Night Fishing Improves Your Casting

By Thomas R. Dempsey, M.D. CCI

When someone is really interested in becoming a better caster, I often times suggest they do a night fishing trip around the piers that have lights. How can this experience actually improve your casting skills? Well, let’s look at what it takes to be a good “night light pier fisherman”

  1. Loop control. Since you obviously can’t watch your loops and especially your back cast, you have to “feel” the rod load, the loop unrolls, basically you have to “feel” the cast.
  2. Timing. This takes some work that you have hopefully already done in your practice sessions before you get on board the boat. A good way to practice this on dry land is to work on your tension cast and your false cast, blind. Cover your eyes if you think you are going to fudge or close them while you are casting and wait until the line is laid out on your presentation cast before opening your eyes. If the line and leader is lying straight on the ground, you have successfully mastered the art of the “feeling” the cast. The line doesn’t lie.
  3. Accuracy. This is another aspect of night fishing that that will help in your day light fishing. At night you have to be able to judge the amount of line you are carrying in your cast in order to hit the target. This is another one of those ‘feel” it deals. Again, your practice sessions on land can prepare you to judge the amount of line in your cast. I know if I strip off 12 to 13 pulls on my line, I have about 45 feet from me to my fly. Try this and measure how many pulls it takes to get out 45 feet. Why 45 feet, that’s a good starting distance from your boat to the pier lights. People, this is basically sight casting to the area under the lights that more times than not have fish flashing baits and crisscrossing over the underwater green lights.
  4. Speed. Not how fast you are casting, but how quick can you hit the target on the bow of a moving boat, throw in some current, dash of bumps from a passing boat and a little wind. Again, you can practice your salt water quick cast on land. Look up salt water quick cast on you-tube. It will serve you well for night fishing.
  5. Line Management. Fly line as the ability to tangle on anything on board. At night it’s worse. Like on land strip out only the estimated amount you will need. Keep checking on the line at your feet. Trolling motors love to eat fly line. 

These are some tips to help you become a better caster while you are experiencing the thrill of “Fishing the Lights.”

Thomas R. Dempsey, certified casting instructor Mobile, Alabama.

Practice When It’s Windy

By Thomas R. Dempsey, M.D. CCI

They say when it’s windy, you can sit at home and complain, fish and fight the wind, or use the and to your advantage. With a little practice, you can handle almost any degree of windy conditions. First, let’s take a wind blowing straight into your face. The problem is simply resistance, the wind is the roadblock. To penetrate it, three issues must be addressed. 1.tight loops-A tight loop is like a sharp arrow, it penetrates. In order to cast a tight loop, you have to cast keeping †he rod †ip moving along a straight line course, otherwise you will throw a large open loop that is less effective in penetrating the wind. 2.speed- Remember your high school physics, KE [kinetic energy] = 1/2 M [mass, or the weight of your fly line] V [velocity]2[squared]. This means the faster you cast the more energy or force you generate. You can’t change the mass or weight of your fly line but you can change the velocity or speed at which you cast, resulting in more force, simple, right? 3. Trajectory- This is the pathway your line travels during the cast. If you cast up a bit on the backcast and down a bit on the forward cast you expose your line on the forward cast to the wind  for a shorter period of time it before it gets to the target. You are tilting you casting plane slightly down. There are two other ways to help when casting in the wind, use a faster like a  tip flex rod and a heavier line, no brainer.    

