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Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Five Essentials of a Great Fly Cast

A big mistake that many anglers make is that they only practice their casting when they go out fishing. When you have a fly tied on you are concentrating on finding and catching fish not practicing a casting stroke. Fly casting is like golf in that the people that become very good golfers spent a lot of time practicing before they go out and play. It’s the repetition that improves their game. Remember fishing is not called practicing and you must practice your casting stroke before you head out fishing.

Practice! Practice! Practice!

The Five Essentials

There are a number of fairly easy principals that apply to all fly casts. These principals are the same whether you are casting a 4 weight or a 9 weight rod. They all apply to maintaining great casting form and throwing tight loops.

The following 5 Essentials for a Good Cast are the essentials that are taught with the FFF Certified Casting Professional program. Mastering these principals will make you a better fly caster. Remember an efficient cast is the one that delivers that fly to it target with the least amount of energy expended. I like to refer to this as having good form.

There are many benefits to achieving good form including increased accuracy and increased distance. It takes very little effort to increase you distance as long as you have good form. Improved control, gives you the ability to execute achieve more beneficial presentation casts. Also, when an angler casts efficiently, fatigue is reduced as is the potential for strain of your shoulder, forearm and wrist.

Take some time in your weekly routine and find a nice stretch of grass in your yard, school or park and practice these “5 Essentials”. I’d also recommend purchasing the DVD “Casts That Catch Fish” by “On the Fly Productions” and watching it closely. 

Do both and you will soon become a really proficient fly caster and throwing great loops.

Essential #1 – Eliminate Slack

The first essential focuses on keeping slack in your line to a minimum. This means that the line should be kept under tension at all times during the cast. There are many problems associated with slack line. The most common is that the rod won’t begin to load or it will unload prematurely. Another problem with having slack in the system is that some portion of the casting stroke is going to be robbed of efficiency by having to tension up the excess slack line again before attempting to get the rod to load in mid stroke.

An example of managing slack is the simple act of lifting the line off the water. If you start with the rod tip low and you strip out all the slack and tension things up, as soon as you raise the rod up you are starting to load it and accelerate the fly line. This is good! 

Alternately, if you start with your rod tip high with heap of slack on the water in front of you, you have to move the fly rod quite a way to take all that slack out. You’re likely to run out of casting stroke causing the loop to collapse on your head. This is bad!

The elimination of slack is also effected by timing which brings us to “Essential # 2”.

Essential # 2 – Timing

At the beginning and end of each stroke there is a pause just long enough to let the line fully straighten out in the air behind you before you start the stroke in the opposite direction. That pause needs to be directly proportional to the amount of line you have outside the rod tip.

The longer the line you have outside your rod tip, the longer it’s going to take the line to straighten out fully in the air. There is a simple rule or mantra we need to remember.

Long Line = Long Pause
Medium Line = Medium Pause
Short Line = Short Pause

There are a few things you can do to check to see if your timing is correct or not.

Number One. Probably the easiest thing to do is just to look over your shoulder and see the line straightening out behind you. Take a peak as the line unfurls behind you. Watch and wait.

Number Two. If your timing is too short, it’s likely you are going to hear that whip-cracking noise. This is the one where you will be losing flies when you are fishing. You normally are going to hear this on your backcast behind you. If your timing is way too short, you’re going to be introducing a lot of slack into the system, the rod is going to unload and the line is going to collapse in a heap around your ears.

Number Three. Alternatively if your timing is too slow, and you are pausing too long, gravity is going to take over and your line is going to fall to the ground or water behind you. When practicing that’s usually going to mean that you’re going to end up hooking the grass behind you. If you were fishing you’d be snagging the rocks and bushes behind you and you’re going to lose more flies.

What is Right? By contrast you are going to know when you timing is right, when you’ll actually start to feel a little tug on the tip of the fly rod as the taunt line starts to bend and load the rod. A loaded rod is simply a bent rod. The rod bends against the weight and inertia of the fly line.

“Note” Learning to load and unload a fly rod efficiently is probably the single most important aspect of learning to fly cast.

Essential Number Three – The Variable Casting Stroke

The casting stroke can be thought of as the total distance the rod tip moves through during each stroke. This is the path of the rod tip. Think of the distance in a straight line of the rod tip.

The casting arc can be thought of as the angle the rod or the rod butt travels through each stroke. Think of a protractor or a pie of pie.

