Over My Waders

"Sight In" Your Rod

By Claude M. Kreider

Take a tip from the hunters and give your tackle and your skill a workout before you start on a fishing trip.

NO HUNTER in his right mind would take off on a hunting trip with a new rifle he had never fired, but equivalent behavior occurs frequently among fishermen.

Just as a hunter will “sight in” his new rifle, see that the ammunition fits it, and learn the feel of the weapon, so a fly fisherman can make his short fishing trip pay extra dividends if he tests his new tackle for balance before setting out.

And the casting practice involved, even for the old hand, will help limber up the wrist and perfect the timing. This will assure better work later on the stream, when actual casting will be almost unconscious and attention can be directed to the business of locating and hooking fish.

Yes, “synthetic” fishing will help even the oldtimer — and is essential for the tyro who has a nice new outfit and fondly hopes to bring in a lot of big fish on that long-planned trip next summer. Such pre- season work is as important for the angler as sighting in a rifle is for the big-game hunter.

Sure, I know that many good anglers will smile knowingly at this advice. But I’ve seen good ones become better and newcomers become fair casters — after an hour or two of carefully testing a new outfit and then practicing with it. And early spring is the time for this preparation. The tackle can be taken from its moth balls, reel oiled, lines dressed, and rods “gone over” in preparation for the coming season. What is more sensible then than to go out to a bit of water and try them Out?

The tournament casting pool, to be found in many communities, is an ideal~place for this practice. Experienced casting-club members will always offer their facilities and advice to help the visitor — and, in the spirit of true sportsmanship, will often lend lines, reels, and the like for a tryout in fitting up your rod.

Lacking an orthodox casting pool, the angler can usually find a pond, a lake, or at least a smooth stretch of lawn over which to cast. A white paper plate makes a good target for both fly and bait casting practice on the lawn. And a fishing friend can usually be found to bring an assortment of rods and lines,, to aid you in finding just the right combination.

A fine, lively fly rod with a line of just the right weight to flex it strongly is a joy to use. There need be no frenzied, whipping action to achieve distance and accuracy in the cast. The rod can be made to do it by an easy forearm — and some wrist — movement, without haste or fatigue. Actually the rod need only pass through a ninety-degree arc when properly used. And this will be assured if the line is of proper size so that it requires no forcing to straighten out, and if the casting technique is carefully watched. Yet I’ve seen many a good angler whaling away on the stream, his rod describing a full half circle and his fly consequently striking behind, while his forward cast was limp and crooked. Such casting will garner few fish.

In buying a line for your rod it is well to remember that different makes will vary considerably in size for a given “letter size.” They will also vary in weight — specific gravity — even when they are of the same diameter. Thus, an “H-D-H” tapered line in silk by one maker might fit a rod perfectly, while another of similar designation by a different firm could be too light — or heavy — for that rod.

Nylon lines are beautifully made, smoothly finished, and nice to use, but they are much lighter for a given size than silk. Thus, the rod that would be fitted with an “H-D-H” silk line would perform about equally well with an “H-C-H” nylon line. The latter, in most brands, seems to possess a finer finish and so to flow better through the rod guides than the average silk line. This is a decided advantage in “shooting” line for distance, but there is another point to consider. While nylon floats beautifully for dry-fly work, needing a minimum of dressing, it is not suitable for wet-fly fishing where a deep fly must have a sinking line to take it down quickly. At such times the only cure for a high-floating line is a rubbing with mud or sand, a treat ment that is not good for its fine, protective coating. One of the "link sink” preparations will help, but these are not effective for long.

So a silk line is a better buy if most of your fishing is to be with the sunken fly. Even this, however, will require special doping for quick sinking, especially when new. And wet-fly work suggests the use of a line having a “torpedo” taper, instead of the standard double taper. These lines are made in an infinite variety of taper combinations, but all possess one thing in common: a comparatively short, heavy for ward belly of about sixteen to thirty feet in length. This tapers fast at the forward end to a .025 or .030-inch diameter, where the line joins the leader.

In casting, then, the heavy belly is always pulling strongly to flex the rod by its weight, even though a comparatively short line is being used. The “running line” of constant, small size, usually .025 or .030 inch, shoots freely through the guides as the belly goes forward toward the mark. This “torpedo head,” being heavy and so short that all of it will usually be on the water, proves an excellent help in carrying the fly deep. And an application of one of the “line sink” preparations will help put it deeper.

Perhaps I seem to be stressing wet-fly fishing technique, whereas the floating fly is receiving much attention these days. But every experienced angler on “big water” knows that a well-handled wet fly — and its kindred lure, the nymph — will produce far oftener, under most conditions, than will the dry fly.

When rigging up for wet-fly fishing you will find you can cast greater distance — and with less effort — with the “torpedo” than with a double-taper line, since the smaller running line will render more freely through the guides. This is the type of line used by expert tournament casters when they send the fly out to 175 feet and more. In actual fishing, such distance is not necessary nor advisable, but an outfit capable of long casts, plus the ability to use it properly, will cover a lot of water on lake or stream — and help fill the creel.

Here the, novice may wonder just what line to buy, or to try first. There is no exact formula for rod-and-line matching, but the follow ing table will serve as a rough guide. The rod types may be considered those commonly for sale by the larger manufacturers.

