I have had a bit of a dramatic time. We had a fire at home just before Christmas, no structural damage or injuries but the whole upstairs was badly smoke damaged. We spent Christmas in an hotel which wasn’t as a relaxing experience as I had imagined. We lived in the hotel for nearly two months until we found a house to let temporarily while the builders got on with the repairs. Apart from anything else it has meant that we have had a couple of times when we had no internet, which is a great excuse to pretend you haven’t received an email or had the connection to reply, even if you had. No more excuses though, we moved back in to our house just before Easter and we had the phone and internet back on Monday.
As you can imagine the last thing on my mind has been fly fishing or fly casting. Well, almost. I certainly haven’t picked up a rod for about four months but the endless hours rubbing down, and painting, the lounge proved to be an ideal time for the mind to try and distract itself from the tedium. Things pop in, get mulled over, and almost instantly forgotten but, the one thing that has stuck in my mind is the expression ‘the exception that proves the rule’. Really? can someone explain that to me? Because the more I look at it or think about it the less sense it makes. On any fly fishing/casting forum I can pretty much guarantee that the exception is generally the excuse for some people to prove the rule must be wrong then, the exception proves it. Perhaps I’m an exception, if so, what does that prove? Anyway, rules are meant to be broken, it’s a very exceptional rule that isn’t. What is an exception? it’s a stand alone event. How can something that happens infrequently or only in certain circumstances prove that the rules regarding something that happens frequently are correct? A conundrum.
The moral of the story is, don’t have a fire and have to spend endless hours with either sandpaper or a paintbrush. Take up fly casting, it’s far less thought provoking.
The thing about being out of circulation is that you can clear your mind. After a while you stop continually thinking about all the questions and debates, the contradictions and arguments. Sometimes this let’s idle thoughts trundle though your head and very occasionally one will take your fancy and you can fly with it. For instance, the other day I was pondering what makes a fly cast work and, in my mind, it’s just three things. You acquire the line, you accelerate the line and you launch the loop. I suppose I should say launch the line but I am still fixated on creating an efficient loop so it’s the loop I launch, not the line. Let’s look at each one.
We acquire the line; for arguments sake we are already false casting, we have launched an efficient loop and we are waiting for it to straighten. There are a few ways to acquire the line. Visually, we see the line straighten and, with practice, we start the next stroke. Also visually, we glance up the length of the rod and as the line straightens we see the tip of the rod bend slightly back in the direction the line is moving, and we start the next stroke. By feel, some are lucky and are sensitive enough to feel the ‘heavy’ of the Line straightening, and start the next stroke.
You accelerate the line; the first part of the acceleration is a bit like letting the clutch out, you start quite slowly and accelerate progressively. Of course, with practice you can let the clutch out more quickly and accelerate faster and still be smooth and fluid but you always avoid the snatchy, wham bam acceleration that gives you wheel spin, you want traction in the form of a smoothly acquired line.
Finally, we put the brakes on and launch the loop. During the acceleration we have bent the rod, now we have to let the rod do the only thing it can do on it’s own, straighten. Of course the rod will straighten any way once we start to decelerate but for the most efficient use of the rod straightening we need to stop the rod hand abruptly, and in the right place, to focus the unbending in the direction of the cast and fire the loop off the rod tip. Brake too early and the rod tip will straighten in a slightly upwards direction and, possibly, throw you a nice tail. Brake late and the rod tip will straighten in a slightly downwards direction and throw you a wide(r than you want) loop. Not braking hard enough will also make your loops wider and less efficient because you have dissipated some of the benefits of the unbending rod.
Of course there is nothing new in what I have written, it’s all in the Five Essentials, but maybe, just maybe, I may have given you a slightly different perspective on how to use them more effectively.
