Story last updated at 2/26/2014 - 1:49 pm
The fly cast is one of the most beautiful sights in recreational sportfishing. Properly executed, a fly cast is not only graceful, but also almost poetic in its motion and delivery. The building blocks to a rudimentary fly cast almost always begin and ends with a tight, straight line.
That said, any accidental slack line during the casting stroke causes problems. But there are times when deliberately applying slack into the stroke (or inserting slack into the line after the stroke) can actually solve fishing problems and benefit your presentation.
A few examples are aerial mends and specialty casts; the latter includes the "S" or serpentine casts, stack casts, reach casts and the kick back cast.
All these particular casts share a common theme: in each of these casts, the caster deliberately throws slack into the line during a specific stage in the stroke. That makes for successful presentations because of the added slack.
Here's how to make a few of the most useful slack-line fly-casting presentations for estuary fishing.
The Aerial Mend
Widely known by trout fishermen, the aerial mend has many applications not only in fresh water, but also in briny environments and tidal estuaries in particular. For example, most fish cruising or milling in estuaries do so within specific channels or depressions.
These specific regions are highly affected by our prodigious tides. The rushing tides, coupled with the braided steam channels below, usually create varying degrees of complicated stratified current flow.
If your fly and leader fall in a perfectly straight line after your cast, the current will immediately catch and drag your fly. This will prevent your fly from sinking to the fish zone - and depending on the speed of the current, might even skim your fly to the surface. Naturally, this is not good.
One way to deal with this inherent problem is to actively mend your line before it falls on the water, or in the air - hence the name "the aerial mend."
To execute the aerial mend, stop your forward cast and shake the rod tip "up current" and back towards your target. If done properly, this will create a shock wave or dimple in your line that will travel down your fly line toward the fly. This shock wave will ultimately place an upstream belly of slack in your line that will buy your fly time to sink.
Mastery and understanding of the aerial mend offers the fly angler the ability to combat otherwise tricky or difficult current situations whether they be in fresh water systems or in the salt.
In fact, once you become competent with the mechanics of the aerial mend, you can determine where you want the mend to land. You can direct the mend to land near the fly (or target), close to you (the angler), or anywhere along the path of your cast.
Placement of the mend is a simple function of when and where you stop your rod and shake the tip during your delivery and casting stroke. For example, stop the rod and initiate the shake quickly and the resulting mend will travel down the fly line and land close to the fly.
If you stop and pause momentarily and then shake the rod, the mend will land somewhere in between you and your target.
Finally, the longer you pause before shaking the rod tip, the closer to you the resulting mend will land. This relationship of timing is the underlying theme of the aerial mend.
The "S" or Serpentine Cast
The mechanics of the aerial mend are the foundation for understanding and learning other slack line casts. The "S" or Serpentine Cast is a classic example.
By simply shaking the rod tip more than once, you can deliberately place additional bumps or waves in the line. If you place four to six bumps in your line, you have just completed the Serpentine cast.
This cast is ideal when fishing over stratified currents because it places additional slack in your presentation. This additional slack not only gives your fly added time to sink deeper into the fish zone, it also allows for your fly to drift longer, temporarily avoiding the affects of the current that cause your fly to drag and swing upward.
Much like the aerial mend, placement of the mends during a Serpentine cast is a function of when you stop the rod and shake it. A quick stop with an abrupt series of shakes will result in four or five curves in your fly line falling nearest the fly with the rest of the fly line falling in a straight path in front of you.
In contrast, if you hold the rod steady and proceed to punch the shakes just before the entire line falls, the generated mends will fall just off your rod tip. A highly technical variation of the Serpentine cast combines both approaches and deliberately places slack at both ends of the fly line.
The Stack Cast
Not every cast with deliberately applied slack requires that you shake the rod tip. Another specialty cast with regional significance is the Stack or Puddle Cast.
A commonly used cast when fishing sophisticated spring creeks, the Stack cast offers the angler the advantages of precision and accuracy. To begin the Stack cast, aim and initiate your forward stroke high into the horizon. Then, just as the loop begins to straighten out and the fly commences its turnover, drop your rod tip directly to the water. This will cause your fly to drop straight down while your fly line will fall in a series of stacked squiggles on the water.
A properly executed Stack cast allows you, the fly rodder, to harness tremendous accuracy based on the direction of your rod tip when it is moving before it is stopped, yet at the same time generates necessary slack required to fish tricky currents.
The Stack cast is extremely accurate and easy to learn. A helpful reminder is to begin your forward stroke with the rod farther back than you would normally do when making a standard straight-line cast. This will make it easier to aim your forward cast high into the horizon.
The Stack Cast is an ideal cast to use when targeting top-water feeding Dolly Varden in the spring. Here, the angler positions him/or herself upcurrent and casts the fly offering down and slightly across the targeted fish.
The placement of slack into the line (in the form of multiple S's) allows the fly to dead drift unrestricted into the fish feeding zone.
You now know several of the more commonly used slack-line casts. These casts, when mastered, offer fly anglers significant advantages when fishing over moving water such as those notoriously confronted when fishing tidal estuaries.
I am confident that with a little patience and practice you can master these highly regarded slack-line casts. I encourage everyone to work them into their own personal casting repertoire so that when the next time you are confronted with a difficult current situation, you'll have the basic knowledge and skills required to fish varying conditions.