LEARNING THE SHORT GAME: Three Casts to Help Catch Trout in Close
For many, the classic image of fly fishing is an angler standing in the river throwing a long, tight loop that unrolls into promising water far away. In practice, however, this frequently isn’t the case. Many quality trout are caught at close quarters, with less than 15 feet of line outside the rod tip. Whether a trout is sipping drys under an overhanging branch, or hugging the bank of a riffled run, close encounters can puzzle even the most experienced anglers.
Most fly lines are designed to load the rod properly at a distance of 40 feet, based on the average fishing distance of perceived consumers. This prevents the rod from loading correctly at shorter distances. To load your rod in close, and ensure the best presentation, you need to use unconventional methods to get the fly to the fish. Here are three short-game techniques to help you land more fish at close range.
Bow and Arrow
To explain how a rod loads, I commonly ask anglers to envision a bow and arrow. When you draw back the arrow, the bow bends and stores energy in the flexed graphite. Once you let go, the bow straightens, shooting the arrow.
The same is true when casting a fly rod. The weight of the line flexes and stores energy in the rod. When the rod straightens, the released energy shoots the line and fly where you want them.
You can apply this principle by pinching the line between the cork and your index finger, and pulling back on the fly and tippet with the other hand to obtain a good bend in the rod tip. Release the fly, and it will slingshot toward the target in a bow-and-arrow cast. To get under low-hanging branches and other extremely tight spots, position the rod sideways and bow-and-arrow the fly where you want it to go.
With a 9-foot rod and a 9-foot leader (plus a foot or two of line) you can get a good bend into the rod by pulling the fly past the rod butt or even behind you. If you need to cast a little farther, pinch the fly between your thumb and forefinger, gather a loop of 2 or 3 feet of tippet, and pinch that as well. This will put an extra 2 to 3 feet of line outside the rod tip and result in an equal amount of added distance.
Tip Roll Cast
For most fly fishers, casting drys to rising trout is the ideal method. The visual thrill of dry-fly fishing haunts some anglers in their sleep.
When trout aren’t rising and you have to resort to fishing subsurface, casting with added weight can become more like a nightmare than a pleasant dream. For some people, the task becomes more difficult with only 3 feet of line outside the rod tip. This happens frequently on tailwaters, where you have to be close enough to see the fish in broken water while delivering the fly with only a few feet of line outside the tip.
The trick is to use a tip roll cast to keep constant tension on the line throughout the cast. This prevents the flies from hitting the rod tip on the forward stroke, or creating a bird’s nest out of your leader.
To perform this presentation correctly, use the tension of the water and the weight of your split-shot to load the rod and lob the flies upstream toward the target. This keeps your line taut and allows a straight-line presentation without spooking the fish. It also allows you to make rapid-fire presentations to the same fish over and over in order to get the drift just right.
Let the nymphs drift downstream and then cast/lob once again. The rod tip should follow the flies through the drift, and then move in a single smooth arc through the cast/lob. There is no false casting with the tip roll, and tangles are few.
Steeple Cast Punch
The steeple cast is normally used to avoid obstacles—like streamside rocks and bushes—on your backcast. I have found that the change of direction—from nearly vertical on the backcast to horizontal on the forward cast—can provide the energy needed to load the rod at short distances.
This cast allows you to make numerous short presentations by using one lift to load the rod, and one punch to present the fly. This keeps you from false casting over a fish at close quarters.
Perform the steeple cast by moving the rod hand up through the stroke, and stopping the rod high at the 12 o’clock position on the backcast. The line and leader should straighten vertically in the air, hence the “steeple” name.
When you make the forward cast, move your hand down and forward, aiming at the water—not above it.
Because the backcast stops at 12 o’clock, the forward stroke is short. I add an extra “punch” to the forward cast—this quick action shocks the rod and gives you the flex you need to reach the target.
The steeple punch is a great tool for close encounters with rising trout. They will never see you or the fly coming.
Reprinted with permission from Fly Fisherman