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In this blog, we drill down into the tin-tacks of the little tricks I picked up to help me cope with the bane of a beginner fly fishers life: The Blasted Wind!

Anyone who followed My Fly Gear Gap Year from the beginning will know that this was a major challenge for me, and one I vowed to conquer from the get-go. You could say I chased it down with GUSTo (like what I did there?).

If you’re anything like me, a windy day is one you’d rather avoid fly-fishing on. But if you don’t learn to cope, you’ll severely limit your fishing opportunities… and no self-respecting fishing junkie will do that! So, let me assume that you are as keen as I am to spend as much time as possible on the water.

The first thing that I will tell you is to be choosie who you listen to. I discovered that some people just can’t help propping up their egos on an open request for help. I recall one such time, very early in my gap year, when I consulted the Online Oracle (Facebook) with a video of the raging wind I had blowing into my face. I was frustrated, tangled and in tears.

Whilst the overwhelming majority of people offered encouragement, one suggested that if I can’t cast headlong into a 60kmh wind, I shouldn’t even bother trying to fish in [a certain location]. Considering I wasn’t planning to fish there, this seemed a pointless comment… totally unhelpful, in fact. Whilst I believe it was intended to be encouraging, all it said to an already deflated trier was “you’re not as good as me.” Comment ignored.

My point is this: Learning to fly cast is a challenge. It’s not easy. It’s not a quick process. Yet, it’s a rewarding pursuit that will bring you much pleasure. Don’t let braggarts spoil it for you. Take your time and enjoy the journey.

This 64cm barra is the largest Jo Starling has caught on fly, as at the date of publishing.

Here’s what I learned from constructive commentators…

Based on the helpful  tips I received, I was able to work on the tilt of my casting arc to help me combat that wind! It’s a simple principle that uses the wind to your advantage. Yep, even when it’s in your face.

Whilst some people suggest lowering the rod to the side to cut under the wind, I found that an overhead cast worked just fine. It doesn’t require additional space and it’s easier if you’re wading waist deep.

The trick is to use the wind direction to add extra energy to the back cast. Instead of the casting arc being the traditional “10 to 1”, you tip the same arc forward to (say) “9 to 12”. This lets the wind grab your line and allows for a longer pause.

Illustration by ©Jo Starling showing the change in the tilt of a fly casting arc when you face a headwind.

You actually stop your rod in a vertical position, sending the back cast in an upward trajectory. If you’re going to shoot extra line out, this is when to do it, not on the forward cast. Use the pull of the wind to add line (you’ll lose energy if you try in the forward stroke). Let the line to fully unroll behind you and then drive it forward on a slightly downward path, ending with a solid stop.

This technique can be used in reverse, when the wind is directly behind you too, but this can cause problems with excess speed on your fly, especially when you’re casting big ones with little wind resistance. This is exactly the situation that will see you smack yourself in the back of the head!

The Belgian Cast

One of the things I was very keen to learn to do was to cast big flies for big quarry, namely barra and dusky flathead. As it turns out, the ideal cast for safely casting big, kite-like flies is also the perfect solution for casting in a tailwind! The Belgian cast (also called an oval or elliptical cast). The Belgian cast follows an oval path, keeping the fly away from your head (bonus) and maintaining continuous tension between the rod and fly.

It’s hard to describe accurately without demonstrating, so here’s a set of illustrated steps I’ve created for you… (click each step to expand).

Step 1
Start with the rod tip at the surface. Make a roll cast to get the fly off the water and extended in front of you.
Step 2
Your back cast stroke takes a sidearm path in a very slight upward angle.

Step 2 of the Belgian Cast, illustrated by © Jo Starling. Your back cast stroke takes a sidearm path in a very slight upward angle that ramps up to a standard STOP position at the pause.

Step 3
In the last stage of the back cast, the stroke ramps up to a standard STOP position at the pause. (This is similar to the action when setting up a tennis serve.)

Step 3 of the Belgian Cast, illustrated by © Jo Starling. After the line fully unfurls behind you, make a slightly upward forward stroke, allowing the wind to take your fly up and away. The path that the line travels should be under the rod tip on the back cast and over the rod tip on the forward cast.

Step 4
Allow the line to ALMOST fully unfurl behind you, but begin your forward stroke as the last of the line is coming around swooping upswing.

Step 4 of Belgian Cast, illustrated by © Jo Starling. Allow the line to ALMOST fully unfurl behind you, but begin your forward stroke as the last of the line is coming around swooping upswing.

Step 5
Make a slightly upward forward stroke, allowing the wind to take your fly up and away. The path that the line travels should be under the rod tip on the back cast and over the rod tip on the forward cast.

Step 5 of the Belgian Cast, illustrated by © Jo Starling. Make a slightly upward forward stroke, allowing the wind to take your fly up and away. The path that the line travels should be under the rod tip on the back cast and over the rod tip on the forward cast.

The stop on the forward cast should be solid. After the line straightens in front, continue with the above side arm back cast.

On the delivery stroke, allow the rod tip to lower slowly so that the fly, leader, line, and rod tip land on the water at the same time.

In contrast to the headwind cast I described earlier, it’s important to remember that whenever you have a tailwind, keep the line on your back cast short, and shoot more line on the forward cast.

An exciting and exquisite array of flies, designed for large species like dusky flathead and barra. These would hurt if that smacked the back of your head in full flight!

I hope these tips help you as much as they help me, and you find yourself able to smile at the wind, rather than shake your fist. I’d like to extend a special thank you to two very patient Peters, Peter Morse and Peter Glasson, who worked with me on the Belgian Cast during the Forster Fly Muster in 2018.

Poor Peter G. He tried so hard to help me get a quality roll cast going. “Every great journey starts well,” he kept telling me. Let me finish with a funny little confession…

I ended up in tears, under a coconut palm that day. I even recorded a bawling confessional, ready to post on My Fly Gear Gap Year page on Facebook. I couldn’t believe that my roll cast could have gone from adequate to appalling and I couldn’t even diagnose where I was going wrong.

Anyway, after my breakdown, I got out onto the flats and started hunting flatties and whiting. We had one helluva wind whip up — right on cue for some Belgian casting practice. I worked and I worked, targeting the shadows of whiting I could see some 30m away with my back to the wind.

I worked so hard on my timing — those solid stops on the forward cast are important, but the timing to maintain tension in the back cast pause is paramount.

I’m including a video below, showing my results on that day… I’m sure you’ll cheer along with me. But here’s the funny little confession I promised you: When I got home and broke down my rod, I discovered something very, VERY embarrassing.

… I had accidentally paired a #6 line with my #9 rod! I was severely under-lined all day, handicapping all my efforts! It’s no wonder I was struggling to get power in my roll casts, let alone any of the casts in the wind.

If ever there was evidence that the Belgian cast is effective in a tailwind, this video is it, because even with that severe disadvantage, I was getting adequate distance!

Before I sign off, here’s a little tip for you to take away:

When running line through your guides at the beginning of the day, don’t lead with your tippet. It’s too fiddly. Instead, gently fold your fly line over and push that through the guides, then pull the leader and tippet through, once you get to the tip. You’ll find this much faster.

It’s also a great idea to pay attention to which way your reel is resting. Make sure the handle is facing UP, so it doesn’t catch the ground as it spins. It’s simple, but makes a difference.

Oh, and choose the right line weight for your rod 😉

Catch you next time…

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