7 ft. 21/2.3 oz. H-E-H H-E-G
7’/2 ft. 31/2.4 oz. H-E-H or H-D-H H-D-G
8 ft. 4-4½ oz. H-E-H or H-D-H H-D-G
81/2 ft. 4¾-5 oz. H-D-H or H-C-H H-C-F
9 ft. 5-534 oz. H-C-H or G-B-G G-B-F
9½ ft. 6-6V2 oz. G-B-G G-A-F

While any high-grade rod will do fairly well with a line of the size indicated, rod action varies so greatly that only careful trial will determine just the right line. The sizes given above are for silk lines; a nylon line should be one size larger in each case.

Some lines will have several feet of level, small size at the forward end; removing some of this, a fOot at a time, during practce, will help to straighten out s1oppy casts.

Sometimes it will be found that the little seven-foot rod will take as heavy a line as a much longer rod, since some of these baby sticks are built with surprising power. Most instances of using too light a line will be found with the shorter rods.

On the other hand, don’t go overboard and choose a line that is too heavy. Such a line will often seem to handle more easily for the novice, since the extra weight will flex the rod strongly, with little effort on his part. Casting with a needlessly heavy line, however, will strain the rod far more than playing an occasional fish. This will induce set in bamboo and also gradually break down the fibers, resulting in a logy action.

Practice casting should always be done with a leader at least six feet in length, and with a fly attachesl; the point of the hook can be broken off for safety. Casts of moderate length, say thirty-five to forty-five feet, will first give you the “feel” of rod ‘and line, and permit you to observe, by watching over your shoulder, how the backcast is behaving.

Always remember that only a well-timed backcast, with the line straightening high behind you, can give you a good forward cast. And the secret of converting that backcast into one that will raise a fish is the timing: in stopping the rod tip at just the right point — about one o’clock as your watch dial would indicate it — and in letting the line straighten behind, followed by a quick snap of the wrist and forearm to drive it forward smartly. Most novices fail to impart this snappy action, and ~imply sweep the rod. That bamboo or steel is lively and responsive, but it must be activated by you.

The more line you use, the longer you must wait for it to straighten on the backcast. This pause is imperceptible, but it can’t be judged without practice. Perfect your moderate casts before trying for distance. It is probable that more trout and bass are taken at less than fifty feet than beyond that distance. And a short, accurate cast is far more productive than a longer, sloppy one.

The dry-fly angler can well put in hours of home practice on accuracy, imagining that the floating ring on the pool, or the paper plate on the lawn, is a log or rock beside which the fly must alight softly. The necessary false casting in the air, too, as the dry-fly line is gradually lengthened, will be fine practice and help in judging distance to the target. This game, as practiced at the tournament pool, is excellent preparation for fishing, for novice and expert alike. And observation of the expert tournament caster, as he sends the fly flicking out to fifty feet, to land softly in the thirty-inch ring, will prove a highly beneficial study in rhythmic timing.

Likewise, if your fishing is to be with the wet fly on big water where distance casts are necessary, watch the tournament distance expert and apply his technique to your own efforts — but with allowance for your fishing tackle. If you use a torpedo line it will probably be a smaller version of his.

And practice the “double pull,” which can be quickly mastered. It will add many feet to your cast and be invaluable for “reaching way out there,” when a big trout is rising far off. In this maneuver the left hand grasps the line up near the stripping guide and gives a strong pull, just as the retrieve cast is started. This jerk speeds up the line as it returns overhead. The hand keeps its hold of the line at the stopping place, down near the reel, and at once follows back to the guide, to permit the maximum amount of line to straighten behind, as the backcast is completed.

Again, at the exact instant the forward cast is started, another similar jerk overcomes the momentary inertia of the line in the air, and adds impetus to the rapidly moving rod tip. The hand then releases the line as the cast goes forward.

Again, you can practice shooting several coils of running line held in your hand, and add many feet of distance to that long cast. Without this technique, the cast is limited to the length of line that can be picked up from the water, and this is not great when you are fishing with a sunken fly.

In practice work, you should tackle obstacles like those you will meet in actual fishing. Try sending the fly over a fence representing a log or a big rock. Then send it under your backyard clothesline, which can double for an overhanging branch on the stream. The roll cast is very effective at times, when overhanging trees interfere; it is executed by slowly drawing the fly on the water toward you, then sending it curling forward with a quick downward flip of the rod tip. And try throwing a curve, to reach around an imaginary obstruction. Also, you can learn to throw the fly high up, to clear imaginary trees behind, and still direct it fairly well out to a chosen spot.

The novice may wonder what “rod-and-reel balance” is all about. Someone once recommended that the fly reel should weigh one and a half times as much as the rod, for proper balance; and that rule has sometimes been accepted too readily. Actually, a heavy reel slows up the action of your fly rod by creating a pendulum effect. Unnecessary weight below the hand calls for more effort to overcome its inertia,: and the movement you transmit to the rod is slower.

The fly reel should, by all means, be as light as possible and still be of durable construction and have sufficient line capacity for the type of fishing you will do. There are a number of good and inexpensive fly reels which will not weigh much over five ounces — empty — and are suitable for rods in the 9 and 9½-foot class. For the “baby” rods, scour the stores or trade with your friends to get the lightest one you can.

You’ll never regret the time spent in assembling a well-balanced fly outfit and practicing with it.

© 2000 Reed F. Curry

All content copyright Reed Curry © 2006.
Cartoon by Walter Young © 1961, used by permission.