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Catch more fish with a fly rod
As soon as most new fly rod anglers learn how to fling a fly line out to 20 yards, many immediately start focusing on long-distance casting. Without realizing their folly, they forget that most fish get hooked at the shorter distance of 20 yards.
Fly fishers need to learn how to catch fish with the fly rod, rather than learn how to become tournament-casting pros. The past few years I have had the privilege of guiding fly rod legend Lefty Kreh, right here on the Androscoggin River. Inspired by a lifetime of developing and teaching fly-casting techniques, Kreh once told me something that really brings this point home.
“I’ve seen plenty of tournament casters with trophies to prove their skill at tossing a fly line, but most all of them can’t fish worth a pile of beans,” said Kreh, “and I’ve also seen a lot of folks that teach a great casting technique, but forget about teaching someone how to actually catch fish with the fly rod.”
The legendary casting instructor Kreh also downplays the traditional “clock-face” casting technique for teaching anglers how to use a fly rod properly. His unique and greatly effective technique for teaching casting involves a principle he calls, “keeping your elbow on the shelf.”
Rather than using the elbow as a pivot point while they cast, he has students pretend to slide the elbow of their casting arm on an imaginary shelf at the same height as the elbow in a resting position. Watching Kreh easily fling 60 yards of line in a heavy wind surely caught my attention. I would strongly suggest, to any fly rod angler that wishes to become more proficient, this one statement – get Kreh’s instructional guidebooks and DVD’s and judiciously study them if you don’t have the time to meet this amazing fellow in person. Mr. Kreh has proved himself as a master at transferring his lifetime of experience to new anglers, as well as teaching the more seasoned folks several new tricks.
I have one friend that shall remain anonymous, just to save him some embarrassment. Let’s call him Jerry. He took casting instructions several years ago and practices in the backyard a few times throughout the year to keep his casting technique honed.
Jerry really wants to fish more, but like many folks nowadays, it can be very difficult finding the time to get out. Family and work obligations come first, so actual fishing time becomes highly limited.
Jerry practices at home with his fly rod, has even taken a few advanced casting classes, and schedules a weekend with a guide on a highly-rated body of water during the prime time of the fishing season. Jerry only takes one fishing trip a year because of his busy schedule.
Jerry suits up in all the latest fly-fishing gear and meets the guide at the launch at the break of dawn. As the day progresses, the guide notices that Jerry can cast with the best of them, but he really doesn’t quite understand how to fish. He can lay the line out to great distances, but doesn’t have any real fishing knowledge – reading water, the cycle of aquatic life that sustains the fish, presentation techniques, etc.
What can Jerry do to fix this situation?
Fly fishers that have used other angling methods their whole life and then learn how to cast a fly rod have one huge, distinct advantage – actual experience on the water. Nothing can replace years of hands-on fishing experience.
One afternoon I watched 16-year-old Boston fly fisher Rex Messing and his friend catch one smallmouth bass after another while I floated them through some of my favorite fishing holes on the Androscoggin River. Their knowledge of reading the water and interpreting where the fish would be holding astounded me.
After watching for a little while, I had to ask the youngsters, “You guys come up here for one week a year and fish like pros. How do you do it? How do you find anytime in Boston to keep up on your fly fishing?”
What they told me happens to be a crucial point in this discussion.
The fishing teens said, “We get out every chance we can to hit all the little ponds that surround the residential parts of where we live. They’re full of largemouth bass and panfish, and we go as often as possible – even if it’s only an hour after school or baseball practice – we grab our fly rods and go.”
The teens constantly worked on increasing their fishing experiences throughout the year, no matter where they happened to live, and it definitely made their fishing trips to Maine more fruitful and satisfying.
Several years ago I took a basic fly-fishing class at L.L. Bean’s Outdoor Discovery School that totally impressed me for one simple reason. The pleasant group of instructors not only taught students to cast, they showed us how to read water, tie flies, identify aquatic insects, wade safely, and catch fish.
A myriad of fly-fishing schools can do the same; I just happened to live closer to Bean’s Outdoor Discovery School – and it also gave me a chance to get in a little shopping.
Interested fly rod enthusiasts must take a cue from the teens I met – go after anything that increases fishing knowledge. Schools, seminars, adult-education evening classes that teach fly tying, etc. all have their place. Then get out on the water as often as possible and wet a line. Nothing beats the experience of actually having a line in the water.