I used to envy my Son, he is a proper writer, he even makes a living writing. But now I’m not so sure. I used to really enjoy writing, then one day I ran out of things to write about. Not just for a few hours, days or weeks, but for months and months. I still did things, but didn’t feel the urge to write about it. I have been all over the UK with the BFCC, been to Spain and Germany doing fly casting stuff. A few weeks ago I enjoyed several days in Northumberland at an IFFF event, which I enjoyed immensely, and I have been instructing occasionally. It’s not as if I have dropped out of the scene altogether, I am involved as much, one way or another, as I ever was. What I don’t do any more is participate in forums. It’s not that I want to stop learning any more but what goes round comes around and when I see it coming round for the third or forth time I think why bother? Been there, done that and have a shed full of Tee-shirts, baseball caps etc, to prove it. I get far more out of meeting and talking to other instructors than I can get off a forum these days. Of course, I don’t know about you, but, I over the years I have built up a mental picture about how fly casting works. At one time this picture was being continually repainted but now a days the picture only gets the occasional re touch or a bit added here and there because the picture, generally, works for me. More importantly, it seems to work with the people I help learn to cast a fly. Very recently I had a complete beginner come to me in the morning and he went, on his own, and caught a fish in the afternoon. He came back to me the following weekend and learned to double haul and put the fly out to over 85′ and went fishing again after the lesson. He hasn’t let me know if he caught a fish or not but in all probability he will be back next weekend expecting me to show him how to cast 100′. When he does that I will stop taking his money because he will be teaching me. I can hear some of you saying why didn’t you take him fishing? Because I hate guiding is why. The expectation, mine and my clients, is too stressful for me. I am overjoyed when they catch a fish, suicidal when they don’t. I don’t need that sort of pressure. I instruct for fun (and money) but guiding isn’t fun, it’s very unfunny in fact. I take my hat off to anyone who does it. Talking of taking my hat off. I have always wanted to see a double handed assessment. I have heard how difficult it is and wanted to see for myself. I was given the opportunity at the IFFF event in Bellingham recently and now understand what the fuss is about. That is one arduous test. One more doff of the hat to Brian McGlashan for organising the very well run event. There, that wasn’t so difficult was it. The moving finger wrote. What it writ may not be earthshattering or meaningful but at least it got to the end.
The sun is shining, the wind has died down to a zephyr, birds are singing. Perhaps it’s time to come out of hibernation. I have been taking a bit of a back seat for the last few months but things are on the move again. I might have moved a bit sooner but every time I peeked a look it was raining or blowing a gale, or, more usually, both together. In the last twenty four hours, for instance, we have had storm force winds, hail, thunder and torrential rain. The cricket field at the bottom of my garden could now be turned into a paddy field, dog walking is now bog walking and my garden resembles the Somme. Every cloud has a silver lining as I now have a beautiful lake I can practice speys and jump rolls on only 100yds away. We are the lucky ones, at least we don’t have water lapping over the door step. I feels so sorry for those that have been flooded, some for over two months. I really can’t imagine the despair they must be feeling. All it’s cost me is a few postponed casting lessons, it’s cost them everything.
The BFCC roadshow will soon be back on the road with a small group of us traveling down to Devon for the South West Fly Fair at Roadford where we will be demonstrating and instructing so if you have forgotten which end of the rod to hold come down and let us remind you. The venue looks great on Google earth (PL160RL). Let’s hope the weather plays nice for a change.
I will also be going to the EWF show in Germany at the end of March to kick start my IFFF year. This is held in a spectacular location and well worth a visit. By the way Lasse, please bring my rod!.
Ok, not a lot about casting but this is the first post for months and I just wanted to let you know I was still alive. It’s a strange thing but once you stop posting regularly it’s difficult to start up again but I will do my best.
Why does the loop have the ability to pull the rod leg and allow us to shoot line? As I understand it the line decelerates as it goes around the loop but as it gets to the bottom of the loop it comes to a sudden stop as it runs into the rod leg which is a bit like you hitting the brakes in your car and you surge forward only when it comes to the loop this braking effect becomes a continuous chain effect until either the line turns over or momentum is lost in the fly leg which destabilizes the loop and the cast collapses. The breaking effect would be greater in a narrow loop than in a wide loop because the deceleration around the loop face is faster because it has less distance to do it in so the braking effect and therefore the pulling power will be stronger. When shooting line the braking effect must be reduced somewhat although it will still be fast relative to the speed of the fly leg.
