Hone your flying skills
  |  First Published: May 2010

We're a little in between seasons at the moment in that it's a bit late for bay pelagics and too early for bass and barra on the long rod. But it's the right time to just step back a little and review some of the things might help make flyfishing a more successful method in the future.

I've had a few emails lately seeking my advice on the most important issues for a new chum fly angler. Surprisingly, some anglers think that simply buying a top shelf outfit will suffice but there's a lot more to it. Top shelf tackle is going to make it easier, certainly, but let's not overlook the fact that the ability to cast a long line is vital for the majority of fly fishing pursuits.

Things have not changed much since I started flyfishing forty years ago. Tackle choice has improved out of sight, but fish still don't want you near them so the only way to fool our finny friends with a fly is to present it with the fish totally relaxed and unaware of what is going on. Which is where the need to master casting comes in.

In my view the best way to become a good caster is to first invest in a top shelf rod and match it with a quality fly line. Then once you get your new gear home then get out and practice. And practice.

Turn sideways, rod in hand, so you can actually see what is going on if it's your first time with the fly rod. Remember there is no prospect of a good forward cast without a proper back cast; one that sees line extended rearwards in a straight line with the tip of the fly rod bending back under the strain.

Once an easy 20m of line is exiting the runners then it's time to get serious with the fish.

There’s really no need to practice casting onto water either. A fly line cast onto grass won't suffer much harm and if the grass is wet first there's even less chance of the line becoming roughened or knocked about.

A case study

Late last April I doing a boat review in the Southport Broadwater. As we approached the back of Wavebreak Island on that clear and calm day it was apparent there was some red hot angling opportunities on offer. Clean blue water was pushing in through the seaway and along with the baitfish there was some serious pelagics on the job.

Birds were diving, small fish were skittering frantically on the surface while some very solid splashes indicated that major predators were at work. As we got closer I could see the perpetrators were big fat spotty mackerel and they certainly had their share of devoted anglers all trying to score one for dinner.

Among the angling team was a long wand wielder, a kindred spirit who looked like his luck was in as the fish surfaced close to his boat and started to whack into the bait.

The melee was a sight to see but alas despite the beautiful (and expensive) reel mated to the angler’s fly rod the fly did not make it into the mix despite three casts from the angler. Each cast landed short of the action and my sympathies were with him as I realised if he could cast better he would have been in with a solid chance for a top sport fish.Chances like these don't occur for the saltwater angler all that frequently and yet he had taken the time to select tackle correctly and then learn to use it to the best of his advantage, the scenario could have come together very nicely.

The rod the angler was using was quite short, far too short in my view unless in the hands of a really accomplished caster. While the rod might have been great for whacking a big fat fly into cover at close range for barra there was no way the angler, with his casting ability, was going to get a fly into range of those fish. In about eight seconds it was over, the fish had moved on and the angler looked dejected.

The lesson here is simple. Short fly rods have their place – I personally have several of them – but from a boat where a long and fast cast is essential unless the angler is really up to the task the rod simply won't do the job. The longer the rod the more line is going to be moved forward with the casting stroke with the same amount of effort.

Match line to rod

First and foremost the fly line must match the rod. The only way to be sure of this aspect is to cast the outfit and see how the rod performs. Be aware though that premium rods – because of their inherent reserves of power – will often handle a line that is a full size over weight but will fail to sweetly cast a line that is under weight, simply because the rod cannot load properly to deliver maximum power.

Consider a comparison with a surf rod with 7kg monofilament line on the reel. With an unweighted pilchard on the ganged rig there's often a need for an offshore breeze to get the bait out far enough to be in the strike zone for fish like tailor. Putting a sinker, even a small one, on the trace makes it far easier to get the bait out to where the bite is happening.

Fly rods suffer similarly if set up with under weighted fly lines. When the rod and line match – and I always opt for a weight forward line on my serious tackle – the caster's job is going to be made a lot easier.

The final fly line selection comes down to the thickness of the angler’s wallet, but in that regard I have been more than happy with the less expensive Snowbee fly lines I have used in the last few years. I keep them clean, giving them a bit of a rub down with the proprietary cleaner that comes with each line and find few faults with the product whether it's being used on trout, barra or a bit fat tuna like the one Denise is holding.

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