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Blind Casting with a Fly Rod

By Chris O'Byrne

Chess on the water.

Savvy angler begins working a shoreline by casting to his right and subsequently moving to the line-hand (left) side. This keeps the loop from passing over the alerting unseen targets.

If conditions aren't suitable for sight-fishing, you can improve your odds of catching fish by limiting the search area and, like a good chess player, thinking a few moves ahead.

Stop to look at your options. “Keep your eyes open and watch everything,” encourages Tom Rosenbauer of the Orvis Company. The nearby land, the surface of the water and the wildlife activity will show you areas where fish might hold near the bottom. If these indicators still do not show you a fish, tie on a fly that will attract fish from a distance.

“We need to offer them more meat,” says Rosenbauer, who hosts the Orvis Fly Fishing Guide Podcast. Try a Blados Crease Fly on a sinking line, something with a rattle, a popper or even a Gurgler. Rosenbauer likes the last two for their helpless-fish noise and Deceivers for their wide silhouette.

After selecting your piece and deciding on your move, you still face a relatively large area of water. Casting willy-nilly into an area the size of a volleyball court is more likely to scare a fish than tempt it. To help visualize and make natural presentations to all the likely spots, imagine a chess board placed over the water. The alternating squares are your targets.

In presenting to these squares we can learn one more thing from chess masters. They have priorities on each move; sometimes these conflict with each other and the player must decide which is most important.

You, too, have a few things to do when making your fly look alive under the squares of your chess board. In each situation, decide which is most important.

In moving water, let the fly move as it would if it were a defenseless living creature. If the water is still, strip back toward yourself to make the fly rise and fall, kick and paddle, or even move and lie still. To avoid spooking the fish, first place the fly on the upstream end of a current. When it has moved through the square you are targeting, allow it to glide to the end of the current. Even though it will not be presented ideally that far down-drift, completing the drift is less scary to a fish than ripping your fly, leader and line out of the water in front of its nose. Move your casts to different squares by casting to your rod hand side first. If possible, moving your presentations toward your line-hand side will keep the looping line from passing over the fish you are going to present to. Now it will be natural to cast to the row of squares closest to you, and then reach out to farther rows.

“I go around the area, maybe three times,” says Rosenbauer. He describes how he uses a different pace of retrieve on each lap around the chess board. “Normal strips, then quick, quick pause.” To present his fly down the entire water column he finishes with “super slow, hand-over-hand strips.” The whole process should take no more than five to ten minutes. “Staying put is a mistake. If the fish aren't on something, you gotta move.”

When you can no longer make good casts and presentations to the squares in front of you, it is time to pick up your chess board and go to another spot. If you can, move toward your line hand until you get to a place where you can overlap the squares you just cast to.

When you don't see fish, you don't need to throw bait, just think like a chess champion and catch the fish you don't see! FS

First published Florida Sportsman October 2014

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