Monday, October 14, 2013

What's In A Cast?

For a sport so consistently full of inconsistency, it is a wonder why we as steelheaders put so much emphasis on the perfectly sculpted cast.
As irregular as the conditions that we come to expect during steelhead season, so are the anglers who come along with it.  
With variety vast enough to shame a box of assorted chocolates, each angler not only fishes differently from the other, but also casts with their own flavor as well.  

There are those who are more concerned with their cast than their hookup ratio, those who are just thankful to land their fly in the water, those who are talented at both casting and fishing... heck, there are even those who are happy to simply sneak a moment out of the house!

I remember the times where insecurity with my own casting ability on a spey rod plagued my days and stirred my wits when brought into question.  
Perturbed by a collapsed loop or a tailed sink tip, I would mutter profanities, strip in my running line and recast it "properly”.  
Casting solely in vain, It wasn't until the day that I came to appreciate my accumulated experience as an angler rather than a caster, that I simply stopped caring about the aesthetics of my yellow floating line and began to let even the poorest of casts fish themselves out.  
Naturally it was no surprise that my catch rate skyrocketed... for it doesn't take a specialist to summarize that the more time a fly is left in the water, the more opportunity it has to catch a fish.

Matt Harris 'silly face' photo.

Today, as the years quickly pass, I am fortunate enough to spend a great deal of time with other anglers where, as a guide, it is my job to observe and recognize commonalities amongst my guests.  
Bluntly put, I can honestly announce that there is a 50/50 split between the anglers who can cast with competency and those who need a little aid.  From where I stand, as long as the fly is able to make it from the shore to the main current, I am content to sit back and watch the day unfold, regardless of how talented the flies’ delivery is.

Now before I elaborate further on my personal viewpoint of the infamous casting snobbery, please allow me to open my argument with a minor disclaimer on such.

I will be the first to admit that it is beneficial to all parties to spend the day’s hours used productively in an attempt to try and understand the mechanics of an efficient cast.

To say that the cast and its form are trivial details would be incorrect and irresponsible of me, as a knowledgable caster is far more comfortable in the imperfect and highly probable scenarios of pesky winds, heavy hardware, overhanging trees and riverbank obstructions.  
Further, this column is only in reference to steelhead fishing and the double hander as I will argue that the casting ability of a saltwater angler on a single hand fly rod is absolutely crucial to the success of sight-fishing productivity.

Now moving forward, it is a phrase that I use daily when an angler turns to me with an embarrassed grin and a desperate plea that I allow them to recast a collapsed delivery; “even bad casts catch good fish!” I remind them while I watch them squirm as their itchy fingers fight from pulling their running line back in.
Truth be told, I have seen damned near as many fish hooked on poor casts as I have on immaculate ones and it was inevitable that I started to wonder why.

I have always liked to say that there are three types of anglers; there are the ones who can cast, the ones who can fish, and the ones who can do both.  It is the multi-talented folk out there who I try not to fish behind...

Often, the creme do la creme of the casting world are eager to wet a long line and, tromping out to the middle of the river, they cast far and away from the nearby seam that the fish are holding in.  Angled downstream, they often swing their fly too far, too quick and too unfocused to demand any attention from migrating steelhead.  These are my favorite people to fish behind as they are beautiful to watch, perfect for learning casting tips, and are incredibly courteous as they leave plenty of steelhead untouched for those of us willing to fish in close for laying players.

Adrienne Comeau photo.
Then there are the anglers who don’t even pretend to know how to do a left hand up snakeroll at 150 feet.  More concerned by how their fly looks after it is in the water, these are the anglers who have put their time in understanding water hydraulics, fish behavior and maximum efficiency.  Limited at times by large rivers and other barriers, these anglers try to make up for their lack of distance by applying their “fishy” sense throughout the entirety of their day on the water.

Naturally, as mentioned previously, there are those who possess all of these great qualities... this comes with time, experience, true dedication and a little natural talent.

In a world where internet and faceless critiques so openly disregard and maim an imperfect caster, those of you who know me and this column by now should not be surprised that I must come to the defense of the anglers out there who are insecure with their rod handling.

In my observations, a collapsed cast often lands in a pile where it is given the ability to sink deeper than if it were to be cast on a taut line.  This is quite often beneficial when steelheading and there is nothing as priceless as the surprised look on an angler’s face when their self-demeaning criticisms are rewarded by a hooked fish.
In the single hand world, we often use a cast called a “pile cast” where the line is deliberately crumbled to allow for a dead drift... in the Spey world, we call it an error but if the steelhead are responsive to it, I much prefer to call it success.

Additionally, there are often conditions that push fish close to the shore.  Colored water and poor visibility will drive both migrating and holding fish in closer to the riverbank.  I have witnessed countless occasions where an angler casting no further than fifteen feet has been the top rod of the day.  
Granted there is always a way to take things too far, and while I am by no means necessary suggesting that new anglers dump copious amounts of line into holding pools while hoping for a flossed fish, I am very much encouraging all anglers to have enough confidence to allow a messy cast to find its rhythm with the current, working its wonders through the underwater obstacle course of rocks.
While the river surges, so do the hydraulics of the flow and it is never a guarantee how each landed fly will be manipulated by the current.  What is certain though, is that it will eventually straighten and it may just be the perfect pairing for a hungry fish.

My opinions on the aforementioned is exactly that, my opinion.  
And while there will always be those who argue that a perfectly composed cast is of the utmost importance to catch that fish of a lifetime, I will undeniably stand by my debate that a fly spent mostly in the air does no more than catch the attention of a passerby and quite possibly, an ear or two.

Fish can’t tell what goes on above the water’s surface but they sure are keen on what goes on below it and the last I checked, a fly in the water caught more fish than one that wasn’t.
Please fish out your casts and when you look around before recasting a “failed” loop, I will hope that you will hear my voice in your ear, reminding you that you are doing great and that “even bad casts catch truly awesome fish.”