One of my students a beginner (casting rather well) recently had an outing casting from a boat. There was the eternal wind blowing and the boat moving and all that. But the main issue was that the leader was misbehaving and didn’t turn over. The caster was struggling to lay out the line and the leader straight. The caster had no control over the leader and fly, and never was able to lay the ensemble out straight
We all have been there at some point in our journey. Now, I did some sleuthing of the equipment. The rod, an old stalwart #9 Sage II was not the issue. The #9 fly line was a new correctly sized one – not the problem. Now, the leader turned out to be a 12‘long hand-tied affair with a butt section of 0.024‘‘. The fly used was a weighted (bead chain) streamer.
Length of leader
Long leaders (10’ or more) are frequently advocated by guides and experienced anglers. Yet, as the leader lengthens it gets to be much more difficult to cast. The savants forget those beginners will struggle with long leaders plus the wind and a heavy fly. The leader must work for the angler using it, and it makes no sense to use a long leader if it does not turn over. You are better off with a shorter leader that you can turn over and lay out straight. Even if a long leader is preferable, if the caster can’t make it work, it isn’t the right leader.
My #9 bonefish fly line has a 0.040’’ tip diameter (have micrometer will measure). That diameter calls for the butt’s leader to be around 70% of the fly line’s diameter. 0.040 x 0.7 = 0.028’’ for the two to have comparable masses. Our leader’s butt was not terrible (0.024’’) but not optimal either. For optimal transfer of energy from the fly line to the leader, the masses of each at their juncture must be close to the same. And the longer the leader the more important it becomes that the butt is heavy enough.
The idiot savants of casting can fling out just about anything – long leaders with big flies no problem. However, beginners can’t do that. We must always curtail our advice to the ability of the caster being advised.
My advice for beginners
Buy ready-made leaders and forget the advice of the experts they can tie their own leaders, but it takes experience to get there. Ready-made leaders are now high quality and thus you will have fewer knots (it takes experience to tie great knots). Pay attention to the butt thickness. Quality leaders will have the butt diameter printed on the info sheet. A very good bet is that anglers’ butts are too thin. If you can’t turn over your leader – it is too long and/or fly too heavy/big for your casting abilities. You are in the game with a 9’ leader and your preferred fly laid out straight – but not if you have a 12’ leader collapsed in a bird’s nest.
Your casting abilities at any time are what they are i.e., not a variable, but leader length, butt diameter, and fly can be varied to get the desired outcome. There is no need for self-inflicted wounds or unforced errors. It is difficult enough as it is.
Casting a fly from a sitting position is vastly different from casting standing up as the body movements are restricted. Furthermore, the elbow movements are restricted in a kayak (or a belly boat) impacting the ability to haul. The seat is lower, and the line will be closer to the water’s surface making long carries problematic.
Let’s consider the rod – the line – and the casting technique.
Longer rods will get more height but as they get longer, they become more difficult to use. A 9.5 ft. rod is easier to cast than a 10 ft. rod but has less height advantage etc. I can’t one hand a fly rod that’s longer than 11 ft. and it will become difficult to net a fish as the rod gets longer.
THE FLY LINE
You want a weight-forward line. The more weight up front, the better. Remember the loss of height will limit the carry, and it could become advantageous to use a short head (or shooting taper/head) and/or overline to be able to load the rod with the limited carry.
The casting is going to have to be “just” arm movements. No way around that one as I see it. So, practice that type of cast from a chair. Sitting on a chair in the grass is VERY helpful but preferably use a kayak seat or a low beach-style chair. Even a regular chair gives you a false sense of space between your casts and the water and how cramped the elbows are going to be!
Hauling is much more difficult when in a kayak or belly boat. Practicing from a chair is good advice but that doesn’t hinder hauling as much as a kayak will.
The problem of the water surface proximity will logically be solved by high back casts paying attention to sending the line over the rod tip. Minimal false casting plus the high back casts will lessen the chances of a line slap behind you and you must minimize your carry. Now with these recommendations, you need to shoot the line and any hauling will be a good addition if there is any room for it.
During the casting session before the club meetings, I have been using my teaching rod. Many casters have commented on the rod´s handle, and all have liked the tactile feel of it.
