By Zach Lazzari
Learning line management is a little like learning how to ride a bike for the first time. It’s uncoordinated and awkward until you gain confidence and start building muscle memory. New anglers and instructors tend to focus on casting. However, the actual line management aspect of fly fishing is often overlooked and under appreciated. Managing line is crucial to casting, presenting and being an effective fly angler.
The first aspect of line management is the separation of your rod hand and line hand. These are two separate entities that work together. When you cast, the line hand should not follow the rod hand. The line hand is controlling the line and at a lower elevation unless you are hauling to increase line line speed. Separating your hands is like patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time. You must teach your brain to distinguish between the two motions.
The second aspect of line control is your grip on the line. When casting, you increase distance by allowing the line to shoot between your fingers in increments. Learning to grasp and control the line while starting and stopping it from shooting through your fingers is an essential aspect of control.
The third critical point is controlling line while fishing. Advanced mending and motions of that nature are very useful but simply learning to retrieve and compensate for slack is a game changer. Moving water will always create slack and your cast is ineffective when you are not tight to the line. Control your slack and you will control the line, rod and fish.
Practicing Line Management as a Raw Beginner
Focusing on line management is the fastest way to elevate your game from beginner to intermediate. It will also make you more comfortable handling and casting a rod while opening the door to advanced techniques that are impossible without line management skills.
When you practice casting in the yard, focus on your free hand. Follow this easy sequence until you are comfortable - Pickup cast, Lay down cast, transfer line from free-hand to retrieve position.
Next, work on controlling distance with your free hand. Start with a short false cast and gradually shoot line on the forward cast by releasing a foot or two at a time through your line hand. You must compensate your timing with the rod hand as you release line through the free hand.
Lastly, work on the retrieve position to control your slack. Lay down a cast and transfer the line from your free hand to your trigger finger on the rod hand. Retrieve by controlling the line below your finger and pulling it through the finger. Stripping line in this manner is how you remove slack and prepare for a fresh cast. In a real world scenario, you will cast, control the line and remove slack as needed, then recast while shooting out the line you just retrieved. You are tight to the end of your line the entire time.