Being Better

Peter shares more about LDL techniques – and other lessons from Naoto Shibuya. 

Having covered Long Drift Leader (LDL) gear and background last issue, this time, we can delve into the detail of LDL: how to implement the technique. It might sound complex, but bear with it – the rewards are great! There are also plenty of related thoughts to share later in this column, which can help everyday fishing.  

Casting Stroke

One of the keys to success with the LDL system is to have accuracy with each delivery. When you think about it, it would be pointless to do anything else. With a 24’ leader, you need to have the fly land consistently at 15’ or so from your fly-line. As it turns out, this, for me, is more easily achieved than you might think.

After a dozen one hour LDL practice sessions on my casting pool, I can regularly land my fly within a 75cm diameter target at distances from 20’ to 50’. Having achieved this accuracy, I can consistently pull about 10 to 12 feet of slack line in before the fly moves. This is the point of it all.

Accuracy comes from getting four things right:

Line speed

Shibuya-san casts with tremendous line speed. I’d go so far as to say he uses maximum line speed all the time. I think this is because he wants consistency, and maximum speed allows the fly to dry well, stay soft and fluffy, and parachute to a landing which is a consistent distance away from the end of his fly-line. He doesn’t like the concept of double-hauling to increase line speed because he believes it can be inconsistent. (And it’s my opinion that it would be impossible to time a double-haul at his rod speeds and relatively short casting distances.)

Whilst you are casting, it’s really, really, important to hold your line still and reasonably close to the rod’s pivot position. A huge error you’re trying to avoid can be demonstrated with a textured fly-line and your line arm held straight, with your line hand held out forward and away from your body. With this line hand position, you will hear the line skid through the runners with every back and forward cast. The effect of this is you will get an okay haul on each back-cast, but you will kill the power and speed of every forward cast.

Do yourself a favour. Get a textured fly-line and learn to false cast without any line noise. As an aside, and a matter of interest to me at least, do you know how fast your fly goes through the air when you false cast to a trout at 12 metres away?

The fastest that I can false cast is 150 km/h. I suspect with Shibuya-san’s slightly faster action rod, he can move the fly quicker than that. The slowest I can false cast a loop over a 12 metre length before the fly hits the water, is 75 km/h an hour.

Straight top leg

The top leg of your loop must be straight, not domed and certainly not dipping down then up again (aka a tailing loop). Shibuya-san calls this a ‘Kurimpa’ which I take to mean the fly-line has a crimp in it. The crimp is the start of a tailing loop which can catch and tangle, cause wind-knots, and negatively affect power and accuracy. It takes most people a lot of practice (and dedicated practice at that) to use a soft action, deep flexing rod to generate very high/maximum line speed – whilst maintaining a straight top leg. It’s probably more easily learnt with a fast action graphite rod. But that sort of rod won’t give you the deep loop shape you need.

Nick Taransky tells a great story about fishing with ‘Bill’ Higashi while Shibuya-san was acting as guide. Whilst Higashi-san was casting to a fish, Shibuya-san saw a large ‘Kurimpa’ travel out over their heads toward the water on the delivery cast. His immediate and grumpy comment was, “Arrgh Bill, your fly is already dragging, and it hasn’t even landed on the water!” Shibuya-san knew that a ‘Kurimpa’ of this magnitude would give poor accuracy, plus a very late landing of the fly without enough slack. The fly-line would be getting pulled rapidly downstream while the fly was still up in the air.

Shibuya-san in action.

Impeccable trajectory

Once you have a consistent turnover length that comes from consistent speed, then it’s the correct trajectory of a straight top leg which gives accuracy to your cast. It’s that simple. Aim the top leg too high, and the fly gets blown around inconsistently before it wafts down onto the water. If your aim it too low, the fly will fall short of the target and you will get a bit of a crash landing that is sometimes problematic. Shibuya-san’s accuracy comes from a consistent turnover length, combined with the correct trajectory of the delivery cast.

