The Finer Points of the Ready Position

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I am not a hand model Photo by Kent Klewein

I am not a hand model Photo by Kent Klewein

I’ve talked about the ready position before but in teaching the bonefish 101 primer on our trip to Andros South, it occurred to me that some of the finer points bear repeating or at least more thorough explanation.

A good ready position is vital in making a quick and accurate presentation. It will save you the embarrassment of pulling a fly out of your pants, or worse, while you watch the fish you’d hoped to catch swim away. It’s a simple thing but easy to screw up. Here are a few points that I consider important to the ready position.

The leash

The leash is the amount of line outside of your tip top. The length of your leash should be, fly line at least the length of your rod plus your leader, so 9 feet of fly line plus, let’s say, a 12 foot leader to equal 21 feet of leash. This should be enough line to load your rod quickly and start shooting line immediately. It’s also enough line to make a fast short shot at the occasional fish that gets up your skirt.

As important as having a good leash is maintaining it. What I mean by that is keeping up with what your leash is doing. A good leash is no help if it’s stuck under the bow of the boat or dragging a clump of grass. Keep an eye on the current and wind conditions to figure out where you need to hold your rod to keep your leash out of trouble. Sometimes I find it helpful when the current is working against me to twitch my rod tip rhythmically to keep the couple of feet that touch the water from finding the boat and getting stuck under it.

Holding the fly and line for a clean launch

There are different ways to approach this but here’s what I think is best. I hold the fly by the bend of the hook, between the thumb and index finger of my right hand. I keep the line that runs from the deck to the guides (the head of my line) under the fingers of my right hand as well. I also hold the line in my left hand with about 3 feet of line between my hands. Here’s what happens when I make a cast.

The first movement of my rod is away from the fish. This is natural if you are fishing with a guide and pointing your rod to find fish. The move away from the fish uses the leash to load the rod like a backcast. Once the leash is in motion I release the fly and the momentum of the line carries it away from me. Because the tip of the hook is past my hand and clothing when held by the bend and the line is held under my fingers, there is nothing to catch the fly. A clean launch is crucial for a quick shot.

At this point I release the line held behind the fingers of my right hand and complete my backcast (if I’m making a forward presentation that is; if I’m making a backhand presentation this would resemble a forward cast, away from the fish behind me). Now I’m ready to shoot line on my first cast or drop the fly for a short shot. Because I have the line in my left hand the line stays tight from the very start and the rod loads immediately. The fly never touches the water so there is no chance of picking up trash or grabbing my shooting line. This method is fast, clean and efficient.

Managing your shooting line

When I’m on the bow I strip off all but about 10 or 15 feet of my fly line in most conditions. If you are not comfortable casting that much line then there is no need to have off more than you can cast. It’s important that you be able to make any shot that comes up without taking the time to strip off more line. Some guys will tell you that when visibility is poor you only need to keep out enough line to cast as far as you can see. Not true, your guide can see farther than you can from the platform. If he tells you to cast 80 feet then you need 80 feet of line, even if you can only see for 30 feet.

I’ve also heard that on a windy day you only need as much line as you can cast into the wind. I guess those guys never get a downwind shot. I don’t know about you but I cast like Superman downwind. I want enough line to make that shot.

Of course, having that much line on the deck causes problems. It’s a bit of a chore to keep up with but that’s part of the gig. Start by making a clearing cast. Cast out all of your line and strip it back in. That way the line stacked on top will be the first line to go through the guides. If you stack your line as it comes off the reel the head of your line will be on the bottom. That’s asking for trouble.

As you strip your line in, lay it out neatly in big loops and be sure that there is nothing in the boat for it to hang on. If it’s windy, lay out all of your line inside the cockpit to keep it from blowing into the water. If it’s fairly calm, lay out half the line in the cockpit and the head of the line on the bow. Using the extra space allows you to spread your line out farther and there will be less chance of it tangling while you’re making a cast. If you’re fishing with a buddy, you can help each other with line maintenance.

It’s also a good idea when fishing from a flats boat to always fish barefoot. That way if you are standing on the line you will feel it. It is worth mentioning however, that if you feel the line getting under your feet, NEVER try to kick it off the deck. If you do it will roll under your feet and tangle instantly. What’s worse, it will continue to tangle until you strip it all off of the reel and drag it behind the boat. Kicking line is a bad idea. I’ve seen it happen to a lot of guys.

Hopefully these tips on the ready position will help put you on a few more fish. It’s complicated stuff to write about so watch the video to help you get your head around it.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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6 thoughts on “The Finer Points of the Ready Position

  1. You got me thinking. I’m right-handed and I’ve always held the fly in my left hand to start. I’ve never tried holding it in my right hand, as you suggest, but I think it would launch the fly better on the backcast. Good suggestion! I’ll try that in a month, when I start practice casting for tarpon season!

  2. All good tips on “the leash”, and as to holding the fly, I routinely see guys holding the tippet 6-9 inches above the eye of the hook and watch it spinning and dangling in the breeze, catching and uncatching the leader. Not good. As to bend of hook, I see your thought process, but prefer to hold hook by the eye & knot in an effort to impart less sunscreen, bug spray, perspiration and any residual gasoline scent I might have accidentally touched/transferred from a wipe rag or floor of the boat when wiping down sand and grit transfer from shoes picking up marl/dirt from dock, walking to boat. Additionally, as I make my first sweep away from the fish, I aggressively toss the fly down and into the water so as not to catch a pant leg, my fingers or the loose running line on the deck, thus putting the fly into position for the line to roll it out on the first water load initiating the first part of the cast. (As you say, tough to write, easier to see done.)

    • You make a good point about sun scream and the like. You have to be very careful to keep your hands clean. I do however advise everyone wear sun screen. As many days as I spend in the sun I take skin cancer dead serious.

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