Casting: Get Your Head In The Game -John MacDiarmid, FFI Certified Casting Instructor
“Get your head in the game Mac,” my middle school baseball coach ad- monished me as I sat on the end of the bench staring at my cleats while our team was in the field. My mind was not on the game, it was out on the muddy bank of the Tar River under my favorite cypress tree arcing a silver spoon over the tea colored waters in search of a willing Shad. The spring run was on. The coach was an eastern North Carolina boy, he should’ve felt the call of the river when he was my age. I wondered how guys like him and Cy Young winner Catfish Hunter from the same area, dealt with the conflict; fishing v. base- ball when they were young. I guess Catfish fished lots after his illustrious pitching career on the pennant winning Oakland As and New York Yankees. But we are all different, I knew what I had to do. My mother washed and folded my clean uniform one more time and I surrendered it with a big thank you to the coach for keeping me on the team when I really didn’t meet the skill level. We would see each other again in August for the daily double football practices in 100 degree heat with 95 percent humidity. But for now, I needed to hit the Tar.
Knowing where your “head” is “at” is equally important in the middle school maturation years and fly fishing. To make a proper cast, you should know the length of your fly line head. Virtually all the fly lines we use now are weight forward. Generally the head (front) is a large diameter heavy fat section followed by a small diameter, skinny running line. The weight forward lines are easier to cast distance than the double taper lines they replaced. The double taper is tapered at both ends with a fat or uniform diameter in the middle. With the weight forward, the heavy large diameter head can pull out the small skinny line for long cast. To effectively use the weight forward you need to know where the line changes from head to running line. If the head is too far outside the tip of the rod, the cast will fail. RULE # 1: SKINNY SMALL DIAMETER LINE WILL NOT TRANSFER ENERGY TO FAT LARGE DIAMETER LINE.
On a long cast we begin the cast with 10’ to 20’ outside the tip and we slip line on each false cast to lengthen the line outside the rod tip, aerializing more and more line before we reach our comfortable line length we can false cast in the air. At this point, we release the line held in the line hand at the very end of the forward stroke. The heavy head pulls the skinny line off the deck and out the rod tip for a long cast. If, during the cast we work the head too far out the rod tip before the shoot, the cast is doomed to failure. If the head is over about 1’ outside the tip, the skinny line will not transfer the energy to the fat line. The line will fall on the back cast and forward cast, often ticking the water, producing large loops and un- controllable deliveries. Distance will be compromised.
This happened to me on a recent saltwater trip. I normally aerialize (false cast) 40’ to 45’ in my cast, shooting the rest of the needed distance. With a 12’ leader and a 9’ rod I can cast accurately 60’ (40’+12’+9) without shooting any line. Scientific Anglers has an 8wt. Amplitude Bonefish Saltwater Fly Line with a 40’ head that is perfect for the length of line in my false cast. RIO’s 8 wt. Direct Core Flats Pro Saltwater has a 38’ head that cast equally well for me. One day on the saltwater trip, I took out the RIO 8wt. Bonefish Quick Shooter with a 35.5’ head. When the guide called out “long cast 2:00” my distance “sucked”. Aerializing 40’ to 45’ of line, the 35.5’head was too far out the tip for the transfer of energy from the rod tip to the line. It took me a while to realize what was happening before I made an easy adjustment. The line manufactures change the color of the line at the head/running line interface. We just have to be smart enough to realize the significance and make the adjustment, keeping the head inside the head or within 1’ of the tip. One problem that persist was I had to take my eyes off the moving fish to glance up to the rod tip to see the position of the head. That problem was solved by marking the line with a magic marker where I want to hold the line with my line hand when the head is at the sweet spot. I can see that out of the corner of my eye while continuing to track the target.
So, does the RIO Quickshooter short head line have an application on the flats? Yes, it does. When you wade fish and your eyes are much lower than they are on the casting deck of a skiff, you do not see the fish till they are much closer with less time to cast before they see you and flair away. The shorter head loads quicker (Read fewer false cast.) for a quicker presentation.
