Tuesday 16 July 2013

Seven Deadly Sins - Common Novice Error 5

When signing off the previous Sin - Error 4 - in late June I cheerfully promised the next post in a week's time.  Like salmon, things didn't work out according to plan.  On reflection I thought you might like a break from sin as I was beginning to sound like the return of the Puritans and the weather was far too nice for unremitting gloom.  On the other hand it was much too nice for salmon fishing, with little or no water and what little there was heading rapidly to 20 degrees and beyond.  So in between work and gardening I wandered off into a little diversion lightened by the beauty of the Carron and the antics of the young at Tomatin (not a full post because work intruded).  And accidents happen.  In my case this involved self-inflicted non-elective surgery by trying to shorten the middle finger of my left hand whilst pruning a lime tree.  Despite the exceptional sharpness of the blade I didn't succeed, but the presence of a large dressing has severely limited my typing: you don't make a lot of sense with words that lack e, r, d & c, or have gained random s, w & f; and having never caught a fish on an eof or a ros I wouldn't wish to mislead or cause you to scour the John Norris catalogue for them.  However, if you're prevented from fishing it's much better when the river's low rather than when it's full of running salmon, which is why I'm writing instead of fishing.

Sin 5 - Forgetting the Fly

"Your cast is not perfect until you present the fly to the fish in the right way"
Henrik Mortensen

Henrik frames the sin perfectly.  When we're starting we focus so much on our casting that we lose sight of its purpose - putting a fly behaving sensibly in front of the salmon.  But that does not happen by accident: it's certainly not achieved by just chucking it out, letting the current fix the wiggly bits and hoping for the best.  We have to engage our brain, look at what's happening and take an active part in making the fly do what we want.  If we don't an alarmingly high proportion  - at least half - of our cast may be completely wasted.  Let me put that in context and grab your attention: you wouldn't be happy if the price of your day's fishing doubled; a 50% cast wastage rate has exactly the same economic effect.

To control the fly's behaviour we need a direct connection between it and us, which requires tension, however light, all the way from our hand, through the rod, line and leader to the fly.  If there's slack in the system things start to go wrong.  First, in the absence of the force provided by the line tension, the fly stops wiggling and in the worst case just hangs inertly with its head pointing skywards.  It has become just another piece of debris in the water for the salmon to disregard.  Second, the fly's direction of travel changes from the optimum (or stops altogether).  And third, you may start catching rock salmon, especially if you are using a heavy fly that will sink even faster when the leader's slack.

You will recall this cast profile from Sin 4.  In its final stage the tip of the line descends almost vertically onto the water.  As a result the leader and fly are not laid out straight.  There will be all manner of loops and curves adding up to as much as 6-8' of slack.  In addition, because the line is not fully extended there will be several more feet of slack.

Let's now put this onto a river with uniform flow across its width and an 80' cast made at 45 degrees.  I've exaggerated the start state (1) representing 10' of slack.  Owing to its greater cross section the line responds more directly to the current: remember that a slack leader always lags.  By (2) the tip of the line has moved 10' laterally and thus taken up most of the slack.  However, at this stage the leader and fly lag leaves the fly pointing downstream at about 45 degrees.  It's only at (3) after half of the swing that the fly is fully effective.

Bearing in mind that our casting is unlikely to improve overnight, how do we minimise the wasted part?
    • However much it grieves you to reduce the length of your cast, stripping in most of the slack as soon as possible is the right thing to do.  This straightens the leader and establishes the direct link between you and the fly.  It's a simple choice between losing just 5-10% of your swing or a full 50%.  It's far better to have the fly fishing effectively at a shorter range over a wider arc for a longer time than to preserve your vanity.
    • You will see the picture showed the angler keeping the rod pointing straight across the river.  Next time you're fishing, conduct an experiment.  Cast at 45 degrees then follow the swing downstream with your rod tip.  You will feel little if any tension and it will take correspondingly longer for the slack to sort itself out.  Next cast and hold at 45 degrees; and finally cast then move the rod out to 90 degrees.  You will note a progressive increase in tension between the 2 positions; and that the upstream motion of the rod to 90 degrees also takes out a useful 4-5' of slack, which makes your fly almost fully effective at (2).  The experiment tells you several other useful things: first, by traversing the rod downstream you can reduce the fly's speed and motion, which may be appropriate for smaller flies and in fast water; and second, doing the opposite by holding at 90 degrees will accelerate a larger fly and decrease its depth.
    • As you complete your cast note where the fly falls onto the water relative to the end of the line.  This will help you to work out how much corrective action - strip and counter-swing - you need to apply.  In particular note whether the fly is up or down-stream, because in general down requires less corrective action than up.
    • Whatever else you do, please don't forget the fly because it won't sort itself out without your intervention.  Always watch the far end, work out what the fly is doing and take whatever action is necessary to optimise its presentation - stripping, moving the rod, applying mends up or downstream, or consciously doing nothing.  The last 1-2' of a floating line will often indicate the direction of the leader, but this is not always reliable.  If you can't see, try to visualise what's happening: we all get better at this with experience, and dumbly doing nothing is the worst option.

    There's another good reason to have a nice firm connection between you and the fly: a salmon might just take and you will have a better chance of knowing about it.  It's remarkable how little you can feel of the salmon actually taking the fly into its mouth.  The picture of a fish taking a fly is from the well-known Icelandic underwater film that shows several takes.  Despite the angler using a light single handed rod he felt little or nothing until the salmon turned away, even though the fish were quite aggressive.  In sum, you need all the help you can get and slack is a handicap you don't need.

    If you do nothing and allow your brain to slip into neutral, then when something happens you will be mightily surprised, which is the basis of the 6th Sin.  If this hot dry spell continues I might yet surprise you with the speed of its production, provided I stay out of the garden.


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