Fly Fishing – Casting and Instruction

Whether you’re starting from scratch, or already a fly fisher and maybe just a bit rusty on the casting front, or just want to tune up your casting before the new season or a big trip, I can help with any of that.  I’m an  International Federation of Fly Fishers Certified Casting Instructor. I charge $80 a session if you come to me at Weston, ACT. For beginners the minimum you can sensibly get away with to get the basics sorted out is 4 lessons. The cost for a four lesson package is $240. Lessons normally go for an hour or so and I will follow up between lessons with email advice, feedback and tips, as necessary. You do need to practice between lessons – homework – to get the most out of it. Click on this link for an example Fly Casting Program.   I hold working with children clearance in NSW.

Whilst I prefer working with a small group I am happy to take one-on-one lessons. After four lessons you should be casting well enough, and have enough basic information to go fishing and to catch a fish. Having said that teaching people to fly fish (as opposed to just fly cast) depends a lot on how much they already know about fishing generally – stream craft, knowledge of insects, gear, knots, and flies are all areas you will spend a lifetime learning.

I provide all the equipment for lessons so I suggest you don’t buy anything before you come – but if you’ve got gear, feel free to bring it along. However, it’s better to wait until you’ve had a lesson or two before you visit the tackle shop.  The gear you need will depend on what kind of fly fishing you want to do – and if you were thinking of asking…. there is no such thing as a general purpose fly rod.

Fly Fishing Words and Things Worth Knowing

 If you’re planning to learn to fly fish, the best place to start is with casting.  Like any sport, you need to learn some basic techniques, and to practice until you develop muscle memory, and the movements become second nature. The goal is to be able to hit the ball back over the net (on most attempts), deal with the odd tricky shot, and get the ball to land between the tram lines, and on the right side of the court – but you’re not going to Wimbledon just yet. Whilst you’re learning to cast, of course you will learn a lot more.

A few terms and thoughts to become familiar with – you’ll hear me say these a lot; there’s a whole language to learn around fly fishing:

Casting Mantras:

  • Slack line is your worst enemy.
  • When casting, the rod tip travels in a straight line path (and therefore so does your thumb).
  • The longer the line (the amount of line in the air), the longer the stroke (the stroke is the distance your hand travels from forward to backwards to forwards etc. when casting).
  • The longer the line, the longer the stroke, the longer the pause (the pause is the time you wait for the line to unfurl on both the forward and backward strokes).
  • Apply the right amount of power at the right time.

Some Common Terms:

