Why the last few feet of your cast & retrieve is so critical

Hang Tough

The last few feet of your cast and retrieve is the critical moment of decision—especially when you fish the hang

If you heard what sounded like cursing coming from Northwestern Ontario the other day, it was me.  The last thing I do most evenings—and again first thing most mornings—is check the weather forecast. I really don’t care if it is going to be hot or cold, wet or dry. I can deal with those things. But the wind is another matter. So I focus on the wind speed and direction, and the strength of the gusts.  

And to be fair, most days the forecasters get it right. But they failed miserably the other day when they predicted a light calm breeze. It was howling from the south when I pulled the Frog Boat out of the back of the truck and started hauling my gear down to the lake.  

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The truth of the matter is that I had set up the evening before to fish buzzers (chironomid or midge pupae) under an indicator. I love calling them “indicators,” by the way,  because as kids growing up we always associated the word “bobbers” with novice anglers. So, we now call them indicators, floats, bungs and corks—anything but a bobber.   

Now, bear with me for a second, because while I was fly fishing at the time, what I am going to tell you applies equally to fishing with spinning and baitcasting outfits.  

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When I finally got out on the water, I discovered the wind was even worse than it had felt on land, pulling my bobber, I mean indicator, across the surface like it was waterskiing. A little breeze is usually good, as it rocks the bung up and down, simulating midges that are on the move and about to hatch. But this wind had it zipping across the surface unnaturally like a ping pong ball. So I popped off the spool on my reel that was loaded with floating line and snapped on one that was equipped with a RIO clear intermediate sinking line. This let me cast out Diawl Bachs and buzzers, count them down and slowly inch them back to the boat using a figure-eight retrieve. 

Now, here is the crux of the lesson. I didn’t catch a single trout stitching the line back slowly like this. Not one. Rather, every brookie and splake hit on the hang, that last part of the retrieve when you pause and let your offering hang vertically.  It was uncanny.  In fact, once the wind did settle down in the afternoon, I continued using the sinking line solely so that I could fish the hang.

Now, ask yourself, what do most of us do when we cast for bass, walleye, muskies, pike and trout, and work our lure back to the boat? We generally reel in the last portion of the cast quickly so we can fire out our lure again. Right? And that is often a huge mistake, as I proved to myself again the other day.

The fact of the matter is that I’ve seen trout hit like this so often that I have taken bright florescent red thread, wrapped it around my fly line about 12 feet from the end, then coated it with clear nail polish. Many companies have even taken to building hang markers into their fly lines at the factory.  

What happens is that when you retrieve your line, you see the red, chartreuse or whatever colour marker you’ve used when it approaches the tip of the rod, so you know how much line and leader you still have out. Even if you’re sleeping and miss it, you still feel it bump as it slides through the top guides on your rod. That is the signal to stop your retrieve, let the flies continue to fall and then hang vertically— hence the name. At this stage, you want to ever so gently start lifting up your rod tip from the surface and fish the hang.  Depending on the fly you’re using you may even impart tiny shakes, shivers and jiggles to entice any following fish into striking.

Understand what I am saying? Regardless of whether you’re fishing with  a spinning, baitcasting or fly rod, many days the last portion of your cast and retrieve, when your bait or lure is hanging vertically off the side of the boat and makes a sudden directional shift, and starts swimming up to the surface, is the most important part of your entire cast and retrieve.  

When I am muskie fishing, for example, I always envision that a giant fish has spotted my lure at some time during the retrieve and is following my bait, so when I come to the end of my retrieve, I always make a fast and erratic directional change, then once again when the bait is half way to the surface. I can’t tell you how many times a big toothy critter has caused me to jump out of my skin when it has appeared out of nowhere and eaten the bait.

It is a small detail, but oh so important—once you get the hang of it. 

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