In several of the practice sessions for last year’s European Championships in Norway, I spent quite a lot of time observing Iain Barr’s presentation technique. On the boats it was drummed into me time and again just how important presentation at distance was – the difference it made was overwhelming. Iain is an outstanding distance caster, to the extent that he almost looks uncomfortable at short range, and conversely so supreme when reaching for distance. He is right up there with the very best distance casters, certainly within practical fishing situations, as differentiated from tournament casting.
I remember drifting on Hauksdahlvatn, an enormous lake in the Forde area, populated by simply staggering numbers of brown trout. We found the shoreline the most productive areas, even though we often found fish way out from shore, and every time during a shoreward directed drift, it was the angler (two in a boat) who could be first ‘onto the stones’ who would reap the rewards. Iain’s long distance tactic effectively doubled my own catch rate, itself pretty impressive (each team member was catching 20-50 measurable fish in a three hour session).
Similarly, we found on the bank lake sessions that the margins would quickly become fished out, so long distance casting was vital there too, which is something the British anglers have excelled at (though believe me, most of the other teams are getting there); the ability to be able to present (with good turnover) a team of flies, even in inclement winds, at range, is a high priority requirement of lake bank international sessions. Most of the top performers use 8 weights for this, obviously with suitable rods like the Greys Platinum XD or the awesome G-Tec. I do not use over-powerful rods (the reasons for which are not the point of this article) and manage with six-weights for distance work, still making 35 metres when I need it in anything other than direct head-winds.
Then again, the river sessions: here, control at whatever necessary range, was the crucial thing. Stuart Crofts, Mike Tinnion and I all concentrated on the ‘near line’, where possible, which is always the easiest option. I think even Iain gave this some preliminary attention. Simon Kidd also; but both he and Iain certainly more quickly moved out to greater range than the rest of us, assuming that the most accessible water would be fished out, which was largely the case. I’m not saying we all didn’t exploit ALL the water available to us, it is just that Iain and Simon moved out-range more quickly.
Presentation and control at range on a river is one of the most difficult skills to develop. Very few anglers ever really achieve it. It is not just a matter of casting a long line. At its simplest, it is a rapid means of reaching fish holding water on the far bank, or a long way out in a broad river, without actually wading out too far, too quickly, with consequent spooking of fish on the inside line. With no mends in the line, the flies will quickly ‘bite’ against the flow and will be dragged away downstream in a long curve. With very naïve trout, this is fine, and it is amazing how even small brown trout can swim so fast as to be able to catch such rapidly sweeping flies.
The next stage, however, is putting in appropriate mends, so that you have some control over the flies, allowing them a bit of dead-drift or sinking time. Mends with a floater can be put in immediately after the line has been cast, but only a certain distance out from the rod tip, up to about 10 metres. Far better to put the mends in during the cast itself, while the line is in flight, and absolutely essential with a sinker. If there is any flow at all the flies will react almost immediately to that flow, thus losing your control over them and potentially spooking fish. Mends give you time. Mends give you control.
There are lots of ways in which you can mend a line in flight – the so-called Curved Casts – essentially so that the line touches down on the surface with the bends and loops in it to allow nymphs or streamers to sink, or dry flies to drift drag free. A Reach Cast is the most basic, laying the line off upstream as it is shot on the final delivery, while a Reach Mend is often better, throwing a controlled loop up the stream (or down if you want to accelerate the flies). A Wiggle Cast, really a multiply repeated Reach Mend, is very useful in strong flows or variable currents between you and your target. A Parachute, or Stun, Cast, in which you stop the line high and let it fall in big loops onto the surface, is particularly useful when your target fish are downstream of your position.
All of these give you control, at all ranges, but will be most noticeable as range increases. I have watched Iain Barr achieve absolutely breathtaking control at up to 40 metres, on a river, which is one of the most significant reasons that he is a truly World Class angler. You hear a lot of nonsense in Britain about some of the top competitors. You might hear, for example, that Iain is an archetypal blob fisherman. Well, I guess he does on occasion fish blobs, but if you want to see an all-round presentation master, I put him up there in the top half dozen in the World, and I really have been around long enough to see most of them.