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Miscast: With Practice, I Can Only Get Better at Flyfishing... Right?

At a certain point in my life, I realized that disappointment and I would be spending a lot of time together. Personally, I had no interest in disappointment. But disappointment was very interested in me. In time, it—like my preference for the Palomar knot and treestands in double-trunked trees—became a habit. So you may understand my alarm when three good things ambushed me at the same time. One was that I found a physical therapist who fixed my back. I also handed in the manuscript of the book I had thought would take, at most, six months to complete. That was in 2007. Third, Michelle—the smart, pretty peach of a woman who lowered her standards to date me—and I just hit the two-year mark as a couple. And she has yet to even mention a restraining order.

To a man who habitually expects the worst, a boatload of good news like this is somewhat, well, frightening. (Spare me any letters pointing out how screwed up this is. I know it’s screwed up.) Fortunately, any time I feel the need to renew my ties to disappointment, I know just what to do. I take up flyfishing again.

Flyfishing is like the knowledge that you’re going to die. No matter how good the party gets, it’s always there in the background to remind you what awaits: tangled line, wind knots, snagged vegetation, broken leaders, and the very real possibility that by the time you do make a decent cast, your own eyeball will be attached to the hook. I have been flyfishing on and off for 35 years, during which period I have progressed from beginner to advanced beginner. With continued practice, I fully expect to be an intermediate just three or four years following my death.

Standing in a river as I cast and curse, curse and cast, I feel as if I’m waving the flag of a people so dumb that their national banner is a fat piece of string. I say this because men picking up aluminum cans along the shore, many of them wearing clothing woven from leaves and bark, sometimes stop and salute me as one of their own. My flagpole is a 9-foot, 4-weight Orvis Zero G rod, made—this is true—of the same thermonuclear resin as the rotor blades of Blackhawk helicopters. I always feel guilty when I think of this. I picture a squad of U.S. soldiers pinned down on some lunar landscape in Afghanistan and calling for air support, only to be told that “it’s going to be a while because a certain Mr. Bill Heavey is using one of the chopper rotors to work out some personal issues.”

Actually, I have a compelling reason to take up the long rod. By the time you read this, I will be in Wyoming, fishing for trout with genius illustrator Jack Unruh. Jack’s particular genius is his ability to turn in an illustration of me looking like a walking advertisement for compulsory sex-­offender registration, which the editors will decide is perfect. The next month, he somehow makes me look even more depraved. And the editors will decide that one is also perfect. Jack and I once flyfished on a bass lake in Texas. I remember only that he was a pretty competent flyfisherman and that after suggesting I tie on a frog popper, he lent me an 8-weight rod with sinking-tip line that took that frog south like a damn cinder block. I’m practicing hard and intend to turn the tables on this trip.

So it’s off to the backyard I go. Yesterday’s practice went perfectly in the sense that it was pure frustration. I tried an exercise in rod-tip control recommended by Lefty Kreh where you lay down a 60-foot rope and, standing behind the middle with your rod tip extending 2 feet past the rope, use a brief forearm motion to flick the line to the left and right. As long as the tip stays on the far side of the rope the entire time, you get tight loops and a line that falls parallel to the rope. In theory. I couldn’t do that to save my life. Then something clicked and I actually did it right for a few moments. I’m not saying I’ll be able to transfer this concept to an actual stream. But I’m taking my rope to Wyoming. If there are any trout in the grass, those guys are toast. And that’s when I’ll turn to Jack and say, “Draw this, $&+#@%.” And a week later he’ll send in something that makes me look like one of those guys who has a basement full of illegal immigrants chained to a radiator. And the editors will ­decide that it’s perfect.

 

From the September 2012 issue of Field & Stream magazine.

Illustration by Jack Unruh

Comments (10)

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from Sayfu wrote 1 year 31 weeks ago

efty knows...good exercise. But nothing beats being on the water a lot after you pick up tips from guys like Lefty. An important concept on the Lefty lesson is...there are all degrees of planes you can cast in according to the situation that is presented to you on the water. Don't think that Deeter's lesson about stopping the rod tip at the bill of your hat does the trick. You may have to cast to the side according to your situation on the water. But go twice a year, and you will have lots of problems to address. Go 30-50 times a year, and quite qLuickly you become a good fly angler.

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from jbird wrote 1 year 31 weeks ago

Sooo glad to see you on here Bill!!

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from Markoutwest wrote 1 year 31 weeks ago

Bill Heavey is a national treasure, even if a particularly troubled one. Should we suggest that he stop flyfishing, get couples counseling, and quit writing so that he can establish a normal life? Nah.

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from fliphuntr14 wrote 1 year 31 weeks ago

been fly fishing for little more than a year and a half now. ill admit the stares i get from fellow college students while i was grass practicing were well worth it. Great article I feel your pain.

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from tkbone wrote 1 year 31 weeks ago

Enjoyed the read!

But "good at fly casting" does not equal "good at flyfishing." It helps, no doubt, but every fly-fisherman undoubtedly has been outfished by folks who couldn't begin to roll cast or double haul but know where the fish are and how to present the fly once it's in the water.

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from Sayfu wrote 1 year 31 weeks ago

tkbone...I know where you come from, BUT...I can't remember yet a fly angler that doesn't have the casting down pretty good that catches fish at least somewhat consistently. Roll casting is basic, and knowing how to cast greatly involves how to present the fly...air mends, slack line casts etc.

