Ah well. Try as I might I cannot put off the evil hour. This is the concluding part of three parter on how to cast 100′.
The problem for me is that there is no one way to do it. We are not clones. Even if you pick one just particular style there are numerous variations. Add to that the different styles you have a multitude of possibilities and I don’t know them all.
If there is one thing that is constant about my posts is the constant reminder that we are all different physically which means we all have different ways of doing things. However. I have seen a lot of very good distance casters and there are some things that they all do, the common denominators if you like, so let’s have a look some of them.
I have never met a good distance caster who doesn’t watch their back cast. If you don’t watch it you are only ever going to see half the picture. Perhaps I should have said all distance casters have great back casts and the reason it is great is because they watch it. There is a link between the eye and the body that always improves the back cast. Without the visual reference the loops will nearly always be wider. You would think that after watching thousands and thousands of back casts while you practice your body knows what to do and you can now stop watching, I almost guarantee your un watched back cast will be shite. In one of my much earlier posts I created the sixth Essential ”use your bloody eyes”. I still think they are one of, if not the, most important aspect of learning distance casting.
Next up is progressive. We all like progressive rods but only the best casters have progressive actions. They have a smoothness we can see, and envy. The end of the stroke may be explosive but the build up, though rapid in some cases, is still progressive. A smooth acceleration to a stop. You need to acquire the full weight of the line and smoothly accelerate. You do not just bang the rod forward as fast as you can regardless. This relates back to the back cast. If it is taut you will feel the heaviness in the tip as you acquire the line. If your back cast is not taut you won’t feel anything and half your stroke length may be lost in acquiring the line. With a taut line you will be moving the end of the fly line immediately and if you are moving the end of the line you are moving all of it. This means the whole of the stroke is effective and actually allows you to be progressive rather than snatchy.
The haul. Ideally the end of the haul should co-inside with rod straight (loop formation). This takes exquisite timing and is difficult to achieve. In most cases the haul actually carries on into counter flex and even back to RSP2. I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over it, we are talking nano seconds. But, the haul should never finish before loop formation, ie, during the unloading phase of the rod. You will immediately lose line tension, the rod will unload prematurely and you will probably throw a tailing loop. It’s better to finish the haul slightly late rather than slightly early. You can see from this that the point where we start to haul is important. The longer the stroke and the further we are casting the later the haul will start so as to make sure that the hauling hand reaches the point of extreme travel and line release as near to loop formation as we can get it. The haul is also as progressive as the casting stroke.
There are lots of little tweaks that you can do to achieve a good cast but the majority of these add up to your personal style. I’m not here to alter your style. I just want you to concentrate on technique. This piece has taken so long to write because originally I was going to write about all my personal little casting tweaks and visualizations but I decided that it’s easy to become mired in the minutia and lose the big picture.
Clean your line, throw a good back cast and smoothly accelerate to a stop/ haul and release. It really is that simple.
POST SCRIPT; Here is a clip of Lasse Karlsson doing something I think is pretty amazing http://vimeo.com/26927235 He is the master of exquisite timing and seems able to vary his haul and release almost microscopically. As you will read in his comments he disagrees with me about finishing the haul early (or release) But I don’t see an early release in his clips. The last segment is, to my eye, perfect release timing.
Anyway, just enjoy watching probably the most elegant caster I have ever seen.
Well, I can be sometimes. When I have something to say or someone winds me up I may put on my serious face, but generally I’m a bit more tongue in cheek than deeply meaningful. Now and again some good stuff slips out but it’s usually more by accident than design. I just write what I think and usually with nothing specific in mind other than the fact I feel the need to write, like now, for instance.
My life has focused around fly casting for about twelve years now. Before that I just used to go fishing and never bothered about the casting. Actually, thinking back, I have always enjoyed casting. There was a period where I was quite interested in beach casting. I even got to about 200yds in the field, which by todays standard is a mere flick because some of the top guys are hitting 300 metres plus. I have spent many a happy night on some bleak and freezing beach trying to untangle a birds nest on my multiplier. I refused to use a fixed spool on the grounds that they were the reel of choice of a ditter and not a serious minded sea angler, like wot I was. Idiot.
