What separates the men from the boys (?) – Part three: casting or false casting?

What separates the men from the boys (?) – Part three: casting or false casting?

This is the 3rd post on a series of articles that will focus in part on ethics of fishing and modern progression in fly fishing (in a South African context)

I ‘got to know’ Tom Sutcliffe, the man in this story, through his writing. When I met him in person, he was everything I imagined while reading the chapters of ‘My Way with Trout’; a gentleman with a joyful, but naughty wit in describing things. He’d talk about trout, rivers and farm dams where he’d seen and caught ‘lovely fish’, and also mentioned the owners of many honey holes and how he became friends with them. One of the spots he talked a lot about was Highland Lodge.

Darryl Lampert fishing a large variant in Highland Lodge’s Owl Dam.

It was when I joined Tom and a few others to Dordrecht’s Highland Lodge that he changed my life forever. Apart from the frozen landscape, the fishing warmed up everyone in the party and we came right with more than a net-full of rainbows each. This was not surprising, since trophy stillwater trout are the easiest things one could catch on fly in my opinion.

Tom Sutcliffe fighting a fish in Dordrecht.
Dordrecht’s cold winters are part of the reason why Highland Lodge trout grow over 10 lb.
Tom releasing another fat Highland Lodge rainbow.

We were fishing Yellowbill Dam together and Tom had just released another stunning fish when he pointed out that I could achieve the same distance in my casting by reducing my false casts to a single backhaul. Well, to put things in perspective, I was fishing from the dam wall and had plenty of elevation to only use one back cast as I lifted my fly out of the water. Although I couldn’t manage to copy Tom’s performance on the cast there, I continued to practice the concept of reducing back casts to the bare minimum.

The best trout of my trip to Highland Lodge was caught in Spurwing Dam – photo by Billy de Jong.

Years later, Tom and I strolled along a small stream in the Boland area. We took turns plucking trout from its pools with 2 wt rods. Tom was using an old Winston and I was experimenting with new leader formulas. On that particular day I was testing a butt section with a 1:2:1 ratio. Tom turned it over faultlessly and approved of the leader setup after he quickly caught a lively rainbow on a dry fly.

I was awed by his fishing. He waltzed up the free stone streambed and placed the dry with all sorts of cunning rod-flicks exactly where he wanted it and there were also trout waiting to eat the fly in every spot he hit. While I spent an eight-hour day trying to turn over the leader properly, I realised that I was watching an olympic champion that had reached the highest level of skill to master the art of fly fishing.

Watching and learning as Tom wades upstream and catches rainbows from tiny pocket water with delicate, one-cast presentations.

A few more years later and many hours spent behind a fly rod to better my casting, I realised that most people missed the point with casting in fly fishing. It simply isn’t about keeping the fly in the air, about forming perfect loops or about slow or fast actions. Instead it’s about placing the fly accurately by keeping it in the air for as little time as possible, no matter what the distance. The caster essentially excludes all errors by focusing on that simple approach, and it’s everything to do with fishing efficiently, not casting beautifully.

It’s not poetry, but more about line control and loading the rod correctly. So the question is, are you casting, or are you false casting? The answer to that is simple. If you are watching a fish while casting and/or casting to catch the fish, then you are casting and fishing properly; however, if you are watching the loops until the fly eventually catches the main line, mostly, or until it spooks the fish, then you are not casting or fishing, you are false casting. Stop fishing right there and pick a target, not a fish, but a stick or a lily pad or something at a fair but reachable distance (a 6 wt with a floating line will work perfectly for approx. 20 m for starters).

Practicing Tom’s advice, although it didn’t catch me the brown in that Witte River pool – photo by Philip Hills.

Tom’s advice: Make a normal cast as you always do (about 20 – 25 m long); then, when stripping the line back with the rod pointing straight in the direction of the line, start lifting it (and loading the rod) with about 6 – 8 m of line still on the water. Use the friction of the water to load the rod on the first back cast (NB – you want to stop the rod at about 1 o’clock on the back cast to achieve this); challenge yourself to shoot out all the spare line lying at your feet with one forward cast (again stopping the rod at about 10 o’clock, lowest position in the casting motion – the rod is essentially lowered to a ‘resting’ position after all the line is stretched out in front of you on the forward cast) so that the fly lands as close as possible to the chosen object. Keep trying this until you get it right four out of five times. Now try casting the full line using that technique (only one back cast). It won’t happen overnight, it took me years to get it to a point where it was practical, i.e., catching a carp or a brown trout by placing the fly accurately, just ahead of the fish on almost a full line.

Trying to reach a carp on ‘the other side’ of the Berg with a full-fly-line cast; I’ve caught a few wary fish like that on the Berg River, in which case Tom was to thank – photo by Fred Davis.

Don’t expect to catch every fish you target like that on a long cast (25 – 30 m), that’s part of fishing; but you may find in time that by practicing casting has a lot of fishing merit and that fly fishing can be a surprisingly effective method to catch fish by spending more time in the zone, simply by reducing false casts.

(To visit Highland Lodge, see www.highlandlodge.co.za)

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