February 2021
Skinny Water Charters Newsletter
Well we're two days away from March 1 and I've just about had enough of winter. It's time to start thinking of tying some flies, changing some fly lines out, and pounding the pavement with daily walks to clear the cobwebs and shed a few pounds.

This newsletter is a long one (I got carried away I guess). Hopefully there's some content that will be of interest to you.
I'm fullly booked for our spring Cinder Worm hatch however if you want to try and get out, I have a waiting list so that if any of my charter guests who are booked, cannot make it, by having your name on the list, I may be able to get you out. Absent that, I have a friend who also guides during the cinder worm hatch and he may have some availability in his schedule. If that applies to you, drop me a line or give a call and we'll see what we can cobble together for you.
Tomorrow I get the first of my two Covid-19 vaccinations. It's been a long and tedious winter having to essentially isolate and stay away from socializing and travel, but hopefully this scourge will soon be behind us all.

Stay well and enjoy the advancing spring.
My Best,
Spring Worm Hatch Charters Update

As is typical (and I am fortunate in this regard) I have fully booked my spring 2021 worm hatch charters. My clients (a mix of new and existing guests) have signed-on early this year, perhaps in part trying to make up for the 2020 fishing season, which because of Covid-19 got off to a late start.

By the beginning of March last year, I was fully booked and was looking forward to a busy spring, however the pandemic got in the way of fulfilling many of those booked charters. Due to Rhode Island’s precautions in trying to protect it’s citizenry from Covid-19 infections coming in from out of state folks, our borders were monitored by local and State police in addition to the Rhode Island National Guard, for both those simply passing through the state to a final destination as well as those who were coming into Rhode Island to visit.

Out-of-state anglers were not allowed to fish in our waters and those who stored their boats in Rhode Island marinas for the winter months were not permitted to visit those marinas to ready their vessels for the season. I notified my out of state charter guests of our situation. The travel restrictions existed throughout May, however by June the situation had improved and I was able to fulfill those charters. When I examined my bookings for May most were with out of state residents. Fortunately, I had a substantial waiting list of Rhode Islanders who wanted to fish the worm hatch, so I was able to backfill many of those charter dates.
If you may be interested in fishing the worm hatch this spring, I can put your name on a waiting list so that if I get a cancellation I may be able to slide you into the schedule. 
June Sand Eel Emergence Angling

In last month’s newsletter I included a short article that discussed the sand eel emergence angling we enjoy every June in Newport Harbor. This is an evening event beginning most every night about sunset and lasting throughout the night. A lot of anglers don’t like to fish at night, and I get that, however the opportunity to fish this emergence is quite an experience. Just to reiterate, the outing starts in the late afternoon and goes to about mid-night (or earlier if you want). I start by meeting my guests at the Ft. Adams State Park boat ramp inside Newport Harbor, and typically we will start by fishing the waters surrounding Rose Island, which by itself is a wonderful skinny water fishery. We fish with floating lines and poppers or streamers, in water depths of 2 to 8 feet. It’s all about striped bass. There are some big bass in Rose Island waters. As the sun sets, we navigate back into Newport Harbor and change to very small sand eel fly patterns. As it gets dark we move into very shallow water and await the swirls of stripers taking sand eels on or near the surface. There is very little boat traffic at this point. Most sail vessels are tied to their moorings for the night and the waters become flat. I primarily use my trolling motor to move about the harbor and drop the electric anchor when we start to see bass rising. There are a few spots where wade anglers are fishing, I leave those areas alone and move into waters that are completely undisturbed. If you are not a fly angler- that’s not problem as we can fish with light spinning gear using small plastic baits or the fly and bobber technique. Oftentimes we will have rising stripers within 15 feet of the boat!
A Sand Eel Night in Newport Harbor

Years ago I was to meet a good fishing friend at the Ft. Adams boat ramp at about sunset for an evening of fishing the sand eel emergence. I told Madeleine that I’d be fishing probably until about midnight but that I would be close by if there were any problems and she could call me.

Naturally I got the hairy eyeball, which of course was just the start! So, Dave and I are ass-deep in rising striped bass having a great old time hooking up, all giddy like we anglers can be when things are going great. So my cell phone rings at about 10:30, I manage to just get to it before the call goes into voice message mode and as I pick it up I can see it’s Madeleine calling. Here we go, I remarked to Dave! “Hello” I answered. “Where are you?“ she asked. “I’m on the boat off Ft. Adams and we are surrounded by rising fish… what’s up?”. Pause… “Well it’s 10:30, when are you coming back?”, she asked. “Hell, I don’t know, at this rate, sometime around midnight… maybe!” (not well received). “Well call me when you’re on your way back” she demanded.
Yah sure, I said to myself and then went back to catching fish.

The phone rings again, it’s now midnight, and it’s Madeleine calling again… surprise! (not). Same Q&A ensues. “You don’t expect me to believe you’re still fishing do you?” she asked. “Of course I am, the fishing is off the charts great, and at this rate I’m not ready to pull anchor and call it a night”… I responded. “Well, I can hear a band playing in the background, you guys are at a bar, you’re not fishing!” I cupped the phone, smiled at Dave (who was an FBI agent and did not drink) and said, “She thinks we’re at a bar getting tanked!” “Well, were now over near the piers still catching bass and what you hear are the bar bands on Thames St.”… silence, then she hangs up.