Of all the fishing I have done over the years I think I enjoyed coarse fishing the most. The early mornings with the sun just coming up and the mist rising off the water. The mini bubbles fizzing up around the lilies as the tench feed around the roots. All the usual romantic stuff. I only got into fly fishing in the first place because of the old close season. Fishing was an obsession in those days and to go a week, let alone three months, without going fishing was unbearable. Eventually I found the process of going fly fishing so much simpler than all the kerfuffle that surrounded going coarse fishing. Just grab the rod and waistcoat and go. No bait to buy or ground-bait to mix, no pinkies to sort out, no smell of sweaty maggots, no swarms of blue bottles flying around the van on hot days from all the escaped maggots. Just box of flies I had tied and some odds and ends and I was good to go.
I readily admit I am not even close to being a great angler. Generally the fishing was just an excuse be on my own. I have always needed me time and I have always enjoyed the slightly ethereal quality of being somewhere relatively remote on my own so fishing was perfect for me. I am not usually a joiner of clubs, those I have joined were only to access some water or other, never the social side. I have enjoyed the odd day fishing in company but generally I was alone and paid the consequences of being a loner by hardly ever fishing with someone better than me and thereby learning from them.
The sudden obsession with the art of fly casting took me by surprise. I had no intension of developing a near anal interest in it. To decide to learn to cast a five weight as far as is humanly possible is not really normal, is it? Couple that with my dwindling interest in fishing for the stock fish which is the vast majority of the easily reached fishing in the area I live and you have the recipe for the creation of another obsession. Fly casting can be solitary but then it really would be pointless. Just you a rod and a tape measure is the road to insanity. You, a rod, a tape measure and some like minded friends may be communal insanity but you do get to meet some interesting people.
Calling wannabe instructors. I would like to hold some workshops this winter based around the FFF CCI assessment. We hope to run some one and two day courses but it will depend on the amount of interest. Eight would be a nice number. Mark Surtees MCI and Roger Miles CCI and I, MCI will go through everything you need to prepare you for your test. You will have the benefit that our own preparation for our own assessments is still fairly recent history and we understand the problems you may be having.
Even if you are not wanting to go down the FFF route the knowledge and skills you will learn will stand you in good stead when you do decide which organisation you wish to join.
If you feel you are ready to take the test we will have some pre testing as part of the workshops.
The venues will probably alternate between Ashford, Kent, and somewhere in north London. The charge will be £100 per day per person. For that you get us, all the tea and coffee you can drink and lunch.
The two stand out faults I most often see are too much effort and a totally crap back cast. Mostly they are linked, that’s to say because there has been too much effort, the rod tip gets thrown back too far and very wide or non loops are the result. I even see the line laying on the ground in a heap behind them sometimes and they are oblivious to it. If, as they often are, they are keen to improve their distance and practice quite a bit then all they are doing is practicing their faults to the point where they become ingrained as muscle memory and very difficult to eradicate. You can show them over and over how to cast properly, ”see that nice loop? See how it cuts through the wind? See how it keeps the line tight? See how little effort it takes?” You hand them the rod back and realise you may as well have been talking to the rod as they completely ignore what you have just shown and told them. So we go over it again….and again….and again. Until, finally, the penny drops and they get it. They suddenly add ten feet to their distance. Whoa, big smiles all round. You think you’ve cracked it. Wonderful. Well done. Fantastic.
The problem is I am pretty sure that the next time I see them they will have reverted back to effort over technique and we will have to start all over again. The red mist of chasing distance for its own sake (I know, I have been there) will have over-ridden the brain again.
Up to ninety feet, or even 100′ technique will out-do effort every time. Once you reach that point then you need to add focused effort to good technique to cast further. It’s almost impossible to do it the other way round.
This may seem a very harsh post but I am writing this with one particular person in mind (and she knows who she is). If a literary kick up the arse inspires her to maintain her technical progress then so be it. I’m aiming at 35yds.
What are the mechanics of a fly cast? I was asked this recently and suddenly found it wasn’t an easy question to answer.
Is it the Five Essentials? No is my answer, although one of them may touch on mechanics.
Do the mechanics change depending on what cast you are making? I don’t think so. Technique will vary from cast to cast (and even from person to person) but it won’t alter the mechanics.
The mechanics are to do with what we are trying to do, what we are using to do it and what we have to do to achieve it.
We are trying to cast a linear mass.
We are using a flexible lever to cast the linear mass.
We have to apply a force to the flexible lever to cast the linear mass.