The total stroke incorporates the sort of piston like movement of your forearm. The backwards and forward movement of the rod is call “translation” (the distance in a straight line). The rotation at either end with the wrist is called “rotation” (base of the casting arc). Those two things combined make up a casting stroke. As mentioned you can think of this casting stroke and visualize it as a piece of pie.

One key to performing really nice loops is to get that rod tip moving in as straight a line as possible. In order to do that you’ve got to employ a casting arc that accommodates the bend you have in the rod. Put another way the longer line you have out the longer your casting arc is going to have to be or a larger piece of pie.

This is a vital concept that you have to get your head around. It’s called the “Variable Casting Stroke”.
For instance a short cast of say 15 feet is going to be performed with a short casting stroke. A small piece of pie. A medium cast of say 30 feet is going to be performed with a medium casting stroke. A medium piece of pie. While a longer cast of say, 45 feet, is going to have a longer casting stroke. A big piece of pie. You hungry yet?

There is a simple rule that ties this all together.

Long Line = Long Stroke
Medium Line = Medium Stroke
Short Line = Short Stroke

Tailing loops result from too narrow a casting arc. Big wide open loops are caused by too wide of a casting stroke.

At this point, it is time to put two of the essentials together. We previously talked about pause and timing.

Short Line + Short Stroke (Small Piece of Pie) + Short pause
Medium Line + Medium Stroke (Medium Piece of Pie) + Medium pause
Long Line + Long Stroke (Big Piece of Pie) + Long Pause

Essential Number 4 – Application of Power

The fourth essential has to do with application of power. The power should be applied smoothly throughout the stroke. By that we mean from the moment you start, right through to the stop, power should be applied smoothly. This is called “constant acceleration”. Start slowly and finish fast.
Think about throwing a dart. You start slow, accelerate to the point you stop and release the dart to the target. If you do it right, bulls eye.

Another good one is to imagine a ripe tomato placed on the tip of your fly rod. If you wanted to throw the tomato forward in front of you would have to accelerate the tip forward slowly and progressively to a stop to fling the tomato forward or the tip would slice through the tomato and end up on your head.

The next question is “How much power do you need to apply?” The answer almost always is, “Just enough power to nicely aerialize the line and allow it to turn over.” No more, no less. Many casters use far too much power in their stroke, and it’s probably one of the most common faults in fly casting. It’s also one of the main causes for tailing loops.

Try taking some power out of your casts and you will greatly improve your loops. Work on “Constant Acceleration or Progressive Power”.

Essential #5 – Straight Line Path

The fifth and last essential is to maintain a straight line path of the rod tip. Remember, the line always follows the rod tip, therefore if you can keep the rod tip traveling in a really nice straight line and employ crisp absolute stops, you’re going to get really nice loops. This Essential #5 is very closely related to essential number 3 which was the “Variable Casting Arc.”

Straight Line Tip Path + Rod Tip Stopped High = Tight Loops

In most cases a tight loop is desirable. A tight loop is much more aerodynamically efficient than a large rounded loop. A tight loop is easier to control and also much more accurate.

Large Convex Tip Path – Large Round Loops

Large open loops are much more difficult to control and are more air and wind resistant. Large rounded loops are created when we scribe a convex arch (an upward arch) with the rod tip.

Tip: If you find yourself getting caught up in the grass behind you, it’s a sure sign that you are dropping your rod tip far too far back on your backcast. Try casting back higher, aiming your cast high up in the sky on the backcast and this should clear this up.

Concave Tip Path = Closed or Tailing Loops

Another path the rod tip can travel is the concave path (up down and up). The concave rod tip path can leads to closed or tailing loops which can end up with tangles and flies hitting the rod.

Stopping the Rod

The stop is the single most important aspect in becoming an expert caster. 

The more efficient and crisper you can make the stops, the more effective and efficient your loops are going to be. The straight line path of the rod tip and a crisp efficient stop is what governs loop shape. The crisper and more complete that you can make the rod stop, the better your loops are going to be.
Although it almost sounds counter intuitive, crisp stops can be achieved without overpowering the cast. Many beginners find this a difficult concept to understand and try to put too much power into the stroke thinking that they are going to get a hard crisp stop by doing so. It just isn’t necessary. 

Practice with the minimum power, maintaining constant acceleration of power and then apply crisp, tight stops and you will get really good loops.