Now that tarpon season is here it’s time to think about casting distance with a fly rod. A lot of “experts” will tell you that you need to be able to make at least an eighty foot cast in order to catch anything on the flats. You’ll occasionally read this in magazines and often hear it from too many guides. The eighty foot cast is a very demanding requirement for any angler and a discouraging one for most beginners. But in my experience, it’s simply not necessary.
Ninety percent of the tarpon I’ve caught over the years were hooked within fifty feet of my boat, and that’s a cast that anyone can make. Even if you’ve never touched a fly rod before, a decent guide or instructor can get you casting out to fifty feet within an hour. The trick is to do it quickly and accurately, and this is the part that takes a fair amount of practice.
In a lot flats fishing situations, from the time your guide points out a cruising tarpon to the moment you’ll start your cast is around ten seconds. You’ll have the first five seconds to spot the target for yourself and the next five to get the fly in the water and in front of your fish. This is a really narrow window but at fifty feet it can easily be done.
Here’s an exercise you should try if you’re thinking of getting serious with a fly rod here around Pine Island or if you’re heading to any other saltwater destination. To do this properly you’ll need a measuring tape, two paper plates, and a partner with a stopwatch.
First, take the paper plates and find an open space, preferably a grass field, and measure a straight line of fifty feet. Place one plate at each end of this line. String up your 9 or 10-weight fly rod with a 1/0 baitfish pattern and stand on one plate. Start with the upwind plate and aim downwind.
Next, strip out at least eighty feet of fly line from your reel. Leave a rod’s length fly line hanging from the rod tip and hold the fly in your opposite hand by the eye of its hook. Have your partner hit the stopwatch and start counting out loud. At the same moment you’ll start your false casts, aiming for the downwind plate. When the count hits “five,” stop your casting and present your fly.
So how close are you to your downwind target?
If you realistically want to catch a big tarpon on a fly, in the conditions you’re going to find in Florida this time of year, you should be within two feet of the plate. If you’ve actually hit the plate then you‘re well ahead of the crowd but should still keep practicing.
So what happens if you’ve been flailing away for hours and still can’t get to the plate in those five seconds? Well then it’s time to stop what you’re doing and get some real instruction. I’ve seen a lot of self-taught anglers who’ve taught themselves some seriously bad habits.
If you’re one of these folks you may be totally effective with a fly rod on a trout stream but it just won’t happen on the flats. One hour of being taught the proper saltwater techniques, whether it’s in a field, parking lot, or on the deck of a boat, will get you punching that fifty feet in no time.