More fishing, more bass, more laughs, and it’s now 1am and we are just about spent, we have a bad case of striper thumb, it’s time to go home. What a great night of catching bass during the sand eel emergence.

OK, the story isn’t quite over… fast forward a bunch of years. Madeleine has developed an interest in fishing (much to her mother’s dismay- I pretended I could hear her scolding Mad, “I told you that he was not right for you, fishing! How disgusting! You deserve better, you should be at a Newport society ball looking for a guy with money”.

Back to the story… so in the interim from the time that Dave and I were fishing for stripers on that wonderful evening, Mad has developed an interest in fishing (will wonders never cease) and has become pretty handy with a spinning rod and fished a bit with a fly rod, in some pretty cool places such as Connecticut’s Housatonic River, Potter and Ninigret Ponds during the R.I cinder worm hatch, from a drift boat on Montana’s Big Horn river, wade fishing the North Fork of the Flathead River near Polebridge, MT, Middletown, RI’s Third Beach for bass in the evening, spots in Narragansett Bay on the big boat, and more. So, she says to me one afternoon in mid-June, “What about the striped bass fishing in Newport Harbor during the sand eel hatch? When we go for evening rides in the car around Newport’s Ocean Drive, you always want to stop and watch the anglers wade fishing off the beach. I’d like to try that!” Cool I said, tomorrow night we’ll go!
The following evening we arrive a bit early as the sun begins to set. We pull on our waders and I rig the rods. We wade into the water, waist deep, and await the darkness to envelop us. I look behind me to the shore and the Night Herons are now lined up like sentry’s awaiting the emergence of the sand eels, “it’s gonna be a good night I said to her”… and indeed it was. We were being entertained by great bar band music coming from Thames St., the moon was full, it was warm and we had the water to ourselves… no other anglers. We were surrounded by rising fish, we caught bass after bass, me with the flyrod, Madeleine with the zipgun and a small sand eel imitation Sluggo.

Now it’s late, I have a bad case of striper thumb from taking bass off hooks, I’m beat. “Mad, it’s midnight, we’ve had a great night, but my back is sore, my thumbs are raw, I would really like a beer… whaddayathink, let’s roll it up for the night?”, I said.
“Are you kidding, no way we're leaving, it's only midnight" she exclaimed, "I’m having a ball, let’s stay a bit longer, I’m having so much fun, not until I catch a few more stripers!”.

What goes around comes around... what irony, it was compelling, and I just smiled privately as we drove back to the house, an hour later.
Learn the “Double Haul”

Hell if you can walk to school and carry your lunch at the same time, you can learn to double haul!
So, what's the big deal about the double haul you ask? Why should I care?...you ask
If you are a fly angler who likes to fish in a bubble, that is, in an environment where you:

  • Don’t need to cast more than 30 feet
  • You never have to cast against wind
  • You don’t cast bulky air resistant fly patterns
  • You don’t mind wearing out your arm and shoulder trying to develop more distance in your casting
  • Need more than three false casts to attain enough line speed to cast any further than 30 feet
  • Are not fishing with another angler in the same boat who must wait for you to make your final cast, before they can make theirs!

... then there may be no reason to learn it!

Those are just six reasons you really should learn the hauling technique.

First off, let’s define a “haul”… that’s simple, it’s when you tug on the fly line with your line hand in either the forward cast or the back cast. The double-haul is when you tug on your fly line in both the forward and back cast. Learning these techniques and building them into your fly casting repertoire is critical to taking your fly casting to a significant next level. The haul amounts to a simple tug of the fly inserted into the casting stroke by the line hand at a critical point. It’s all about the timing of when the tug is inserted, that is the challenge. From Point A (not knowing how to haul), to Point B (being fairly accomplished with the single and the double-haul), for most people with any kind of eye/hand coordination, can be learned inside a two-hour casting lesson by a good instructor.

All well and good, what’s the reason for learning to haul (single or double)? Simple, to create additional line speed. Increasing line speed is THE key to casting further using less effort. Less effort translates into quicker and longer casts to your target using less energy and exerting less stress to your hand, wrist, arm and shoulder.

If you go to YouTube and do a search on “Double Haul” you will get bombed with short videos that have been recorded by every Tom, Dick and Harry with an iPhone or GoPro camera, together with some really excellent instructional videos from a few instructors.
You will find four that I think are really good:

Pete Kutzer from the Orvis Fly Fishing School: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8idd4kgXY4

Lefty Kreh:

Red’s Fly Shop: (great slow motion of the double haul)
Sitting on your couch reading this newsletter and reviewing these “how to” videos may get you partly there, but there is no substitute for getting professional instruction. It’s a quantum leap from seeing how it’s done in a video to actually learning how to make the cast, first on grass and then on the water.

This spring I already have four anglers who have contacted me to teach them how to single and double-haul. I give all my casting lessons in Newport in a public park. I can guarantee that you will leave a 2 ½ hour lesson knowing this technique. Building hauling techniques into your flycasting repertoire will make your flyfishing experience in fresh and salt water much more enjoyable and productive. 
The “OK” Sign
Hand Casting
This short article and brief video is about using the “OK” hand position when controlling fly line with the line hand.
Whether you are doing the single or double haul, the roll cast, the Barnegat Bay or Belgian cast, the standard Overhead cast… any fly cast for that matter, it’s important to keep the fly line away from the rod, the reel and the rod butt during your false casting, so that when you shoot line, the slack fly line won’t foul. I use a line hand technique that I refer to as the “OK Position”.