How about wind from a behind? Same problem as with wind in your face except in reverse. Again, tight loops in to the backcast with speed. Some casters cast a bit DOWN on the back cast and UP on the forward cast to try and take advantage of the “kiting effect “ of the wind from behind. Reframe from shooting lots of line into the backcast. You’re just making it harder by throwing slack into the cast. This is a time you might want to haul harder on the forward cast again taking advantage of the push of the wind from behind.                                                                                                       

Wind into the line hand, your left side if you cast right handed. The problem here is that the wind blows your cast off target. You have to compensate by casting to the LEFT of your target if the wind is from the LEFT and you are right handed. Now it’s a whole different ballgame if the wind is blowing into your rod hand, the hand you are casting with. Not only are we dealing with an accuracy situation, there is the element of keeping the fly from being blown into the caster, SAFETY.  For low winds cast more horizontal, or you can try a Belgium cast. For a stronger wind, cast over the opposite shoulder by bringing the rod to the same position you would use if there was no wind and angle the tip over the opposite shoulder. This allows you to cast with the same mechanics as you would with no wind but with the pathway of your cast now over the opposite shoulder. With severe wind switch to a backhand cast or better a Barneget Bay cast. That is a cast facing away from the wind, casting in a horizontal plane, with a forehand grip on the back cast as well as the forward cast. Or you just may learn to cast with the opposite hand, how about that? So now you have the formulas to handle the wind from any direction, tweeking each formula if the wind happens to be at an angle. Always remember the five essentials still must be adhered to in order that you get the most from your four formulas for casting in the wind.

Practice when it’s windy.                             

Redfishing Tips: “Alabama Bonefishing”

Redfishing Tips: “Alabama Bonefishing”

Instruction/Local Fishing By Thomas R. Dempsey, M.D. CCI

Pegged “The hardest fish I ever tried to catch on a fly,” by one of the world’s most successful tarpon fisherman, the redfish has taken its place at the top of the pyramid for fish sought out for site casting. 
Chasing redfish in the marshes on the Gulf Coast is as challenging as fishing for bonefish in Mexico.

It is often been said that a redfish will eat any color as long as it’s gold. However, hardcore redfishermen agree it is not the color of the fly, but where the fly is delivered. Thus comes up the point of how to put the fly so the redfish will eat.

Let’s discuss flats boat fishing for the sake of technique and limit our discussion to fishing from the deck. This is the best way to cover lots of marsh.

First you have to have the right gun before you can pull the trigger. A 9-foot tip flex rod can cover the requirements for distance, speed, and accuracy. Although there are some very successful redfish anglers who throw an 8 ½ foot rod, the 9 foot in my opinion is more versatile.

If you are going to throw a rod all day it makes sense to use the lightest to get the job done. An 8 weight is up to the task and can easily handle a 40 pound red.

A floating line with some meat in the head for a quick delivery and taper toward the convex side to throw that monster fly. Some of the new lines by Rio and S.A. fill the bill perfectly. They are even labeled redfish lines. How about that? The S.A. Outbound is like a shooting head and is a good one for the reds.

Leaders need to be short, quick, and capable of turning over big flies. A 7 ½ foot tapered 20 pound mono is the leader of choice. Fluoro in my opinion is a waste of money. I personally like a 5 foot piece of straight 20 or 25 pound mono. Quick to turn over, cheap and no knots. What happened to the 60-20-20 rule?

Flies can go down or stay up. Look at a redfish’s face, he is always looking down. Flies that sink and end up in the feeding water column offer the best success. Walk on the wild side, poppers can pull that red off the bottom in a New York second.

One important issue regarding flies. I like a big hook with a wide gap and a needle point a.k.a. Owner or Gamakatsu 4/0. Why? The big hook for big fish lessens the chance of pull out. The wide gap is to get around the jaw bone.

The needle point for precise penetration is often overlooked. Hooks sharpened on three sides, cut on those three sides and that wallowing redfish can wallow that hook, cutting a hole allowing the unbutton experience. Colors? gold, gold and gaudy. Seriously, any color fly in the right spot works. Redfish will hit a beer can if it is in the strike zone. Remember, you cannot tie a fly so big a redfish cannot eat it. The bigger the better, providing you can cast it.

Where to Hunt
Redfish like a home where there are a few shells on the bottom and some sand or grass. Very seldom do they hangout on flats without some cover or camouflage. You know you are in redfish territory when you see their buddies, skates, rays and sheephead. They hang together.

