Folks frequently telephone me to obtain information about fly fishing for redfish in the Indian River Lagoon. If their own fishing happens principally in fresh water, the conversation invariably comes to this point:
Caller: "How far do I have to cast?"
Me: "Fifty feet is a good working minimum, but there are other factors to consider."
I then go on to explain those three factors - speed of response, accuracy and distance - and how they relate to each other. Improving in any of these factors will improve any caster's fly presentation, no matter what level of casting skill he currently possesses.
He Who Hesitates Is Lost
Under perfect atmospheric and water conditions or when the fish are tailing well, you can see them from a much greater distance than you can cast. You then have plenty of time to get ready to make a long, beautiful cast. But speaking practically, how often does that happen? Wind, clouds, low angle of the sun, murky or deep water, or dark bottom all make seeing the fish difficult most of the time.
When the guide tells you, "Ten o'clock at 30 feet," you need to put the fly on the fish immediately. You're almost close enough to spit onto the fish. If you false cast three or four times, the fish will see all that motion, at which point any chance of catching it virtually disappears.
One way to improve your speed of delivery is by over-lining your rod.
A fly caster from Virginia graced my boat recently. He brought two rods with him, a 7-weight and a 9-weight. He wanted to use the 9-weight, but he had somehow knocked the ceramic insert out of the stripping guide while transporting it. The rod was out of commission. There was a fair breeze blowing that day and he struggled with casting the 7-weight. After trying the rod myself I suggested that he put the 9-weight line on the 7-weight rod.
The look on his face clearly showed that he considered such an idea a heresy, but he was having such a hard time that with my encouragement he eventually did change out the lines. His first cast with the modified outfit was a minor revelation to him, and he marveled the rest of the day about what a difference that simple change had made in the rod and his casting ability. In spite of the wind he got several nice fish.
Any fly rod is designed to fully load with 40 feet of line out, if the rod and the line are of the same weight. To put it another way, an 8-weight rod should load fully with 40 feet of 8-weight line out of the tip. This presents two problems, particularly to weak casters. A weak caster can't ever get 40 feet of line out of the rod. They haven't yet developed the timing or line speed that allows them to hold that much line in the air. And for that fish that suddenly appears only 30 feet away, getting any load at all on the rod is very difficult. Over-lining the rod by one or even two line weights will solve both problems.
This works for everyone, not just weak casters. I over-line all of my own tackle. The rod will load more quickly. This means less false casting, which means less motion. Fish vision, like our own, keys in on motion. They will see you if you flail, especially if they are close to you. Over-lining the rod results in less motion from you and increases your speed of response.
Really good casters, tournament casters, usually under-line their rods so they can achieve maximum distance. But they are not throwing to live targets that are close to them. If speed of response is essential, over-line the rod.
Another very simple thing which will decrease response time is how much line you carry out of the rod tip while looking for fish. The end of the fly line should be carried between the ring and middle fingers of the line hand. The fly should be held behind the hook between the thumb and index finger of the line hand. If you do this you will have somewhere between 12 and 15 feet of line out of the rod before you ever make a false cast.
When you see a fish you simultaneously rollcast with the rod hand while tossing the fly and leader away from you with the line hand. The rollcast straightens the line and leader out in front of you and prepares it for a good backcast. With an over-lined rod, one, or at most, two false casts are all you will need to make a 50-foot cast. You will respond quickly. If you don't know how to do this I suggest you practice this simple maneuver at your earliest opportunity.