From this month's Nautical Mile Magazine. I wrote this quite a while ago but always like to repost it this time of year:
Now that tarpon season is here it’s time to think about your casting
distance with a fly rod. A lot of “experts” will tell you that you need to be
able to make at least an 80 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. In all honesty, the 80 foot cast
is a very demanding requirement for an experienced angler and a terribly
discouraging one for most beginners. And
in my experience, it’s simply not necessary.
Nearly all of the tarpon I’ve caught over the years were hooked within 50
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 50 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 many fly fishing situations, from the time your guide points out a cruising
tarpon to the moment you’ll need to start your cast is around 10 seconds.
You’ll have the first 5 seconds to spot the target for yourself and the next 5
to get the fly in the water and in front of your fish. This is a really narrow
window but when we’re talking about just 50 feet it can easily be done.
Here’s an exercise you should try if you’re thinking of getting serious with
a fly rod around Pine Island or any other saltwater destination, and all you’ll
need to do is find an empty baseball field.
String up your 10-weight fly rod with a 1/0 baitfish pattern and stand on
the pitcher’s mound. The distance to
home plate is 60’, which is what I’ve found to be the maximum distance of the
average successful tarpon shot.
Next, strip out at least 80 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 home
plate. When the count hits “5,” stop your casting and present your fly.
So how close are you to home?
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 a foot
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 5 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 on a ball field or on the deck of
a boat, will get you to home plate in no time.