There is obviously tension in the loop face or else or would collapse and it seems to me that tension will be greatest where the breaking effect is strongest, the bottom of the loop. And, there is sufficient tension all around the loop that if we pullback for any reason that pullback is transferred all around the loop, pulls on the fly leg and adds directly to line speed in exactly the same way that hauling adds directly to line speed. The loop has to speed up as a consequence because, apart from drag forms, it is the servant of line speed rather than the other way round.
Once more I am pondering the qualities of a loop. Yeah, I know, get a life. Up until this moment one of the corner stones of my instructing is (or has been) the creation of an efficient loop and how a fly cast is totally shite without one. I have attributed all sorts of things to the loop from it’s sheer beauty to it’s dynamic abilities. One of the first things I do in either instructing or presenting is to snapcast twenty or thirty feet of line, create the loop and then point out how that loop propagates down the line and turns over the line and leader with hardly any effort, provided I have formed the loop. In that context I am attributing all sorts of (erroneous?) properties just to the loop.
In fact there are arguments as to whether the loop pulls the fly leg or the fly leg pushes into the loop. In the paragraph above I think I suggest the loop pulls the fly leg and logic tells me that can’t be the case (but then my logic may be different from yours). Force has been applied to the rod leg, not the loop. The fly leg has the momentum, not the loop. The loop is formed as a reaction to the line dividing at the stop. It’s just natures way of keeping things connected. It has to be there whether we want it or not. It’s very useful from a fishing point of view in that in turning over it carries the fly out to where we want it. We know a narrow loop is more efficient than a wide loop, but why is that? Yes, I know about drag on a wider loop face and that does come into it, but I think the main reason is that we didn’t accelerate the line in a straight line. The momentum in the line is through a curved path subjecting it to deceleration forces greater than if it had been straighter. The width of the loop is indicative of the straightness of the force applied to the line.
So now I am coming round to the fly leg pushing into the loop…or am I? I don’t know, these are just thoughts!
The loop can obviously be efficient or inefficient, it does make a difference to the outcome of a cast, so it would appear the loop does have a dynamic to it that can make or break a cast. So what is it? There is obviously tension in the loop, if there wasn’t it wouldn’t have shape, or at least not an even one that would allow the fly leg to push into it. I am now thinking that we are now creating a pulley effect in the loop. Carl Hutchinson hypothesised about this years ago but I wasn’t ready for it then. Lets take a look at pullback. Pullback is a subtle against the direction of the line tug mostly performed at the stop. It’s visual effect is to speed up the loop. However there is a correlation between line speed and loop speed. If loop speed is faster then so is line speed (by twice, as loop speed is half line speed) then perhaps pullback hasn’t affected the loop so much as accelerated the line behind it by using the loop as a pulley and a faster line speed has to create a faster loop otherwise the fly leg would overtake the loop, which isn’t very likely. Although having said that I have seen the fly leg carry on and straighten after the loop has run out of steam when casting distance which re-enforces my thinking that it is the momentum in the fly leg and it’s straightness that drives the cast, not the loop. If we go back to my presentation snapcast; How does it work? Paul Arden has argued that it’s because we shorten the fly leg when we make the snap. I now think that it’s because as we create the loop we create a pulley and directly accelerate the fly leg via the pulley. The loop, no matter how beautiful, enchanting and apparently mysterious is just the pulley the fly line has to go around to get the fly from way back there to just in front of that bloody fish.
Lots of bones to pick over.
Not for the first time, I think I am missing something. I started a debate on Sexyloops http://www.sexyloops.co.uk/theboard/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=526 about the stop not being mentioned in the Five Essentials, or, for that matter being one of the Essentials. The stop is mentioned once in the explanation of the fifth Essential which, to my mind, is a bit late to discover that that is the reason you can’t get the others to work.
