Learning to Fly Fish New Zealand style
Fly Fishing Tips;
Refining the Double Haul (coming soon)
Fly fishing in New Zealand presents new challenges to visiting anglers. The general fishing style of sight fishing, while great fun and extremely productive, it takes a little time to master for those who are unfamiliar with it. Once mastered it opens up a whole new and exciting world of fishing as you go hunting for your fish.
The first skill is the spotting of the fish, easy enough at times when the fish are sitting out in shallow water with a light coloured background but most of the time they blend in with their surroundings and it takes a while to develop that hunters eye for spotting the quarry. The best spotting conditions are therefore when the sun is high with the best time to be on the river being through the middle part of the day. Polaroid sunglasses are essential. And yes these big fish do sit out all day in bright sunshine!
Once spotted we approach the fish from directly behind as the fish have a blind spot there. A careful approach is needed and it's usually possible to get quite close to the fish.
Being able to make an accurate short to medium distance cast will enable you to catch a good number of fish with relative ease. By this I mean you need to be able to present your fly ahead of a fish in such away that the fly will drift down to that fish in a natural dead drift. And if you can present the fly on your first cast with a minimum of false casts then so much the better. Then if you can do the same in windy conditions so much the better as enviably the wind will blow at some stage and having the ability to push a cast into it will produce rewards for you.
Because of the clarity of the water the fish will pick up on strange coloured fly lines zipping over there heads, so for this reason dull natural coloured fly lines are essential. For the same reason, attached to the end of your fly line you will need a relatively long leader of say 12 to 16 feet. I use hand tied leaders and find them best.
The fly needs to land far enough ahead of the fish so as not to spook it, if you're using a nymph it also needs to be far enough ahead to allow the nymph time to sink down to the level of the fish. Your leader needs to be sufficiently long so that the floating section of line lands behind the fish, again sufficiently behind as to not spook it.
The first cast is always the most important one, present the fly well the first time up and you'll more than likely to hook your fish. The chances of catching a fish probably diminish by 50% for every subsequent cast
I find to achieve this you;
Must be casting with the rod in a vertical plane as this allows you to lay the line out completely straight.
Stop the rod at about 12 o'clock on the back cast, certainly don't let it go beyond 1 o'clock. I think the shorter the cast the short the distance back the rod should go
Watch your rod tip next time you're out and see what's going on, also watch your line, pick it up off the water and send it back and up into the sky behind you - keeping it moving in a straight line out behind you, pause, then before it has time to start dropping towards the ground start your forward cast.
Simply if the rod tip continues much back past 12 o'clock it's going to start to pull the line downwards and will create a wave action in the line loosing power to your cast
Note the casting action involves the whole arm, using all the joints available to you.
Watch your line and leader as the loop unravels. If the rod is held completely vertical while casting the loop will also unravel in the same vertical plane, allowing the line and leader to roll out in a straight line. If the rod is held out to the side the loop unravels on a similar plane as to what the rod is held, often allowing the line to curve away in the same direction as it lands.
So to cast in a straight line we will be more accurate if the rod is held vertically. If you have ever bowled a cricket ball you'll understand this!
We can now use this knowledge. If we want the line to curve a little right, angle the rod tip to the right, or to the left to make it curve left.
A good way to practice accuracy is to imagine you're throwing a dart. Put your right foot forward if you are right handed, left if left handed. This blocks and steadies the upper body for making short accurate casts. Keep you rod vertical and sight along the rod as though throwing a dart.
NB You may find when you try this that the rod ends up catching the line when the rod is vertical. I believe you can fix that if you make sure you stop at 12 o'clock on the back cast as outline above.
Good casting is something that needs to be learnt and refined. It takes practice. And it's best to practice away from fish where the focus is totally on what your rod is doing. All fishermen owe it to themselves to be as good a caster as they can be and to master the basic art of casting.
To cope better with the wind you simply need to keep the same timing as the basic cast outlined above, then speed up your action to increase the line speed.
This time put your left foot forward if right handed and right foot if left handed (This allows the whole body to become involved giving a longer stroke and more power as in distance casting as it allows you to use the muscles of the torso and legs)
If you put your thumb along the top of the grip, by pushing forward and down from the wrist on the forward stroke you can add more power to cut through wind. Make sure you still stop at 12 o'clock on the back cast, otherwise it wont work. It takes some practice but will allow you to handle some quite windy conditions.
Important; If you look at the top diagram above notice how the line is angled down on the forward cast. This is extremely important when casting into the wind. You want the line to stop as the power dissipates on the forward cast just above the water, so the wind has less chance of catching it and blowing it back over your head! And your fly and line will quickly drop onto the water. If it's very windy you can often get away with slapping it down even. In contrast look at the second image and imagine how the wind would catch your line if the line was high above the water on the presentation stroke.
Tactic: This is pretty obvious, but shortening your leader will make things easier for you. Leader construction is important also. It needs to transmit the power of the cast all the way down to the fly. Ideally the butt section needs to be of a similar diameter to the fly line then tapering down to your tippet progressively. A lot of the shop brought ones taper to quickly. To over come that you can tie your own or buy heavier ones, say about 7 - 10 lb test and then add sections of tippet to taper it down to what you want.
