Another year has come and gone and soon the opening of the 2015 season will be upon us.
There is little doubt we are all hoping for the Atlantic salmon to be more prolific in the coming years and it would be of some comfort to know what the future holds, but, there is only one way for us to find out, and that is to wait and see. I could pontificate at length as to what may happen, but I believe nobody actually knows what drives this extremely complex fish to do what they do. That is why I am not particularly au fait with the scientific world that prefer to close hatcheries and preach to anglers that catch and release is the way forward. (As far as I am concerned there is no evidence that I have seen, to suggest that this is really good advice.) For that reason I thought it might be of more interest for beginners, to include something I have written on the mechanics of fly casting.
First of all I would like to explain a bit about myself and my back ground. I am the third generation to have worked on the River Oykel in Northen Scotland, so it was almost inevitable that I would end up involved with Salmon, one way or another.
From the day I left school Salmon fishing and Salmon have been my passion that is why I opted to become a Salmon Guide/Ghillie for the past 50 years or so. 50 years of practical experience largely on the river Oykel is where I have served my time. I am not a qualified APGAI instructor, nor am I a world champion long distance caster; I simply have 50 years of practical experience on a Salmon River which has given me a comprehensive knowledge of Guiding, Angling Tuition, Hatchery work, Juvenile survey work, river habitat surveying, river engineering and river management. Over the years I have ghillied for and given angling tuition to people of many walks in life, like High Court Judges, Airline pilots, The medical profession, Lawyers, Actors, Farmers, Joiners, Electricians, Plumbers and Metal processors. My profession has taken me all over the UK, the USA and Canada on fishing and shooting exploits with some of my best friends which I have found during my career on the Oykel. Enough about me, let’s get to the important issues.
Salmon fly fishing is a most enjoyable sport. Inevitably luck often contributes a considerable amount to the success or otherwise of a day’s fishing. However certain skills are also very important factors for beginners. So, what are some of those skills?
First and foremost we must have the ability to cast a fly with competence and consistency.
There are two types of casting techniques that we use; Over Head and the Spey casting technique. Both those types of cast have a number of different variations, and indeed from country to country they differ slightly, and we all have our own style which again creates a slight variation, but, all can be very effective provided the basic rules are applied. Interestingly, not only do we have our own style, but when tutoring others it is noticeable that one’s impression is sometimes passed on to the person that is given tuition.
In overhead casting a loop of line is unrolled back and forward over the rod tip, the line unrolls out fully in the air behind the angler where it must be kept high enough so as not to come in contact with the bank or trees or any other obstacle which lies behind the angler. It is sometimes referred to as overhand casting in Scandinavian countries.
Spey casting however uses a loop of line placed under the rod tip rather than over the rod and relies on water resistance from the end of the line making contact with the water allowing the angler to load the rod against that resistance. I think it is a really good idea to imagine that the water is as sticky as glue, and therefore the longer you leave your line on it the more difficult it is going to be to get your line of it!
Overhead casting is to my mind much the most important and I am now going to leave Spey casting for another day.
I believe overhead casting is the best cast for understanding how the rod works, particularly the rod tip, how it flexes, how the rod loads and unloads, and for learning speed and the techniques of good loop control used in all salmon fly-casting. Rod loading is created not only by the movement of both hands in opposite directions (pushing and pulling) but also by changing the position of the rod through a casting stroke. The position change made by arm movement, upper body rotation and weight shift from one foot to another.
Good overhead casting is an absolutely essential and invaluable asset. Overhead casting technique should never be avoided because of Spey casting. That is why I prefer to start beginners on over head rather than Spey casting.
What is important about overhead casting is exactly how the rod loads and unloads, or is loaded and unloaded by the angler. The angle the rod is positioned at when the back cast is completed is very important, as is fluent continuous motion for line height behind the angler. The top hand acts as a pivot and gives stroke length and steering to the correct elevation, the bottom hand applies the power generating maximum leverage by keeping the top hand as the axis or pivot. A slow to fast movement in a fluent continuous motion is a good description of how the rod may be loaded, for a back cast, by moving the rod backwards to speed up the line before stopping abruptly at approximately ten past twelve, then pause to allow the line unroll, never allow the rod to drop down behind you, however when paused you may allow your rod to drift slightly backwards and by raising your hands at the same time, you will then be in a position to gain extra momentum and loading opportunity for your forward cast. (Remember, your line trajectory behind you has already been determined when you made the abrupt stop) Then speed up the line to a forward stop for your forward cast, again with a fluent continuous motion.
It is imperative not to bring your rod too far back behind; it is also a very common fault which must be corrected right from the start. If anglers are allowed to continue to bring the rod too far back it can easily be adopted as a bad habit for the remainder of their fishing career. So you must stop your back cast abruptly at approximately ten past twelve, otherwise you are going to be one of those who will continually loose flies or break them on the rocks behind you and never will achieve any great distance with a minimum of effort which is all that is required to obtain adequate distance for most angling occasions.
Now, overhead casters often become relatively competent in a short space of time if the weather is fine and not too much wind in any direction,” that’s fine”, but one day they will go to the river and low and behold the wind is blowing half a gale upstream which is something they never have experienced before, and because their timing and tightness of line loop is not adequate for the circumstances they are now faced with, through no fault of their own their casting ability “be warned” has all but disappeared; a great disappointment to many anglers who thought they were doing so well, but now, the line simply goes forward for the first part and then turns at a right angle upstream, “very frustrating after a while if you cannot stop it doing this” of course the obvious answer to most of us is more power, but this is not the correct answer.
When over head casting into an upstream wind, a slightly different technique is required; what you do is adjust the width/depth of the line loop so as to produce a narrow entry on your forward cast, in other words, stop your back cast earlier at say, five past twelve instead of ten past, and on your forward cast stop it sooner as well, and then follow through until your rod tip almost touches the water in front of you, thus not allowing the wind to blow your line upstream; this combination will give you a tighter loop on your forward cast and so penetrate the wind better than any other cast I know. It does take quite a lot of practice, but well worth the effort to see a very rewarding result. “I have caught and seen countless numbers of fish taken in almost gale force upstream wind” in fact in low water conditions I consider this to be as good as having an extra foot of water on the gauge.
I do not find it easy to explain the mechanics of casting, it is much easier on the river bank with a rod in ones hand, however, I do hope this may be of some help to beginners, and if you think I could be of any further help to you, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
Wishing everyone a very happy and prosperous New Year, and thank you ever so much to all that supported OSFT in the past year, and I look forward very much to seeing you all in 2015.