Applications to trout fishing: Most of the trout line heads are long enough that this principal does not become an issue. Also, the cast are shorter and there is less need to false cast a long line. My present 5wt. line of choice is a Scientific Angler Amplitude TROUT. The head is longer than my usual aerializing length for trout fishing and the back taper of the head(going from fat to skinny) is very gradual so there is plenty of diameter left in the line to throw mends down the line on long drifts. Check the box your line came in and see what length head you are casting. Compare that with the line length of your false cast. When the two are dialed in, you will effortlessly deliver your longest cast.
December 16, 2018
Summer is over and most of us are looking forward to resuming fishing on our local waters. This summer Jan and I fished in Cuba, the Lava Lake Outing, Montana’s Bitteroot River and The Kanektok River in Alaska to name a few.
During our trip in Cuba we were surprised by a Tropical Depression which dumped over 30 inches of rain in three days. The storm really dampened our fishing but we still managed to catch a few fish. We had to change up our itinerary a bit since the flats fishing was blown out but the river was still fishable. All caught Tarpon except the Knapiks, we were surrounded by Tarpon but Jan and I could not get a bite. It’s really frustrating when Tarpon are rolling all around you and you don’t get a tug! Well, maybe next time.
We headed to Montana by way of the Steen Mountains because Jan had committed to help with the Oregon Bee Project. We spent one day up on top of the mountain collecting bees and doing a little sightseeing. The next day I decided not to go up mountain with the rest of the group and went to fish the Blitzen River. The river ran right through our campground and as I checked it out, I saw a couple of Redband trout sporadically sipping tiny flies on the water’s surface. Having read about the Blitzen River and its special trout, I just had to fish it. I walked up canyon for about three miles before starting to fish. I saw a large number of big cased Caddis flies on the bottom of the river so I tied on a size 12 Elk Hair Caddis. My first cast was taken immediately and I completely missed setting the hook. It took many more misses before I finally was able to set the hook, these fish are really quick. Once hooked these fish are immediately airborne and jump wildly and run all over the place. They sure put my 3/4 weight rod to the test and I loved the fight that these little fish put up. The last fish of the day showed itself in riffle below a deep pool as it rose to a fly. I threw my fly in the riffle and watched intently as the fly drifted for a couple of feet when bam, it slammed the fly! I set the hook and saw a beautiful 18 inch Redband trout head for a snag and wrap itself not only once but twice around it. I tried to undo the line from the snag but realized that would involve going for a swim. I decided to break the leader and watched happily as the trout swam into the pool and disappeared. It was a great way to end the trip. A word of caution if you want to fish the Blitzen, the campground is a breeding ground for mosquitoes!
We ended up in Montana after a few wrong turns but we saw some beautiful country and rivers along the way. We hooked up with a friend from L.A. in Hamilton, Montana who was fishing Montana for a month. We also met up with a few other fishing club members from the South Bay. The Bitterroot River flows through Hamilton and we were to fish upstream on the main stream and two of its tributaries. The river was full of downed timber which required us to portage our boat a number of times, not fun. Be sure to scout a river or ask the local fly shop/guides about the river before launching! Jan took full advantage of being in the front of our boat “spanking the bank” as I rowed merrily down the river. She landed a number of eighteen to twenty inch beautiful Cutthroat trout as I played “net boy”! I got my chance a few days later as one of our friends offered to row us down the West Fork in his raft. I managed to land a few twenty inchers myself as Jan continued to “slam” them. We also wade fished the North Fork which was full of smaller fish willing to jump on dry flies. We caught Cutthroats, Rainbows, Brookies and a Bull Trout completing the “Grand Slam”. Our trip came to sudden halt as we received word about the Taylor Fire near our house and we packed up and headed for home. To be continued….