Now I haven't mentioned double hauling and there's a very good reason for this; When I watch fishermen trying to cast into the wind (quite amusing really) they try everything to get the cast to go, the harder they try the worse things seem to get. They try to double haul, have their hands going this way and that but the line never really gets to where it needs to go. The problem in my opinion is that a double haul will improve performance into the wind, however if you don't have a good basic cast to start with you'll still struggle to throw a line into any sort of wind.
A fast action rod is essential, use an appropriate weight rod and a good weight forward line. Also you can go up one line weight above that recommended for your rod which is a good idea.
I have an fast action 5 weight rod which is very stiff, more like a stick than anything else, it's loaded with a weight forward 6 line, and I can comfortably get the fly out and leader to straighten casting into some really quite strong winds. This old rod will out cast any other rod I have ever tried into the wind. Your tools are important, they do make a difference.
Once the basic
cast is mastered then adding a double haul to your repertoire will add to
your ability to cast in windy conditions and to gain extra distance. The
Double Haul can really turbo charge your cast and allows you to send mini
Exocet missiles zinging across the water...
The Double Haul basically increases your line speed through the air, without the need of increase the rod speed further.
In fact the Double Haul once perfected will change the shape of your loops, making them much more aerodynamic, a tighter U shape or V shape.
Initially as you
learn the Double Haul, you just need to focus on the action with your line
hand, get familiar with it before you worry about too much more. Then once
you have it working for you basically then you can start to work on
refining the timing.
So lay out some line on the water. Start with your line hand up close beside your rod hand. As you pick up the line to start your cast, pull down with your line hand. (That's the first haul, easy enough) As the line fires back behind you, let your line hand drift back up to be beside the rod hand again. The line between hand and rod should stay tight as your hand travels back up as the weight of the back cast pulls the line out behind you. (Your line needs to be clean and slick for this to work well, some ‘fly line dressing’ is solution and will have the line sliding through the guides much better
As you start your forward stroke, pull down on your line hand again, then have your hand drift back up to your rod hand again...And that's a basic Double Haul. Get comfortable with that and the new actions, then you'll be able to work on refining the timing to gain even more from performance.
Improving the Double Haul (I'll be adding this soon)
This one will take a little explaining but it's such a help, so read on.
If you're a right hander and the wind is blowing right to left across the direction you are casting into, we encounter the problem of the wind blowing the line into our rod, causing tangles, frustration and sometimes some loud expletives... I see many clients attempting to solve this problem in different ways however the cure is really simple; Watch your line as you cast and you'll notice it probably stays mainly to the right side of the rod during the whole of your casting stroke, so when the wind blows from that side it blows the line into the fly rod.
The solution is to let the line travel down the other side of the rod (click the light bulb's coming on) so that the wind blows it away from the rod. To do this simply tilt your rod tip left by turning only your wrist more and more to the left until the line is passing along the left side of your rod, the rod tip would be traveling somewhere up above your left eye, all of a sudden the wind will be blowing your line away from your rod instead of into it and guess what? no more tangles, frustrations, expletives etc!! It takes practice, the rod doesn't need to be tilted far, just enough to keep the line going down the other side. You'll feel you lose a little power, the further you tilt it the more power you will lose along with accuracy. I think you'll be pleased with the result, I find it very useful. But again you need that good basic cast for this to work.
Catch and release and photography. A few thoughts on how to handle your fish so as to release them unharmed.
I see too many fish (unintentionally of course) being handled badly, which can result in the fish being damaged. This is probably because visitors aren't used to the larger size of our fish.
First rule is to care for your fish; if you are picking them up; handle them as you would a baby!
Play them out as quickly as possible, use a net to land them. Then remove the hook with the fish still in the water and in the net. If you don't intend taking a photo, just let them swim away under there own power once they are ready. Its good to release them into some quieter water so they aren't having to expend more energy straight away.
To take a photo work the fish out of the net, one hand just in front of the tail. If you circle the fish's snout gently with thumb and forefinger of the other hand that stops them from being able to swim forward and escaping. Keep the fish in the water all the time. Once you have the fish out of the net and under control, slide your front hand back under the fish's chest and you are ready to lift it up for the photo. You only need to cradle the fish, they will struggle less if you do, but don't squeeze them.
Now you are ready for your photo but remember your fish has just been fighting for his life, he's pretty exhausted so don't pick him up and hold him out of the water for more than a few seconds, he can't breath when he's out of the water so make it quick! Wait until the cameraman is ready.
Try to show the fish off as best you can, but don't stand up with it, just lift the fish up in front of yourself and only just above the water. This way if the fish struggles as they often do, it's not going to fall from a great height onto the riverbank. It's best if you hold the fish over the water all the time so then if it does get away from you it's going to land straight back in the water and so reduce the risk of any harm coming to it. Fish that end up flapping about on river boulders or being dropped from great heights onto the riverbank are going to be damaged and will have a much reduced survival rate
As soon as the picture's taken put him back under the water.