Steve is a longtime client and friend who was finally able to put an end to a curse plaguing him for a few years now: A big tarpon on the fly finally came to the boat. Congrats! Steve is one of those guys who works his butt off to go fly fishing, and he walks the fine line of balancing the office plus his duties as a husband, dad and granddad to do so.
Because of his work (and loving wife) he is able to travel a little and therefore gets to fish quite often: The Bahamas, Mexico, Everglades, the Florida Keys, Tampa (where he lives), Colorado and Utah (for trout) and so on. He is always telling me stories of the fish that got away, the few that didn’t, and the many he couldn’t even get a fly to. He is never as productive as he wants to be. So, needless to say many of our outings together have been casting clinics as well as fishing trips.
When you are out on a guided trip, that isn’t the best time to practice your cast. Steve rarely has time, nor takes the time, to practice his casting at home on the grass. I get it! He is always busy at work, doing the family thing or fishing somewhere. I love this about Steve, and I know most people would rather fish than practice — until you get on the water on a breezy day. Oh, but of course the wind never blows here, right?
Because of his lack of practice time, it has taken him a while to build some of the skills necessary to have in his saltwater fly fishing arsenal. He will still set up a trip by looking only at the wind speeds on the Weather Channel. They never predict it correctly anyway.
During some recent private casting lessons I have given on grass, a couple more clients on the boat (Steve being one) and a phone call from a reader, I have heard the same question: How do I deliver the fly farther when it is windy? I have written many times on all the techniques used while casting in windy situations — rod angles and positions as wind direction changes, cast trajectory, creating narrow loops, line control. In fact, let’s list them simply and quickly without much detail.
Wind in your face: Higher back cast, higher line speed, downward forward cast, get the line and leader on the water as soon as possible (so it can’t blow back).
Wind into your casting shoulder: Must remove possibility of hooking yourself. In a low-wind situation, a sidearm cast might work well enough. In higher winds, try an oval or Belgian cast to the off wind shoulder. Turn your back to the wind and use your back cast as presentation cast. Switch hands and cast with off-wind hand. Ambidextrous, anybody?
Wind at your back: Lower back cast, tight loops, line speed, higher trajectory forward cast and the wind will help carry it.
Wind from non-casting side: Tight loops, line speed. This shouldn’t be a problem; just allow for wind drift.
Now I’d like to talk about one aspect important in all of these wind-fighting situations. That is line speed.
Casting a fly rod can be challenging at times even on a good day, and adding a little wind will usually bring out the worst in us all. I know it’s easy to stand in the park on a nice day and cast decent loops to 40 or 50 feet and think you got this. But then add wind, and it falls apart. What happened?
Let me give you a clue here: More line speed won’t solve your problems if you are unable to master mechanics and cast good loops to begin with. You will only be trying to throw your mistakes faster and farther, which will never ever work unless you are trying to tie yourself up in fly line or create a pile of linguine on the ground in front of you.
But let’s say for the sake of illustration that you have the muscle memory it takes to cast good loops consistently and comfortably. Now adding line speed in this situation becomes easier.
Here are a few tips to help with your line speed: Spread your stance and bend your knees slightly. This will do a couple of things for you. It drops your center of gravity, which gives you better balance. It will keep you more compact, which is important as it allows you to add power to the cast through your legs and core.
It sounds like a Pilates exercise, doesn’t it? Well, that wouldn’t hurt most of us, because strength and stamina certainly will help here! You have got to be able to add power while controlling all the other aspects of the cast at the same time. That does take a little strength along with good technique.
Adding line speed will also take a little extra speed and strength during your casting stroke to bend (or load) the rod deeper. Bending the rod deeper will help with the line speed by storing more energy in the rod until you abruptly and aggressively stop the rod. Remember, this still has to be done with smooth acceleration through the casting stroke. Then, as you abruptly stop the rod, the deeper bend in the rod transfers all of that extra stored (potential) energy into an explosive back cast or forward cast.
Now to really pump up the volume, add a double haul to this new aggressive, compact cast and you will bend the rod even deeper for that tight-looped, wind-cuttin’, fish-catchin’ cast.
Don’t be like Steve and take so long to put it all together. Do a little work, get a lesson, call me, practice at home — whatever it takes to put it together. Then be like Steve and go get that big tarpon. It’s time!
Capt. Rex Gudgel is a fly fishing guide in the Boca Grande area and an International Federation of Fly Fishers Master Certified casting instructor. If you’d like to get casting lessons, book a trip or just need more fly fishing info, contact him at 706-254-3504 or visit BocaGrandeSlamFlyFishing.com or CastWithRex.com.