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from tkbone wrote 1 year 31 weeks ago

I think "pretty good" is the operative phrase. Someone who already knows how to catch fish with conventional tackle and has some ability to get a fly in the water without scaring fish has a big advantage over the guy who spends more time trying to perfect casting techniques on grass than he does standing in or on top of water trying to catch fish (which I think is the point of your original post).

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from Sayfu wrote 1 year 31 weeks ago

The guy who practices casting, then goes fishing has the huge advantage over the guy who uses spin tackle, and can barely get the fly in the water. Casting is the essence.

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from tkbone wrote 1 year 31 weeks ago

Maybe out west. In the east, competent casting guy who can fish routinely outfishes guy who can throw nice loops on the yard. "Barely get fly in the water" doesn't outfish anybody and nobody thinks that. That would be the equivalent of me saying guy who can throw all his fly line on the yard but has never stepped in a trout stream can outfish guy who can cast a fly 30 feet but fishes every day!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sayfu wrote 1 year 30 weeks ago

You are probably referring to one of those Eastern trout streams that you crawl along, and just dap the fly. I don't relate to that because I don't fish small streams, or creeks. From my experience a fly angler that addresses their fly casting, and gets decent at casting also has a good understanding of how to catch fish. It is also my experience that most fly anglers come from a spinning background, and now want to learn the challenge, the pleasures of fly fishing. They know how to catch fish already. And my experience?..A flyshop manager for a number of years. A guide for 3 decades. A fly fishing school instructor for 3 decades. Wrote fly fishing articles for a major magazine. Guided the fishing Editor of this magazine!! Guided him in Alaska. I've been around the block with this sport, and am very happy to have moved out WEST rather than still living back EAST. Good casting is still the essence of fly fishing...if you fish water where you can lay out line.

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Post a Comment

from Sayfu wrote 1 year 31 weeks ago

efty knows...good exercise. But nothing beats being on the water a lot after you pick up tips from guys like Lefty. An important concept on the Lefty lesson is...there are all degrees of planes you can cast in according to the situation that is presented to you on the water. Don't think that Deeter's lesson about stopping the rod tip at the bill of your hat does the trick. You may have to cast to the side according to your situation on the water. But go twice a year, and you will have lots of problems to address. Go 30-50 times a year, and quite qLuickly you become a good fly angler.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from jbird wrote 1 year 31 weeks ago

Sooo glad to see you on here Bill!!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Markoutwest wrote 1 year 31 weeks ago

Bill Heavey is a national treasure, even if a particularly troubled one. Should we suggest that he stop flyfishing, get couples counseling, and quit writing so that he can establish a normal life? Nah.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from fliphuntr14 wrote 1 year 31 weeks ago

been fly fishing for little more than a year and a half now. ill admit the stares i get from fellow college students while i was grass practicing were well worth it. Great article I feel your pain.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from tkbone wrote 1 year 31 weeks ago

Enjoyed the read!

But "good at fly casting" does not equal "good at flyfishing." It helps, no doubt, but every fly-fisherman undoubtedly has been outfished by folks who couldn't begin to roll cast or double haul but know where the fish are and how to present the fly once it's in the water.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sayfu wrote 1 year 31 weeks ago

tkbone...I know where you come from, BUT...I can't remember yet a fly angler that doesn't have the casting down pretty good that catches fish at least somewhat consistently. Roll casting is basic, and knowing how to cast greatly involves how to present the fly...air mends, slack line casts etc.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from tkbone wrote 1 year 31 weeks ago

I think "pretty good" is the operative phrase. Someone who already knows how to catch fish with conventional tackle and has some ability to get a fly in the water without scaring fish has a big advantage over the guy who spends more time trying to perfect casting techniques on grass than he does standing in or on top of water trying to catch fish (which I think is the point of your original post).

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sayfu wrote 1 year 31 weeks ago

The guy who practices casting, then goes fishing has the huge advantage over the guy who uses spin tackle, and can barely get the fly in the water. Casting is the essence.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from tkbone wrote 1 year 31 weeks ago

Maybe out west. In the east, competent casting guy who can fish routinely outfishes guy who can throw nice loops on the yard. "Barely get fly in the water" doesn't outfish anybody and nobody thinks that. That would be the equivalent of me saying guy who can throw all his fly line on the yard but has never stepped in a trout stream can outfish guy who can cast a fly 30 feet but fishes every day!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sayfu wrote 1 year 30 weeks ago

You are probably referring to one of those Eastern trout streams that you crawl along, and just dap the fly. I don't relate to that because I don't fish small streams, or creeks. From my experience a fly angler that addresses their fly casting, and gets decent at casting also has a good understanding of how to catch fish. It is also my experience that most fly anglers come from a spinning background, and now want to learn the challenge, the pleasures of fly fishing. They know how to catch fish already. And my experience?..A flyshop manager for a number of years. A guide for 3 decades. A fly fishing school instructor for 3 decades. Wrote fly fishing articles for a major magazine. Guided the fishing Editor of this magazine!! Guided him in Alaska. I've been around the block with this sport, and am very happy to have moved out WEST rather than still living back EAST. Good casting is still the essence of fly fishing...if you fish water where you can lay out line.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

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