So, let’s face it we aren´t getting any younger. I broke my underarm in the eighties and it had to be operated to avoid it looking like Picasso’s goat. Resultant I have paresthesia in my right thumb. Then there was the Dupuytren’s contracture and then the arthritis of the base joint of my thumb (carpometacarpal 1) led to parting ways with my right trapezium bone. This is to be expected and I bet a lot of the club’s members have some of those ailments and some others too. With arthritis in our hands, it becomes more difficult to close the fist. I find it hard to get a good grip on the cork of a fly rod now.
What works very well for me is to make the handle thicker. I can get a much better grip on my rod if I do that. I have found that by wrapping my rods with bike handlebar tape I get a firm grip and it is not slippery at all. The wrap is soft and pleasant to hold, and my hand does not slip.
Of course, you can go and buy fly rod tape but any product with “fly” in it will be priced much higher than the bike handlebar tape. Try it out – it is cheap, and you might like it.
“Why can’t I cast this Clouser?”- is a question I often get. “I am using the #8 rod and #8 line, and I have no control over it.” The misbehaving Clouser usually has big lead eyes and is very heavy. We all have experienced this problem at varying stages of our development.
The way to analyze the situation is first to –
Consider the equipment
The line weight must match the fly’s mass. So, it follows that the line could simply be too light (Occam‘s razor). The shape of the fly line especially the front taper. The key point is that any fly that resists moving because it is either heavy and/or very wind resistant requires a significant “pull“. The best way to achieve that is with a heavy line. The front taper must be powerful (short and/or heavy tip) to maintain as much energy as possible to have the necessary oomph to turn over a heavy fly.
The leader‘s butt end needs to be thick enough (more mass). The length of the leader could be too long and often is. The leader needs to be massive and short enough to turn over a heavy fly. If the leader is too long there is insufficient energy left in the leader to turn over that fly. So, a shorter leader is better suited to turn over a heavy fly.
Because of its mass, the heavy fly’s residual momentum will be substantial when cast with the standard technique. So, it will kick with a hard stop. Its momentum causes it to bounce, and now it becomes very difficult to impossible to fashion a straight backcast. Thus, slack is introduced and control over the line is lost, and it becomes very difficult to cast a line with a lot of slack in it. The rod doesn’t load properly, the line doesn’t accelerate because it isn’t straight. When there is a heavy fly at the end of the leader all problems multiply. When a casting stroke starts the line/leader must be as straight as possible.
By avoiding the stop we can prevent the kick. We do this by using an oval path for the fly on the backcast and maintaining constant tension on the fly. Now, we swing the fly back horizontally and instead of casting straight back, we bring the rod tip up, thus swinging the fly upwards, and then commence the forward cast. This cast is called the Belgian cast.
I was recently fishing the flats of South Andros. Megan Nellen, an angler in our group, was relatively new to the sport, and she was asking all the right questions. We fished together for a day. As she took the bow of our boat, I noticed her ready position was suboptimal but still had a lot of positives.
I gave her some pointers that seemed to work well for her.
This got me thinking – what is the ready position in essence? I like to deconstruct problems into their constituent parts, i.e. simplify them. After some rumination, I like to present this as ….
The length of the fly line outside the tiptop needs to be enough to load the rod quickly, but not so much that it gets into the motor or poling staff or under the boat if dragged boat side. The iron rule is – if it can snag it will. The angler wants as much line out of the rod as safely possible, which reduces the time to the first delivery.
The fly must be controlled by holding it by the bend of the hook (or by the leader just proximal to it).
The line must be controlled by the line hand.
Any method that satisfies these 3 points will work. The fly can of course be held by either hand. There are several methods described on the web – I like some and others not so much.
The one that works best for me and is simplest, I think, is – about 15’ of the line outside tiptop – holding the fly by hook bend in rod hand (thumb – index) – line hand holds line ca 2’ from the stripping guide. Sweep the rod away from the fish and let go of the fly. For casts with fish inside 35,’ I have enough to get there without slipping or shooting line. Then if more line needs to be aerialized I can make one forward and one back cast slipping both ways and then shoot more line.
The line stacks. Between the rod hand and the reel, there needs to be a line in the cockpit that is stacked correctly – so the line close to the line hand is on top of the pile.
