We write a lot about fly rods. We write about which ones we like, ones we sort of like and sometimes about ones we don't like at all. We discuss their action, recovery speed, accuracy and so on, all in an effort to help anglers determine which rod is right for them. The driving force behind this practice is the idea that certain rods are better suited to certain casting styles and skill levels and are thus better suited to certain anglers than others. And while this is no doubt true, it is important for all fly fishers -- especially beginners -- to remember that the truth of the matter is that any rod will do.
Is this to say that one rod won't be better than another at delivering dry flies with grace? Of course not. And another rod will be better at hucking a heavy nymph rig. But if you're having fundamental casting issues, it's not the rod. Not ever. It's you.
The fly rod in your hands isn't responsible for your backcast slapping the water every time you've got more than 30 feet of line off your reel. It isn't preventing you from learning to double haul (or single haul, for that matter). It's not making you throw tailing loops. It's not why you have trouble shooting line.
I have a number of friends I've introduced to fly fishing over the years. Being only a slightly above average caster myself, I'm a half-assed casting instructor at best, but simply by being an experienced angler it is easy to break down first-time casters into two groups: those that intuitively understand the basic physics of a fly cast and those that don't.
Those that "get it" right out of the gate typically become competent fly casters very quickly. For some, this can mean developing a respectable, fishable fly cast within as little as their first 15-20 minutes. But almost all anglers that instinctively understand the dynamics of a fly cast are competent fly casters by the end of their first day on the water.
The folks that don't have that instinctive understanding are the ones that flail and feverishly wave the rod back and forth in an effort to cast the fly with the rod, and these are usually the anglers that take the longest time to learn to become adequate casters. This isn't because they're less dexterous or physically equipped, it is because they lack a fundamental understanding about what they are supposed to be doing.
For some, after a few days, weeks or months, it eventually clicks and off they go. Others simply give up and quit.
But many anglers never seem to intuitively understand the basic premise of the fly cast. They eventually come up with a fishable cast, but it takes ages longer than it needs to, and their casting ability is forever limited and constrained by their fundamental lack of understanding. Instead of developing understanding, they develop crutches that help them cast just well enough, but are forever stuck on them, unable to run.
This fundamental premise is one we're repeatedly taught as beginning anglers -- that you're not casting the fly, you're casting the line.
Again, for the newcomers that "get it", this makes intuitive sense and barriers to developing an advanced fly cast don't exist. The line is something these anglers can play with, manipulate and make do what they want. The rod is simply a tool that makes doing so easier.
But how do you help the guys that don't? I fish with anglers that to this day, despite saying it till I'm blue in the face and trying my best to demonstrate it, simply can't make their brains latch onto this reality. How do you convince them that they really are casting the fly line and not the rod or the fly? How do you kick out their crutches and force them to learn?
It's a question that vexed me for years, but one that has since been answered by another angler that introduced me to Braide Sessions. Sessions is a fly casting instructor from Ashton, Idaho and the creator of the now defunct All Cast Fly Casting Championship. According to Braide, these folks -- and perhaps all anglers -- are taught to cast the wrong way by people like me and many others. So what should we do?
Take away the rod.
That's right. Take away the rod. Give them the line and tell them to cast it with their bare hands.
A fly line can't be cast without a fly rod, you say? Of course it can, unless you don't believe the old adage that you're casting the line and not the rod. The fact is that you can cast a fly line (or any type of line for that matter) without a rod and the fundamental understanding that results from doing so will provide a platform on which to build a better and better cast. But don't take it from me, take it from Braide, in the video below.