops, or pliers needed for removing barbless hooks. They come right out. Every time. And as someone who has hooked themselves with barbed hooks and had to remove them, many times, we can tell you one thing for sure: it hurts. Save yourself the trouble and just pinch your barbs.

4. Better for Wildlife

We do not believe that fly fishing and flies are a serious threat to riparian wildlife. That being said we have seen a few, rare instances of animals wrapped up in lures that inevitably led to their demise. In each case these were large crank-bait style lures with long pieces of mono-attached. And each time the hooks were fully barbed. If the hooks had been barbless, they would have likely not stayed in place. With the rise of larger, articulated-style streamers, one could easily believe that a goose, merganser, or a muskrat could end up with a sex-dungeon streamer tied up between its legs. Our goal as sportsmen and anglers is to leave as small of a footprint behind as possible. Pinching your barbs is part of that.

5. Fly Fishing is Supposed to Be Fun

We believe all anglers, at their core, go fishing to have fun. While this might mean different things for all of us, we think we can all agree that barbed hooks are just not fun. Ripping a barbed hook out of a deeply hooked fish of the Yellowstone River is not fun. Ripping a barbed hook out of your buddy’s arm on the Missouri River is not fun. Watching a fish bleed out after release on the Madison River is not fun. We opt for having fun while fishing. We pinch our barbs. We encourage you to do the same.

Pinching your barbs is easy. Any old pair of pliers, hemostats, or clamps will do the trick. Keep your lines tight and the fish will come in all the same.