“Act naturally” is the goal in the art of fly casting
Like the golf swing, the proper technique for fly casting is a practiced art that novices must learn and even experts have to hone.
With apologies to songwriters Johnny Russell and Voni Morrison:
They’re gonna put me in the river
They’re gonna make an angler out of me
We’ll make a day about a man that’s cast and happy
And all I gotta do is act naturally
The real song “Act Naturally” was a big hit for Buck Owens and the Buckaroos in 1963 on the country charts and a hit once again two years later for the Beatles with drummer Ringo Starr making his singing debut with The Fab Four. While we don’t really know whether any of those fellows is a fly fisherman, the song works quite well as the soundtrack to learning how to cast. While contemplating the intricacy of the fly cast, whether practicing or out on the streams, have that refrain “All I gotta do is act naturally” going through your mind.
That’s the point, really, about casting a fly rod. Fly fishing is simply the art of mimicking nature, making the fly “act naturally” so the fish will think it is indeed dinner and not some clumsy habitat intruder attempting to hook up with a trout.
It’s been said in pretty much every fly casting article, video training or live demonstration that learning how to properly cast a fly rod is the key to catching fish. If there appears to be few fish in the stream, but the casting is true, the angler has a decent shot of landing a prize. However, if the stream is replete with hungry fish but the cast is wrong and disruptive, the inexperienced fishing practitioner will go home with an empty basket.
As with all fishing, knowing the tricks of the trade will go a long way in being successful. But it isn’t all that easy. In this regard, fly casting is a lot like the game of golf: even the most experienced participants, the best in the world, continually work on their swing to keep it in just the right rhythm, and even then they have days when the birdies just won’t come. They go back to the range with a swing coach to rediscover their mojo.
So too the fly fisherman must continually hone the art of casting, even if one has been out on the streams and rivers for decades. For the beginner it is learning the basics and then practice, practice, practice; for the intermediate or expert, it’s honing, honing, honing.
And just like in golf, the proper cast, when viewed on video or even from the stream bank, looks so easy. But look for the little things that are big flaws. Like the half-circle cast where the lure is hitting the water in front of the fisherman on the forward stroke and hitting the water in back of the angler on the back swing. Think about: there’s line. Leader and fly swatting the water in front and in back, and the fish just know that this action is not the mayfly or other tasty morsel they are on the lookout for.
Rather than the half-circle, most experienced fly fisherman recommend that the cast arc should be shaped like the letter “C,” or in a perfect world perhaps the letter ”J.” Many recommend using about 30 feet of line, which is long enough to reach the fish without them being spooked by the angler, and short enough for the fisherman to control properly. Some of the best advice we’ve found in various fly casting teaching guides is these three words: Stop, look, listen.
“Stop” because the fly rod must stop for the line (and fly) to actually cast and land naturally on the water.
“Look” at the arc of the fly rod and the fishing line to see that “C” or “J” loops.
“Listen” so that as the cast is actually taking shape and landing the fly naturally in the right spot; that the whoosh sound of the rod cutting through the air ceases and all that is left is the faint sound of the line, leader and fly flitting through the air and landing, like a real fly, delicately on the water’s surface.
While you’re at it, another tip worth considering is practicing having the leader come very close to the tip of your rod and then casting it away, the closer to the tip the better. This will teach you how to shorten your casting stroke and placing the dynamic action in just the right part of the arc. It will also, over time, teach you to shorten the stroke and use less and less effort to achieve the proper results.
Golf teachers will tell you that distance and accuracy don’t come with swinging harder, but rather in finding the right kind of momentum in the swing. With the very best golfers, the longest hitters in fact, it is the shape of the swing and the repetitious tempo that provides results, not brute force. Likewise, in the art of fly fishing, it is that same practiced finesse that delivers a successful finish.
And all you gotta do is act naturally.
For all of your fly fishing needs – gear, instruction, guide services, fishing reports, information, camaraderie – look to Trout’s Fly Fishing of Denver, the West’s premier fly fishing resource. Call 877-464-0034 for complete information.