Several weeks ago, a woman I spoke with told me I would be surprised if I knew just how many women read my column every week. She said she and her friends read it to find out more about the subtleties of the sport of fly fishing and to find places where they can go to work on technique without feeling intimidated by men. Our conversation ended with a promise from me to address line management for the benefit of all the women who read this column.
As we all know, summer is a busy time. My promise was not kept last week because of a long weekend filled with instructing and guiding long-time friends who were here to enjoy the great outdoors of Wyoming and to breathe the fresh mountain air found in Yellowstone and the Big Horn Basin that, hopefully, was more contaminated with pine and grass pollens than the coronavirus. Due to the late hours last weekend, my column was absent in last Monday’s paper. My apologies to those who waited with bated breath for the Cody Enterprise to arrive.
Before beginning, let me humbly state that I am flattered to know someone actually reads my column for its content. Although I try to be sensitive to other types of angling, fly fishing seems to have far more nuances than angling with bait or with a lure. I will do my best to clarify an issue that even the men would do well to read and put into practice. The implementation usually results in more hookups and bent fly rods when done correctly.
It is weird, even funny, what people remember when being taught the finer points of fly fishing. I recently polled my daughters about what they remembered most about fly fishing with Dad. Both exclaimed “line management,” although both made it sound like punishment more than a lesson. Years later, both daughters are automatically practicing line management with no need to be reminded by me. Now, my granddaughter is also learning the phrase.
Line management by definition is learning to use your fly rod to control the way your fly line and the monofilament leader keep a dry fly floating and looking like a natural insect on the water. This sounds simple enough. However, there are two things that get in the way of doing that. One is gravity. The other is drag, or friction on line, leader and fly. To begin, the angler must deliver (present) a proper cast first in order to accomplish the second part.
Fly rods are designed to lift fly line and then put the line behind you, then deliver it forward again. Casting behind you is called the backcast. Casting forward in front of you is the forward cast. The back cast is executed in a firm, lifting backstroke. Start the back cast with the rod tip low or in the 8 or 9 o’clock position in front of you. As you lift, speed up the back cast and come to a firm stop at 1 o’clock. Tension on the fly and line in the water will help add pressure to the rod, facilitating an easier lift and backcast. This movement “throws” the fly line behind you and puts a bend in the fly rod.
A gentle tug is usually felt on the backcast when the line and rod are accelerated properly. This tug sends a signal to the brain and the caster to go forward with the rod tip. That movement “pushes” all the line forward again. This movement is relatively quick, but not as aggressive as the backcast. Make sure to stop the rod tip in the 11 o’clock position in front of you so all the line unrolls before allowing gravity to drop the fly line, leader and fly to the water.
I hope this part is clear. Use your imagination or, better yet, search basic fly casting videos on YouTube to see how this is done if you are still struggling with casting a fly rod. Practice, practice, practice until casting becomes an automatic part of your fly fishing routine. Once you’re confident with the casting, you can then move on to the second part of line management, which is delivering the fly and avoiding drag once your fly is on the water.
Let’s imagine for a moment that a nice-sized Yellowstone cutthroat is rising to an insect hatch and you are standing there wanting to catch that trout. You know you want the trout to eat your fly but how do you best go about getting that done? First, cast your fly well above the rising trout to set up what is called a drift. Once accomplished, you then must use your fly rod tip to control what current (water pressure) and wind will do to your fly and line as both float toward the trout.
If you have too much line and leader in the water and you are facing upstream when casting, the current or wind will drag your fly line below (under) the rod tip. This speeds up the fly line and increases the speed of your fly (presentation) and signals to the trout that all is not well in the natural insect world. No trout eats something that chases it. Unless you stop the effect of drag or friction on your line, that trout will never be caught by you but by someone who has already learned how to immediately address line management as soon as the fly lands on the water.
Until we talk about mending, stack casts, reach casts and other technical aspects of the sport, you can still catch trout while learning line management by using your rod tip to lift line and leader above, or ahead, of your fly in order to make the fly drift and appear like the natural insect you observed it feeding upon. Doing this immediately stops any dragging below your rod tip.
All this must be done without moving the fly and telegraphing your presence to the trout. When the fish eats your fly, you must immediately set the hook firmly in order to get the satisfaction that comes from doing everything properly.
A 9-foot fly rod facilitates this move better than a shorter fly rod, but rod length will not matter so much once you have learned how to avoid and eliminate drag by working on the above technique. If you cannot lift the fly line or move the leader soon enough, then you must change your standing and casting positions so your next cast will allow you to lift and then lay your line and leader above the rising trout as instructed above. I hope I have broken line management down in a simple fashion If all this is still too confusing, feel free to contact me. I am happy to assist in person rather than in print.
Fish hard, fish often, but keep the tip up.