Casting Zen

When I started this page I never expected to be asked to have a guest blogger but I am honored. I have always believed in “open source” fly fishing. Our knowledge and experiences are best served with a helping of openness and fun.

In that spirit I am happy to share the thoughts of Tim Bennett on chasing bones and casting. Tim is a local fly dude and beer snob extraordinaire. When he’s not brewing a mean jalapeno beer (trust me it’s good!) Tim can be found chasing anything that swims with a fly rod. Enjoy!

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Zen casting
Tim Bennett

The anticipation was almost unbearable. Where were the fish? They had to be somewhere on this flat. Our guide Reno, was slowly poling the boat across one of the best bonefish flats in the Bahamas. It was my turn on the casting deck but we hadn’t spotted a fish in nearly an hour and I was getting restless. I shifted my weight from one foot to the other trying to get comfortable while scanning the water for any sign of movement. Every shadow that gave me hope turned out to be yet another imaginary fish.

A cold front had rolled through the previous day and the drop in water temperature seemed to have scattered the fish. The change in wind direction and rolling clouds conspired to make spotting these well-camouflaged “ghosts of the flats” even more challenging than usual. Where were the bonefish? Reno seemed more than a little puzzled and said the bones weren’t patrolling the usual spots. Reno, myself, and my fishing partner Rick, were all gazing intently at the water. Once in a while a barracuda or the flash of some baitfish would momentarily fool us – yet another false alarm.

I started to fidget again when out of nowhere Reno said, “Bonefish, two of them at one o’clock, eighty feet out and moving right to left. Get ready to cast”. I dropped the coils of fly line from my left hand, flicked the Gotcha into the water, and frantically tried to spot the fish. I didn’t see them. Something about the tension in Reno’s voice suggested that the fish might be big. Earlier in the day, Rick had asked Reno not to mention the size of the fish he pointed out to us. Rick felt we didn’t need any added pressure trying to make an already difficult cast into swirling winds to “BIG” fish. Better to think they were small until we hooked up.

“Ten o’clock, sixty feet, start your cast”. I lifted line and false cast with Reno coaching my every move. “Left, left, more line, line… now!” Just as I was hauling on the back cast I finally got a glimpse of the fish. They were big! I made the double haul and let the line fly. Instead of rolling out and turning over as expected, the loop collapsed and the line crashed into the water well short of the fish. In a flash, they were gone. After all that anticipation, I finally had a shot at a big bone and blew it!

Now it was Rick’s turn on deck and I sat down to lick my wounds. A true pro, Reno didn‘t say a word about the missed opportunity. He didn’t need to. I instantly understood what I had done wrong. In my excitement, I had let the back cast drift too far back, rushed the forward cast, mistimed the haul, and reached too far forward, driving the cast down. A rookie mistake. One that Rick and I both repeated several times that day. We did manage to hook and land a few fish despite our casting struggles, but I was haunted by the day’s failures. Bonefish will do that to you.

All four anglers in our party caught fish during our trip to Exuma, but it was a real challenge. One evening, Reno joined us for drinks after a tough day of fishing. One of us asked what we could do to improve our casting. He replied that we were all good fly casters. We just needed to relax. Relax? Ha! Easier said than done while the wind is howling and a big bonefish is cruising just beyond the reach of your best double haul.

Of course he was right; we are all experienced and successful anglers. And we all had spent time practicing the double haul in our backyards prior to this trip. We would just tense up at the moment of truth and rush the cast. Jim asked what we could do to remain calm during the cast and Reno replied that when he was casting for big bones, he would hum a Bahamian folk song to himself to help with his timing and remain relaxed.

A couple of weeks after the trip, Jim and I were hanging out with Derek and Rick from Keystone Fly Guides at the Fly Fishing Show in Lancaster sharing stories of our trip to the Bahamas. We were discussing casting techniques and tactics as celebrity fly casters were demonstrating their prowess at the casting pools. Derek is the current Pennsylvania Fly Casting Champion and I mentioned Reno’s observation about the need to relax while casting and his use of the Caribbean folk song. Derek thought it was a great idea, but we all agreed we needed to come up with our own casting mantra. None of us knew an appropriate Bahamian folk song and somehow that didn’t seem quite right for a bunch of trout anglers from the Northeast!

The consensus was that we didn’t need the instructional mantras popularized by Lefty and Bob Clouser like, “Toss a pebble (or cup of hot coffee) over your shoulder” to represent the backcast, and “Hammer a nail” or “Flick a paintbrush” to represent the forward cast. Those are useful analogies for a beginning caster, or as an occasional reminder for experienced casters to accelerate and stop. But ultimately you shouldn’t be thinking about your cast when concentrating on presentation to a fish. A good mantra should help you clear your mind so you can remain calm under pressure.

We were all tossing out ideas when someone said, “Caddyshack!” That got a chuckle from the group as we all instantly envisioned Chevy Chase’s character, Ty Webb, dancing around the putting green chanting, “Na-na-na-na-na” as he effortlessly sank putt after putt. Perfect! It seems like it would have a calming effect and you can’t help but smile, if not chuckle while humming it. There is also a natural pause between Na-na-na-na-na’s that allows time for the rod load on the backcast. I haven’t had the chance to try this faux Zen chant on big fish yet, but I plan to do so when I go back to the Bahamas next year. I’m sure it will work.

If you are out with Keystone Fly Guides stalking big carp, muskie or trophy browns, and you are faced with a challenging cast, don’t be surprised if your guide asks you to chant Na-na-na-na-na…. Na-na-na-na-na….

 

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