Fly Casting Lessons – With a Follow Up

Through the years I have had to cringe, sorry to say, while watching folks casting in various streams and other waterways. It is much like watching a really bad golf swing…especially if it is someone you know…and you know that you could indeed help their swing. The truth is fly-casting and swinging a golf club have a lot in common; the number one thing is that the person has to ask for help or try to find help…and if they are willing, they will usually get better, sometimes pretty quickly!

Such was the case with a good friend of mine. John Morgan contacted me through my website, as he was relatively local and wanted some help with his casting. We determined a spot to meet and quickly it was evident that for sure, John needed some help…as most ‘newbies’ do. John, being very intelligent, was quite analytical and easy to talk to. Before the end of our first lesson it was clear that not only did he have some true ability, but he wanted to be a good caster, he was passionate. John and I have fished together many times and I can honestly say that over the past couple of years, he has become very proficient and a very good, functional caster. By functional…I mean he can place his fly where he needs it to be often and catches lots of fish. He has become someone who can now help others in their casting.

Not long after we did a couple of lessons, John called and wanted me to give a lesson to his wife, Karen. I thought it was a great idea…if she has some interest, then it would be something the two of them could do together. So, we also met and the best part of Karen…she was a female (sorry guys but gals tend to listen and take direction better), but also the fact that she was new to fly-casting. She had no prior experience or ‘bad-habits’. Ask any golf pro and they will also tell you that starting with ‘new-clay’, so to speak, is much easier than trying to fix “The Old Dog”.

Karen ready for fly fishing

Karen getting ready to fish the Little River in Vermont.

Karen listened well and also seemed interested in being able to cast and catch a fish; the first 90 minute lesson went quickly and I left her with some drills and some ideas to work on. The second lesson (after the first each lesson is 60 minutes) was more of the same and by the end of lesson two, Karen could casts 20-30 with accuracy. She and I also talked about how to set the hook. How to strip in and allow line to flow out…and most importantly, how to actually land a fish. This last skill is just as important as any of the others; the last thing you want to do is to actually hook a fish and then lose it because you don’t have any skill in landing a fish.

I am proud to say that both John and Karen have done well these past couple of years and as you can see from the attached photos, Karen has continued her success and has even been able to land several trout, on her own…while fishing this summer in Acadia National Park!

Karen fly casting

of Karen fishing Jordon’s Pond in Acadia National Park in Maine … Caught 5 fish on a Dry Fly that day.

If you are someone on the fence and would like to fly fish or be better at the sport…please get a lesson. Find someone qualified or maybe even certified (my only certification is 40 years of catching fish) to help you improve your skills. Not asking is the real crime. Think about the number of people that go to a golf professional each year, it would be a staggering number. Casting a fly line is just as tough….or maybe even tougher.

I am closer each day to the end of a long and prosperous teaching career. Frankly, I am hoping that my time to be on the water, to maybe do a bit of guiding…and for sure do a few more casting lessons…is about to open up. If you are close enough and are interested in a casting lesson…or maybe even a ‘catching’ lesson (learning how to catch more fish)…contact me at flyfishingwithjeff@gmail.com and we can discuss where your skills are, when we could get together…and cost. Every day you continue to struggle is a day of frustration and there is help available; I urge you to search out someone that can give you sound advice and get you on the road to a more pleasant fly fishing experience.

Fly Fishing Low Water Smallmouth on the Big Walnut

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Because of low water conditions, there reaches a point in the summer where you either whine and stay home…or go and make the most of it; I am not a whiner. Frank and I pulled out of my drive at 9am sharp on our way to fly fish another section of the Big Walnut…and did so knowing that the water was running at 27cfs, which to my knowledge was the lowest we had ever tried to fish the BW!

As we crossed the creek we could see that we were indeed in for a tough afternoon. If you have fished for smallies in low water conditions then you know exactly how tough it is…and even tougher when you are a fly-guy. Oddly, the first fish came within the first five casts and thus set my expectations pretty high for the rest of the day; an hour or almost an hour later I would find and catch my second fish. Thankfully I figured out a better fly, kept my profile very low and started catching more fish as I moved further downstream.