Pull off the reel, the length of line that you can cast, and place it in the cockpit of the boat. The line you can’t cast only increases the risk of tangles, so it stays on the reel. Now the line stack has the line shooting first on the bottom, a surefire recipe for tangles and grief. Cast that line out and retrieve, now your line is stacked correctly and is ready.
Starting fly casters are taught to false cast on grass and the casts will be parallel to the ground. But casting parallel to the ground when fishing is an unforced error. When casting straight, the line and the leader will turn over several feet above the surface. It will take the fly time to drop to the water giving the wind time to mess with the presentation.
I noticed at a club meeting when we were doing accuracy that the back casts usually weren‘t high enough.
When you aim at a spot on the water’s surface the trajectory will become downward towards that spot. Because the back cast needs to be 180 degrees opposite to the forward cast for an efficient straight cast it follows that the back cast must be upwards.
Therefore the whole trajectory must be straight (180-degree rule obeyed). So, now the cast must look like this.
So, pick a spot on the water where you intend to place your fly. Now, drive the fly line straight to that point and try to straighten your fly line and leader just inches above that point. Now, the wind has much less room to screw up your cast.
This is a for beginners – the basic description of the casting arc needed for a short cast.
The log on hooking considered a tracking fault i.e., what happens if there is too much bending (radial movement) of the wrist (abduction) in the horizontal plane.
So, it’s logical to consider what happens when we over-abduct the wrist in the vertical plane. The angle between the underarm and the rod then becomes, say 90 degrees. Beginners and intermediate casters do this frequently on their back-casts. This will send the line careening down behind the caster, and thus it will be traveling in a great big loop. When the wrist bending (radial movement – abduction) is kept minimal and the rod is stopped just past vertical, the caster will have a much straighter line behind and now has consequently the foundation for a good forward cast.
Now, on to the forward cast. The same rule applies. The backcast and the forward cast should be symmetric. Therefore, we need to stop the rod high on the forward cast to send the line straight.
Beginners frequently bring the rod tip too far down instead of stopping it higher. That leads the fly line to form a big inefficient loop going nowhere. What we want to do is to stop the rod tip high and shape the top leg (fly leg) straight.
Now the crucial feat is to make the rod tip travel from the back stop B to the front stop A (orange lines) in a straight line. We can do that by bending the rod against the mass of the line behind it (plus the inertia of the rod itself). We start from a standstill, smoothly accelerate the rod, and bring it to an abrupt stop when we reach the front stop. That will send the line over the tip in a straight line making for an efficient cast. To obtain this straight line we must practice a lot. There is no getting around that one.
If we don’t accelerate and don’t bend the rod, there will be no straight line, but an upward curve, and the loop becomes large and inefficient. For an efficient cast the rod must be stopped at points A and B. To get a straight top leg the tip path must be straight between the stop points. When that happens the cast will be straight and efficient.
At the Suncoast Club’s casting clinic there was a caster (right-handed) who asked – “Why does my fly line hook to the left at the end of my casts, instead of laying out straight?” A kindred southpaw will hook right of course.
This one is a recurrent error. I have suffered from the same malaise. But this one is also rather easy to cure. For any successful cure though the diagnosis must be spot on.
Why? This error happens if the tracking isn’t straight.
How? On the backcast – the caster doesn’t throw the line straight behind, but well to the left of the caster, as you can see in the diagram.
That happens when the caster opens the wrist way too much in the horizontal plane and sends the line in a great big curve back, thus violating the 180-degree rule. On the forward cast even if the line is reasonably straight it will hook to the left.
The cure – pick your target on the backcast. Aim for something (a tree – an island – anything) that is behind you and cast straight back. One way to practice this is to lay out a rope (any line will do) on the ground in the position of the A-B line on the drawing. Deliver some backcasts and see where the line lands. If left off the line – adjustment is needed. In the picture, A-B is the straight track casting line, so never let your line cross that line. On the forward cast, you don’t cross the A-B line, if you do the line will hook left. On the back-cast look at your reel, if the side plates aren’t vertical, you are not tracking straight. So, the cure is – to pick your targets and be sure that the rod tip is traveling straight. When you do – voila – the line lays out straight.
