It pays to become a proficient caster with either hand, but until then, here’s a shortcut.
The redfish materialize at 2 o’clock. I told my fisherman where they were and started turning the boat. He couldn’t wait. His back cast hit me in the side of the head, burying the hook in my hat and breaking the lead eyes off the fly.
The three finest fly casters it’s been my pleasure to fish with—Warren Hinrichs, Dan Lagace, and Lefty Kreh—can all cast equally well with either hand. All three of them effortlessly toss an entire fly line with either hand. Think of how useful that would be. Regardless of wind direction or boat orientation, there’s never a cast you can’t make.
Lefty has long been a fixture at fly fishing shows all over the country, giving
casting demonstrations and instruction.
After some demonstration, he always gets a victim from the audience to try a cast. He watches them briefly, then always tells them, “You didn’t listen to one damn thing I said. You look like a monkey hoeing cabbage.”
I have been trying to learn to cast with my left hand, forced into it by developing tendonitis in my right elbow. It ain’t easy. I do look like that monkey.
Casting ability does not automatically transfer from dominant to off hand. Think of how you throw a baseball with your off hand. No, it takes some time, practice and considerable frustration tolerance.
In his excellent video, “The Art of Fly Casting,” Chico Fernandez says it takes four hours of instruction and 20 hours of practice to become a competent fly caster. Clearly in my case, much more practice will be required with the off hand before competence sets in.
Considerable muscle memory is involved in fly casting. Until that muscle memory develops, casting with the off hand will continue to feel somewhat awkward and not be very effective. There are no shortcuts. It takes time and effort, even for someone who casts well with their dominant hand.
In the meantime, how do you make that cast to two o’clock without hooking the guide?
Learning to cast on your back stroke is the easiest way. Not nearly enough fly casters can do this. It’s simple to learn. It will make you a much better fly caster.
Most fly casters face their target when they make a cast. They pay little or no attention to their back cast. It usually suffers horribly from such negligence. No matter how perfect your forward stroke is, the forward cast cannot reach full potential when the back cast is bad.
There’s a simple solution to this problem.
Instead of facing the target, try facing your cast. For right handers this means that instead of your arm travelling in a path along your right side, it travels in the same path across the front of your body. In order to watch your back cast all you need do is turn your head to the 45 degrees to the right.
Spend some time paying attention to your back stroke. Tighten and improve the loop. Remember that the rod tip must move in a straight line, accelerating smoothly to a sharp stop. A tight loop on the back stroke will lead to a tighter loop on the forward stroke. Your casting automatically improves.
Of course you can make “the cast” on either stroke. A few hours spent practicing casting on the back stroke will pay huge dividends down the line, especially if you fish from a boat. You will be able to make an accurate cast to two o’clock on your back stroke while keeping the line out of the boat and your fishing partners out of harm’s way.
You should also be able to reel with either hand. While reeling with your dominant hand is always preferred, you ought to be able to competently use anyone’s tackle should you need to.
Nothing can substitute for being able to cast well with either hand. Regardless of wind direction or boat orientation, every cast becomes makeable. Learning to become ambidextrous should be a goal of every serious fly caster. FS
First Published Florida Sportsman February 2013