Blowouts are redfish footprints, distinctive puffs of silt raised when the fish moves out. The redfish blowout is identified by a large burst of sand and silt followed by a smooth trail and a large ‘V’-shaped push in the water. 
The skate and ray will also blowout, but the intermittent puffs created by the flapping of his wings serves to differentiate the ray blowout trail from the redfish. Good to remember this. 

Now that you have an idea of what to use, how do you use it?

The saltwater quick cast was invented for the redfisherman. But the modern version of this cast is the reflex cast. No time to ponder loop formation, just put it on the fish. While you admire your false casting, that redfish is moving along. I’ve seen redfish blow off at 40 yards, spooked by the mear lifting of your arm. There are these distinct “lies” for shallow water redfish, the laid up fish, the tailers, and the cruising red. Each requires a different tactic.

The laid up fish can be the most difficult to catch. They sit and ponder often refusing presentations that literally roll off their nose. That being said, you must put the fly on his snout, twitch ever so slowly with a very short 2-3 inch strip. No take, repeat step 1 again and again. Don’t get wigged out if he moves on, he’s got other interest. 
Tailers are what we read about and see in all the promo literature. These guys want to eat—so serve them up. Often in pods, pick off the guys on the periphery first and work towards the center. They are doing what redfish do, rooting and eating, and asking to be caught.

Cruising fish are the challenge. That is when the reflex cast comes out. The cruising fish is on a mission. An opportunistic feeder, he will go for the fly if it is put in his vision or strike zone. Remember, the redfish is looking down so a cast that gets in his grill is a temptation. This often means casting 10-15 feet in front of the fish letting it rest on the bottom until he gets there, then strip, bump, strip, bump in a 4-6 inch moves. Error on a cast farther ahead of the cruising fish. Short cast and you risk lining the fish. Redfish do not like line on their backs. Hit them in the head or tail but don’t line them. If you do, just let him swim out from under the line. Don’t tickle his back by stripping the line. Use the 10 foot rule. If you see a fish, cast and miss him and he disappears, he’s still moving. Cast 10 feet to each side of where you last saw him. There is a good chance he is close by.

Hooking the redfish requires some patience and technique. If the fish’s path crosses your fly, watch his head. When he turns on the fly let him have it. Many anglers jerk the rod up, out comes the fly. This bad boy requires a strip set. Tease him along with a short bump of 2 to 4 inches and when the fly disappears you know where it is. You have been waiting to set the hook, have at it. If he spits it ,the strip set provides you with a mulligan. He’ll often follow the fly all the way to the boat if you feed him correctly. What I am saying is if you don’t hook-up on the first strip, leave the fly in front of him and work it. Don’t recast unless the fish has moved away from the fly.

Set the hook and set it hard. He’s got a big hard mouth and a jawbone that requires that wide gap hook. The first run is often straight toward the boat. That is when most fish are lost for not setting the hook hard. In fact I tell my students to hit him hard at least there good times. No wimps here. Now  sit back and let him run. On the flats often there is no structure to cut you off so no matter how big he is, if you have a good hook set, you will probably land him.

Remember, be kind. Use a net or boga grip and send him back to mama.

Practice for Perfection

Practice for Perfection

Instruction By Thomas R. Dempsey, M.D. CCI

Practice is a word that congers up comments such as “That’s so boring, What’s the point?, I really don’t have time,” or better,”I don’t need to practice”. Well, all these are true to a certain extent but if we use them as an excuse to justify our fishing sob stories then we have no one to blame but ourselves. I get calls all the time that go something like this “I’m going to Montana next week and I need a lesson to brush up on my casting”. When was the last time you threw a fly? Maybe LAST year in Montana. Thousands of dollars are spent on destination fly fishing trips to Alaska but precious little time is set aside to practice casting. You think LeBron or Tiger would hit the court or the links without practicing, never.

Practice is boring.

