Q & A with Fly Casting Instructor David Phares

Brought to you by the International Sportsmen’s Exposition (1). There are details at the end of this post regarding how you can get some free tickets to the ISE Sportman’s Show in San Mateo, CA, January 8th – 11th, but you have to learn how to cast a fly rod first. So read on.

David Phares is an avid fly fisherman and professional casting instructor from Chandler, AZ, who will be making presentations (pun intended) at the upcoming ISE event. He agreed to do an email interview here for the benefit of those who won’t be in the Bay area a week hence, and despite the significant harm that might befall his outstanding reputation as fly-rodder and teacher by remotely associating himself with the blog of someone who has hit more inanimate objects (and fellow humans) with flies than any other person on earth (2).

Here you go folks, now get to learning…

MICHAEL: I’m sure you meet a lot of folks that are picking up a fly rod for the first time ever. Knowing casting a fly line is a fairly complex action, what do you stress in lesson number one that gets the beginner on the water quickest?

DAVID: We are most interested in making sure that student has a good time, and sees some success. While this is not rocket science, it is a matter of physics, so we make sure they understand the physics of making a piece of string go flying through the air, dragging a fly. If the student does not enjoy the experience of learning the sport, they will not carry on with it. The learning has to be fun.

MICHAEL: Professional golfers practice daily - as a result there are always plenty of everyday people on the ranges trying to emulate their discipline. Fly fishers don’t really have a Tiger Woods to copy, and there aren’t casting ponds in every suburb either. So what can fly fishers do to keep their casting stroke in top form?

DAVID: Just like Tiger, you PRACTICE. Only you have to make sure that what you are practicing is correct. It is too easy to practice bad habits. With fly casting it is not hard to know when you are doing it right as the fly line shoots out there and lands where you want it to. Also, we encourage target practice, as just throwing line is only half the task - you have to put the fly in the right place in order for the fish to take it. This can be accomplished with a couple of paper plates with a big nail holding them down out in the park or a retention basin just down the street. You do not need water to practice, except for the roll cast, that is, and I have done that in an irrigation ditch.

MICHAEL: I think one point that is probably on the mind of every fly fisher, particularly as belts tighten, is how important equipment really is. Is the choice of rod and reel purely personal taste, or has your experience dictated particular types of gear for fly casters at different levels of proficiency?

DAVID: One of the things that has always amazed me it that even a novice can tell the difference between a really good rod with top-flight line, and a "Yugo" of the fly fishing world. A top flight rod and high quality line make all the difference in the learning curve and success for the beginner. The choice gets harder with the fact there are some really nice fly rods out there that are selling now for under $200, where in the past you had to spend twice that to get a good rod. The rod and line are the critical parts of the system, for sure.

The secret is to find the rod and line that work for you. Go to the fly shop and cast them until you find what works. I have a good friend with whom I fish and he uses a rod that casts like a broom for me. He loves it. What can I say?

MICHAEL: As fly fishing has progressed in popularity over the last couple of decades, we’ve seen people chasing wider and wider varieties of species, and with that comes an expanding breadth of equipment as well as casting technique. Are there any basic rules of thumb fly-rodding enthusiasts need to know that can help them ease the transition from say, hauling Crazy Charlies in strong winds to nymphing in a tiny freestone?

DAVID: What the hell is a "Crazy Charlie?" No, seriously, the secret is to spend some time learning about the fish you are going after. Each species has its own set of challenges. With this rapid growth in fly fishing has come a wide assortment of books and articles (both hard copy and on the net) about fly fishing for just about anything that swims. And, you never want to ignore good old "local knowledge." Ask at the fly shop, or go to a meeting of a local fly club and ask around. Most fly fishers are little John the Baptists at heart, and they would love to share what they know with you.

MICHAEL: You live in Phoenix, and there aren’t a lot of trout streams or tarpon migrations running through there. Assuming you do a lot of destination travel, where’s your favorite place to fish? And, considering that casting a big rod all day, every day, during a planned outing can be physically arduous, how do you, personally, keep yourself prepared?