The very short video below (Linked to YouTube, where I am casting with a yellow circle around my line hand) illustrates my line hand positioning during the false casting and shooting sequence. For me my line hand is generally about 18-24” away from the rod, and I pinch the line between my thumb and forefinger, effectively making the “OK" sign. I like to think of pinching the line as if I was holding a tea cup. The fly line held to the side effectively creates a “rough” triangle. The first corner being where the line enters the first stripping guide on the rod, the second corner is my OK finger position, and the third corner is where the excess fly line joins the reel. The slack line is at my feet or the water’s surface if you are wading. As the video illustrates, during the false casting process this positioning eliminates slack line between the line hand and stripping guide and keeps the slack line away from the reel/and rod butt section. As the angler goes through the false casting process, he can pinch the line, or slip line to lengthen it during the false casting process (on either the forward stroke, backstroke, or both). Once the desired length of line is aerialized together with the appropriate amount of excess shooting line below the rod, in order to reach the target, the angler stops the rod on the forward stroke and releases (shoots) the line, while keeping the pinched line at a distance from the rod, and letting the line flow through the OK finger position.
This maneuver accomplishes basically four goals:
-     It prevents the line from wrapping around the first stripping guide, the reel or the rod butt, which would stop or shorten the cast
-     The OK finger position creates a large artificial stripping guide that helps to funnel the excess line into the rod’s first stripping guide, more quickly aligning the line with the rod and in so doing eliminating line slapping, which compromises distance
-     By maintaining the line inside the OK circle, the angler can brake or feather the line as necessary thereby making a more accurate cast
-     By keeping the line inside the OK sign, the angler maintains control of the line so that when the fly hits the water, the angler does not have to go “searching” (more like fumbling) for the line in order to start the retrieve or to strike the fish should there be an instantaneous hit.
Zulu Beads
No, I’m not a Zulu tribesman, and no I don’t intend to be disrespectful of those who are. “Zulu Beads” are just my convenient term for a homemade tool lanyard or leash that I use when fly fishing and guiding so that all my necessary tools are near, and in easy reach. For as long as I have been fly fishing, I have preferred this method of carrying my tools over any fly vest or sling pack. Oftentimes I will also wear a fly vest or carry a pack to store my fly boxes, fresh water purification bottle, a snack and a jacket, but sometimes if it’s a short trip from the car, I’ll just stuff a few fly boxes in my wader pocket, wear my Zulu Beads and I am good to go. When I’m on the boat or in my kayak whether guiding or recreationally fishing, I still wear my Zulu's because they are handy and carry most everything I need. I have a set I use for saltwater and another for fresh.

The photo of this leash is for saltwater use and includes:
  • Remote control switches for my electric trolling motor, and electric anchor
  • Hook hone
  • Tub for carrying paraffin wax for securing multi-piece rod sections
  • Nail knot tool
  • Nippers
  • Retractable “Gear Keeper”
  • Brass "Cinch Knot" (not clinch) tool for speed tying of flies, and a backup nail knot tool
  • Stainless hemostat for fixing the leash to my jacket or shirt, so when I bend over the leash doesn’t fly all over the place

Reflective orange paracord connects everything and lights up with a flashlight. The tools are hung on the cord using heavy duty saltwater swivels, stainless snap links and split rings. To evenly spread the tools along the leash, I buy a variety of wooden beads at a craft store and stack them on the paracord. To secure everything I typically knot the paracord at the topmost bead on both sides and the ends of the cord are fed through a spring-loaded drawcord stopper (see closeup photo). 
I don’t tie the cord ends together for safety reasons. By leaving them free but secured by the drawcord stopper, should I get tangled in a snag and be in danger of choking, I can pull the cord and separate the leash. Most commercially manufactured leashes also feature a breakaway connector- a nice safety feature.

An option that some anglers might like is to add several pieces of floatation (foam tubes, foam balls, foam key chain holder, wine cork etc) so that the entire array will float if lost overboard. 

For my freshwater version I include a tippet dispenser, floatant bottle or tub, amadou patch for drying flies, a plastic cinch knot tyer, a fly patch and a leader straightener.

Commercial versions cost anywhere between $15- $50 (without tools). My version (without tools) runs about $4. Making your own is not about big savings, it’s more about bringing out that MacGyver ingenuity. 
Greasy Cork Grips
I hate cork grips on fly rods that become so slippery it feels like the rod is going to fly out of my hands when I make a cast. If that happens when you are wade fishing, you bend over and fetch the rod from the stream bed- a wet sleeve but no big deal. If it happens when fishing from a boat- say goodbye to the rod, reel, line, backing, fly, and your pride… depending upon the angler’s equipment choice that loss can equate to upwards of a $1,500 donation to Davey Jones' locker, and if you’re a fishing guide it can set up a very uncomfortable situation on the boat.

Each spring before the season starts, and a couple of times during the season, I clean the cork grips on my fly and light tackle rods. It doesn’t take much time and it can save losing a rod. Using a sheet of fine grit sandpaper (emery cloth also works) I lightly sand the grip, removing the dried fish slime, sweat, skin oil, etc. The process also brightens the dingy cork and restores the grip to looking like a brand new rod. To prevent damage to other parts of the rod I use masking tape to cover about 6” of the rod blank adjacent to the grip in addition to the winding check, hookkeeper and the reel seat.