If you follow the thread you will notice that several eminent instructors say that they don’t teach the stop which left me a bit goggle eyed because I emphatically do. For me the essence of a fly cast is creating the loop and beginners, at least, don’t create loops because they don’t stop. I have improved many casters casting simply by improving their stop or more importantly emphasising loop creation which I think are hand in hand. The only concession I have with the non stop brigade is that I don’t get my clients to ‘stop the rod’, I found that concept confused some of them so I now concentrate on stopping the hand which I find more successful. However, when you read between the lines of the non stoppers replies you realise that they do in fact teach the stop in one form or another, they just use other methods to induce it which takes me back to my original question as to why it is only mentioned as an aside in Bill and Jays booklet written for the FFF in the late eighties or early nineties ‘ The Essentials Of Fly Casting’ which is part of the pack you receive from the FFF when you decide to try to become an instructor. I then assumed it was written with potential instructors in mind so they did have some casting ability and the stop was already ingrained into their technique and the Essentials were there to show them the elements of a fly cast that are necessary to perform a good overhead cast. Wrong again! Bill replied that this was a ‘how to fly cast’ booklet aimed at people wanting to learn how to cast. So, once more I was (am) perplexed as to how anyone reading the Essentials as their learning aid would work out that to get most of them to work there should be a crisp stop at the end of each stroke, especially if, like most blokes, you don’t read the small print. Bill did write that him and his Father did talk about it for quite a while and decided the stop wasn’t essential, but, and this is the reason I write this, I still don’t understand how describing power application, variable casting arc and straight-line tip path lets anyone understand that to get them to work, or make sense you need to stop your hand at the end of each stroke. Until you get the Fifth, read the small print and, ping!, a crisp stop. Bugger, why wasn’t I told about that before.
When life was simpler. You neither new nor cared how fly casting worked and didn’t have a clue what a balanced outfit was.. You knew the names of nearly all the flies in your box and you caught loads of fish. Fly lines were a simple choice, a double taper matched to the number on the rod, unless you had made the rod yourself and didn’t have a clue what the number was supposed to be in which case any old double taper would do. If you wanted to cast a bit further you cut it in half and knotted some mono to the back of it. Was it ever so simple? Probably not but nostalgia is often viewed through a rose tint.
There are those of us who are happy with the way things are and there are those who are not. There are those that don’t try to think of ways to do or make things that haven’t been done or made before and then there are those that think of nothing else and when some clever dick has thought of something new there is the third group who want to improve it. At some point the horsehair fly line was new and innovative then someone decided silk would be an improvement and then, later, someone else decided plastic was the way to go. That’s where I came in. Horse hair was way back in history but silk was only just being superseded by funky multi coloured plastic. You could buy white, peach, green, black or even yellow, so long as it was double tapered. A sort of Henry Fordeque you can have any fly line you like as long as it’s double tapered. I don’t know how long this situation lasted, a day, a week, a year but someone then had the bright idea of creating a shorter head and thinner running line and the weight forward line was born. I would guess it was originally created for someone who wanted to cast that little bit further a little more easily. Fair enough. Nice sentiment. I just wish it had stopped there but of course it didn’t. We are now swamped with an array of lines for every conceivable situation from a size 30 smut at ten feet to a six inch pike fly at one hundred. I am now sitting here wondering how to convey my dislike of weight forwards while admitting that I use them. Not only use them but I would be hard pressed to go through my many bagged lines and find a double taper let alone find one on one of my reels. Dislike is maybe a bit strong, ambivalent is nearer the mark. I use them but wish I didn’t. Whatever name I have is down, to a large extent, to long bellied weight forwards. Of course there is a use for speciality lines like spey lines, they make life so much easier and, I admit, there are a few nice weight forwards but in general I wish they had never been invented.
I’ll get my coat.
This one is going to be a bit of a ramble so be warned. I am just filling in half an hour before I go off to do a clinic for a local syndicate. The forecast isn’t good and I have already heard a rumble of thunder in the distance. I might demo the conductivity qualities of carbon fibre and by the time you read this I will be a charred skeleton muttering ‘I told you so’.