All in all it was a gorgeous day to be out on the water and for sure I would have been disappointed had I stayed behind and not fished. I did rely on some accurate long-distance casting and a well tied tan colored trout candy that the smallmouth obviously found interesting. Once again I hope you enjoy the journey and the scenery; being out on the water in any fashion or form makes for time well spent.

Fly Fishing Indian Creek with Guest Fly-Guy Ryan Gass

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If you go back, way back…to when I was just a young man of 14, you would have found me and my father, a bucket of minnows, some old Chuck Taylor’s and Indian Creek. I have been fishing this small, yet mighty creek for…well 42 years now! This exact section was where I first caught a smallie as I followed dad from rock to rock and flipped minnows into pools.

Time has moved forward and lots of things have changed; yet this flowing piece of water remains and the smallmouth there are still as smart and aggressive as they were some 40 years past. I have fished it so many times that I know each little turn, rock and pool very well. I have loads of memories of my father ahead of me; as a young man he was leading…and in the latter years he would sit at one spot and watch me fish. Those are times I will never get back and yet times I will never lose.

About a month ago I received an email from a Louisville native named Ryan Gass. Ryan was just wetting his feet in fly fishing and as many folks do each year was reaching out for some info to help in getting started. What Ryan did however, was above and beyond anyone else…as he asked to drive north 2-3 hours and meet with me. We agreed on a time and a place and as they say, the rest is history.

Seldom do I like a person from the first second…I am at times a hard person to please. Ryan was the exception; just like my friend, Frank, from many years past and another fly-guy, young Thomas Bouldin of earlier this summer. I liked Ryan and most I liked how polite and attentive he was. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t need an audience, but I do feel like there are times when you need to ask a question and then actually wait for an answer?

Ryan and I started talking about a slurry of topics and it was evident that he, like me, had grown up in the country…not the USA as a country…but the country whereby you actually learn to do things yourself and when the fence needs mending, you grab the gear and get it done. Truth is we talked of random items for over an hour before the topic turned to fly fishing and all of its many nuances.

I knew that Ryan was indeed serious about learning the sport; if you will drive 3 hours to talk to someone, which is usually a good clue. I told him that often I get (sometime one or two a day) an email from someone, somewhere, that wants the magic bullet. They want me to give them the fly and leader set up so that they can catch fish that moment. So here is the revelation; that simply can’t be done. I don’t know how you fish, what the water conditions are, what the weather is like…and the pieces of the puzzle go on and on. Now, I will do my best…but learning a craft that has taken me 40+ years to get a handle on, it takes time, a lot of time.

The next part I liked is that Ryan was organized and had actually written his thoughts and questions down; this indeed saved some time and allowed us to focus our conversation. Ryan asked questions about structure and set up; by sitting in front of me we could really discuss the difference in sink tip, floating and full sink line. You see, that is a hard thing to accurately do via an email. Long story short…we talked for two hours and then I had invited Ryan to fish a spot with me on his way back south. A half hour or 45 minutes later and we were stringing fly gear and off to chuck a streamer for a couple of hours together.

I had told Ryan that I hadn’t yet been to this spot this year and wasn’t completely sure what to expect; as I pulled in I could see that the water was clear and nothing had change, the stream was just as it looked some 40 years ago when dad and I first approached it. I took a few minutes to tie a couple of flies for Ryan and then explained my version of how we would best find and catch the smallmouth on this stream…and then we stopped talking and started catching.

Ryan hadn’t made ten casts when he caught the first smallmouth of the day; it was a beauty and while only about ten inches, it was indeed our native son and we were glad to have removed the skunk from the stream. Hole by hole and riffle by riffle we slowly ambled downstream as we caught smallmouth, rock bass, sunfish and even one largemouth bass. Just like I have said many times about judging a person’s character on the golf course, the same can be said for fly fishing. You quickly find out what kind of person you are dealing with while on a stream and Ryan was exceptional. He took the time to notice the little things in nature and appreciated the fish, that for a moment, we would be communing with.