It doesn’t have to be. Always practice with a goal. Look for ways to make it “fun”. Having a practice partner is a great way to combine practice with camaraderie. Your partner can help you correct your mistakes. Nothing better than another set of eyes from a different angle. You can set up targets and have a friendly competition, all while improving your accuracy. Lay out ropes and practice picking up and laying down your cast. This will improve your tracking. Using a hoola hoop attached up right to a pole presents a perfect target to help hone and tighten your loops. Before tarpon season every year I practice casting into a child’s inner tube floating on the water and tethered with a 6 ounce weight dangling off the side. This give me the chance to cast to a the inside of the inner tube—the ‘strike zone’—while the current and wind move the ‘fish’ along.

The point of practice is to keep your skills sharp and to improve.

Always practice the things you do well, not just the things you need work on. There is a carry over from the skills we are able to knock out easily to the one that give us trouble. Some people call this ‘muscle memory’, I think it all comes from your computer, repetition promotes perfection. Like that? The more you practice the easier it becomes to put that fly on target and hit that tailing red fish at 80 feet. I once heard someone say, “I don’t need to cast 80 feet,” I say, “You don’t need to because you CAN’T!” Don ‘t cut yourself short, you just might need that distance cast at some point.

Casting on a regular basis is much more productive than cramming at the last minute.

Retention is better when practice sessions are compact and short. Practicing 15 to 30 minutes a day is ideal, but DO cast at least three times a week. This is a small price to pay for the sport you love. Keeping a rod rigged and ready makes preparation painless and seeing that rod at the ready kind of gooses one along to get with it. I try and outline a program to go by during my practice sessions. Start off with some warm-up casting strokes, and then proceed to the focus of the session. Accuracy, distance, mends, roll cast, make a list and keep a little diary of what you want to accomplish during your practice periods, and write down what you do.

There are a number of ways to establish a good practice routine. First, I would recommend hooking up with a certified casting instructor to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Your practice should be geared to your personal style and goals. Then you can set up your sessions to be general tune-ups or target a specific goal. An angler going tarpon fishing for the first time will find the time he spent learning to throw heavy flies with an 11wt. rod was well worth it when he gets on the deck of a skiff in south Florida. Your casting instructor can direct you to DVDs and Internet sites where you can harvest a wealth of information that can help you practice. There are numerous books available and I bet your instructor has probably read most of them.

Finally.practice should incorporate the 4 Ps.

1. Preparation -Practice with the gear you intend to fish with.

2. Pointed – Have a specific goal every time you go out to practice.

3. Productive -Build on your practice routines.Reach your goals.

4. Pleasant – Make your practice fun and you’ll keep coming back.

Thomas Dempsey certified casting instructor Mobile, Alabama.



Fundamentals of the Straight-Line Cast

Fundamentals of the Straight-Line Cast

Instruction By Dusty Sprague

Fundamentals of a Straight-line Cast
Dusty Sprague

 Pick-Up without Slack Line. The rod needs to pull against the weight of the entire line and leader extended beyond the rod tip when the cast begins – no slack in the line or leader. Hold the rod tip close to the surface and strip in enough line to get the fly moving. Smoothly lift the line off the water and into the initial back cast.

Bend the Rod. Rod bend and line speed are needed to make the cast and result from rotating the rod at the end of the casting stroke. Rotating the shoulder, elbow or wrist, usually in some combination, rotates the rod. For short casts, little rod bend is needed and can result from a slight rotation of the wrist, elbow or shoulder alone, or in combination. Longer casts require more rod bend using longer casting strokes and are best achieved using a combined rotational movement of the shoulder, elbow and wrist. For long casts, begin with a smooth pulling motion to remove slack. Steadily increase speed, delaying rod rotation. End the cast by rapidly rotating the rod to an abrupt stop. The key is maximum rod tip speed at the end of the cast.



Adjust the Stroke Length – the distance traveled by the hand during the casting stroke, from beginning of distinct acceleration to the stop. The length of the stroke varies with the length of line being cast. For a short straight-line cast use a short stroke – Figure 1. For a longer cast use a longer stroke -Figure 2. The path of the hand should be straight away from and straight to the target area.

