Fly-Fishing Legends

Fly-Fishing Legends

Where's Ernie? And, is the bow-and-arrow cast for real?

  • By: Paul Guernsey
  • and Buzz Bryson
Whatever happened to Ernest Schwiebert, the man who coined the phrase, "matching the hatch?" He was such a dominant voice in fly-fishing for so many decades-and yet he's been silent for the past 10 years or so. Is he in good health? Does he still fish? Is he writing anything new?

Schwiebert, author of Matching The Hatch (1955), Nymphs: A Complete Guide To Naturals And Their Imitations (1973) and Trout (1978) among many other angling works, has been silent only if you haven't been listening in the right places. The 73-year-old retired architect tells us he's been a frequent contributor of articles on travel and fly-fishing to The New York Times and other publications. He's also been working on a revision of Nymphs.

"We threw out the book and kept the title," Schweibert joked during a recent telephone conversation with FR&R.

He's also in good health and still does a great deal of fishing. "This year alone I've spent 10 days in Chile and three weeks in Argentina," Schweibert said. He added that he was one of the pioneers of South American trout fishing, having gone to there for the first time in 1959. -P.G.

My two fishing friends have always told me I reel "backwards." Although I'm a right-handed caster, I reel with my left hand, and these guys say I'm doing it wrong-that a righty should reel righty as well, and only a lefty should reel lefty. That never bothered me until this past weekend, when a guide I was fishing with picked on me for the same thing. What do you think?

I think there's a good reason why most new fly reels come from the factory set up for left-handed retrieve. I also think your guide didn't deserve as big a tip as you probably gave him. As for your friends, if they want to handicap themselves by fighting big fish with their weaker arms, that's up to them-but they should get off your case about doing it the more efficient way.

I cast righty and reel lefty myself. Part of the reason I do this is that, although my right arm is the stronger one, I am not entirely right-handed; my left hand does a lot of jobs that a 100-percent righty would never use it for. So, it just feels natural for me to divide up the two main fishing tasks of casting/fighting and reeling/stripping.

But the real benefit of doing it "my way" is the one I alluded to above: When my left hand handles the line and the reel crank, I can use my stronger right arm to battle a big fish, should I be lucky enough to hook one. Not only does my right arm tire less quickly than my left, but I can beat the fish more quickly with it, too. A quick fight equals a faster release and, as Martha Stewart used to say, that's a good thing-for the fish as well as for the angler.

It's also nice not to have to pass the rod from one hand to the other every time I hook a fish.

I understand, though, that a lot of true right-handers feel terribly awkward when trying to reel or strip line with their left hands-just as a lot of lefties feel awkward when saddled with a reel set up for right-hand retrieve. And it's perfectly fine for these folks to reel with their favored hand and fight the fish with the other one, if they wish.

Bottom line: It's entirely a matter of personal preference so, if it feels good, do it. -P.G.

I've only been fly-fishing for a couple of years. Last weekend, I was talking to a bunch of more experienced fishermen in the parking lot after a day of fishing, and one of them told me a little story about the splendid "bow-and-arrow cast" he had made earlier that day. Of course, the cast resulted in a huge fish. As he spoke, his friends were smiling in a way that made me think the "bow-and-arrow cast" must be fly-fishing's equivalent to the snipe-hunt: something used primarily to gull newbies. Is this a real technique and, if so, what is it, exactly?

The bow-and-arrow cast is indeed a legitimate technique for getting a very short cast onto the water under cramped conditions that prohibit even a tiny rollcast, never mind a full back- and forward cast: Think small stream, brushy banks and overhanging trees. (If you like, you may also imagine a 24-inch brown trout sipping size 18 Blue-Wing Olives about eight feet in front of you… )

To me, this is actually more of a "slingshot" cast, with your fly as the "stone." The idea is to reel up until there is little or no line off the tip of the rod, and just enough leader to reach the fish you're trying to catch. Step Two is to grab hold the fly with the thumb and forefinger of one hand (the other is holding the rod, presumably). Draw back on the fly until the rod tip bends and loads enough to act as a spring. Then, aim your fly at the target just as you would a slingshot, and fire away.

However, I once saw Joe Humphreys give a casting demo at a fly-fishing show and he had a little bit different technique: Joe took the leader in his left hand and gently looped the line around it so that the entire leader would fit in his closed palm. While still holding onto the leader in his left hand, he grabbed the end of the fly line, loaded the line and let go. The leader unwound in the air and Joe was able to bow-and-arrow cast a considerable distance. But then again, he's Joe Humphreys.

No, it's not "real" fly-casting. But getting that bow-and-arrowed fly to land just where you want it, and without making a splat that will scare your fish, is a challenge in itself, especially when you haven't practiced in a while.

And if you actually catch the fish, you have every right to gloat a bit when you get back to the parking area. Of course, whether anyone will believe your story is another matter entirely… -P.G.

Got questions about anything under the fly-fishing sun? Write to "Ask FR&R," PO Box 370, Camden, ME 04843, or e-mail us at [email protected].