The popularity of saltwater fly fishing on the East Coast exploded in the early 1990s with the resurgence of the striped bass population. Suddenly, fly shops were popping up everywhere throughout New England, and it seemed that everybody was fly fishing in salt water—including a large number of people who had never fly fished before.
Today, as it was then, many fly anglers who come to the salt for the first time are unprepared for its challenges. Even longtime freshwater anglers, who may have 20 or more years of experience fishing for trout, freshwater bass, and panfish, often find themselves at a disadvantage when they try to play the saltwater game. And without question, the greatest challenge to saltwater fly anglers is the casting. Although a 30-foot cast will allow you to fish effectively on most trout waters, a cast restricted to 30 feet is going to diminish your chances for success in salt water.
Anglers new to saltwater fly fishing often wonder how far they actually need to cast to be successful. Joan Wulff, in her book Fly Casting Techniques, suggests that to fly fish effectively anywhere in the world, you must be able to cast 50 feet under all conditions. This is sound advice that many 50-foot casters will misinterpret. If your longest cast is 50 feet, you’re not going to be able to cast 50 feet when faced with a 12-knot wind. (Remember: 50 feet under all conditions.) Fly fish in salt water long enough and you’re sure to find yourself in situations that require you to use the equivalent of a 70- or 80-foot cast in order to drive the fly 50 feet.
Casting requirements will differ according to gamefish species and location. For example, fly fishing for striped bass and bluefish in the Northeast is, with a few exceptions, a game of covering water: The more water your fly swims through, the more fish it will pass, and the better your chances of hooking up. In such situations, a 70-foot cast will cover more than twice the water of a 30-foot cast. Sight-fishing for bonefish, on the other hand, often requires you to deliver a fly 50 or 60 feet quickly and accurately to intercept a moving target, and you usually have to contend with some wind. But no matter where you fish—fresh water as well as salt—the better you can cast, the better your chances are of taking fish.
The subject of distance fly casting is muddled with misinformation—a state of affairs to which the internet has contributed. Perhaps the greatest piece of misinformation that still persists is that learning to double haul is prerequisite to making a long cast. Without question, the double haul is an invaluable casting tool, but it’s not the basis for distance fly casting. A good caster can deliver a fly 70 or more feet without hauling.
The truth about distance casting is so simple that most fly fishers refuse to believe it: Your ability to cast a long line is determined by the integrity of your basic casting stroke. Once you refine your basic stroke—that is, your rod-arm mechanics—you’ll be able to make a long cast with a very modest effort, and you’ll be able to do it without hauling. As evidence of this, take a look at the following video, shot in slow-motion, in which I deliver a cast of nearly 80 feet–without hauling and with a fairly modest effort. [For best effect, enable the HD and watch it in fullscreen mode, the controls to which are at the bottom right of the screen.]
I’m convinced that all good distance casters have mastered three fundamentals of fly casting: First, they all load and unload the rod properly. Second, they all form tight loops. And third, they all lengthen their casting stroke when they need to make a long cast. Individual mechanics may vary somewhat, but these three fundamentals are constants.
In the following four posts in this series we’re going to take a look at the essentials of distance fly casting and how they work together to deliver a long line. It’s my hope that you’ll gain a better understand of the requirements of a long fly cast and that you ultimately can use this information to add some distance and power to your own cast.
[To read Part One of this series click here.]