Adjust the Rod Arc – the angle between the rod butt at the beginning of the cast and the stop position. The width of the angle should match the bend in the rod to maintain a relatively straight path of the rod tip. A relatively straight path of the rod tip produces a narrow loop of line. The rod tip should stop just below the on-coming line.

Adjust the rod arc to fit the bend in the rod. For short casts use a narrow arc; for longer casts use a wider arc. The intent in the figures below is to illustrate casts with the same amount of rod bend but with differing rod arcs. A rod arc matched to the bend in the rod will produce straight path of the rod tip and a narrow loop – Figure A. A rod arc too wide for the bend in the rod will produce a wide loop – Figure B. A rod arc too narrow for the bend in the rod will produce a tailing loop – Figure C.

Adjust Timing – the pause between strokes to allow the line to fully straighten without losing tension and falling dramatically. Wait between strokes to let the line straighten. Good timing – adequate pause – is long enough to allow the line to straighten fully with just the leader not yet straightened. Poor timing is not waiting long enough or waiting too long. Watch your back cast when you practice!

Select the Casting Angle. For casting to close targets stop the hand low in front and higher in back, unrolling the line just above the target. For more distant targets the hand path should be more parallel with the water. To reach targets under obstacles, tilt the rod to the side, casting more parallel with the surface.

Good Casters Do the Following:

• Begin the cast by removing slack
• Select a casting angle in-line with the target
• Smoothly lift the line into the initial back cast, opposite the target
• Smoothly accelerate the hand along a straight path
• Rapidly rotate the rod at the end of the stroke
• Adjust the rod arc to fit the bend in the rod
• Stop the rod abruptly
• Pause to allow the line to straighten

12 Sins of the Flats

12 Sins of the Flats

Instruction By Dusty Sprague

Redeem your wicked ways by recognizing your flats-fishing flaws, and fixing them.

Capt John Kumiski wrote those words 14 years ago as a lead-in for his article on the same subject for Saltwater Fly Fishing magazine. John identified 10 sins common to flats fly fishermen – mistakes that resulted in refusals – rejections – no hook-ups. We continue to make the same mistakes and I’ve added more that plague us as we seek success on the flats. Many of these sins can be avoided with a little fore-thought and practice.

1. Wearing bright colors. Wear subdued colors. Bright colors and movement alert the fish to your presence. When the fish sense danger they just won’t eat. Wear subdued colors. White, bright orange, red or yellow and certainly bright lime green or chartreuse clearly stand out and make one conspicuous to the fish — wear those before and after but not while fishing.

2. Being slow to get ready to fish – be ready to cast within a minute or two of your arrival on the flat. I can’t count the times we’ve arrived at a flat and I’ve taken too long to get ready. Who is up next – my buddy or me – we argue about it — suddenly we see the fish…right there !… and neither of us is ready — and the opportunity is lost. If you are fishing with a friend decide before you get to the flat who will fish. Before the boat comes to a complete stop the rod should be coming out of the rack and you should be moving to the casting deck ready to strip line from the reel and either make a clearing cast or re-stack the line preparing for immediate action. If you can be ready to cast within no more than 2 minutes you should be able to take advantage of any opportunities that come quickly.

3. Being noisy – be quiet and observant. When a fish hears an unusual sound they go on alert and often develop lock-jaw. If you want more shots at fish on the flats conduct yourself like you are stalking the wary wild animals that they are. If you can approach the fish and present the fly without the fish becoming aware of your presence, your probability of success increases significantly. Be quiet and observant.

4. Can’t see the fish – Seeing fish requires good vision, polarized sunglasses and a practiced eye. If you need corrective lenses to see well and you are a serious flats fishermen, the most important investment you can make in your hobby is to get your eyes fixed or buy prescription polarized sunglasses. You’ll be able to see the fish you seek. Copper, amber or rose colored shades are best for the flats.