Why do people compete? A question that occurred to me while at the CLA last weekend. It seems everyone (well everyone that competes anyway) does it for different reasons and after hearing several different reasons I questioned myself because, to be honest, I had never thought about it very deeply. I still haven’t come up with any reasonable reason. I just enjoy it. I am not a win at any cost sort of person, I don’t mind losing (much) provided I have done my best. The few times I have been upset by losing have been when I have cast badly. It just happens that my best is often better than anyone else’s best and so I keep the occasional wins trickling in. I also don’t suffer with nerves, in fact I enjoy casting to an audience and if it’s a competition I can blank everything out, it’s just me against the tape.
Someone asked why I sometimes write about the bad things that can happen. Don’t they happen to everyone? Am I the only one that falls in or gets a bit spooked or snags the only tree for miles? I used to think I was the only instructor that had awkward clients (not all, thank God) because you never heard stories (in print) about their disasters. Oh no, all you heard was some amazing technique they had devised to cure the most wayward of student who had then gone on to become an absolute ace caster and fly fisher. All complete bollox, of course. Shit happens. It may happen to me more than you but I doubt it. Gotta go……………
Back again…………. and apart from getting a bit wet for half an hour it turned out quite nice and I had some good results, nice loops and a couple of them double hauling. I turned down the invitation to fish because the water is so warm I would have felt guilty about stressing out the fish, even if I had managed to hook one. I really need to go fishing though, apart from the blown off salt water trip a few weeks ago I haven’t been fishing since sometime in March. One thing I will force myself to get sorted are my fly boxes. I find it difficult to sit down and tie a dozen or more flies in one hit and even more difficult to do that day after day until I have some box’s to be proud of. Does anyone buy their flies rather than tie themselves? Who do you buy them from? I have always felt it was a bit of a cheat to buy but a box of quality flies might mean less embarrassment when someone asks to look at them.
But then again it’s my own fault. The fact I had been away on holiday and the few days I could have practiced were just too bloody hot is really no excuse. If I had been that serious (and I should have been) I would have at least had a few casts in the few I had available before the CLA salt water comp. Before I went on holiday I did actually go to a lake and practice picking the head off the water and I’m jolly glad I did, there is definitely a technique to it. I arrived too late to compete on Friday and I had to do all my attempted qualifying on Saturday which, as it turned out wasn’t such a bad thing because Friday was very hot and Saturday was a lot cooler but the wind was a bit of a pain blowing strongly down the lake which meant we were casting across it. It’s a shame they cannot re-orientate the markers but there you go, it was the same for everyone. At least we didn’t have a fence or ropes behind us, for a change. It wasn’t all bad news though, I did qualify for the trout distance final.
I haven’t competed at the CLA for a few years but I seem to remember big queues at the qualifying and getting nervous that time was running out. This year there were just a few of us and getting your goes in wasn’t too much of a problem. It turned out that most of the competitors were good friends anyway, Lee Cummings, Ben Dixon, James Evans, Tracy Thomas, Hamish Young, Jonathon Tomlinson, Gilly Bate and, biggest surprise of the day, Matt Howell who was in the UK because of a tragic accident to his father-in-law. Regardless of the circumstances it’s always a pleasure to see Matt although I’m not sure the feeling was mutual, but it’s not his fault the Aussies are crap at cricket.
Sitting quietly to one side was a young Irish lad who turned out to be our nemesis (the men anyway). Thomas Armstrong looks too young to worry about but I suggest if you see his name on the list of competitors you start to worry. This young man is serious competition, he eventually beat me in the trout distance final and beat everyone else in the salt water final. I just hope that by next year he has found women and gives up casting for a year or two and give the rest of us a chance.
I think I need to consider having a go at the spey casting then I can fill my entire weekend with competing and have a thoroughly good time with a great bunch of people. I just love competing and the strange thing I’m not a particularly completive person. In the Great British tradition, it’s not the winning, it’s the taking part. Yeah, right.
Gilly Bate is the CLA ladies UK Trout Distance Champion and Tracy came third. James was just behind me in the Mens but Thomas Armstrong won everything else. Well nearly, Scott MacKenzie came out of retirement to win the spey comp and show the youngsters how it should be done. Oldie Power.
Next year no more Mr nice guy, I’m getting serious.