Jan’s Copeland Pond Bass
May 12, 2018
Last weekend the club was again treated with the opportunity to fish on Copeland Pond which in my estimation is one of the top ten places to fish for bass. I don’t say this lightly since I’ve had the opportunity to fish for this species all over the country. Jan and I prefer to fish for largemouth bass using top water poppers since this is the most exciting way to fish. How can you not want to see the explosive take when the bass crushes the popper? There were times when the popper was just about to hit the water when the bass became airborne taking the fly in mid-air! How awesome is that? Tell me of another species that will do that. Usually we cast near the bank or some structure like stickups or logs and be ready, since these fish will sometimes explode on the fly as soon it hits the water. If there is not an immediate take be patient, wait, the fish may not be close to the fly, when the rings on the water have dissipated then pop the fly. Wait again the fish is coming to the find out what the disturbance is and fishing like this reminds me of teasing a cat with a yarn ball or feather. The fish is waiting for some more movement and will pounce on it once it thinks its food and moves again. Popping the fly should make a gulping sound and move a lot of water, if fact, the louder the sound and the more water moved the better. Remember be patient, fish slowly and cover the water. We noticed that the fish were close to the shore in the morning and later when the sun was high in the sky the fish moved. They are light sensitive and move into the shade or into deeper water in the weeds. This is time to hit the weed lines and pop the fly along the weed edges and hold on!
The gear for top water fishing is a little different than if you are fishing below surface. The rod and line weight is determined by the size of the fly. We use eight weight rods with smaller poppers and ten weight rods for large poppers. The fly line needs to have a large forward taper to propel the bug through the air and the leader needs to be short so it turns over and doesn’t collapse upon itself. The leader is usually six feet long with a heavy butt section and at least ten pound tippet strength. The fly can be made out of spun deer hair, cork or balsa wood. We use poppers made out of balsa wood since they will float longer and last take after take without having to change flies. Adding a weed guard to the flies will help keep the fly from getting tangled in the weeds which is a real plus when fishing in the weeds. You can get poppers at the local fly shops and sportsman’s outlets. Go get some and have fun!
Many thanks to Bob and Valerie Copeland for a great day!
Joe’s Applegate Chromie
April 16, 2018
Well this year’s Steelhead season is over on the Applegate and I must say that I’m sorry to see it end. I spent the last week of the season on the water with Jan hitting the water pretty hard with only one beautiful chrome 30 inch Steelie coming to hand. The Great Herons were just starting to nest with five pair in the rookery and we finally saw a Bald Eagle flying overhead, to me this means that the run was late this year. Hopefully, there will a late run in the Applegate and the fish will be able to spawn without being harassed by the likes of me.
Now what? Well I guess I need to address all of the yard work that I’ve been putting off for the last 3 months, but wait a minute; we still have the Rogue River! That’s it, the Rogue has fish to try and catch but first we need to find them, where are they? I’ve been talking to a few of the fly fishers who fish the river religiously and they all seem to ask that very question, where are they, nobody seems to know or they’re not telling. I guess that I’ll just have to hit the water to find them, so stay tuned.
March 21, 2018
Well it’s finally Spring and the birds are on the nest, only one nesting pair mind you, but the Giant Herons are here. It should be great fishing but it’s been very sporadic for me. I’ve seen more fishermen than fish, more cars in the pull-outs, and more rafts than I would really want, but that’s fishing. We’ve even had visitors from Los Angeles and Montana who came to fish the Applegate. I’ve had varied reports from people catching one or two a day to thirteen in one day, what’s wrong with me? I can’t seem to locate the numbers of fish that I had hoped for. Well for one thing I’m not floating the river but walking to the public access areas which are being pounded by people all day long. And I’m swinging a fly which by the opinions of most of the guides, is the least effective way of hooking a fish. Gee, I’ve answered my own question! Despite all that, I still get up and hit the river, hoping for that tug!
Yesterday I had a soft take will swinging a fly and before I could react, my line went slack. I’m been told by the experts that you should feed some slack line to the fish so it doesn’t feel any pressure, sure, easier said than done! I thought to myself, did I really have a grab or was it the bottom, you really start to doubt yourself when you miss a fish, but oh no, two minutes later a steelhead porpoised right where I was swinging. Ok, game on, there is a fish in this river and I know where it is. I started to really fish that spot, changing flies, adding weight, trying everything I could think of to no avail. Then I remembered what the guides said so I went to the dark side and put on a bobber, yes I said it, a bobber. I put on a weighted stone fly and dropped an egg eighteen inches below it, I’m really desperate now. I fished this setup for a long while with no results, then I started adding some split shot, one at first, then another until my bobber was almost underwater. Then it happened, my bobber disappeared, I set the hook and immediately a beautiful buck became airborne! It was not happy but I was, and it continued to leap for at least ten times before it settled down and make a couple of impressive runs. I was a bright beautiful wild buck and it had taken the egg. I carefully released back into the run and headed for home with a smile that lasted all day!