  • Barbless hook – as if catching these things wasn’t difficult enough already.
  • Casting – using rod and fly line to propel a tiny piece of fluff and feather, accurately, towards a spot at some distance from the bank where you believe a fish to be waiting. Otherwise referred to as eternal optimism.
  • Catch and release – feeling good about not killing what you’ve spent thousands trying to catch; nothing tastes as good as that feeling.
  • Clean and stretch – what you do before going fishing, as well as to your fly line when it hasn’t been used all winter.
  • Columbia – a country as well as a brand of clothing worn by fly fishers so they can recognise each other when in airports either in NZ or Chile.
  • Dropping a fish – losing a fish because the hook comes out before you’ve got it into your net; or dropping a fish when you’re waiting for the clown with the camera to take the snapshot.
  • Drop the rod – when your instructor tells you to do this, simply lower the tip of the rod to the water. Do not follow his instruction literally or he will get cranky.
  • False casting – preteding to cast – the forwards and backwards casting used to cast a fly line a bit further with each “false cast”.
  • Fly (dry and wet)- can be anything from a tiny imitation of any of the various life cycle stages of a natural insect; to a gaudy lure that resembles nothing in particular. It can be designed to float (dry fly) or sink (wet fly) but must always look like food.
  • Fly line – coloured plastic line that acts as the weight to cast your fly, normally about 30 metres long.
  • Fly line backing – thinner line, normally around 20lb breaking strain braid fishing line that sits between the reel and the fly line. Two purposes, first it builds up the spool diameter so your plastic fly line sits in bigger loops (smaller loop memory means less annoying tangles); second, when you get a really big fish the backing allows you to play the fish on a long line until either it or you is exhausted, and one or other wins.
  • Fly reel – simple centre pin reel without gears, and with a simple drag feature – for those so inclined.
  • Fly reel weight – (this isn’t really a term) – reels tend to be grouped across a range of line weights, 1 to 3 weight, 4 to 6 weight etc – this is about line storage and size. Important things about fly reels are the quality of engineering, an effective drag, how balanced they are with the rod (a big reel with a small rod doesn’t work), the colour, and the arbour size (width and circumference of the spool).
  • Fly rod – long, flexible rod with the reel seat right on the rod butt (the thick end).
  • Fly tying – a form of craft practiced on winter nights when there’s no footy on TV. Good fly tiers can watch TV and tie flies at the same time. This is a dark art.
  • Fly vest – something to hold all your bits and pieces.
  • Hauling – something you can do to accelerate the line and cast further- and double hauling – a movement that is truly counter intuitive and unnatural – used to accelerate the line in both directions, and therefore to cast even further.
  • Knots and hitches – various: blood, surgeons, nail, clinch, loop-to-loop – to tie all the bits together.
  • Waders – chest, waist, or thigh – made from rubber, or laminated breathable material, with either built in or separate boots. Will leak when worn near thorns.
  • Landing net – to secure your fish before you let it go.
  • Leader – a length of nylon fishing line attached to the fly line generally about 3 metres long.
  • Lb. – the pound, an imperial unit of weight measurement used by trout fishermen because no trout ever caught was less than “about a pound” and that sounds better than “about 0.45 kg”; and if you ever catch a 5lb trophy fish that sounds heaps better and is easier to remember than 2.27 kg.
  • Lift the rod – this is a synonym for strike – when your guide says this try not to stare at him blankly whilst the fish spits out your fly and swims away.
  • Loops – skinny or fat – the shape of the line as it’s cast backwards and forwards.
  • Memory – this is something you lose as you get older but something your fly line gains as it gets older. Often results in the fly line forming dozens of spool sized loops and developing an uncanny capacity to tie itself in complex and seemingly impossible knots, causing your memory to recall expletives and profanities you thought you’d long forgotten – think of it as brain training.
  • Mend – slack line you put into your cast so the fly will drift more naturally and for longer, before the line drags the fly.
  • Retrieves – stripping, nymphing, figure of eight, roly-poly, the hang, the drift, harling, loch style, dapping – various techniques for retrieving your fly after you’ve cast it.
  • Rod weight (this you do need to know). All fly equipment needs to be matched. A 6 weight rod is designed to cast a 6 weight line well. It will cast a 5 or 7 weight sort of, but it won’t cast a 2 or 10 weight – for that you’ll need more rods.
  • Roll cast – a basic form of spey cast that involves no back cast – really cool.
  • Seams, edges, pockets, heads, tails, eddies, runs, undercuts, overhangs, and bubble trails – different features, parts and characteristics of rivers and streams where fish might be either hanging around or hiding. For example “put your fly about a foot upstream from the undercut, in the seam against the tea tree; in the bubble trail.”
  • Spey cast – a really really cool cast that uses the surface tension of the water, acting on the line, to load the rod and execute the cast. I think this is an Olympic sport and if it isn’t it should be. This is on my list to learn to do.
  • Streamcraft – the art of creeping about so as not to spook the fish, and a whole host of other things you learn from experience. Mainly the experience of being yelled at for spooking fish.
  • Strike! – when your guide shouts this lift the rod forcefully (see “life the rod”), but in a controlled manner, to set the hook into the fish. Do not strike the guide when the hook does not set – which often it does not.
  • Stripping basket – either a fly fisherman having a tantrum and ripping off all his gear because he’s dropped another big fish – or a basket or other device you tie to your waist and/or leg, to hold the loose fly line between casts.
  • Tapered leader – a single leader and tippet combined, pre made for your convenience that starts thick and ends thin. The thick end attaches to your fly line in case you were wondering.
  • Tippet – a short length of finer fishing line joined to the leader and to the fly.
  • Weight – a term used to describe the actual weight of the fly line – you need a 6 weight line with a 6 weight rod. A “1 weight” line actually weighs an average 0.323 grams per metre of line for the first 9 metres. A 2 weight 0.646, 3 weight 0.969, etc. For a 6 weight (which is what I teach with) the first 9 metres weighs around 60 grams – when the system was originally designed the weights were in “grains” (1 gram = 15.4 grains) and the length was in “feet”. None of this you really needed to know.
  • “X” – the diameter of tippet – a legacy from the days of silk tippet. X = 0.011 of an inch (11 thousandths); 1X = 0.010 of an inch (11-1=10); 2 X = 0.009 of inch (11-2 = 9), etc. This is an inverse relationship to tippet strength, 5X is normally about 5lb; 4X = 6lb; 3X = 7lb etc. This is trivia, you will buy tippet based on its lb or kg breaking strain. Not called X by accident – the more X’s the thinner the tippet, the more fish will bust you off – the greater number of X’s = ratings of the fisherman’s response to that event, as in “I lost another XXXXXX fish”. I usually use 3X and 4X.

If you can avoid it, don’t buy anything until you’ve discussed your fly fishing goals with an expert – preferably more than one of them!