The linear mass is the fly line (of course). The mass is infinitely variable depending on the weight of the line and how much of it we are trying to move.
The flexible lever is the rod (doh) and, again, its flexibility is variable (but not infinitely, they have a habit of breaking if pushed too far) depending on what the designer desired when he designed it and the materials he used.
The force we apply is muscular, and once more, is variable.
You will notice a lot of variables in there, which is where the Five Essentials come in to try to explain how to marry the mechanics with all those variables to produce a nice fly cast.
The rod can only do two things on its own. Exist and straighten. Its existence we take for granted, it cost us money so it had better be there when we want it. The straightening happens when we have applied a rotational force that bends it against the mass of the fly line then stopped our hand at the end of the casting stroke which allows the rod to recover to its normal straight existence while imparting a little more velocity to the line in the process.
Although we try to bend the rod we are actually trying to keep the fly line straight during the stroke so that we can take full advantage of its mass. An out of linear mass (slack) is not an efficient way of trying to move it or move it at all if there is too much slack. A line under tension is also a requirement for the loop to propagate most efficiently from the rod tip to the end of the leader.
Now you have to match the variables intrinsic in the rod and line with your body. The best way is to learn to use your muscles and joints as they were intended to be used, that’s to say use all of them from the legs up. Move from the strongest to the weakest, especially the arm. Shoulder, elbow, wrist.
There are some very technical papers out there that explain the mechanics of fly casting, they usually involve lots of numbers and symbols. Luckily for me I don’t need them to understand that if I apply a rotational force to this stick that piece of string attached to the other end will deliver my fly to that tasty little trout sipping olives under the far bank.
That’s what it’s all about.
I sometimes get criticised for mentioning names in situations where I should be blowing my own trumpet. I openly admit I have a lot of people to thank for being where I am and I am always happy to acknowledge their influence. Why not? No man is an island. There are a several things needed to be good at something. determination, perspiration, application, even desperation but it has to start somewhere and that is often inspiration. Someone or some thing has inspired you. It was fortunate that initially I happened to be inspired by some bloody good casters, I was even more fortunate that over the years I continue to meet inspirational people. Who knows, I might even have inspired one or two myself. That would be the icing on the cake for me.
A few years ago, when I was determinedly practicing every day to become a really good distance caster, I was watching the Olympics and feeling very emotional when someone won a gold medal. I was suddenly very appreciative of all the sheer bloody effort they had put in over such a long time to get that medal. I am never going to win an Olympic medal but I have been in situations where all the effort suddenly seems very worthwhile, probably the best was when I beat the long-standing BFCC five weight record. It was especially sweet because it had been a specific target for about a year. Those of us that compete know full well that for conditions to be right in your three minute slot on that particular day is just a question of luck. Being able to take advantage of those conditions is not.
There is no substitute for practice provided there is some substance to it and you are not just flailing the rod around and practicing your mistakes over and over. I was certainly guilty of that in my early days. It helps to be around good casters occasionally. My casting improved out of sight once I finally realised this. I was fortunate to be invited to Paul Ardens occasional shootouts and I plucked up the courage to join the BFCC. I asked stupid questions and, sometimes, a sensible one. I had fixed ideas that became unfixed, I had theories that couldn’t be proved.
I fully appreciate that most people who fly fish are not interested in distance for distance sake, they just want to enjoy their sport and be able to cover fish more easily. What really gets my goat are those that deride those of us that have made the effort to learn to use our equipment to its full advantage. Just because we have bothered to learn to cast 120′ doesn’t mean we actually want to fish at that distance. It does mean that if we see a fish or a fishy location that is 75′ away we can actually reach it. It does mean we can put a decent line out against a stiff breeze. It does mean we are fishing and casting well within ourselves.
There are still those out there who still think that we use ‘special’ or tournament rods to achieve what we do, they just cannot accept that we use off the shelf, bog standard fly fishing rods. They refuse to accept that the rod has absolutely nothing to do with a casters ability. I know people who spend an absolute fortune on the latest gear with the absolute certainty that it will make them better casters. There is no denying that some rods are better and nicer to use than others but even the most expensive rod in the world will only cast as far as the ability of the person holding it will allow. Spend half the money you would lay out on a new rod on some casting lessons and finally discover the truth. It’s pointless having a Ferrari that has a Ford Popular engine, I would rather have the Ford Popular with a Ferrari engine.