Casting Call: Clark-Skamania Flyfishers put art of sport on display

Weekend clinic highlights three casting techniques

By Terry Otto, Columbian staff writer

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Kuni Masuda, a director with the Clark-Skamania Flyfishers, displays a tenkara fly rod. The ancient Japanese technique uses no reel and is designed for fishing small streams. the rod collapses into a very small package, making it a great choice for backpacking or traveling. Terry Otto/The Columbian

About 30 novice and expert fly casters gathered on the banks of the East Fork of the Lewis River on Saturday, Oct.28 for the annual fall fly casting clinic put on by the Clark-Skamania Flyfishers.

The event was held on a beautiful fall day at Lewisville Park near Battle Ground.

For the Clark-Skamania Flyfishers, the event is a way of giving back to the community — a chance for the experts to pass along a little knowledge, and a chance to promote the art of fly fishing. The club has been actively involved in promoting conservation, education, and angling since it was formed in 1975.

Seasoned veterans of fly fishing taught three different kinds of fly casting, including traditional one-handed western style fly casting, two-handed spey rod fly casting, and the ancient Japanese art of tenkara fly casting.

With conventional fishing, the angler casts the weight of a lure or bait. However, flies have little or no weight so the angler must throw the weight of the line instead. Fishermen use the energy of the rod to propel the line and fly out over the water.

Most trout are insectivores, and the flies used tend to imitate the insects that the trout feed on. The flies have to match the active or hatching insects in the stream that the fish are feeding on at that time, hence the term “match the hatch.”

The day started with coffee and donuts followed by a free raffle. The group then broke into three parts and both members and newcomers spread out in the park’s open fields to give the techniques a try.

Traditional fly casting

Several novices gathered around Clark-Skamania Flyfishers member Kent Gray as he explained the finer points of how to use the traditional one-handed rods. The light rods can cast extremely small flies amazingly well, but only if you know and practice the proper technique.

Gray described how an efficient cast uses the energy within the rod to propel the line forward. This can involve the use of a few back-casts to swing the line out. While it can be easy to master the basics, learning how to fine-tune the method to maximize a cast takes time, and a little bit of art.

Spey rod casting

Many of the newcomers came for instruction on the handling of spey rods. This technique originated in Scotland for Atlantic salmon, and has caught on in a big way across the Northwest. It has become the go-to fly fishing method for steelhead.

The method uses long rods up to 13 feet with a long handle that requires the use of both hands. Using the top hand as a fulcrum the lower hand swings the rod to throw the line out in long looping casts.

Large flies are thrown and “swung” through stretches of rivers where the fish are holding. The larger rods allow anglers to better handle large fish such as steelhead and salmon.

Tenkara fly casting

Perhaps the most interesting form of fly casting taught during the clinic was the art of Tenkara. The technique has been used to fish small streams in Japan for over 400 years. What is unique about the method is that there is no reel.

The line is tied to the end of a long tapered flexible rod, and the fly is thrown by a surprisingly simple method of casting. According to Kuni Masuda, one of the clubs directors, the method stresses the attraction of vibrations on the surface.

“Fish have a line of sensors along their sides called the lateral line,” says Masuda. “And that line can detect the slightest vibrations in the water.”

When handled properly the technique can be very effective.

“Over hundreds of years, tenkara rods have evolved from simple bamboo poles to the modern ultralight high-tech carbon fiber telescopic rods we use today,” said Masuda. “They are designed specifically for fly fishing small streams. Because the line is tied to the rod tip, the rods have no guides and no reel seats.”

Tenkara rods can cast an unweighted fly with a very light line and a very light tippet. They also collapse into a surprisingly small package that is just a few ounces, making them perfect for backpacking or traveling.

A leader line of 10 to 20 feet is tied to the rod’s tip, and a fly is tied to the end. A simple forward motion throws the fly over the water. The rods length and flexibility allow anglers to handle the fish surprisingly well.

Both instructors and novices alike seemed to enjoy the event. Once the classes were over, a few anglers took to the river to try their hand at casting over water.

The fly fishing group holds two casting clinics every year, one in the spring and one in the fall.

The Clark-Skamania Flyfishers is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to the preservation of wild fish stocks and the natural resources that sustain them. The club is committed to the promotion of fly fishing as a method of angling, and through it, an understanding and appreciation for the diversity of nature.

At its annual banquet the club raises from $20,000 to $30,000 for conservation projects.

The club meets at the Camas Meadows Golf Club on the third Wednesday of every month except March, July, and August from 6 to 9 pm. The public is invited and families are welcome.