Mastering Line Control - One way to avoid drag

Article by: Fred Steynberg

My first years of fly fishing I spent on rivers fishing with a sinking line, down and across, using streamers or nymphs and a variable retrieve.  I caught many fish, some as big as the specific stream could produce.  Every so often I would use a dry fly with a floating line on smaller streams.  But, I suppose, looking back on those days, I never understood the concept of drag much.  Successes were thus few and far between. 

I summarise downstream (and retrieving) fly fishing to salmonites as a method of aggravation and pretty much an outdated approach to the upstream simulating technique.  When retrieving a fly from downstream, salmonites are often aggravated or aroused by the movement and attack the fly.  These fish do not necessarily identify the fly as a specific food source.  Think about it: most invertebrates that lose their footing and are swept down the current, or terrestrials that fall in the water and drift downstream, hardly ever fight the current to swim back upstream.  These insects or food sources invariably float to where the current peters out, and then try and resume their position.

Upstream fishing with a nymph would then be the obvious choice, plus all the advantages that go along with the technique - such as being in the fish’s blind zone when approaching upstream, and entering the water downstream from the fish to name a few.

Unfortunately, the pros are always accompanied by the cons.  One of the cons in fishing upstream is, as already mentioned, the drag factor.  The first step to determine drag would be to assess the currents which will affect the fly-line and fly once the presentation has been made.  The second step would be to position yourself at a point where the currents would cause the least drag. The third step, and this is the step that we will be discussing, is to execute a cast, whether it is a curve, bow, reach or tuck cast, controlling the line so that drag can be prevented.

One of the less obvious mistakes that many fly fishers make while casting is to release the line held in the non-casting hand after the last forward stroke has been made.  If the angler releases the line in the non-casting hand at the point of final presentation, it can mean the following:

The problem with releasing the line in the non-casting hand at final presentation is as follows:

In order to execute a functional and effective final forward cast, one has to follow a few simple steps…

After judging the distance to the strike zone or fish, always release enough line from the reel before the cast is executed.  Try to avoid releasing line from the reel when false casting.  There should always be a foot or two of loose line left hanging down between the hand controlling the line and the reel, after the cast.  If after the last forward stroke is made, the line’s reach is less than anticipated, the non-casting hand should still not release the fly-line, but should follow it as far as possible to the first line guide.  This will allow the angler to still have the line in the non-casting hand after the cast, and from there it can be placed in the curve of the index finger of the rod hand.

After false casting enough line in the air so that the fly to reach the target area, the final cast is made by allowing the rest of the line hanging down below the non-casting hand to shoot through the line guides.  Try to limit the number of false casts, and never try to carry the length of the line to the target area in the air.  Use the flex of the rod to shoot the line, rather than to carry the line.

After the rod releases its power on the final forward cast, the casting hand should extent forward, parallel above the water. The line in the non-casting hand should not be released, but should slide through the non-casting hand, controlled and slowed down (when necessary), allowing the loop of the line to open up correctly for a gentle presentation.

Always try and keep the non casting hand as far down as possible, away from the reel.  This will prove line control.

After the line lands on the water, the non-casting hand holding the line, places the fly-line in the bend of the index finger holding the rod (casting hand).  This is done in almost a singular movement after the presentation, so that the angler is ready for a possible strike and, more importantly, so that immediate line retrieval can be executed.  This immediate readiness to retrieve the line with the non-casting hand will prevent a belly or loop forming below the rod tip in strong currents.  Once a loop or belly has formed below the rod tip it is very difficult to rectify and drag on the fly-line and fly is inevitable.

The illustrative accompanying photographs clearly show the correct and incorrect methods to execute line control at this crucial point when casting. On slow rivers or still waters this line control is not as important and the angler could troubleshoot without too much problem. It is, however, important to practice this technique at all times to avoid having to deal with the problem when you’re in strong currents.

Line control is important because whenever there is a lack of it, drag inevitably appears. Drag on the line, strike indicator or fly will, without a doubt, effect your catch rate.  If you are not sure whether you have drag, even micro-drag, on your fly or strike indicator, have a friend or fellow-angler position himself at a 90 degree angle to the left or right of your line.  From his position, drag on the fly or strike indicator could more easily be detected. 

If you are fishing by yourself, it is always good to match the speed of the fly or strike indicator with the speed of bubbles or debris.  This is a good drag determining method.