There is a lot to learn in this game of fly fishing. From the athletic task of learning to cast to the science behind insects and fish behavior, fly fishing covers the gamut in terms of the skills required to be successful. When you add to this equation, the attempts to implement the more advanced tactics and tricks that can be picked up by reading or watching others, the whole thing can seem rather daunting. I’ve been doing this for over thirty years and I can tell you with some certainty that there is no end to what you can learn to help bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to be. It all depends on is how far you want to take it and how much time you are willing to invest.
There is one thing though that no matter your level of experience, if practiced will increase your success rate and all it requires is a little bit of self-discipline. But we’ll get back to that in a minute. One of the most frequently asked questions of professionals is, “What is more important; presentation or fly selection?” or, to step it up a level, one may ask, “What is the most important component of fly fishing?”
In the attempt to bridge the aforementioned gap, picking the brains of those in the know and perhaps getting a practical demonstration may accelerate the process but the truth is it is tough to put that kind of importance on one area alone. I feel that an individuals knowledge of his or her quarry will more than likely be the greatest factor in ones success, but the fundamental skills like getting the cast down, reading water or being stealthy in ones approach are all additional tools that will further increase that success rate . That said, we have all fished with anglers that are not technically sound in their casting, but are successful because of their knowledge and understanding of the fish that they are angling. This is particularly common among those that have come from a conventional fishing background and transitioned from that to fly fishing. With this background, they have only to figure out what they need to do with a fly rod and line to achieve a similar presentation that they once did with conventional tackle. To contrast this, I’m sure we have also observed those that can cast a ton but have little understanding of the many “whys” and are therefore less than consistently successful. Having little or no knowledge of fish behavior makes the curve much steeper and it is easier to focus on a simpler component, like the cast, and spend less than enough time on the science.
So between the novice and the expert, where most of us are and our success comes through a mixture of skill and chance. Skill should only increase through experience and practice but chance can be manipulated and it is as easy as showing your fly to more fish. I realize that this statement sounds academic but most anglers, novice through intermediate do not practice this.
Anyone that has fished with me or those that I have guided will tell you that I preach the practice of covering water ad nauseum but I truly believe that among the most important components, it ranks at the top regardless of what you are angling.
For me, it started many years ago when I read an article by Art Lee. Although I can’t recall all of the details, I did retain one important piece. Art explained that when reading water for the purpose of covering it, break it down into smaller, more manageable pieces and then visualize a grid square over the piece that you are about to work.
The size of the grid squares will depend on how large the river is. For example; smallish pocket water may need only one foot squares where a larger run may require two or even three foot squares to work efficiently. Once the grid square is in the mind’s eye, the idea then is to cover each square until the run is complete. If you have worked it diligently, than you should have presented your fly to the majority of fish in that piece of water and by doing so increased your chance. I have been using this method for many years and together, with some other practices that I’ve picked up; I like to think that every piece of water that I fish gets it’s due diligence and the chance of picking up more fish are far higher than casting to the same lie repeatedly. Further to that, I can think of no situations where these practices don’t make sense or cannot be applied. From dry flies to nymphing; beginning with a plan in mind and executing it will increase your success rate and before long, it will become second nature to the point where you won’t even think about it, you’ll just do it.
Next time, “The Cast and Step”