Yeah, so it takes away that “seasoned” look that some anglers prefer, but to my point, the process makes holding the rod more secure which can translate into saving it from the deep.

For those who don’t care about the classic look of a cork grip on a fly rod, you may find the composite grips certain manufacturers are using, of interest. Last year I joined the Pro Program for Edge Rods- a Gary Loomis inspired USA-based fishing rod manufacturer. I ordered two of their very fast- action graphite fly rods in a 7 and 9 weight. These rods feature EFX custom braided carbon fiber grips that save weight, add “feel”, transmission, performance and clean up like new. I fished these rods last fall and I absolutely love the grips. They are not slippery and provide a very secure and comfortable “feel”. Cleaning them is very easy using a bit of detergent soap and an old toothbrush. Anglers don’t typically buy a high end fly rod for the grip, but these are a great alternative to the traditional cork grips most fly rod manufacturers still use.
Getting More Distance in Your Casting
As many of you know, I am a certified flycasting instructor with the Fly Fishers International organization (Fly Fishers International)

Many of the lessons I give are to folks that have wanted to try fly fishing for a long time and are finally doing something about it, getting lessons on how to cast which of course is the first step. Another general group are fly anglers who are preparing for a fishing trip and want to brush-up on their technique as it may have been years since they last picked up the fly rod. Still another group is comprised of anglers who are frustrated by their inability to cast further distances. Generally this last group are anglers that are wade fishing and just cannot get that additional distance to reach those rising trout in the middle of the river or further out from the shoreline in still water. Then there are the saltwater anglers who are fishing from the beach or from the embankment in an estuary- but again need to get more distance to reach their quarry.

In the words of RIO Products’, Simon Gawesworth, “Distance casting is something most anglers strive for, but don’t necessarily need.” From the perspective of a saltwater fishing guide, if my guests can accurately cast up to 50 feet, that’s long enough in most cases to catch fish, and if they need to attain more distance to reach a fish, I can eliminate that requirement by making up the additional distance necessary, by simply driving the boat closer to the target.

Nevertheless, fly anglers seem to always feel the need to be able to cast further, and admittedly I am one of them. Who doesn’t like to carry sixty feet of fly line in the air and with a reserve of 20 additional feet of running line on the deck of the boat or in your stripping basket, shoot the remaining line and hit targets at 80 feet. The hero cast, we all love it, right?

I have written in prior newsletters about the excellent “How To” series of video fly fishing lessons that RIO Products maintains on their website How To Series Introduction - RIO Products

The Orvis Company also has an excellent treasure trove of great fly fishing video lessons on How To Fly Fish For Trout, Bass & More | Learn Fly Fishing With Orvis

In RIO’s “How To” video on getting more distance in your fly casting, Simon tees up the challenge of adding distance to your casting, and offers several very good explanations of what anglers can do from “casting techniques” and “equipment” perspectives.
His video covers most of the following elements I include in my distance casting lessons:
  • Use of Shooting Heads and Integrated Shooting Head lines (most of my saltwater fly lines are the RIO Products “Outbound Short” integrated shooting head lines.)
  • Stretching the fly line to remove coils that can hang up in the rod guides reducing distance
  • Making sure the caster is maintaining what we casting geeks refer to as SLP, or Straight Line Path, where the casting stroke maintains a straight line to the target and a point 180 degrees away from the target in the false casting and shooting line process. If the casting stroke is an oval path, distance can be robbed due to line twist that develops into coils.
  • Changing the stance from one that is nearly square to the target, to one that is sideways or open, much like that of a batter in baseball.
  • Casting “stroke length”, going from a short stroke length (say the traditional 10-2 or 90 degrees) model, to one that can be a full 180 degrees or a 9-3 model.
  • Introduction of the “Double-Haul” casting stroke to create additional line speed, that when combined with a longer casting stroke provides a quantum leap in distance.
  • Keeping the Head of the fly line, plus and longer lengths of running line outside the rod tip and aerialized during the false casting stroke.

Check out Simon’s video using the following link:
Wading Boots vs. Sand Shoes
Why Carry the Weight?
Before becoming a fishing guide I did a fair amount of fly fishing in fresh and salt water, wade fishing mostly from the beach but from a kayak as well. When the water was warm enough I didn’t typically wear waders, preferring to wade in shorts to stay cool. I was always amazed why anglers wade fishing on the sandy beaches and in estuaries and those fishing from kayaks, would in most instances wear their heavy wading boots, some with cleats, the same type of boots one would wear when fishing in a rocky freshwater stream or crawling around shoreline boulders and moss covered ledges. I thought of anglers wading the bonefish flats who never wore heavy wading boots but would instead wear “flats” boots, that not only provided protection from coral, shells and spiny urchins etc, but that also provided a degree of lateral ankle support. For any of us who have overturned a kayak in fresh or saltwater, the last thing you need is to be wearing cement overshoes, as getting back on the kayak is difficult enough as it is. How about the fall run of stripers, bluefish and false albacore when they are blitzing bait along the beaches? Sometimes you need to sprint to keep up with the blitzing fish. I still see anglers doing the 100 meter dash in heavy boots when I fish (from my boat) on the Charlestown and Westerly beaches.