Also, keep in mind that Shibuya-san could, if he wanted to, tilt his trajectory higher and pour on a little more late power with his wrist, thus achieving a 24 foot full straight leader extension. Not what the LDL is trying to achieve of course, but I saw Shibuya-san do this many times while polaroiding the lakes, when current and drift were not an issue.

Constant Tension Casting

Most flyfishers view casting as a stop/ start process. By this I mean back-cast, stop, wait for the line to unroll, go forward, stop, wait for the line to unroll… then repeat if needed. This concept simply doesn’t work at all for deep-bending heavier weight cane or fibreglass rods when used at relatively short casting distances and high line speeds.

The solution is to maintain a line tension that is constant by cycling the rod back, then immediately forward, then back again. When you get the tempo right, so it suits the casting distance, plus the line speed and the harmonics of your rod, you’ve made it. For the casting geeks out there, my way of explaining this is you must learn to catch the counter flex rebound, and during this rebound, you should be accelerating into the next stroke.

Mend, mend, and mend again

I couldn’t help but feel that Shibuya-san’s job really began after the fly landed. There is no doubt that the folded over leader (a 24’ leader where the fly lands at 15’) sticks to the water better than a straight leader. The extra ‘stickiness’ gives a better foundation to mend from. You’re less likely to pull slack line away from the fly end of the equation. Effective mending techniques start with the fly and leader landing in the correct shape on the water. Then you need to have one eye on the moving line, and the other eye on your fly. Mend as required only after the leader has ‘stuck’ a little. You should have plenty of line to play with, without moving your fly.

The strike

I can’t tell you how important it is to have an effective strike. It’s hard enough to get trout to eat your fly, without then messing up this relatively simple last step. After 29 guiding years studying hook sets, I think most dry fly misses are caused by the fish and not necessarily by the angler. This is despite it being easy and natural for me to blame the client – they expect it was their fault the fish was missed.

Here are some of the reasons why we missed the hook set.

  • The most common issue might be that the fly is not drifting naturally. I think this can cause two problems. One is that the fish is not at all sure that this weird drifting item is actually food, so it is already primed to spit the fly before it even shuts its mouth.
  • Another reason might be purely and simply poor judgement on behalf of the fish. Put yourself in the fish’s scales for a moment and look at the issue like this. Imagine you’re seated at a bar in a Japanese restaurant and there is a sushi train running past you. The food goes past you at a constant speed and in a straight and predictable line. All day, every day. If you sat at the bar day after day, you would get used to how far and how fast you need to reach out to grab your food. This is called hand-eye coordination. Fish do this job with their mouth, and a feeding lane in a river is just like a sushi train in a restaurant. The fish has to move sideways, judging the closing distance and alignment of the food. A trout is also at a disadvantage to us in that we can always see the food as our hand approaches it, and make minor adjustments if necessary. However, in the last moments of the rise, the trout must lose sight of the food, because its mouth is positioned below its vision angles.

    The result of getting the strike right.

If your fly-line and leader are causing your fly to drag, this erratic direction of travel and unpredictable speed will often cause the fish to misjudge the take. It might look okay from where you’re standing, but it can be enough to make the fish miss.

  • Suction power. It’s very seldom I ever find a flyfisher who can talk with any authority or understanding on this subject. Nick Taransky was telling me about a Japanese fly hook designer he once met who had a selection of stuffed trout of varying sizes. This guy stuck a vacuum cleaner up the rear end of the trout and sucked various sizes and designs of flies into their mouths using different vacuum intensities. (That’s a difference, isn’t it? Looking for another level of understanding!) Shibuya-san told me the small Iwana he often fishes for have very little sucking power. The drift must be totally drag free, and you must have a lot of slack tippet near the fly so the fish can successfully suck it in without resistance.

Our Tasmanian trout can certainly vary the sucking power of their takes. When they’re sipping tiny ants or tiny caenids, it’s a totally different deal than when gulping down grasshoppers.