The highlight of the day for me came as we neared the end of a long pool that over the years has given me many good memories, but none more than the very last time dad fished with me…he had worked along the stream ahead of me and had taken his portable golf chair out and was sitting watching as I neared. I can still vividly remember making a long casts to the back of the eddy where dad was parked; I had a black popper and as the fly sat there, motionless…a 15 inch smallmouth burst forth from the water and gobbled up my fly. Dad had the best seat in the house; after landing the fish we stopped and talked a bit and I could see, on his face, how happy he was to be a part of this fishing expedition. Oddly, Ryan was just to my left as we neared this magical spot…I had tied on a crayfish pattern of mine and was bouncing the fly back across the same pool when I felt the tug. After lifting my 3 weight rod I knew that I had hooked into a true trophy; indeed a few minutes later I filmed a chunky 18 inch smallmouth. Ryan and I talked for a bit and as I walked towards the next riffle I had one of the many moments I have had since dad passed; it didn’t last too long because I know that his legacy lives on in me and in my sons. That is what fly fishing is all about!

Fly Fishing the Big Walnut in Mid-Summer

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Let’s be real clear…there are certain times of the year when a smallmouth bass can become as intelligent as any fish around; truth be told, on my most recent fish finding excursion…they were operating at a Mensa level. The water on the Big Walnut was not only gin clear, but very low…as low as I have fished the stream. Now maybe you’re not familiar with such parameters, but suffice it to say…it was tough, very tough!

Once again I was fishing with young Thomas Bouldin as my regular fishing buddy of many years, Frank, was on hiatus with his wife and grandkids. I dropped Thomas off on the upper section and then drove down a few miles to start the lower section of water. It was evident to me in just a few steps that this was going to be one of those days that would include a lot of skulking and long casts.

My first fish came in just a few minutes and set the pattern of success for the day; long casting into shaded areas with a white baitfish pattern as my fly (note: the fly tying demo is of me tying the actual fly that was used in the video). I felt more like I was turkey hunting than was I fly casting to smallmouth bass. I won’t go into the number of times that I rolled my eyes and shook my head as fish blew out of cover ahead of me; the good news, I caught enough fish to make it all interesting and for sure the walk down a beautiful stream was worth my time, many fold.

The big fish of the day, for me, came as I was flipping my shiner just a few feet at a time into various rocks and cover that produced several smallies…the big one, a chunky 16 incher that followed my fly for a few feet before committing to the take. Thomas, on the upper section, which I might add had a few more deep holes, ended up doing quite well as he landed a pair of 18 inchers (one can be seen at the end of the video)…and yes, on one of my own, home-tied, baitfish patterns.

All in all it was a great four hours upon water that I truly love. I watched an eagle on two occasions and marveled at how silent the stream and its surroundings, can actually be. That is in fact…what smallmouth bass fishing is all about; that and landing a few that really put a bend in your rod. As always…if you have any questions please direct those to me by e-mailing me at flyfishingwithjeff@gmail.com and I will do my best to give you a solid answer to your question.

Fly Fishing Sugar Creek with Thomas Bouldin

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I love Sugar Creek…that is a no-brainer; so, getting a chance to fish it is also a no-brainer. Each year I get lots of questions and even some requests to fish certain creeks. I also get request for info, etc….and frankly, do my best to try and help those in search of info. It was a month or two back that I received a very polite inquiry from Thomas Bouldin; Thomas wanted to try and find a time to get together and see if we could fish Sugar Creek together. As things go…I have been very busy, in fact, these past couple of months have been my busiest. My father passed in March and we have been on a three month journey to move my mom from her home of 50 years into a small condo…we finally succeeded this past week and my fly fishing window opened up. Thus, I made plans for Frank and I to meet Thomas in Crawfordsville and head out on a 4-5 hour journey.

Let me throw out one caveat…I’m not really a social fisherman. I like to fish with my two sons and my friend Frank (and usually that means we go our separate ways once upon the water). However, I am a fan of helping younger fly-guys. So, Thomas and I jumped onto Sugar Creek and headed west in search of smallmouth bass.