What’s the point I ask?, at a minimum get to Wal-Mart and buy a cheap pair (or two) of water/sand/beach shoes a size or two larger than your foot size and wear those over your neoprene booties on your waders. Alternatively invest in a good pair of Keen sandals, flats boots from Orvis or Simms and give yourself a break from wearing those clunky heavy wading boots. Your heart and lungs will thank you.
Sharpen Those Hooks!
This is such a simple tip I hesitate to add the topic to this newsletter, however because it is so simple, and because so many anglers don’t regularly sharpen their hooks- I’m adding it.

We are going to miss hooking fish, for a variety of reasons, both in fresh and saltwater. Sometimes the hook only penetrates the fleshy part of a fish’s mouth and we pull the hook with just a low level of playing force. Sometimes anglers feel compelled to really “put the wood” to a hooked fish, and pull the hook. Sometimes if we don’t inspect the hook at reasonably frequent intervals, the angler may in fact be fishing with a broken hook. If you are fishing a Clouser Minnow for example, the hook point is supposed to ride in the “up” position, however on occasion you will hook a shell, a rock, part of a ledge, or you may bounce the hook off an exposed ledge when casting tight to the structure. In all cases- the hook can be compromised. On my Zulu Bead leash I carry a hook sharpener and I routinely examine the hook point for damage or dulling. It only take a minute or less to touch up the hook point so that you have restored it to new (or sometimes better) condition. Watch this “How To” one minute video from Simon Gawesworth of RIO Products on how to sharpen a hook. It will, I guarantee, cause you to drop less fish.

Fishing Nets for the Fly Fisher
Most of my saltwater fly fishing is from one of my two boats, and typically I am at the stern of the boat, near the controls when I make my cast. Occasionally I’m at the bow, but generally not. As all of we fly fishers know, slack fly line can always be found under our feet, or stuck on a projecting point, the tiller, a cleat, controls on the outboard, rod racks… you name it. It’s made even worse when it’s windy, because it’s the running portion of the fly line that is thinner and lighter than the head section.

My solution to this nagging situation that has caused more than one breakoff when hooked to a fish, not to mention the shortened cast when the line gets hung up… is a fishing net. I’m not talking about the long-handled variety used to boat a fish, but rather a section of fishing net that you can buy at many Army-Navy surplus stores (if you can find one these days). Fortunately, in Rhode Island there are still a few surplus stores remaining where you can purchase fishing net material that may have been repurposed from the original fishing nets used by trawlers. Also, if you live near a fishing village (such as I do in Newport, RI) oftentimes there is a barrel of discarded net material on the fishing piers that fishermen have trashed. It can be a bit nasty but following a hot water and soap bath in a trash can, it can be usable.

Net material is often sold to duck hunters who fashion camouflage for their duck blinds or fishing boats. These are typically sold in 6x6 foot sections. I buy two sections for each boat and join them using thin, short plastic zip-ties. I now have a 6x12 foot section and I attach to one corner a cheap aluminum carabiner, and clip that to a looped section of paracord that I have tied at the bow and stern. When I arrive at my fishing location, I drape the fishing net over the engine and controls if I am casting from the stern, or to the paracord loop at the bow then draping the net over the bow mounted trolling motor, bow light or whatever may be sticking up that can foul a fly line. The net prevents the slack fly line from fouling so that when I shoot line or strip line while hand playing a fish, the line doesn’t foul. The carabiners keep the net from blowing overboard if it’s windy or from fouling on the engine prop when repositioning.
“Montana Chrome”… aka Duct Tape
Don’t get me wrong, I love my Mako 2201 Inshore Bay Boat. For my type of saltwater fishing, it’s the perfect boat. It’s stable, draws very little water, offers two wide elevated casting decks, is inexpensive to operate, and very fast. However, the donkey’s who designed the boat made a mistake when they fitted it with raised cleats on the bow and stern, and pop-up cleats amidships under the railing!

So reflecting on my article regarding raised or exposed high points that seem to always catch slack fly line, the two raised cleats in the stern of the boat are prime examples. Being a Yankee at heart (not the baseball variety), I’m cheap, I don’t like to spend money unnecessarily, so this is my fix for the exposed cleats in the stern that keeps them serviceable for tying up the boat to a dock, but also prevents them from fouling my fly line. I use a 20” section of white (to match the color of the deck) duct tape to cover the cleat so that the fly line cannot foul.
I’d show you a photo of my MacGyver application however the boat is still covered in plastic to keep the snow out, so let me try to describe the solution with the aid of an edited stock photo of a raised boat cleat.
The cleat is six inches long and approximately two inches above the deck surface. I simply center the 20” piece of duct tape over the longitudinal surface of the cleat, run my hand along it to adhere the tape to it, then stretch the tape at both ends at a wide angle to the decking. This “ramp” of duct tape at both ends from the cleat to the deck keeps the slack fly line from getting tangled beneath the top portion of the cleat and the bottom portion that bolts to the deck. The edited photo shows what I mean, however the blue line (the tape) angles off to the deck unlike the photo the size of which is too short to illustrate the ramp configuration, so use your imagination. The center space of the cleat can still be used to fix a docking line. Instead of wrapping the docking line in the figure 8 conventional style around the exposed cleat ends, I simply run the docking line through the space of the cleat and tie a quick overhand knot to keep it from slipping back through when I want to remain fast to the cleat on the dock.
Here's another rendition using my skilled drawing techniques (not)
Learn the Belgian Cast
The Belgian Cast is a slightly more technical fly cast than the traditional overhead cast, and it’s one to learn if you fish primarily in salt water where you have the fly angler’s nemesis, that awful wind, blowing from behind you and at an angle to your shoulder. When that scenario presents itself you have basically two simultaneous dynamics affecting your cast. You have the velocity of the wind making your backhand casting stroke more challenging, and you have the angle of the wind blowing on either your right or left shoulder, depending on if you are a right or left hand caster. It’s the angle of the wind that is the more ominous dynamic of the two because it can blow the fly line and the sharp hook into your body potentially causing injury. So, the challenge is to keep the fly line away from your body as much as possible. This casting challenge has as it’s solution, the use of the Belgian Cast.

