The line control problem is introduced in the story section by the article: Gifts: you've only got 8 fish your buddy has 40? Lessons in line control . In this story, lack of line control was the difference between a constant bite and being skunked.
In fly fishing, the castable-weight is distributed in the line used to cast the fly and in the final stages of casting the line turns over to put the fly at the extreme of the cast. This is timed so that the surge of the next breaker has dissipated before the line hits the water. This minimizes the back sweep after casting. Your line and fly can get down to depth and the retrieve started immediately. The relatively large diameter of fly line with weight that is distributed results in a greater potential hydraulic effect due to wave surges.
If your retrieve is exactly in the direction of motion of water, your line can descend in the water column with little effect and your line is in control having a tensile-connection with your fly. In this case, if a fish hit your fly, you have a good chance of feeling it because there is very little slack line between your rod and the fly. By the way, the best position for your rod is tip pointed at the fly directly in line with your fly line to have as direct a connection as possible.
If your retrieve is at an angle to the motion of water then it will be carried in the direction of motion and the forces will bow the line and work against it descending in the water column. It is still possible to get a good drift and maintain a tensile-connection with your fly but with high currents, your line and fly may move over the fish holding area without dropping enough to reach fish. You can cast further up current in this case or more reposition yourself to cast more in line with the current flow. If your line is bowing too much then the resulting softness of slack will prevent bite detection.
The retrieve should involve smooth, continuous actions with constant tension so that you can sense any change in dynamics. Strip with our left hand while alternately locking the line with your right index and middle fingers against the rod handle. You can use gloves with rubber palm on your left hand to minimize slipping. A grab that is not reacted against with a strip set is usually a lost fish. Same for a set in which line slips through your fingers or in which your reactions are slow.
Strip and sweep set upon any change in line/fly dynamics. Keep the rod pointed more or less in line with the line/fly direction. To strip set; react against any change in dynamic with your left hand. Timing may prevent this so you may have to sweep set by sweeping your rod with the line locked. It might be debris or seaweed, if the reaction has life then it is a fish.
For conditions looked to have too much moving water like we have experienced at Sunset this year, the following tips might help gain line control. If you can control the drift and get down to fish then you can catch them in these areas but typically line sweeps over these areas so fast that it is not able to get to depth. Line bowing and finding zero tension as you retrieve line are also indications of control problems. You can try to reposition yourself so that casts are more up current and have more time to get to depth. Time casts with greater precision to lay the line down just as the wave surge dissipates. Improve your cast to roll over and settle straight onto the water. The straight line will take less retrieves to get control of your fly. Concentrate on keeping a light tension on the line by precision retrieve variations changing speed to keep up with the water induced line movement.
By the way, one good indication of having good line control is the elimination of knots forming on a two fly leader rig. Your casts should have wide loop so that the line turns over at the end of the cast without folding on itself. From this point, any excessive slack can cause the leaders to move about and form knots due to turbulence after tension is resumed.
If you have ever cast in the surf without a stripping basket, you know how much attention is required to manage the slack. If the water movement were always in one direction or the other it would be easier but movement around you seems to be chaotic. By using a stripping basket, slack line management becomes easy. Once you get used to placing retrieved line into the basket it becomes an automatic activity and your attention can be fully given to line control beyond your fly rod tip enabling a Zen focus.
Of course if you limit casts to 50 feet then it will be much easier to manage the slack line. I cast to fish that are between 20 and 80 feet away. About half of the fish I catch are further the 50 feet.
Thanks to Jim T. for reviewing a draft and providing input to this article.
Questions or Comments Contact: Glenn Yoshimoto
Los Gatos, California
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