The small bead hit the back of my head with enough force that, if I didn’t know better, I would have thought a kid had nailed me with a pellet gun.
Instinctively, I poked at the tender spot to see if there was blood. There wasn’t any. The only wound I suffered was to my pride. The piece of metal that struck me was at the end of my fly line. Yes, I whupped myself in the head with my fly, as I sometimes do.
But there was a reason why it happened, at least that’s what I tell myself. It was the wind that really did it. It was a sudden gust of breeze that snatched my fly line, sending the terminal gear straight at my head. I’m grateful the little pointy part behind the bead didn’t also make contact.
When it comes to fly fishing, there is only one enemy, at least as far as I’m concerned. Fly anglers can brave rain, cold, heat, snow, sleet and even infestations of scurrilous biting insects. The only thing that bears the potential to shut down the fly fishing game completely, however, is the wind.
There have been a few extremely windy days this past spring, enough to keep me on the shore when I had hoped to be on the water.
There are many reasons why the wind is the bogeyman, starting perhaps first with the fact it has a tremendous effect on the surface of the lakes fishermen like to visit. A stiff wind can transform almost any lake into a frothy, rolling mess dangerous to the passage of all but the biggest boats.
Some of our local lakes are known for their vulnerability to wind. Stump Lake, for example, is notorious for blowing anglers to dry land. The day starts calm, but soon the wind begins to howl. Often, the wind there comes up fast, almost unnoticed.
One year, back when I still fished from a canoe, I found myself pretty much trapped in a small bay on Stump Lake’s far side. I’d been fishing there for a while with my back to the main body of the lake.
When I finally noticed the gusts, the waves behind me were whitecapped in big swells, making a traverse to my waiting truck at the boat launch a bit foolhardy. In the end, I paddled back by hugging tightly to the lake’s shore, all the way around to the boat launch.
But the wind need not be ferocious to cause problems. Swirling, unpredictable gusts can be as devilish to fly anglers as big winds.
To understand why, one needs to consider the physics of fly casting. In essence, fly anglers do not cast flies. Instead, we cast fly lines, with the almost weightless fly taken along for the ride.
As a result, fly lines are substantial — thick and heavy compared to the monofilament line used in spinning reels. And the process of heaving that line with a rod bears the potential for risk.
Few people consider that each back-and-forth pass of the fly rod brings the fly line more or less over the angler’s head. Attached to the end of the line is, of course, that sharp little hook, often weighted slightly with beads or split-shot. It generally poses no problem until the wind starts to blow. Then, each gust — especially those coming from the sides or quartering from the front or rear — can cause problems.
I stuck a chironomid in a friend’s cheek once after a nasty little gust of wind caught my line at just the wrong time. Amazingly, he plucked it out, wiped away the trickle of blood and said no more about it.
However, he did repay the favour later in the day when he dinged his fly not once, but twice off the back of my head. Neither drew blood, though. As a rule, the potential for painful human-hook encounters increases exponentially as both the length of the cast and the wind’s swirling gustiness increase.
As a result, I always try to shorten my casts and more carefully watch my timing on blustery days when I have companions in the boat, especially family. I suspect my wife would not take a chironomid in the cheek as graciously as my friend once did.
I don’t doubt there are fly casting experts out there who will say casting problems are always the fault of the angler. Probably true. But until I learn to co-ordinate all my casting muscles and reflexes to the point I can throw out 60 feet of fly line in any conditions, I will continue to practise the only technique I know to be effective when the wind comes up.
When the day is windy and you are casting fly lines, know when to duck.
Robert Koopmans is an avid angler and hunter who spends as much time as possible in B.C.’s wild places. He also hosts the Hunting & Fishing British Columbia podcast (find it on Apple Podcasts or wherever you find your podcasts). To share a thought, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.