The traditional overhead cast positions the tip of the rod in a high casting plane scribing an imaginary straight line in the sky on both the backstroke and the forward stroke. The fly line essentially follows a straight line path (SLP) because a fly line for the most part, always follows the path of the rod tip. If during a casting situation that presents high wind speed coming from behind and at an angle to the caster, the traditional overhead cast is going to be a weak cast due to the wind speed at a high elevation and one where that wind is blowing the line into the caster’s shoulder or back during the forward stroke. The Belgian Cast eliminates those two dynamics by changing the path of the rod tip during the back and forward casting strokes.

So what does that look like? On the backstroke the caster keeps the rod at a low and flat casting plane which positions the fly line far away from the caster. As the rod passes the casters body on the backstroke, the rod is not stopped in preparation for the forward stroke (as is the case in the standard overhead cast), instead the rod stays in motion applying continuous tension to the fly line, as the rod’s elevation and casting plane angles up as it transitions into the forward casting stroke. So what you have is an elliptical rod path, and not a straight line path.

The results are several:
On the backstroke the rod is at a low plane, parallel to the water causing the fly line to be at a safer distance from the caster, and because the line is closer to the water’s surface where the wind speed is less (arguable) than at higher elevations, the backstroke is easier to perform.
As the rod moves to a position behind the caster during the backstroke the line remains under continuous tension, so it does not collapse due to the force of the wind.

The angler now raises the casting plane of the rod without slowing or stopping it, thus maintaining the line under tension. The moving rod tip continues to be repositioned at an increasing angle as the rod transitions into the forward stroke that keeps the line and fly away from the caster. As the caster then abruptly stops the rod at the conclusion of the forward stroke, he throws the line off the rod tip and the high velocity of the wind from behind helps to achieve the desired distance to the target. If this sounds confusing studying the linked video below will simplify your understanding of how this cast is executed. It’s a must-know cast for the saltwater fly angler, however it also has freshwater applications, particularly when fishing from a boat in stillwater conditions.

There is a caveat however, that being with prolonged casting a fly line using an elliptical rod path like the Belgian Cast, line twist is introduced. When that happens it may result in the coiling of your fly line. Stretching your line does not get rid of these type of coils, as they are not due to the line being tightly wound on the reel spool and developing memory. The most effective way of removing coils that occur from elliptical rod path casting is to clip the fly off the line and tow the line from behind the boat. The line/water tension will unravel the twist.

And, on that note, when I give fly casting lessons, I will see on occasion that the student will in the course of a lesson develop line coils. When I see that I stand behind the student during their false casting drills to study the SLP of the rod tip. If the student unconsciously is casting with an elliptical rod path, that’s typically the cause of his line developing twist which in short order transitions to coils, and we quickly move towards solutions.

Link to casting video with Capt. Bruce Chard demonstrating the Belgian Cast:
When Body Parts Wear Out
For much of my professional career before I retired at age 60 and gave up the daily commute, the suit, and the corporate politics game, I worked in the insurance and risk management business. Most everyone understands “insurance” but few are unfamiliar with “risk management”. Insurance is when you buy a contract that in exchange for a premium, a company provides you with financial recovery for losses due to certain events be they from natural causes like flood, fire, earthquake etc., for health-related issues such as for the dentist, or the hospital, and death or disability, and for unforeseen events like car accidents, injuries to employees from work related injuries, products liability… the list goes on. The underlying theme is a person or company transfers their “risk” to a third party in exchange for a recovery of losses.

Risk Management on the other hand, is recognizing where potential losses may occur and making conscious decisions to “accept” all or part of the risk of a casualty or property loss, and to pay out-of-pocket for the resultant costs rather than transferring the potential for a loss, to an insurance company.
Within the concept of Risk Management, because of the financial exposure to loss, the company or individual typically behaves differently, simply put, they are more careful. They do things “pre-loss” to either prevent the loss completely or to lessen the financial impact should one occur. Examples would be installing sprinklers in a building, making better quality products to avoid failure and resulting injuries or financial loss to users, training employees and supervisors in safely using machinery, and wearing personal protective equipment such as safety glasses, respirators, steel toe boots, etc- to avoid injuries and illnesses.

