The Cast by Steve Wisner

Aug 21, 2018 | Guide's Eyes

We’ve all heard the adage that 10% of anglers catch 90% of the fish. In my experience, there is a lot of truth to this. The reality is that on any body of water or in the pursuit of any species, a small group of people are just better at consistently catching fish than the majority. They weren’t born that way, however. They have each put in countless hours on the water. And they aren’t all masters of every aspect of fly fishing. That would be impossible. Some are expert entomologists and some fish the same five flies. Some are at home on the salt while others are happiest on small creeks.  There is, however, one skill all of these people possess: they can put the fly exactly where they want it with their line laid out exactly how it needs to be. In other words, they know how to cast.

Nothing is more important in fly fishing than casting. Nothing. The difference between almost putting your fly where it needs to be and putting it there exactly is the difference between almost catching fish and catching them. Sure, fly choice matters. But it is nothing compared to the ability to cast. At the critical moment, fly fishing is athletic more than it is cerebral. Too many people seem to forget this.

Years ago when I was a guide in Idaho and Montana, I had a regular client who loved to float the Madison. No matter the hatch or lack thereof, he would only use one fly–a size 12 Parachute Adams–and he would only fish in the middle of the river.  Casting with precision, hitting every seam with perfect drag free presentations, he slayed. 100 fish days were common with him in the boat, making me look like the best guide on the river when all I brought to his game was the ability to dodge rocks.

Now that I’m guiding smallmouth and muskies, casting is every bit as important as it was for trout. Smallmouth love to tuck right up to the bank and sit in small eddies to ambush baitfish, insects, and frogs. Casting short means missed fish. Putting a fly at the top of the eddy puts it in their mouth while putting 15 inches downstream hits them on the tail. An angler who can put the fly two inches from the bank and an inch below the rock causing a small eddy will be successful while someone putting it 8 inches from the bank won’t. It is that simple. Musky fishing is all about casting, accurately and with distance. An angler without these skills is at at a serious disadvantage. It doesn’t matter how cool an articulated pattern he or she is trying to throw if it is not getting in the zone where the fish live, cast after cast after cast.

So practice your casting. Practice and practice. Cast in your yard until you can put a fly exactly where you want it at reasonable fishing distances. Learn to double haul. When you get good on calm days, practice in the wind. The 10% people can accurately throw flies in any direction when the wind howls. Then go to the water and practice. Learn to deal with current. Work on reach mends. Learn to manage your line so you are not messing around when you should be stripping.

Sure, watch a bunch of videos and attend clinics. These will help shorten the learning curve. But remember there is no substitute for hours of practice. Go fishing even if the only fish you have nearby are 5-inch sunfish. You will become proficient if you put in the time. 90% of the fish are out there waiting to reward you.

By all means, work on your fly tying and study up on the life cycle of mayflies. Read up on every species you want to pursue. These things matter. A lot. But understand that none of this knowledge is worth anything if you can’t put your fly where it needs to be at the critical moment.


Steve Wisner

Steve Wisner

Eau Claire Anglers

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