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Retro WON: Learning How to Fly Fish in the Ozarks

I learned how to fly fish from one of the best instructors in the country, located near where I live in the Ozarks of Missouri.

After taking a primer on fly-fishing at Bennett Spring, courtesy of master caster Jim Rogers, I know that all my troubles lie behind me when I fly-cast.

Why do I write that? One of my favorite comic strip characters is Dennis the Menace. I liked the kid so much that I reproduced a Dennis-look-alike in our third son, complete with freckles and a shock of blond hair that would not stay down, even if slicked with pomade.

His zingers came from truthful observations. For example, our “Dennis” once told my friend, “Pat, you’re not fat. Just a little bit,” and, “Grandpa, you’ve got hair coming out of your nose.”

Jim-rogers fly fish

Jim Rogers and the author fly fish (Jason Baird photo)

Then, there was the note that his second-grade teacher made him write to me after a round of bad behavior on the playground. He wrote, “Mom, I said stick a soccer ball in your bottom.”
That took some explaining from him, as I hadn’t realized it was meant to describe a remark he’d made to a fellow classmate that day.

The real Dennis once said to his mom, as she stood on the bathroom scale and his father sat snickering in the bedroom, “All your troubles lie behind you.” To which she answered, of course, “Did your father tell you to say that?”

Learning to fly fish in the Ozarks

After taking a primer on fly-fishing at Bennett Spring, courtesy of master caster Jim Rogers, I know that all my troubles lie behind me when I fly-cast.

Rogers, concessionaire at the park, as well as one of the nation’s leading fly-fishing instructors, explained to my husband and me the challenge of mastering the sometimes elusive, but oh-so-simple looking, art of fly-fishing.

For our lesson with Rogers, we never touched our lines to water. Instead, we stood outside in a green grassy area for nearly two hours while groundskeepers mowed around us. The noise made it difficult to hear Rogers sometimes, but we still had a good session.

Rogers says the dynamic of fly-fishing is about “the acceleration to an abrupt stop in a straight line path.”

He says the main problems that folks have when fly-fishing are three-fold: using the wrist too much, having a pivot point somewhere and overpowering on the forward cast.

Rogers gave the analogy of shooting a gun at a piece of paper. Too many fly-fisher wannabes look at the paper and try to move the hole on the forward cast. He said, “It’s too late. What you want to do is look at your back-cast. That’s where all the sighting comes in and allows you to make a good forward cast.”

And that’s why all my troubles in fly-fishing lie behind me.

Then he said there are three definites in fly-casting. First, there should always be a pause to let the line straighten out at the end of the back-cast. Second, the longer the cast means the longer the casting stroke. The third definite, according to Rogers, and he admits, “I made this one up,” is that “slack is a bummer.” Slack in a line means you have no control.

Rogers showed us, then held the rods with us and finally watched us, as we tried to produce good casting.

First, we had to put our rod tips on the ground in front of us, with the reel seats against our forearms. Then, he instructed us to slowly lift our handles to eye level, without breaking our wrists. That was the easy part for me, since I play tennis.

He next said for each of us to slowly lift the whole unit up to eye level. Then, he said to bring our casting hands back to our ears and to stop the rods. He likened this part to having a baked potato or baked apple attached to the rod. Or, he said to imagine we had paintbrushes filled with wet, drippy paint on our rod tips. The acceleration, according to Rogers, is not a natural movement. He said, “The thought in your mind is that you are taking your rod with a baked potato on the end or a baked apple or a paintbrush and you’re going to throw those straight back at a target 10 feet off the ground.”

He said, “If I can carry the paint on the paintbrush, then I can throw all the paint on that brush to one little spot. That’s the fly-cast. That is acceleration to an abrupt stop.”

The abrupt stop occurs at about one o’clock in the air on the imaginary clock on the side that you are casting from. After the stop, he instructed us to look at the line and to watch it straighten out behind us, before moving to the forward cast.

The forward cast was always successful if the back-cast was performed correctly.

So, if your fly-casting could use a few refresher tips, you might try looking behind you.

This Retro WON first appeared August 13, 2009.

  • About Barbara Baird

    Publisher/Editor Barbara Baird is a freelance writer in hunting, shooting and outdoor markets. She is a contributing editor at "SHOT Business," and her bylines are found at several top hunting and shooting publications, including NRA, NSSF and Field & Stream.

     

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