DAVID: I just wish I traveled as much as I would like. Actually Arizona is a fly fisher's paradise, as we can fish year-round for a wide variety of species, and we are located pretty close to some great destinations, as well. While I fish locally as often as I can, I do love to travel and fish both South Padre Island on the South coast of Texas for redfish, snook and sea trout; and I try to get the Norfork and White Rivers in Arkansas each year as well.

MICHAEL: Back to the golf bit… Golfers in medium to low handicap ranges periodically take on the advice of the club pro to help them adjust their swing and (hopefully) knock a few strokes off their game. Do professional fly casting instructors do the same for their clients? And if so, what are the corrections you most often target in the intermediate to advanced fly caster’s method?

DAVID: One of the biggest mistakes beginners make is to bypass good instruction. The Federation of Fly Fishers, local Trout Unlimited clubs and local fly shops can all provide that kind of start for the beginner. For years we taught hundreds of novices in our local parks and recreation programs.

As for the intermediate and advanced casters, there is probably a second opinion on this, but I feel "if it works don't fix it." Going back to golf for an example, I would never try and teach a new golfer to try and swing like Arnold Palmer, but that ugly swing worked for him. If the caster can get the fly where he or she wants it most of the time, I would be loath to try and make his cast look a little prettier by tampering with it.

MICHAEL: Besides receiving professional casting instruction (and tying flies until their eyes are crossed), what else can fly fishing enthusiasts do to improve their ‘game’? Do you have any book, video, or other instruction-related materials you’d recommend?

DAVID: Hey, I have been tying flies for years, and my eyes are not crossed! They might be a bit fuzzy some times, but not crossed.

One of the really unique aspects of the sport is that it offers so many different ways to enjoy it. In addition to the actual fishing for everything from bluegill to great white sharks, and as you mentioned tying flies, you can also take a class in rod building; [additionally] spend time on the internet researching destinations and chatting with locals in diverse areas on what it takes to get there, where to stay, and what is the best guide in the area. For me, the planning of a trip as always been almost as much fun as the going. I am blessed, too, with three really good guys with whom I fish, and they add a great deal to the enjoyment of fly fishing for me. Fly fishing is a social event for me. And, I am just now introducing two of my grandsons to the sport as well. It is just getting better and better every year.

MICHAEL: Have you ever had a beginner get so aggravated they break a rod over their knee? What rod would you recommend for such folks?

DAVID: I have never had a student with that kind of a temper, but I have had some that just could never quite "get it." However, I have seen guys on a golf course do that, so maybe it says something about fly fishing vs. golf!

When we teach casting we are always on the lookout for those who seem to come to casting naturally, and we move them up to better rods when we see that. As for the poor guy who continues to struggle (we have never had a woman who could not learn to cast - even some seniors do quite well), then we might suggest after repeated sessions they may want to stick to bowling. As much as I love fly fishing, it is not for everyone. We owe to the beginner who trusts us to be honest with them. I do not sell equipment, so that may be easier for me than a shop owner, but they have to do it, too.

MICHAEL: I know you haven’t seen me with rod in hand, but does your casting crystal ball tell you whether I will ever be able to toss a weighted crab pattern to a group of permit without spooking every single one?

DAVID: Michael, I may not have seen you cast, but the mere fact that you know that you have to cast that weighted crab a good distance to that school of permit tells me all I really need to know about your casting.

The single most important thing for every caster to remember is that must wait on the back cast and not start forward too soon, or you lose it all. That back cast is more important than the forecast, every time. Even experienced casters can get excited when they see that school of permit for the first time and forget that vital lesson.

MICHAEL: And finally, regarding all those folks out there who have accomplished the previously mentioned feat…where are the big dollar endorsement deals from American Express?

DAVID: When you find that out, send me a personal email, okay? The best I have done is that I have been lucky enough to have sold two fly patterns to Umpqua, and so I get a little check each quarter for my developmental efforts over the years. I doubt that you and I will ever be in Tiger's league when it comes to the big bucks, but then that's not why we take a rod in hand and hit the water, is it?

