In my last column we talked about the basics of an effective fly cast and the four main areas used to identify most casting errors: set up (tight line with rod tip low in front); power (up hard into the back-cast); location (stop high at 11 o’clock); and then timing (pause to let the line straighten behind you in order to “load” the rod for the forward cast).
Our discussion centered around the concept of always “painting” a relatively straight line with your rod tip while casting back then forward from 11 to 1 o’clock (picturing a clock you can view just outside your casting shoulder). Today we’ll talk about how you can adjust your casting “plane” to adapt to varying fishing conditions.
The casting plane is just an imaginary giant, flat arc across which your rod tip is painting its straight line. The beauty of fly casting is that this “plane” can be laid at different angles to make different casts.
When you are making a standard cast in normal conditions, the plane is located to the right of your casting shoulder (left for you lefties) and standing at a slight angle tilted away from you. If you were standing next to a tall building, with the wall about three feet to your right, and you facing parallel to the wall, this would be a perfect example. You should be able to stand there all day and cast a straight line which would move back and forth, on an imaginary line located above you and three feet from the wall.
What if, however, the wall is gone and you try to use that same plane while a 30 mph wind is blowing from your right directly into your right shoulder? Assuming you get your back-cast to work, what happens when you pause to let the line straighten out behind you?
The wind will blow the line over your head and, when you cast forward, the line will now be in a different plane which will bring the fly right into the back of your neck on the forward cast. Ouch! This can easily be fixed by using a casting plane over our left shoulder instead.
When a wind is blowing from your right, bring your right arm up into the back-cast at a slight angle above your left shoulder (almost like an upward backhand). Apply all the same rules of painting a straight line and using the four keys mentioned above, it’s just that now your casting plane is working at a slight angle over your left shoulder instead of your right. The wind can do whatever it wants – you can now still make an effective cast!
See Diagram #1.
Now let’s say you’re catching fish in that upstream wind, but you see the trout of the day lying along the far bank with a large willow overhanging the bank by 10 feet. You see that fish. You know that fish. You want that fish!
Do you try a regular cast which ends up wrapping your fly around a branch above the fish’s head? Do you just walk on upstream and try a different spot? No!
Now you know how to change your casting plane. Instead, you make a cast straight upstream, with the wind, to get your line out and tight on the water. Then you make your backhanded back-cast very low to your left and parallel to the ground. Your backhand would come back with the rod tip pointing out from your left hip and parallel to the ground. Follow your four keys and then make the forward cast on the same plane. The fly line will shoot forward about three feet off the water, the fly will land above the fish but under the branches, and some real excitement is about to begin.
See Diagram #2.
Practice these concepts and you will learn to cast on any plane all the way from parallel to the ground on your right, to parallel on the ground to your left. Just remember that the plane can’t be changed dramatically in one cast; it has to be adjusted gradually. When I do casting classes, I will teach the four keys with the line moving in the normal plane over my right shoulder. As I am “false” casting back and forth, I start moving the plane of my rod tip to the right in two-foot increments. After about four false casts, I have moved my casting plane all the way from over my head to a plane that’s now two feet off the ground to my right. As I keep false casting, I then gradually move that plane from the right, back over my head, and then down to where’s it’s parallel to the ground on my left: a complete 180 degree change in casting planes in about eight false casts.
You can do this too. Practice your four casting keys on one plane until you have them mastered without thinking about them. Then start moving that casting plane around to adapt to virtually every fishing situation you might encounter!
GORDON ROSE works as a commercial fly tier and operates Sheridan WYO Healing Waters, part of a national nonprofit organization which teaches disabled military veterans fly fishing, fly tying and fly rod-building as part of their therapy.