The first thing I noticed about Thomas was that he was not just young, but very polite. He told me he was born in California and had just finished his degree in law enforcement and was in the process of starting his life. We leap-frogged each other from spot to spot as I tried to give Thomas a heads up on a few upcoming portions of the creek that were or had been good to me. Truth is that Thomas was a very good caster and it was evident that his skill level was higher than most.

Unfortunately the creek wasn’t cooperating completely with us….or should I say the smallies weren’t cooperating. We caught a fish from time to time…but nothing of any size. It was however, a gorgeous day and if you can be upon Sugar Creek at any point and not enjoy the environs….something is really wrong with you.

As we eased into the last bend prior to our take out at Deers Mill and Clements, I made a long cast back into the shade with my shiner pattern and was in full speed retrieve when I felt a thump. A good hook set and up from the water came the fish of the day; it was a chunky 18 inch smallmouth. A true classic from Sugar Creek. Thomas quickly floated on in and took a few photos (which for me is a real treat as I almost always land and catch fish on my own).

Our day had come to an end and pleasant was the only word that could come to mind. Thomas was a real gentleman and someone I would indeed like to fish with again. It is great to see the next generation and know that we are going to be handing off the pursuit of fly fishing to a qualified handful that can carry on the rich tradition.

Fly Fishing the Big Blue River in Scenic Southern Indiana

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New water excites me… I can’t hardly wait the night before as I build with anticipation. Don’t get me wrong, nothing wrong with the waters I have already fished, especially if they are loaded with big hungry fish…but a new pool, riffle or bend is hard to describe…maybe you understand…if you don’t, I probably can’t explain it to you.

Such was the case Saturday, July 6th as I made plans with good friend, Jay Emerson, to travel a couple hours south and fish the Big Blue River in truly Southern Indiana; in fact the stretch we fished was a mere 3-5 miles (as the crow flies) from the Ohio River. We met Jay and his son Eric just across from the very scenic Overlook Restaurant and the view atop the hill…looking down upon the Ohio River was out of this world.

A few miles up the road and we would leave a vehicle…then on a few more miles (9 river miles) to our starting point. The four of us (my buddy Frank was along) eased our way out into the gently rolling water and headed south. I was immediately comparing the stream to one of many that I had been on during my last 40 years of traversing water; truth is, there wasn’t one river that completely came to mind. Sure, parts of the Blue reminded me of Sugar Creek while other portions had me thinking of the Muskegon in Michigan…and so it went…but honestly, the Blue was and will be a special stream with its own characteristics.

Our start was slow, as I looked at my watch we were still ahead of the 11am bewitching hour that in my mind, is usually the earliest that I feel smallmouth are willing to give chase. My first fish was a chunky ten inch native and was caught on a yellow streamer tied on a 60 degree hook; regardless, our, my day had started. Here is where I throw out how nice Jay an Eric were to me and Frank; I can see being nice to me…but Frank, that’s another story (ha). Jay and Eric were truly hospitable and stayed behind us allowing us newbies to fish the water first…thanks fellas!

After a long lull in a section of water that probably was too slow for good smallmouth action, we dropped into a mile or so of water that was moving along swiftly with current and lots of structure for the smallies to lay in wait. Things picked up nicely and I started figuring out a pattern; I had a tan or crème trout candy tied with some weight and in a size 6 that I was casting back upstream and pulling down along and through portions of the stream that was littered with boulders and other smaller rocks…which created perfect pocket water for our smallmouth friends.

After passing under I-64 we once again were in portions of the stream that was and surely has to be…excellent smallmouth water. My largest fish of the day was a pair of 14 inchers, but my gut tells me that lurking there, somewhere, has to be some 15-20 inch class fish. Part of our issue was our near perfect weather. Mid 70’s and later lower 80’s meant that we were indeed under a high pressure and if you have done much fishing at all…you know that will help to make the fishing and the fish a bit sluggish.

All in all our day was as enjoyable as I have ever had. Much of this has to once again go to our hosts; Jay and EJ were such gentleman. It really made up for me having to put up with Frank all day! In the end I caught approximately 30 smallies and a couple of goggle-eyes; the totals weren’t important. What was important was the good time had by all…oh, and the fact that I have added another awesome stream to my repertoire. The Big Blue is a keeper and I will be back!