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Common Stillwater Mistakes, by Phil Rowley
Part of the fuel that drives my stillwater passion is the time I spend guiding or with students through my seminars or on the water schools. From this time and experience on the water I have watched both clients and students struggle with a number presentation challenges. Listed below are my top five. If some of these hit close to home don’t feel bad, I have made many or most of these presentation mistakes too.
1. Strip, Cast, Extend: This presentation challenge manifests itself when starting out or after making a location change. With the boat or pontoon boat in position the fly fisher begins an exhausting cycle of pulling line off the reel, false casting to extend line and repeating this process until they worked out enough line to complete their presentation. Often they lose control of their cast in the process. In addition to exhaustive casting this process imparts a rocking motion to the boat or pontoon boat. The swells this practice creates radiate from the boat. Any fish in the vicinity know something is up. As most stillwater fly fishers prefer to target the shallows this strip, cast, extend motion puts fish down and in many instances scatters them. The remedy is simple. Strip off enough line that you can comfortably cast. Make 1-2 fast casts and shoot the line to the target.
2. Water Slapping: Water slapping occurs often with floating line presentations. Rather than false casting to extend line the line is allowed to hit the water. After sitting for a moment on the water the line is ripped off the surface more line is extended and the line strikes the water again. This process is repeated a number of times to complete the presentation. As with strip, cast, extend; water slapping scares trout. Especially when using strike indicators. Anyone else in the boat is advised to fish in the opposite direction. This casting practice is tiring. Each successive pickup requires effort to carry the additional line. Often the cast collapses. As with strip, cast, extend get into the habit of using 1-2 false casts and shoot the line to the target. The only time the fly line should land on the water is on the final delivery cast.
3. Excessive False Casting: With the exception of short distance strike indicator presentations the ability to distance casts offers a definite tactical advantage when fly fishing lakes. Using multiple false casts to carry excessive amounts of line is tiring and increases the risk of tailing loops and subsequent tangles. Longer leaders and multiple flies are a mainstay within my stillwater arsenal and excessive false casting with this setup is a recipe for disaster. Once the head section is outside the rod tip trying to cast and extend line using the level running line defeats the purpose of a weight forward line. You are simply asking too much of the shooting line. Shooting line is designed to run behind the head section as it travels towards the target. Strip off a reserve of running line apply smooth power through no more than two false casts to aerialize the head section of the line and load the rod then shoot the running line to the target. Once you get the timing and power application figured out you’ll cast less and cover more distance.
4. Rod Tip: When fly fishing lakes it is important to maintain direct contact with your flies. Trout will exploit any slack between you and your flies and takes will be missed. Unlike moving water fly fishers stillwater anglers don’t have to contend with current so there is no need to keep the fly line off the water. I rarely keep my rod tip no more than 3-4 inches off the water when using floating lines. In the case of sinking lines I stab the rod tip into the water to the first or second guide to ensure I maintain contact with my flies. As soon as the final presentation cast is complete get your rod tip down or in the water. You will miss fewer takes. When you see or feel a take as soon as you strike by raising the rod you ensure a firm hook set. A high rod position means you won’t have the same strike responsiveness or strength. Your ability to convert takes into landed fish drops significantly.
5. Fishing the Hang: All too often at the end of the presentation fly fishers can’t wait to recast and get their flies back in the water. Often as they raise their rod to cast a fish grabs, swirls or slashes at the fly. The hook up percentage is low as the fly ends up being pulled away from the fish. Raising the rod changed your fly’s direction and speed triggering a predatory response. Trout can’t resist anything that flees before their eyes and they pounce. As you near the end of the retrieve begin a slow gradual rod raise and then pause or hang the flies at the surface. Any fish induced by the escaping flies snatches them as they dance and dangle at the surface. The built in hang markers on the In Touch series of sinking lines provide a visual clue when to begin the hang process. Learning and executing the hang will significantly increase your stillwater catch rate.