As a guide I am often asked, ‘what is the most common mistake you see people make?’. Well folks, I’m here to tell you, the answer to that question is simple. It’s LINE CONTROL!
What is line control? Simply stated, line control is the ability to make your fly do what you want. Line control starts with the cast… knowing whether you want to squiggle that fly into where it should be, or deliver it with a reach or curve cast… and continues until you either re-cast, or set a fish. While the fly is on the water, line control entails knowing whether that fly should be drifting in a drag-free manner (when fishing mayfly duns or spinners), dancing across the water (when fishing caddis), or skittering across the water (when fishing hoppers and stoneflies). Unfortunately, line control also means the ability to make the fly do what you think it should do!
I see people everyday who throw a nice tight loop, and some who can actually place the fly where you tell them. But, invariably, when it comes to controlling the flies drift on the water, these same people fail miserably. Now, I’m not saying this in a condemning manner. The vast majority of people who fish with me are able to fish maybe five or ten days a year; hardly enough time to fish like a Gary Lafontaine or a Doug Swisher. Yet, ample time to develop skills that will serve them well in years to come.
To improve line control, we try to tell our clients a few simple things which we’ve been told seem to help. First… and you wouldn’t believe how many people find this is a hard one to perfect… once you finish your cast GET THE LINE UNDER THE FINGERS OF THE HAND THAT HOLDS THE FLY ROD! This is so basic I don’t really want to elaborate on it, but it is one of the most important aspects of line control.
Second… once you perfect loop control… learn how to deliver a squiggle, reach, and curve cast. Since to describe these casts would be the subject of a whole new article, let me simply state that the best way to learn these casts is to get a good video or find instruction through your fly shop or club, then go out in your yard and practice, practice, practice.
Third, after learning the various casts, develop the ability to mend line. Mending line is nothing more than moving your fly line in a direction that allows the fly to precede the line downstream. The motion for mending line was best described to me by a client I was instructing. He related the motion to flipping a pancake. He was right. We don’t drag that line across the water, we raise our arm, and flip our wrist… much like we were flipping pancakes! The more line you have out, the higher you raise your arm and the stronger the wrist action. What this motion does is raise the line off the water and places it behind the fly. While you’re practicing this motion, try to get where you move only the fly line and not the leader. And, remember, when on the river, a basic rule of thumb is ‘if the water is slower between you and your fly, mend downstream… if it’s faster, mend upstream’. It’s tough, but once you get the hang of it, it will really increase the number of strikes you get.
The fourth thing we try to teach is how to shake line. There are several methods of shaking line… and most people have at least an idea of how to perform one of them. What most people don’t realize is “YOU BETTER START SHAKING LINE LONG BEFORE YOU THINK YOU SHOULD, OR YOU’LL DRAG THAT FLY EACH TIME YOU SHAKE”! Said another way, if your line is starting to straighten, it’s too late to shake! Start delivering more line… shaking… while there is still plenty of squiggle to your line and you shouldn’t disturb the drift of your fly!
The last, and perhaps most important thing we try to teach is “keep only the amount of line on the water that is absolutely necessary for the water you are fishing”. A good way to check yourself on this one is to remember those lessons you had in junior high geometry; “a radius is 1/6th. the circumference of a circle”. Well, if you are fishing a nine foot rod, and you move that rod from 3:00 to 12:00 to set a fish, you are actually moving ¼ of the circumference… or 1 ½ radius. In other words, you can only pick up a maximum of about 14 feet of extra fly line if you hope to set a fish with any sort of consistency! Said another way, if your squiggles or belly is approaching 14 feet of line, when you set you’re merely setting fly line not the fish!
The final aspect of line control is, once you perfect the techniques, you must use the appropriate technique to make your fly behave in a manner consistent with the bug it is imitating! If you are throwing stone’s or hoppers, shorten your line until it is almost tight and raise your rod slightly and twitch your fly across the surface. This can be done with finger movement, or a movement of the fly rod. If done correctly your fly will twitch for a second or two, sit still momentarily, and twitch again. To really perfect the twitch, take a hopper and throw it on the water. Watch it move, and try to imitate it’s action with your fly. If you do master the art of twitching, get ready to land some nice fish during the spring and summer months!
It is mayflies and spinners in particular that really tend to challenge the fisherman’s… or woman’s… ability to control line and ultimately their fly! To be successful at fishing mayflies and spinners… you must keep the fly drifting in a natural, drag free, manner. To accomplish this, start by opening up that loop or delivering a squiggle, reach or curve cast. Then, perfect the mend, stack mend and ability to shake line downstream. Once you learn these few basic techniques, and put them in the proper sequence, you will be well on your way to putting some really nice fish in your hand!
Have fun fishing, and may your fly always match the hatch!
By: John Cook