My mates Justin and Matt at Big Sky Anglers have asked me to write an article on how important are good fly casting skills. And it’s certainly an interesting question. Maybe the best way to answer it is to first tell you my story.
I started fly fishing at the age of 10 with a fibreglass rod. Before this point I had fished a spinning rod, drowning maggots and worms, and prior to this I first started fishing with a small net catching (and releasing!) minnows and sticklebacks. I’ve always had a fascination for fish, and trying to catch them is really what my life is all about.
When I took up fly fishing, like most people, I did so without lessons and just generally thrashed the water in a frenzy. My beginnings, like many others from the UK, were on Trout Stillwaters. My local fishery was a “put and take” 110 acre lake called Ardleigh Reservoir. Here, as a boy, I would spend my school holidays, weekends and even some school time when I should have been studying something else!
At the age of 15, I got a job in the fishing lodge as the fishery bailiff, selling permits, flies and giving advice. I was completely obsessed, twice dropping out of University so that I wouldn’t miss any of the trout season. At the age of 21 I started spending half my year backpacking and fly fishing in New Zealand and the other half working on the reservoir back in England. I remember one day when I was about 18, fishing with an angler who I had great respect for, who had invited me to fish Rutland Water (another large English reservoir) – he introduced me to his local Grafham team members as being a “shit hot” fly fisherman. Now I mention this, because when you hear an angler saying that they “can’t cast but can catch fish” or someone telling you that “fly casting skills are unimportant” it can be true – for I had never had a lesson and while I could cast a line a respectable fishing distance, I was certainly not an accomplished fly caster by any means.
When I was 24, with no real qualifications and no interest at all in doing anything that wasn’t fly fishing, I decided that what I would like to do is to teach fly fishing – and being able to teach fly casting was no doubt an important part of this – and so I made some inquiries and took my first instructors’ exam (the Salmon and Trout Association National Instructors Certificate, or STANIC). I saw something while attending that exam, through a window, that I had never seen before; one examiner teaching a cast to another examiner – it was the Snake Roll. This cast had only just appeared in the UK – my now good friend, Simon Gawesworth, had invented it. When I saw this cast, I realized that I had to join this particular group of instructors too, because there was a whole different world waiting for me. 18 months later I passed the entrance exam to the Association of Professional Game Angling Instructors.
A few years after this, in 1998, when the Internet was still very new, and long before people started holding fish at arm’s length to make them look bigger, I started a website called Sexyloops. My life at this point was fly fishing in New Zealand for six months of the year and either the UK or Australia for the other six months, living outdoors, sleeping in the back of the truck, or camping on the riverbank. The combination of being first through the door with a website that had lots of fly casting content, along with a life of travelling, expanded my world into pretty much a who’s who of fly fishing and fly casting.
I joined every instructors association going and got heavily involved with what is now the IFF, examining for them and preparing numerous instructors (well not numerous, more like 200!). I’ve been exceptionally fortunate in life, to have gone from Stillwater Trout beginnings, to 18 summers (3000 fishing days) fly fishing in New Zealand, to spending three summers on the shores of Hebgen Lake – where I met both Justin and Matt, three summers in Canada, to where I am now, which is five out of the last seven years living on a 14’ boat in the Tropical Malaysian Rainforest. Hardly a day goes past when I’m not actively fishing somewhere. I do lumps of 3-4000 days and then move on to a different type of fly fishing – I fish other stuff in-between as well; Russia, a hell of lot of time in Australia and have fly fished across most of Europe and so on, but it’s the 3000 day blocks where I put most of my energy.
In 2004 I got involved in competition fly casting; I had been giving a lesson to a competition caster and I got intrigued. I wasn’t really that interested in competing but I wanted to see how far I could learn to throw the 5WT. The “Best of the West” competition inspired me and quite a few others at that time. Indeed this is why we now have a World Championships with one of the disciplines being who can throw the 5WT Mastery Expert Distance fly line the furthest. My best result so far in this competition has been a bronze medal but I really want that gold! Many of my best friends compete in these games. Some are rod designers, there are many fishing guides and a hardcore of very serious angling ability.
In my life nowadays I’m both a rod designer and a fly fishing guide and instructor. I manufacture fly rods under the Sexyloops brand and teach people how to cast for, and catch, Giant Snakehead and Giant Gourami in the wild.
For fifteen years fly casting clinics and lessons were my main income, but the job I have now is a much better fit for jungle life (and it pays better too!). So let’s get back to the original question, how important are good casting skills?
Well it is certainly possible to be a seriously good angler with mediocre casting skills. It’s also quite possible to be an excellent caster with poor fishing skills – sitting casting instructor exams will tune up your flycasting and many have done so exactly for this reason, consequently there are examples of excellent casters who have almost zero fly fishing experience!
However being able to cast to a higher level of skill is never going to place you at a disadvantage. Recently I read an article interviewing guides asking them, “what was the one thing that they wish their clients could do better?” That one thing that they all wished for, was that their clients could cast better.
Now it would be interesting to know if the one thing that their clients wished for, was that their guides could teach them better fly casting skills! When I read something like that, I think to myself, “Hey, I think you are trying to tell yourself something!”
Let me tell you, if you are a fly fishing guide, then learning basic fly casting instructor skills is an immense boost to your guiding ones. Your clients catch fish, they learn fly fishing, they have a great experience and they also improve their fly casting! Phew – what a day! And it doesn’t take very long for a fly fishing guide to learn basic fly casting instructor skills and tune up his or her cast so that it looks professional. One month, two months, no more.
I’m fully aware that these associations are all a bit stuffy; I’ve quit three of them and was thrown out of a fourth! I don’t expect you to stay and start wearing tweed underwear, but the point is, in taking these exams you will get the skills and confidence to teach fly casting to your clients. I don’t even know why fly casting instructors do it if they don’t guide! For me it’s always been about teaching fly fishing – and so guiding and fly casting instruction have always gone hand in hand.
And what about you guys and girls out there who fish for the fun of it, and would like less tangles, more ease and a range of highly fishable casts? You too could go down the instructors’ route but what’s the point? Instead, I’m going to show you something that I’ve recently put together, which is a fly casting skills certification. It’s something we have on Sexyloops. You don’t actually have to become certified; the reason it’s there is simply to set you some achievable goals. I’m sure that Justin can test you, if that’s what you decide you want to do. What I do recommend however, for everyone, is that you use this “exam” as a syllabus of your own, so that by practising each cast, you will train yourself to become a better flycaster.
This is the Sexyloops fly casting challenge. There is currently one level, there are more coming. All of these casts can be learned through watching the flycasting video manual section on Sexyloops. And if you have any inquiries or questions you can email me directly on firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m not sure why you fish, I’m not even sure why I fish, but if having fun is an important part of fly fishing for you, then learning to cast better will surely make your fly fishing more fun – that I guarantee. There is no feeling quite like fly casting; shaping a loop of line to deliver our artificial fly to the fish. It’s an incredible thing that we do; it’s a sport, it’s a pastime, it’s a crazy life like no other. Being able to “throw” really elevates your game to a whole new level.
And if the mainstream stuff gets a bit boring, you can always try this:
And before you ask, no it’s not supposed to be taken seriously. If bat fishing ever ties off however then come to me for a lesson!
Life is an adventure, bring flyrods!