En how! We all now know that fly casting is one parts physics, two parts practice, and many parts fun. Problematic for me – back in the day I dropped Thermodynamics 101 in favor of accounting, I’d rather drink beer and watch college football than hit the park, and I only fly fish because it gives my friends the opportunity to razz me just before buying my lunch (ok, so that’s fun) – but there is still ample hope for the rest of you!

And now that everyone is a bit more informed, there are some free tickets to be had. The ISE is offering 10 passes to any of the four days of the San Mateo, CA event, and you can get up to two of them for yourself by leaving a comment below with your true name (so you can pick up your tickets at the will-call window), real email address (so I can confirm with you), and the simple announcement of the day you’d like to attend. It’s first come, first serve as usual. And anyone that would like to quiz Mr. Phares further while they’re there can find him at the Discover Fly Fishing booth or in the Fly Tying Theatre.

(1) Special thanks to the International Sportsman’s Exposition, Gilbert Fly-Fishing Programs, Spin Communications, and Chocolate Communications.

(2) While the editor’s flies have impacted with plenty of rocks, trees, and poling platforms, he has actually only hit one person other than himself. Fellow fly-fishing enthusiasts are, however, still welcome to scatter when he shows up on the water.


[…] Q & A with Fly Casting Instructor David Phares | Michael Gracie […]


Great post! Some nice tips from David. I might disagree with him a little on the quality of the rod: I think once you are fairly proficient, you can use just about anything to cast with and still catch plenty of fish. It might not be as “easy” or “fun,” but I don’t think the number of fish caught would drop much.

Unfortunately I’ll not be anywhere near San Mateo this week.

– scott c

@Scott – Thanks, and agreed on the fish count bit. I’ve been bringing a lot of newbies out over the last few years, and really appreciated Dave’s commentary as it related to them as well.

Even though I’m no fan of outrageously priced gear, given a wide open flat and a really stiff breeze, I’d still take an overpriced broomstick over a $150 noodle any given Sunday.

Vera Walters says:

Thank you for a informative post. I took a fly fishing class from David and is was great. He is a knowledgable, fun, dedicated instructor. It was a wonderful experience for me and I hope that I am one of those ‘naturals’ because I fell in love with the sport and plan to continue to learn, practice and get out there to fish!

I can’t travel to San Mateo, but plan to attend the expo here in Phoenix in Feb.

david says:

Nice interview. Practice does make perfect. The practicing part is a lot easier when there is at least a chance of a slash at a fly.

I have a casting pool nearby but I seem to only go out there when mid-winter cabin fever hits. There are some guys at the casting pool that are astounding casters. I remember one guy in particular that could hit the center of the target rings perfectly every-single-cast! I asked him where he liked to go fishing. He looked at me funny and said “Fishing? Oh, I never go fishing – I just cast.” Uhhhh… OK…. To each his own, I guess.

I would like 1 ticket for the San Mateo ISE for Thursday, Jan 8.

Michael, I’m sending you email directly about this.

D – I got the email with your details and sent the request on.

Meanwhile: I always wondered about the casting pool crew – heard that people existed who could cast a bonefish line and thirty feet of backing, but had never caught a fish. Personally, I’d like to hang out with them – the learning experience would be extraordinary.

Barry R. Nicholson says:

I live here in SF within walking distance of the fly casting pools and never tried fly casting. I would appreciates 2 free passes to the San Mateo ISE for either Saturday 1/10 or Sunday 1/11 to get me interested and to purchase a rod and reel to start fly fishing. Thank you.

Barry – it’s done. Please ping me directly via the contact email listed on the page on the sidebar above, including the exact date (Sat or Sun) you want to attend and I’ll get you in. Thanks very much, and hope you enjoy the show!

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Ellen Alderson says:

I have seen fly casting practice pools. If one wanted to build one at home, are there recommendations for size, depth, proximity to trees? This would not be for fish, just practice at fly casting. For my husband. Ellen Alderson

Ellen –

I think that would depend on the type of practice he wanted to do. If he fishes primarily (or solely) for trout, having something around 10 feet wide and 40 feet long would do the trick. If he is into saltwater (or is otherwise into distance), then you’d want to double the length (and maybe add 20 feet on top of that). Wouldn’t need to be any more than a few inches deep either way, and as far away from trees as possible! 🙂

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