If I can only give one piece of advice – here goes – WATCH YOUR BACKCASTS. If I go Yogi Berra on you – “You can learn a lot by just watching.”
However, there are situations when you want the line to curve at presentation. And you are right – those are the curve casts!”
Picture above. Sibbi is here casting – the wind is considerable blowing down the river. The wind is hampering his backcast and his line looks like an ECG. Sibbi is an elite caster and gets away with it, but he is at the edge of his carry limit with the wind in his back i.e., it is difficult to straighten the line on the backcast.
The Suncoast Club (https://suncoastflyfishers.com) hosted a casting clinic Jan. 8th. I helped out and noticed one particular error that several intermediate casters there made. They were making nice false casts and then suddenly they lost control just before their delivery. I have suffered from the same malaise. All casters have a certain length of line they can comfortably carry in the air false casting. Beginners can’t carry much line but little by little they are able to carry more. We refer to that length as their carry. Distance casters can and must carry say 100’ of line to be able to reach 120’. So, the carry length is highly individual. As we practice, we can carry more line.
Back to our intermediate casters – it turned out they were slipping line (releasing a bit of line on the back cast and/or front cast). Thus, they were increasing their carry, and some didn’t even realize it, and in the end, they had moved past their carry limit. What happens then is that the line can’t be kept straight neither in front nor in the back and control over the line is thus lost. Consequently, they were introducing slack into their cast with the known outcome. The remedy is to teach a caster where his/her carry limit is. That task turns out to be very easy. Carry more and more until control is lost, that length is a bit too long. Mark the line with a marker at that point. So, now we have established the individual’s carry limit. Then we just have some line at the ready to be shot on delivery. When our casters observed their carry limit and then shot the line, they suddenly were able to get more distance than previously.
The wind is light and the sun is shining and I am floating across a gorgeous flat in South Andros. I am in the ready position on the bow of the skiff and the guide spots a big bonefish. It always is a big fish but this one was huge – when it tailed we thought it was a sailboat. The sun was right – the wind was right – what could go wrong? My cast was perfect – I led the fish correctly (got the fly across the fish’s projected path) and bumped it into his field of vision when the guide said “strip it once” and the fish took the fly immediately and instantly bolted. I cleared the line and raised the rod tip a tad to cushion the line/leader when the line was pulled tight. You know where this is going eh? Yes, you do ……. the leader to tippet knot snapped instantly with a bang. This is a moment when adult diapers could be useful but I managed not to disgrace myself. Would you believe me if I told you that this happened twice the same morning?
Tackle failure; In both instances, it was the leader-to-tippet connection that failed. This has not happened to me before so I tied some more leader tippet connections and Capt. Baz snapped them easily. This will happen when the knots aren‘t pulled tight and I mean tight. As we glide down the razor blade of life our muscle strength diminishes. Years back I broke my right underarm (so-called Galeazzi fracture). It got fixed with a plate and screws but after that, I had a bit less sensation in the pad of my right thumb. Then onto the arthritis of the base joint of the same finger that led to an operation where the joint and the trapezium bone is just removed plus some fancy tendon plastic. All this wear and tear has left me with a weakened thumb. Now I must wrap the leader and tippet around my hands to be able to pull those knots tight enough. When I redid my knots this way the connection held. Capt. Baz helped me with this diagnostic work and remedy and even donated leather gloves to the cause of protecting my hands. After discovering this issue I did not have any breakage. Needless to say that the fish snapping the leader to tippet connection was much bigger than the eight-pounder I finally caught.
It is easy to get to Mars Bay and we left from Ft. Lauderdale flying straight to Congo Town on South Andros.
There it is – the landing strip of the Congo Town airport. At last, we were able to make this long-awaited trip to Andros. This trip was slated for the year 2020 but understandably got moved to 2021. There were some basic requirements – you must be vaccinated – you must provide a negative Covid test – and before departure home, you must have a negative Covid test. All reasonable and easy to comply with.
We touched down in Congo Town uneventfully but as we taxied to the terminal I spotted this plane. Looks to be a rough landing right there but one you can walk away from – the basic requirement in my book. So, no biggie.
