“Shorter!” I pull in another handful of fly line, bite my lip, and make the cast. The small black caddisfly lands 25 feet upstream, bobbles in a riffle, and streams past my wader boots untouched.
“No,” Randy Rice calls out again. My guide is watching from his drift boat, beached on a grassy bar downstream. He’s checked me twice now. “Shorter. It’s like fishing by braille. Little short casts, pop-pop-pop, feeling out the pockets and cutbanks. Cast and creep. Pull in some line. Shorter.”
Rice has guided on the Deschutes River for 33 years, but I’m still not sure about this. I pull in another few strips until there’s barely 3 feet of fly line hanging out of the guides. This is wide open water—a famed, iconic river—and I arrived ready to give it all I’ve got. Now I’m plopping flies 12 feet away. Might as well be using a cane pole.
Right now, Rice figures these fish want to be spoon-fed. So I shovel them caddisflies like I used to stuff Cheerios in my kids’ cheeks—one at a time, short range, as quickly as I can and as many as it takes to make them happy. In the next 20 feet of grassy bank, I hook five of the Deschutes’s famous redside rainbows. The fish blow up in my face, crashing the flies close, and with so little line to absorb the fight’s shock, it’s all I can do to get them to hand. That short-range, fast-draw cast is nailing it. It never occurs to me to miss a double-haul, river-crossing distance cast.
Most of what I know about fly casting I learned from my buddy Scott Wood, whose technique is beautiful to watch—except when he is landing popping bugs 1¼ inches closer to the tree stumps than I am. Then it’s just plain annoying. Twenty-five years ago, I remember watching Wood cast from the bow of the canoe with this funky, side-to-side stroke, the fly moving under the rod tip, the butt wedged against his forearm, and then he’d fire off a powerful flippy sort of forward cast, like hurling a Frisbee. It was as unconventional a casting stroke as I’ve seen, but that’s exactly what it took to fly cast from a canoe without sticking a hook in your buddy’s ear.
Another lasting lesson came a few years later. Wood and I were in the surf at the Cape Lookout jetty, wading wet practically to our shoulders, casting Clouser minnows…