If you’re reading this, you’re probably planning on or considering taking a saltwater trip somewhere, so congratulations! As with any destination fishery, it’s wise to familiarize yourself with what you’ll be doing before you arrive. Fishing style, techniques, gear, and anything else. Familiarity can mean many things, from simply making yourself aware of what the fishery is like mentally to practicing the physical skills you’ll need to succeed.
In saltwater fishing, having a strong cast is one of the most important skills an angler can possess. It can be very different from a lot of freshwater fishing, and often takes some time to get accustomed to. It’s a good idea for everybody, regardless of skill level, to get some casting practice in before a big trip. This applies especially to people with limited saltwater experience. The last thing you want to do is spend all your time and hard earned money to get the gear, travel, and hire a guide…not only to be able to get your fly where it needs to be once you’re out on the water. To say that would be frustrating is an understatement. Fortunately for you, that situation is very preventable! I’ve got five things to work on in your casting that’ll get you prepped and ready to hit the bow of the skiff.
Firstly, everyone talks about the double haul when it comes to adding more power to your cast, casting in the wind, using heavier gear, so on and so forth. That is a very important part, however it is not the do-all-end-all thing that will change the world. It should be thought about as a piece in a puzzle rather than the key to everything.
Rather than just the double haul, I like to think about the first part of improving a cast as adding power to it. Adding power to your cast (or having the ability to when needed) is a blanket skill that will make every other future improvement easier. This mainly consists of two things, utilizing the double haul as well as practicing a more aggressive wrist turnover. These two things separately will improve your cast, but when you use them together it will really make a difference.
Wrist turnover, being the last movement that happens on both the forward and back stroke of a cast is a big driver that pushes your fly line where you want it to go. Many people neglect this part of the cast, or use a very limp stroke when it comes to utilizing wrist movement. This takes away a significant amount of power, and there isn’t any workaround for it besides fixing the problem. Wrist movement should be quick and direct, while maintaining a smoothness to it. You should always be in control. As with other parts of casting, this is a movement that may take some getting used to. The best way to get comfortable with it, as with all things fly casting, is practice. Spend time working on it, and build up the muscles for it. After this movement is comfortable, then you can start to work with the double haul. The main goal in the end is to really try to sync these two things up and make them happen at the same time. The pull from the line hand combined with the push from the rod hand will put a lot of force behind your fly line, ultimately putting you in control of exactly what that line does and where it ends up.
After power, comes accuracy. It’s a rare occasion to be blind casting in the saltwater world, that being said you’ll be needing to hit a target the vast majority of the time you’re fishing. Obviously specific situations will dictate just how small that space where you need to drop that fly will be, but a good rule of thumb is being able to drop it within a three foot hoop. In this field especially, there is no substitute for practice. Spending time working on it is the only way you’ll improve. As with all fishing, accurate fly placement never guarantees a positive reaction out of the fish. Nor does being practiced at it mean that it will work out every time. That being said, the more skill you can add to the equation the better.
Next is speed. There are a lot of scenarios in saltwater fishing where your window to make a good cast is very short, and being able to get your fly in front of a fish as quickly as possible will make the difference between success and failure. The main thing to accomplish here is to place your fly accurately in front of your target with as few false casts as possible. This is an important skill to have not only because of time limitations, but especially in windy conditions fewer false casts lead to fewer tangles and more fishing time as well as a lower risk of gear failure. As previously said, power plays into a lot of things. Here, if you have good power behind your cast you will be able to shoot more line in fewer false casts and direct it exactly where you want it to go.
Wind is a big factor on the ocean. Nine times out of ten you can expect it to be there, and as with everything else it can make your job as an angler more difficult. To prepare yourself in dealing with the wind, practice casting on a windy day and learn what it does to your fly line. Try to establish a pattern in that, learn to estimate where your fly will end up and do the best you can to correct for it. For example, take this scenario. Wind is blowing hard from the right, so you’ll want to shoot your cast three feet to the right of your target in hopes that it’ll get pushed in front of the fish. This is something that can be super inconsistent, however again having a little skill and practice to put on the table never hurts.
Finally, practicing with your specific gear can be a great way to prep as well. As we all know, every specific setup casts and fishes a little bit differently, for better or worse. If you’re planning on using your own gear, that’s what you should use to practice casting. Get to know the proper load point on your line, how a specific setup casts in the wind, and any other little quirks your gear might have. Try to be aware of it, get comfortable with it and even use those things to your advantage.
Progressing your cast and getting yourself comfortable with these things is an important step in improving yourself as an angler. I can promise that you will be much happier (and maybe even more successful) on your next saltwater trip if you practice these skills. They’re things that will greatly improve your casting not only in saltwater environments, but in freshwater scenarios and every other situation you find yourself picking up a fly rod in.