Risk Management concepts apply in fly fishing as well. We put studs in our wading boots to prevent falling on ledges at the oceans edge or slipping in a fast moving river. We wear life preservers, protective eyewear to avoid UV damage to our eyes or the errant fly line or hook, we use a wading staff to help us cross rivers. The list goes on, but the point here is that we are more careful by anticipating the possibility of accidents and injuries by utilizing a combination of “loss prevention” measures, in terms of equipment and just as importantly- changing our behavior. “I don’t think I’m going to wade across that river at night, even though I have a headlamp, a wading staff and cleats on my boots. It’s just too dangerous”. The value proposition… the risk of injury, far outweighing the potential benefit of catching that big brown trout.

I started fly fishing quite a few years ago after having been shamed into it by a co-worker who looked at me with disdain when I admitted that I was catching my weekend trout on a spinning rod (gasp!). Fly fishing has been, and continues to be, a great ride and the enjoyment I’ve gotten from fly fishing has in so many ways enriched my life. I went full blast… more hours on the water, more rods, more fly tying, more destination trips, more casting lessons, more casting demonstrations, in all kinds of weather, in both fresh and salt water. I couldn’t get enough, still can't.

Preceeding fly fishing, for many years I played a lot of tennis and racquet ball, golf, canoeing, rock and ice climbing, scrambling around sailboats and grinding winches during competitive sailing, not to mention my career jobs that had me keyboarding from 9-5… all the time not thinking about the insidious cumulative damage eating away on my upper body parts, pushing me way beyond my warranty. All that time practicing little or no Risk Management.
My Wakeup

In the mid-80’s I was prepping for a ten-day fly fishing trip into the wilds of Quebec, and while practice casting in the yard I was rapidly developing elbow discomfort that in short order transitioned into a horrible level of pain in my casting arm. Just touching the tender area would result in a shooting pain that brought tears to my eyes. My general practitioner examined me and immediately diagnosed Lateral Epicondylitis, aka Tennis Elbow. After all these years of just plowing through a myriad of high intensity sports, I now had this dreaded affliction. Sure I had heard of it, seen other tennis players wearing a goofy support bandage on their arms and grimacing as they volleyed, but I never gave it much thought other than the guy wearing the brace looked a little wimpy to me.

I was referred to an orthopedic physician who confirmed the diagnosis and gave me instructions on what I had to do, and no more fly fishing for a while… to go slow and give that arm a rest…. “but Doc you don’t understand, I leave in two days on a fly fishing trip I’ve already paid for and cannot miss, you gotta do something for me!” Reluctantly he shot up my elbow with multiple injections of cortisone, and told me it was not a permanent fix and that the pain would return in a week or so, and then to return to his office for a long term rehabilitation program. Off I went, it was a great trip and his injections made casting essentially pain free, and much to my surprise, the disability never returned. Lesson not learned.

A few years ago, my casting shoulder started to ache as did my left elbow (my hauling arm), and now my right elbow pain returned in addition to a new opponent- my casting wrist. Everything at once seemed to be going south. For me the norm was casting nine and ten weight rods, in windy conditions and with intermediate and fast sinking lines. My casting strokes included the standard overhead, roll cast, side arm and backhand casts, single and double hauling, all using the heavy artillery. Sure I wasn’t getting any younger, the natural process of aging was a player no doubt, but so was the fact that I had not practiced any upper body strengthening, aka risk management. In those intervening years from the initial tennis elbow affliction I had done essentially no exercising, stretching, strengthening and alternating of my casting arm BEFORE those body parts began pleading for mercy. I had continued to ram through my physical demands with reckless abandon as if was still in my 40’s, and now it was time again, to pay the piper.

So in the last few years, I have also suffered low back strain from pushing and pulling my boat on and off the trailer, a partial tear to my right rotator cuff by winding the winch handle too aggressively when pulling the boat onto the trailer, tennis elbow to both arms from casting and hauling, and carpal tunnel syndrome to my casting wrist. Each of these ailments were mostly remedied with extensive and painful post injury physical therapy. Wouldn’t it have been much better to manage my risk pre-injury? I think so.

Scientific Survey

A few weeks ago I conducted an internet search on the physical effects of fly casting. What I was hoping to find was a scientific study of upper extremity overuse injuries from fly fishing, hopefully a study that was conducted by an orthopaedic surgeon who was also a fly fisher. What I found was exactly on point, and I thought this topic might be of interest to my newsletter readers, thus this article.

The study was conducted by the father/ son team of, Andrew Kuhn, MD and John Kuhn, MD. The study was performed at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN. The Kuhn’s are a fly fishing family- perfect. John is a shoulder surgeon and sports medicine specialist at Vanderbilt and at the time of their study, John’s son, Andrew, was an orthopaedic surgery resident at Washington University and a graduate of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

The purpose of their 2020 study was to report the rates, trends and contributing factors of upper extremity pain and overuse injuries in a sample of North American recreational fly fishers.
Participants in the study were reached via 3 popular online fly fishing forums in 2019. Each participant was over age 18 and given a link to a survey that recorded their demographic and orthopaedic histories, fly fishing experience, equipment, casting techniques, upper extremity pain after fly fishing, and chronic outcomes.

