December 6, 8:54 a.m., West Yellowstone, Montana.
A friend and I went fishing one afternoon last week on the Madison in the Park. We had our sights set on doing some Baetis fishing, and were hopeful that we'd find some big fall-run fish rising. When we pulled over to look at the river above Seven Mile bridge, a vicious upstream wind accompanied us. Mayflies were already emerging. Fish were feeding. We felt that we had to fish, and knew that it wasn't going to be easy.
Our flies were #22 Sparkle Duns, our tippets 6x, our leaders fairly long. A difficult setup to control, but from previous days experience one that we knew was necessary. My friend was excited and wasted no time in singling out a big fish. He waded out and began casting. In short order, he put the fish down. On to the next one. After several casts, same result. And then twice more. What was going on here?
My friend is an excellent caster. Perhaps too good, for I believe this was his downfall. He had chosen to approach each fish from cross-stream, in deference to the river's tricky currents and the need for a drag-free drift. But casting cross-stream in such a violent wind requires driving the fly to the target at high speed in order to achieve accuracy. My friend had no problem doing just that, but in the process was unable to get sufficient slack into his leader. Almost immediately his casts dragged, something those big fish wanted no part of.
I took a different tack. Figuring that the wind was too strong to fight, I deferred to it instead of to the currents. I cast straight upstream, wind at my back, which permitted me a reasonable degree of accuracy and a chance to bring my fly down softly. With luck, I'd also get a little slack. (This upstream approach also enabled me to get closer to the fish, which made the presentation easier yet.) I didn't catch as many fish as I hoped for (do we ever?), but I got some fine ones. I attributed their capture exclusively to my approach.
Talking afterwards, my friend was hesitant to accept that our respective angles of approach were responsible for his failure and my success. But there is no doubt in my mind. I've seen the same thing happen too many times.
So the next time you find yourself fishing in high wind, consider giving in to it. Put it at your back, regardless of what approach other factors might favor. Hopefully, it will help you as much as it's helped me.
I recently crossed paths again with the friend I wrote about in my earlier post, "A Distance Casting Tip". He was out on the practice field, working on his casting stroke. I was curious to see how he was doing, so I watched him cast for a half hour. During that time it occurred to me that, for this young man, the sky is the limit. Not because he displayed some supernatural talent for casting, but rather because he possesses something even more important. He's got motivation.
Motivation is an essential ingredient for improving just about any sort of skill; fly casting is no exception. You won't become a better caster unless you want to become a better caster. (My friend has shown great motivation all summer long to improve his casting.) But it's important to remember that motivation doesn't function in a vacuum. It has to be directed. Properly. That takes knowledge.
Knowledge not only about the principles that govern fly casting in general, but knowledge about how best to implement those principles. This is where a good casting instructor comes in handy. Because without the right knowledge and a plan to implement it, all the motivation in the world will go for nought.
Another point. Motivation and knowledge work together through the device of practice. Lots of practice. Sans that, it's impossible to realize the benefits of combining the two.
As a result of his motivation, my friend sought out and acquired a great deal of casting knowledge this summer. He spent a lot of time practicing. It's paid off, too. He's not only a better caster than before, but also a better fisherman.
And if that wasn't the whole point to begin with, well, it's a mighty fine perk.