...Somewhere in the Florida Bay, North of Islamorada, FL
“Step up on the platform and pull out some line. When you’re ready, start casting.”
With the sun directly overhead, we had been on the water for less than an hour. After surveying an empty flat known to hold tarpon earlier in the season, my guide cut the motor along the lush shoreline of a Florida Bay mangrove island. The water was clear-green over the white sand; the dark shadows beneath the overhanging branches created a stark contrast and played with my imagination. What sort of fish lie waiting in the cover to ambush a well-placed fly?
Capt. Pier Milito climbed onto the poling platform of his Hells Bay skiff and began to push us silently forward. We had our eyes trained to the darker water on the edge of the island where the mangrove roots twisted and disappeared.
“Two fish moving this way. Nice Redfish. See them? 70 feet away, 11 O’clock.” whispered Capt. Milito. “Start casting.”
I shot out the fly and first bit of line with a quick roll and began hauling line out. One cast, thirty feet. Two casts, forty feet. Three casts, fifty feet. With a final haul, I shot the line and let my rod tip dip towards the target.
My fly landed a good five feet behind the cruising fish. The miss felt like a dull blade twisting in my empty stomach. I should have eaten lunch.
“It’s OK, the fish aren’t spooked. Quick, pick up and try again,” said Milito.
With a strong haul I picked the line out of the water and began false-casting, angling my fly towards and ahead of the moving fish. As I let go of my final cast, the line sailed out directly at the pair and landed right over their backs. The calm tropical water exploded with a swirl, splash and a cloud of sand. The fish were gone.
Three Casting Game-Changers
Over the course of the next few hours, Capt. Milito put me in position for quality shots at nearly two-dozen fish. I ate lunch, drank a beer and managed to shake off the initial adrenaline rush that hits a Colorado trout fisherman when he steps onto a Florida Keys casting platform. Graced with a wind-less day, I had no more excuses. When I still blew shots at Redfish that seemed too-good-to-be-true, I began to question what I was doing out there in my Denver neighborhood park waving around a fly rod every day for a week before my trip. Sensing my frustration and identifying the problems, Capt. Milito offered three pieces of sage casting advice that turned my day around.
1) Limit yourself to two false-casts. Build confidence in shooting line.
Every beginner saltwater angler thinks they need to cast four or five times to drop the fly right on the fish’s nose. In the Florida Keys the fish are spooky. Instead of gauging the distance of your cast by false-casting over your target’s head, it pays to have confidence in shooting the line on the second or third cast once the shooting head is outside of your guides. You will spook less fish and get the fly in the water quicker.
2) Start your haul with your left hand as close to the reel as possible.
Early in my day fishing with Capt. Milito, he pointed out that the haul on my forward cast was a little weak. While my right hand started the forward movement back around my shoulder, my left hand doing the hauling started in front of my chest. By moving my left hand back with the right hand and starting the haul closer to the reel, my haul was effectively twice as strong. Line speed counts.
3) It’s not throwing a baseball. Punch it forward.
Several times while casting at a fish 60 or 70 feet away, I would have two false-casts right on the money and then miss my final cast wide left. Usually this came from trying to add a little extra “umph” and shoot line. Capt. Milito pointed out that on my last cast I was dropping my casting hand across my chest like I was throwing a baseball. Instead, he asked me to focus on keeping my right hand on a flat plane of motion and punching my fist straight forward from my shoulder. Immediately my loops tightened and my accuracy improved.