After clearing customs and a half-hour taxi ride south on The King’s Highway from Congo Town we arrived at Mars Bay Bonefish Lodge run by Bill Howard.
The two stories house is being finished and the pink one is the kitchen and dining area plus three bedrooms. There is another guest house similar to this one on the premises. The accommodation was great. Rooms and beds were spotless and the food was excellent and interactions with staff were outstanding. Now, I must point out that it must be a challenge to run an operation like this where everything must be imported. However, the schedule ran without a hitch and there were no hiccups along the way. One day we got blown off the water by thunderstorms and wind but the weather is not under anyone’s control and we expected one storm day frankly.
The sunrise was spectacular from the porch while enjoying your morning coffee.
Breakfast was at 7 am and then guides picked us up at 7.30 am and we fished until 4 pm. This is hard work and lunch was packed and needed. After toiling on the flats an afternoon beer or wine is just what the doctor ordered and provided. Dinner is served at 7 pm and then you pretty much are out.
For me, the excitement is the speed of those fish. There are a lot of moving parts to bone-fishing which I have covered in a previous blog.
The single most important determinant of your success is your cast. You must be able to double haul and get the line out to more than 50-60’. Sure fish are caught closer to the boat but to be able to cast 40’ in a moving boat with the wind in your face requires that minimal skill set. You can buy a rod and a reel but you can’t buy a cast. Don’t go bonefishing until you have learned to cast properly is my advice.
All the anglers in our group caught fish and a lot of them – big and small. Simply put the fishing was outrageous.
Captain Baz with a big one (he always catches a big one but not necessarily the biggest one).
That distinction goes to Hutch. This one is estimated at 11 pounds.
I find the mangroves fascinating. The fish swim into those thickets on the high tide to forage. If you hook one and it decides to go there you are simply toasted. So, man up – max drag and apply maximal pressure. That can break off a fish, but you have a chance, but none if it gets in there. The big ones get big because they do just that. This was a recurrent scream “Fish on – oh f… heading for the mangroves!”…………
Then there is that – the fly line eating mangrove. It is a law of nature that a mangrove anywhere in the vicinity of your cast will catch your fly line. We were on a big flat with one tiny mangrove – point proven. Note the numbers on the gunwale. The number twelve is straight ahead and then – one – two – three on the starboard side. The guides give the caster instructions by saying “nine o’clock 60 feet” etc. Or “point one o’clock come right – see the fish?” and when you do spot the fish you cast. It does not work well for me to cast without having seen the fish. The guides are higher up on their poling platform and can spot the fish better (and they do this day in day out) and become so attuned that they can spot them one hundred or more feet out (sometimes even before they materialize).
But Greg redeemed himself repeatedly later that day.
A lone bonefish can be maddeningly difficult to spot but sometimes you find these big schools of fish and suddenly you can see them clearly. At the outset, I caught some fish from a school like that but after a while it got old. It is much more rewarding to me to find lone fish that are usually bigger but it is also a lot harder.
The flats we fished seemed to be endless and there were mangrove mazes you could pole into like this one. It took us two hours to thread ourselves through that particular maze.
It is a good strategy to be on the flats adjacent to the mangroves and especially if there is a bit deeper channel into the mangroves. The bonefish will usually return to and from the flat through these deeper channels. You need to be observant because we can be talking about very subtle depth differences. The bonefish in the video below was caught applying that strategy. You position yourself for an ambush and then you wait. The bonefish go into the mangroves on the high tide and must leave when the tide falls. I like better to catch a few big fish than a lot of small ones.
In the video Capt. Baz unhooks the fish without touching its body. The bonefish have this mucus around them that can be scraped off leaving them vulnerable to the sharks and there is a lot of sharks around. Notice that after the fish is freed it swims close to the boat for a while before departing.
On the flight home from Andros, the line “I would trade all of my tomorrows for a single yesterday” of bonefishing like that got some serious rumination. I decided against it – I will just go there again and again.
https://everyjonahhasawhale.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/6F7DC789-6228-4CEA-8F10-E20E37617FED_1_105_c.jpeg7681024Jonas MagnussonJonas Magnusson2021-11-30 12:00:182023-02-21 12:10:36Bonefishing from the Mars Bay Lodge – south Andros