Results: (pulled directly from their study summary)

The 162 fly-fishers included were 63.3 (± 11.5) years of age, and 95.1% were men. In total, 59 (36.4%) reported experiencing upper extremity pain immediately after fly-fishing. Pain was rated a 4.0 (range, 3.0-6.0) on a 10-point Likert scale, commonly lasting less than 1 day (45.0%) or between 1 day and 1 week (45.0%). The majority (62.7%) reported not needing to see a medical provider for their pain/soreness. Those who did most commonly received diagnoses of elbow or rotator cuff tendinitis. Pain/soreness was associated with casting in an elliptical/sidearm fashion, compared with overhead or 2-handed casting using a weighted line or added weight (split-shot, weighted heads, etc) and with grip styles where the hand was pronated compared with being in a more neutral position. The mean shortened version of the Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand score was 10.8 (± 11.5). Higher scores were associated with a history of self-reported upper extremity orthopaedic injuries and having had surgery for these injuries.

Conclusion: (pulled directly from their study summary)
In this sample of recreational fly-fishers, no aspects of fly-fishing were associated with long-term upper extremity disability, and only a little more than a third reported having transient pain immediately after fishing. Casting style, using weighted lines or added weight, and grip style were all associated with pain. These are modifiable risk factors that can be adjusted to reduce the risk of upper extremity pain immediately after fly-fishing.

(Certainly these results did not mirror mine, but perhaps that was because they didn't fish as much as me!)

High Points of the Study:

  • most common diagnoses made were elbow tendinitis and rotator cuff tendinitis
  • Pain was shown to be significantly associated with casting in an elliptical/sidearm fashion (as opposed to casting overhead or 2-handed), varying grip style, and using weighted line or added weight (split-shot, weighted heads, etc).
  • among their sample of professional fly-casting instructors, nearly half (49.8%) reported shoulder pain, 39% elbow pain, and 36% wrist pain
  • 31% of those who fished for heavy saltwater fish reported moderate to severe shoulder, elbow, or wrist pain after casting compared with 19% of those who had not fished for heavy saltwater species.
  • there was a trend for saltwater fly-fishers to have a higher prevalence of shoulder and elbow pain, whereas freshwater fly-fishers had a higher prevalence of wrist and hand pain.
  • the weight of the fly rod correlated with the degree of wrist pain, and each additional foot of length of rod increased the odds of reporting some pain in the shoulder, elbow, or wrist by 46%. They also found that those who use a haul have more pain and symptoms than those who do not, likely related to increasing torque on the arm
  • overhead style casting was associated with less elbow and wrist pain than the sidearm/elliptical styles, and in our study, upper extremity pain/soreness after fly-fishing was significantly associated with casting in an elliptical/sidearm fashion
  • all respondents who held their rod with their finger on top (3/3; 100%) reported upper extremity pain/soreness after fly-fishing, compared with 34% and 30% of those who held their rod with their thumb on top or with a V-style grip.
  • moderate to severe shoulder pain was seen more often in the 3-point and finger-on-top gripping styles. These data suggest that grip styles that place the hand in pronation throughout the fly-cast may predispose fly-fishers to upper extremity pain more often than grips where the hand is in a more neutral position

Recreational fly-fishers should cast overhand, and if elliptical or sidearm casting is necessary, intermittent overhead casting may reduce the risk of upper extremity pain. Although further study is needed, holding the rod with a neutral grip (thumb on top), as opposed to one where the hand is fully pronated (finger on top), may also help reduce the rate of upper extremity pain and soreness. Last, recreational fly-fishers should be mindful of their casting technique and frequency when using weighted line or added weight (split-shot, weighted heads, etc), as this has been shown to cause an increased prevalence of upper extremity pain/soreness as well.

I realize this is a long read, however I think there are some good injury prevention nuggets in this limited study. The following are my personal behavioral (pre loss or injury prevention) changes going forward:
  • perform hand and wrist flexion stretching exercises- pre-season
  • perform low weight forearm and upper arm strengthening pre-season
  • implementation of routine "at home" physical therapy exercises given to me by the PT angels at Newport Hospital for each of my injuries. Why "angels", because in all injury scenarios, it was intense physical therapy that saved me from surgery
  • learning to effectively cast with my left arm, to take pressure off my "go to side". Sure I can't cast as far or as accurately, and double-hauling is really tricky, but my goal is to have a backup system, and one that I can routinely use to spell my right arm casting muscles, tendons and joints
  • Eliminating the 10 weight rod, and using lighter weight 9 and 8 weights, and 7's where feasible
  • Eliminating overhead and backhand "Hero Casting", i.e. casting 80 feet into a stiff wind with a weighted fly line. Instead, concentrate on bringing the boat closer to the fish and casting a maximum of 60 feet.
  • Backing off on using elliptical casting (Belgian cast).
Below are two links: The first will connect you to the Kuhn study, the second is an article independently written by Maura Ammenheuser, a staff writer for My Southern Health a wellness publication at Vanderbilt Health that succinctly summarizes the Kuhn study boiling it down to the 3 Key takeaways that may help you to avoid repetitive injuries from fly casting.

(The Kuhn Study)

(The Wellness Publication)
Fly Fishing Quote
I hope this newsletter was fun and perhaps contained information of interest to you, and again I welcome input for future topics you may be interested in knowing more about.

Sorry for any misspelled words and lousy sentence structure. I try!

Newsletters are produced whenever I can find the time. An archive of prior issues can be found on my website.
My best, and I hope to see you on the water.
Capt. Jim Barr
Skinny Water Charters