Today Jan decided that it was time for her to hit the river, after all, it is spring and it promised to be a warm day. We got to the river late around eleven and saw a car in the pull-out, not a good sign. We went to a run and started to swing our flies covering every inch of the run without a bump. We decided to head up river and met a fisherman crossing the river and coming from where we were going to fish. He said that he didn’t get anything above when asked and we proceeded up river anyway. We got to the run that we wanted and it Jan’s turn to fish it first. She started swinging her fly progressively across the river to the far bank, then stepping down river and casting across. I started to get my gear ready when I heard a splash and looked at Jan seeing her bent rod! I saw the fish make another leap and saw Jan get it under control giving it a little pressure with a couple of down and dirty moves keeping the fish unbalanced. The fish made a few more runs and Jan had it under control and landed a bright hatchery hen. Jan has a smile on her face which I think will last all day.
February 12, 2018
The Rogue River has some winter fish showing up in the Grants Pass area in good numbers. I’ve checked out the boat ramps between Grants Pass and Robinson Bridge and there are good numbers of drift boat trailers indicating the presence of fish. Fishermen have reported catching fish below Robinson and at Griffin Park. Some fish are being caught at the Tavern Hole on the Applegate and also above the 199 Hwy but the water is very low and fishing is better early in the morning. Fish the tail outs early and the deeper holes. The Cow is also holding some fish, The Pres. and I have landed fish last week and the club’s outing is looking good. Bring some orange Steelhead flies like the Polar Shrimp to swing making sure to cast as close to the bank and then swing across the creek. The fish were holding near the bank and hit the fly only a few feet into the swing. The deeper holes hold fish and best fished using an indicator with a weighted stonefly nymph with a smaller nymph or egg pattern dropped 12”-18” inches below it. It’s time to get on the water!
February 4, 2018
Anticipating the next push of fish into the local waters has proven to be fruitless. I’ve been wading through my favorite spots on the Applegate without getting a bump! What’s going on? We clearly had plenty of rain raising the water level to around 900 cfs, making it prefect for fish to move up, so where are they? This situation has got me to do a little soul searching, looking to past years I’ve come to the realization that I’m probably too early. In the past, my best days fishing have come when certain natural situations occur at the same time. When I lived back East, I looked forward to fishing the Light Cahill and Sulphur hatches and learned from the Old Timers that the hatches coincided with the Dogwood trees blooming. Here, a different story, my best days happened when the Herons were nesting and usually the best indicator has been the arrival of the Osprey. How about you? Do you have any local knowledge to share with our members? If you would like to share any information, please contact me.
January 24, 2018
Interesting lecture by Matt Schmasow: Mayflies, Stoneflies & Caddisflies. View video – MidCurrent
January 11, 2018
With much anticipation, the opening for Steelhead on the Applegate River finally arrived and I just had to go. I found the river to be really low around 290 cfs, most of the river had changed quite a bit from the high water last year. I saw many Salmon Redds and enough carcasses to know that the river had a really good summer run. As I moved through water, I saw spinners and plugs stuck in the redds confirming that some of the trout fisherman were actually targeting the salmon. I carefully removed all the hardware that I could from the redds and headed to a run that might be fishable. I found the run to be in good shape and reluctantly put on an indicator with a weighted stonefly nymph and an egg as a dropper. As I worked this setup though the top of the run, careful not to miss covering one square foot, the indicator stopped and I was rewarded with the first Steelie of the year. It was a beautiful hen that took the stonefly nymph. Later a cutthroat grabbed the egg dropper, ending a perfect opening day.
The Applegate river will get better as the water flow increases and as the winter run reaches our area, so get on the water.