With good vision and polarized sunglasses good anglers have learned to use a relaxed scan of the water, moving side to side, first out at a distance, then moving closer, looking for subtle differences in water movement that may indicate fish – nervous water, wakes, tails, and pushes – and then when something grabs their attention looking for fish shapes, parts of fish, and subtle differences in colors. The more you are on the flats the better you will get.

5. Hesitating to cast – don’t hesitate. If you hesitate once a fish is in casting range you may miss your best opportunity. Hesitating allows the fish time to move, possibly further away or get too close or change directions such that the retrieve of the fly will pull the fly into the fish, a very unnatural move. You won’t need to cast 90 feet….a 40 to 60 foot cast will likely do the job.

6. Excessive false casting – Minimize false casting. A waving rod, the reflection of sun on an unrolling line or leader, the flash of a fly, the movement of arms and body….all can frighten a fish or put them on alert. Minimize false casting and unnecessary movements. A goal ….no more than 2 false cast cycles…delivering the fly on the 3rd forward stroke. If you can deliver the fly with fewer strokes by all means do it.

7. A related issue is the plane of the cast….more vertical or more horizontal. Vertical casting planes are useful for accuracy and for long casts, to prevent the line hitting the water as gravity pulls the line down as it completes unrolling. The horizontal casting plane, casting side-arm, with the rod traveling parallel with the water, can be an advantage in that the low-to-the-side rod plane keeps the rod, line, leader, and fly lower to the water and less visible to the fish. You will have to increase the tempo of the casting cycle to prevent ticking the water but that is a small adjustment to make for the advantages this plane offers.

8. Attacking the fish with the fly – bad retrieve angle – reposition before casting. In nature, prey will not attack a predator. A fly moving unnaturally toward the fish will most often spook the fish. Consider the angle of your retrieve before making the cast. If the retrieve will pull the fly into the fish try to reposition to avoid that angle of retrieve.

9. Bad Presentations – recast. If you make a cast that is too short, the fish will never see your fly. Don’t hesitate to recast after a silent pickup — strip in line until a quiet pickup can be made. Ripping the fly from the water frightens the fish and most often results in a very poor back cast. Conversely, if you make a cast that is too long, several things can happen none of which will lead to a hook up. The essence is to make an un-hurried but fairly quick and accurate cast the first time. Practice by casting to small targets are varying distances, for example, a scattering of paper plates on the lawn. Begin with the fly in hand and try to hit the plates, scattered from 20 to 50 feet, with minimum false casts. Try to get the fly to the target within 7 seconds. Poor casting skills along with an angler’s inability to see the fish are the two most common reasons for failure on the flats.

10. Using the rod to manipulate the fly – move the fly with the line-hand. If you move the rod to move the fly you will have undoubtedly put an angle between the fly line and rod, with the rod angled off to the right or left of the line, or angled upward. If the fish takes the fly and you then strip-strike the flexible rod tip will absorb the strike and you will not likely hook the fish well, if at all. Its best to keep the rod pointed straight down the line to the fly, creating a straight path from your line anchor point on the cork handle to the fly. With this straight path established, when you strip-strike the hook moves immediately into the fish and you can get a solid hook-up. If the hook does not set the fly will have been pulled forward only a foot or two and the fish may take it again offering you a second opportunity for a hook-up.

11. Lifting the rod to set the hook – use the strip-strike. Lifting the rod to set the hook works best for small, thin, very light-wire hooks, using weak tippets, on soft-mouthed fish, like cold-water trout. Many saltwater species have hard mouths and we use thicker-wired, larger hooks that are more difficult to penetrate tough mouth tissues. The strip-strike is much more reliable for the reasons stated above.

12. Setting the hook based on visual clues – set the hook when you feel the fish. If you set the hook based on seeing the fish take the fly you will often miss the hook-set.

Hopefully being more aware or being reminded of these wicked ways will lead you to improved performance on the flats. Tight lines !