Mike Heritage FFF MCI UK

Fly casting and talking fly casting bollox

Essentially Speaking

Paul Arden said he sees the Five Essentials as a filter. I may gradually be getting to understand what he meant.

As long as people have been fly casting they have discovered for themselves that if I do this, that will happen. The Five E’s are not new, they have always been there but it took a lot of observation and analysis by Bill and his father Jay Gammell to synthesise all the possibilities down to just the five. The fly casting instructing brotherhood owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

But, are they Essential? My dictionary has essential as meaning vitally important, absolutely necessary. Not so. You can stand on any water in the country and see fly fishers having a perfectly good time with casts that don’t conform to one, two or even three of the essentials but the fly lands on the water and they catch fish.

It is not strictly necessary to pause if you cast with a very convex tip path over a short distance, so SLP isn’t strictly essential either. And if we think about it I am sure we could all come up with other examples. Ok, it’s not pretty but it is effective enough to do the job.

If the Essentials were so essential we wouldn’t be able to turn a tailing loop into a presentation cast or open the loops to cast a team of flies.

If the Essentials are not Essential then what are they? Perhaps we could call them the Five Ifs, such as;

If you paused between strokes you wouldn’t keep cracking your bloody fly off.

If you cast with a straight line tip path you might, one day, create a loop worthy of the name.

If you smoothed out your application of force you might just stop casting those bloody tailing loops.

If you opened your casting arc and lengthened your stroke you just might be able to aerialize that fifty feet of line dangling off the end of your rod tip.

It might also help If you got rid of all that damn slack before you pick up.

We could also add my sixth If.

If you don’t use your eyes how the heck do you know what you’re doing?

I quite like the Five Ifs.

We could have the Five Rules, after all rules are meant to be broken and I know one or two people who specialize in breaking the rules (Marc) but if you keep to the rules you should get good results and if you bend the rules you might create a nice presentation cast, or not (Marc).

The problem is that the Five Essentials have become sacrosanct, indoctrinated and embedded to the point where they have become fly casting fact instead of fly casting guidance. They are a great instructing tool. They are superb for casting analysis. They are a great starting point. They just ain’t Essential.


April 26, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. Nice article Mike! I like the last line. For those that follow them like the gospel not attempting to defy them I find it may also put them in a serious rut for presentation casts. Nice to see how you guys over the pond have questioned and filtered down much of the casting lingo. Wish you all that were in Munich could be in GA this coming weekend–we would have some fun out in the field! One day I make it over to one of the gatherings.

    Comment by Mac Brown | April 26, 2012 | Reply

  2. I couldn’t agree more, I once spent about 2 hours trying to get a “dyed in the wool” boat man to cast a decent loop. He had been taught about 50 years ago by an elderly ghillie (not sure that is right spelling) at the end of the session he said “what do I need all this for” and promptly put a 60 – 70 yard cast exactly where he wanted it, not a pretty sight but it worked. So yes – 5 Not So Essential Guide Lines.

    Comment by nirogers | April 26, 2012 | Reply

  3. Maybe the main of “non-essentials” is casting instruction itself. The best anglers I know have never been “properly” instructed in casting.

    Comment by Aitor | April 26, 2012 | Reply

  4. Thank you Mac. Jump on a plane and get to Scotland for the ‘loops gathering.

    If that really was yards Ni he should have been giving you and me lessons.

    I can’t argue with that Aitor, although I would like to, of course.

    Comment by Mike Heritage | April 26, 2012 | Reply

    • Sorry – you’re right AGAIN – should have read feet. Yards – and I would have been asking him how he did it.

      Comment by nirogers | April 26, 2012 | Reply

  5. that’s a really nice one Mike and i LOVE the ‘Ifs’ ! :mrgreen:

    here’s my take. i can’t seem to find the 5 Es pamphlet but i’m pretty sure that it says in there that the 5 where intended for a straight-line overhead cast with no frills or bangles.
    as such, they very much are ‘Essentials’ in the dictionary sense if one wants to understand how to perform this cast. (key word is ‘understand’ Aitor, the people you are referring to have learned by one way or another, by trial and error or whatever else, but if they’re casting a line with control they must have at least most of the 5 elements even if they don’t know it 😎 )
    back to the five and what we do with them. i always like to make the analogy of music.
    a complete musician (let’s please leave aside tribal types for now, ok ? 😆 ) studies and learns the mechanics: tempo, rhythm, reading scores, etc, etc, etc, with of course learning to manipulate the instrument.
    once he/she knows all that and knows it well, they’re free to be free and play whatever they want in the way that they want to.
    sounds like casting, no ?

    Mike, since you where kind enough to mention me in reference to presentation casts, i’ll add that if there’s any one single thing that has driven me to this passion of sorts is by digging quite deeply into the 5, shuffling them, turning them inside-out and backwards. it’s not so much about bending rules (cause that’s basically just a judeo-christian and probably french perversionist’s way of looking at things… :)), it’s about how these ‘rules’ open doors if we’re willing to turn the handles.

    Comment by Marc Fauvet | April 26, 2012 | Reply

  6. if you allow me to add my .02, I’d say that (because as was said in plenty of situations you’ll have to change something) the 5 essential are less about how to do things than about the parameters (timing, power application, width of casting arc, tip path) you need to be aware of, and to control if you want to control your line.

    Comment by g0ne fishin9 | May 10, 2012 | Reply

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