Secrets of the Deep

Secrets of the Deep

Lou Tabory's tips on Casting Sinking Lines

  • By: Lou Tabory

Choose the Right Outfit

It is important to have the proper rod action and a rod that matches the line's weight. Some very fast-action rods constructed with high modulus graphite may not cast heavy-grain lines as well as medium to medium-fast rods with lower modulus. Consult your rod company to be sure a given rod will handle the line size you intend to use. Use enough rod to handle these heavy lines. For river fishing a 6-, or even a 7-weight, rod is not overkill. For fast, deep water when you need 500- to 600-grain heads, an 11-weight rod or heavier might be necessary. Also be sure not to overload your rod-better to start with less weight. Most 9-weight rods would use a sinking-tip line weighing between 275 to 325 grains, a very fast rod might require a lower grain weight.
Anglers usually learn about, or are subjected to, sinking lines and big flies when fishing in deep, fast-flowing water. A guide or friend hands the angler a big rod with a dark-colored line and what looks like a bird hanging off the end of the leader and says, "Start fishing." The newcomer strips off some line and feeds it onto the water, where it sinks like a stone. On the first cast the angler struggles to even lift the line from the water, and once it's in the air the unaccustomed weight makes the rod feel unnatural. The fly seems to stay in one place, whirling precariously close to the angler's ear, and the day's fishing usually goes downhill after that.

Many anglers would like to cast only with light lines and small flies and fish on or near the surface. In an ideal world this would be great, but the fishing world is hardly ever an ideal environment and sinking lines and big flies are an important part of many fisheries. Anglers who want to cover different water types should learn to handle sinking lines and big flies and make them part of their game plan. There are times when sinking lines and big flies are the only way to take fish.Most anglers can cast a standard sinking line-lines that are designed like a floating line and sold as a numbered weight, 9-weight line for a 9-weight rod, etc. But anglers have trouble with the grain-weighted lines that have a short fast-sinking head. These lines have much more weight concentrated in the front section. They differ from standard sinking lines because the head is shorter and heavier and anglers need to alter their casting stroke to use them effectively (and safely).

How to Cast Sinking Lines:

It's impossible to pluck a heavy sinking line out of the water the way you would a floating line. So here's what you do: With 15-20 feet of line extending beyond the rod tip begin your roll cast. (You might need a second roll cast to bring the fly and line to the surface.) Once the line is on or near the surface make a backcast and lift the line from the water before it sinks.

1. The Set Up: Roll cast to lift the line off the water

2. On the backcasts, lower your rod to 35°-45°

3. On the forward cast bring your rod down to a 40°-45° degree angle

The rollcast is your friend. Without it you will have a long day. Rollcasts will decrease the number of false casts you need and are the only way to lift a decent amount of sinking line when making the backcast. Remember the key to picking up a sinking line is not letting it sink-as soon as it hits the water following your final rollcast, begin the backcast. Once you become skilled at this, try making the rollcast so the line rolls out just above the surface, then make the backcast before the line hits the water.

Be sure to lift the line smoothly without applying too much force to the rod tip. Keep the wrist firm, use more arm and shoulder, and a longer casting stroke to let the rod do most of the work. Just casting with the wrist will tire you quickly; use the whole body as you would when throwing a stone.

As you execute the backcast, let your arm drift backwards and bring the rod to a 35- to 45-degree angle. Getting the right feel for the cast will take practice.

With a medium-speed forward cast, push the rod to a 40- to 45-degree angle. Open the loop slightly to slow the cast and stop the rod firmly without shocking it, and let the cast fly. The cast should shoot through the air and pull the running line out before the loop opens. If the line piles up, or the loop turns over and opens before the cast carries out the running line, you are producing too much speed. Using too fast a casting stroke, hitting the rod tip too hard or hauling too sharply will cause the line to pile up. Remember, sinking lines generate much more speed than floating lines do-keep the casting stroke clean.

Two feet is the ideal loop size when first learning to cast sinking lines. Once you improve your casting skills try to tighten the loop. But be aware that for some conditions, like casting downwind or using very big flies, a mid-size loop works well. The cast should have enough power to carry the running line and keep the fly from forming a tailing loop and from piling up.

If your casts continue to fall into a pile, try holding the rod high after the forward cast and pull back slightly with the rod tip just as the loop begins to turn over. This will keep the line straight and add some distance to the cast because after the loop turns over it will drop in a straight line and not kick backward.

Many anglers think they have to cast sinking lines long distances. For most saltwater fishing, casts of 60 to 70 feet will put you in the feeding zone. Most river or lake fishing requires casts of 35 to 50 feet to reach holding water. It is better to make a smoother, shorter cast than pile up a long cast and lose control of the fly. Keep the casting stroke smooth and slow, and stop the rod without shocking it and you can quickly learn to handle sinking lines and big flies.

Understanding sinking lines:

Basically the sinking-tip, or sinking-head lines used today are shooting heads without the connection to bump through the guides. From the early Jim Teeny Steelhead lines these modern fly lines have evolved into excellent casting tools. They lack the casting distance of a shooting head but are easier to cast and fish for most anglers. The lines today have a short front sinking section, the dark colored section that ranges from 24- to over 30-feet-long with a running line of either floating or intermediate sinking line. The better casting lines have a back taper of at least five feet (longer is better) that runs from the end of the sinking section and flows into the running line. This taper allows the caster to extend the sinking section well beyond the rod tip without hinging. Lines with short front tapers will false cast better because the taper softens the shock as the fly and line turn over. Lines with thin running lines cast farther but tangle more and are harder to handle, particularly in cold or wet conditions.