Sunday, January 31, 2016


"ADD 20 FEET TO YOUR CAST!"  . . . 

 I stood dumbfounded in front of the glass case at the fly shop, staring at the shiny new boxes of fly lines. I glanced up at Curly- the shop owner- he smiled back at me. He had that leering glint in his eyes. Again. Anytime they come out with something new in fly fishing, Curly makes sure to have a dozen of them in the front case. And then he just waits there for you. He knows you will be coming in soon. He knows.

  "You want to try one out, Triggsy? I have a six weight all rigged up with one. This is a super distance line!" 

 I shrugged. Going out back with Curly, to try out a new line or rod, meant casting in front of him again. My ambivalence was rooted in experience. Curly was an exquisite fly caster, and an impatiently stern teacher. I had been there with him before. The next thing I know we are out in back of the shop, rod in hand. Curly had staked out some white painted marker pins in the narrow alley between the shop and the building next door. They were spaced at intervals of ten feet, out to seventy five feet. If you cast beyond that, your line would end up laying across the sidewalk and into the street. I didn't have much concern about casting that far. I tried a few false casts with the new line. He had it rigged on a very nice, expensive, modern carbon graphite rod- one that I could never afford. It was the kind of rod that would make you a better caster, if you spent the extra few hundred dollars to begin with. I took a few casts and shoots, out to around sixty-five feet, with a fairly soft, open loop. That's about all I could do back then anyway. Not even close to the sidewalk. I wasn't convinced.

 "Let me show you how to do that". 

  I knew what was coming next. Curly took the rod back and set up a cast, and in three strokes, and a single shoot, he had it punching through the air in a tight loop, right out to the sidewalk. 

 "Let's try that again". . .

 And Curly then casts and shoots the line out again, flying in a soft hiss, down the alley between the buildings, glistening brightly in the sky, out across the sidewalk and into the street. He turned and smiled thinly at me. He was satisfied. It was easily an effortless 100 foot cast. And then a car ran over the end of the fly line lying in the road. Curly frowned, staring down the alley, He spooled in the line. The lesson was finished. 

  "Can I get a discount on that line?" I was optimistic.

 Curly stared at the floor of the shop, nodding silently. I ask him how much. It was almost $80 brand new. He gave it to me for $50.00. It still took me a week to come up with the money. I was never able to cast that line any farther than 65 feet. No farther than any of the other lines I had bought in the preceding few years. I had probably spent over one thousand dollars on fly lines up to that point. Each one had come with the promise that it would make me a better fly caster. None of them could. You can't buy that in a box.

 It took me a long time, almost fifteen years of fly fishing, before I surrendered to the fact that I would never really improve as a fly caster, until I got coached by someone who knew what they were doing and knew how to teach it. I had reached my full potential in mediocrity as a fly caster. I had struggled for years, with so many flaws in my casting technique, that I had developed my own hybridization of fly casting errors into a deeply personalized form of fly fishing survival. Some days I could get it out there, and some days I could not get the fly beyond the bushes behind me. I made the same mistakes- over and over for years- with no clue as to why it wasn't working. I went through dozens of expensive fly lines, miles of leaders, tippets, and thousands of flies. And I had begun to experience pain in my wrist, arm and shoulder, whenever I went fly fishing. I had tendinitis for six months after getting into fly fishing for Striped Bass on the salt waters of Long Island Sound with a nine weight rod. It rarely occurred to me that it didn't have to be that way. 

 I was always disturbed by the sight of someone casting beautifully, long distance tight loops, or controlling a dry fly with pin-point accuracy. It haunted me that otherwise ordinary people would do this. Going to the shows was always humbling. Standing at the casting ponds, watching Lefty Kreh, Joan Wulff, Ed Jaworowski, Gary Borger, Mel Kreiger . . . 

"But those people are the pros, of course they can cast better than anyone else!" 

  So went the reasoning for too many years. I would read their books and articles, and view their video instructions, and then go out on the lawn to practice what I had learned. Apparently I hadn't learned much, because nothing about my fly casting ever really improved that way. I could understand what the books and videos were saying, I just couldn't get my hand and arm to "do it". My unconscious lexicon of bad casting skills was deeply buried in nerves, muscle and sinew. But I could catch fish, it wasn't like I was not a fisherman. I had some good seasons, and some slow ones too. And overall I enjoyed fly fishing as much as anyone. But my "muscle memory" for casting was all wrong. And believe me, you can get really good at doing it wrong, if you are practicing wrongly to begin with, for fifteen years. 

  And then along came Joan Wulff. I was involved at the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum, joining in the activities there, and volunteering to help out at events. What a great bunch of folks. After a few years of being involved there I had also begun to guide fishermen, in New York state, and in New England, walking and wading along the rivers and streams and beaches, fly fishing for trout, steelhead and salmon and striped bass, bluefish, pike, bass etc. After a few years I took a guiding job at a river camp in Alaska. In between seasons there were many opportunities to attend the Catskill Fly Fishing Center events, which usually included fly casting demonstrations by Joan Wulff, Floyd Franke and others. And they would give free coaching to anyone who wanted to line up for it. I always did. Dozens of times each season. I was beginning to learn.

  As a guide I should have been able to teach fly casting with clarity, and I wasn't. I didn't really understand the basic mechanics of the cast myself, and I was still struggling to undo years of deeply ingrained muscle memory in bad casting. At some point Joan Wulff took me seriously, (or she took pity on me- I don't really know which), and she invited me to her Wulff Casting Instructors School class. That spring I attended her class, for several days. It was a combination of fly caster's boot camp and medieval torture. Well, torture for my ego anyway. By then I had been working hard for over a year to improve my casting. And I had indeed gotten past many of my limitations. Joan is one of the greatest casters and teachers that have ever graced our game. And when you are standing there with her, rod in hand, she's all business. She does not waste any time, nor any words. And if you are willing to learn, there is no better position to be in. In just a few seasons I had progressed from my long suffering struggles in casting, into becoming a competent caster. And the funny thing is that after doing that work, it set me on a path of learning that has not stopped ever since. It turns out that fly casting is one sport that you can improve at throughout your entire fly fishing life.

  Trust me when I tell you: "if I can do it, anyone can do it!", it's true. 

 All it takes is some realistic humility and a willingness to learn. And practice, practice, practice! And a good teacher. Today there are no excuses to stay in that kind of rut. You can improve at any age in fly casting. And there are many good teachers out there to help you do it. Fly shops, Fly clubs, Guides, Lodges, all have excellent instructors available. There are many options for finding classes, and group lessons, some of them free, some of them very affordable, and some of them more expensive. I never had the money to pay a personal casting instructor, much less pay someone of the caliber of Joan Wulff. But that's how it worked out, in a way I could afford. So don't let money stop you. 

   Finding an FFF Certified Casting Instructor is a good way to go. (I was certified in 2000). You can look up instructors here:

 More on the Wulff School of Flyfishing Here:

 Casting instructional books and dvd's  here:

Happy casting!

Bob Triggs