A trout sipping termites produces a lot less suction than a hopper feeder. (P. Weigall pic)

If your fly has any drag on it, or it is on a tight, straight line, then you are making it hard for the fish to suck it in in. You know, if I deliver a 50’ cast across my casting pool and the line is tight because the wind is behind me, when I then walk around and reach down to pull the fly away from the direction I cast from, it takes a great deal of effort. It’s quite surprising.

Another wonderful real life example of this for me and my clients, occurs when we anchor our boat and fish downwind. This is typically the sort of thing you might do with a beginner flyfisher to help them with a longer cast. Their big loop rolls out with the wind into a tight line. The fly has zero drift. If fish take this static ‘dog-on-a-lead’ fly, it’s very rare we get a good hook-up. Mostly, the trout are missed. It’s not uncommon for a beginner to miss 6 or 8 in a row before one sticks. I know the fish immediately feels the tension on the line and spits out the fly… while my client is counting slowly to three. In fact, the game was over in 0.2 seconds.

Shibuya’s lightning strike

It’s a funny thing you know, I’ve spent most of my life studying flyfishing and trying to get better at it. Yet I had never realised this next concept until I watched Shibuya-san catch hundreds of fish over a couple of weeks this past April. On the rivers in particular, Shibuya-san always had too much slack line on the water to make any sort of hook set with a bent/ lifted rod. There was so much slack, there was no way he could reach back far enough with his rod to bend it and drive the hook into the fish.

Instead, his method was a whole lot better than what we are usually trying to do – and for a couple of reasons. Shibuya-san strikes from a slack line (and well-greased slack leader) position so fast, the movement is a blur. The super-fast strike makes a back-cast, and it becomes a ‘fly-line momentum’ hook set. He quickly removes the excess slack from the job as soon as the fish is hooked. I saw this dozens and dozens of times. How cunning is that? Never a fish broken off, even on the light tippets. Also, with these instant hook sets, the fish never felt the line tension coming and therefore didn’t have time to spit.

When Shibuya’s method doesn’t work or is not ideal

Not all stream environments are well-suited to the LDL technique. (P. Weigall pic)

  • When a simple pick up and lay down cast is best (maybe upstream short line grasshopper fishing).
  • When fishing small, tight and overgrown streams.
  • On very windy lake polaroiding days where accuracy and speed are important.
  • On dull, poor light polaroiding days when the fish are sighted late and very close.
  • When too much false casting is a bad idea.
  • With beginner flyfishers. There’s already much too much going on for them.
  • A 20’ drag-free drift down a feed line might catch a fish just 3 feet into the drift, and during the fight, you may spook other trout in the remaining 17 feet of water the fly hasn’t drifted through yet. Sometimes it’s wiser to start at the bottom and slowly work your way up the 20 feet.

Miscellaneous learnings

  • The Japanese boys had some newly-released and very cool Teflon-coated hooks. These were super sharp and of course very, very slippery which was the point (excuse the pun). Shibuya-san said they’re so slippery, you need a drop of superglue to get your tying silk started on them.
  • Carry an umbrella. On a rainy day, Shibuya-san magically produced an umbrella from who knows where. At the end of the day, we were like drowned rats in our very flash thousand dollar rain jackets. Shibuya-san was as dry as a bone thanks to a telescopic $10 brolly!
  • When you’ve finished fishing for the day and you wind your leader onto your reel, be sure to wind the entire leader into the centre portion of the spool. It’s much easier to find the tip and it never gets stuck in the side frames.
  • Occasionally, I saw Shibuya-san cast with too much slack landing on the water; much more than was required for the job. He was lightning fast at removing this if it wasn’t necessary.

So that’s Shibuya-san and the LDL technique. Granted, for many readers, mastering this method may be a step too far. However, I hope reading these last two columns has at least provided some insights into better flyfishing.