Here’s one for the kinaesthetic learners, for folks who enjoy being mindfully in touch with their bodies and for anyone else who gets the general idea.
Way back when I read A River Runs Through It I remember coming to the bit about Norm’s dad and the metronome and casting being “an art that is performed on a four-count rhythm between ten and two o’clock.” And being younger and smarter than I am now the stiffness and stuffiness of this approach was all too apparent. But I missed something.
What I missed was not the limitations of the clock face and the robotic 4/4 rhythm, it was the advantage and beauty of casting smoothly with a rhythm shared between the back cast and the forward cast. Just enough effort, both ways, and no more. No rush.
I’ve read a fair bit about fly casting since then and tempo gets an occasional mention. Of course tempo is about the speed and not the rhythm of the two strokes. Shorter casts have a faster tempo because the strokes are shorter and the line takes less time to turnover. Rhythm rarely gets discussed like it does in sports such as golf. If you rush the backswing in golf, chances are you will rush the forward swing even more. Result? Horror show.
Now, the beat is what you hear when you tap your toes in time with the music. The rhythm is the number of beats to the bar. I am not, of course, suggesting a count or recommending jazz, blues or salsa for inspiration. What I’m talking about is feel and matching the rhythm of back and forward casts so that what you do on the way back feels like what you do on the way forward and vice versa. The “do” here being the extent and timing of effort and the smoothness of the acceleration. It’s easy when you stay in time. Obviously the muscle and joint movements are not the same in both directions but that doesn’t matter, feeling the beat of those movements and staying in time is what matters.
I love the hero cast into triple figures as much as the next mere mortal but when I need a break from polishing my stroke for more distance here is where I often go to recapture the simple life. I go back to a medium casting distance, one that is just long enough to get into the flow and I make a series of casts, with or without hauls. I don’t need to watch the back cast except to sneak an occasional peak at loop shape and trajectory.
On the forward cast all I am watching is turnover, loop shape and how close to parallel the two legs of the line are. I want a narrow somewhat pointy loop, both legs in the same vertical plane and no hooking of the leader that indicates a tracking error. I’m probably using a foundation casting stroke with limited shoulder rotation.
The strokes are long enough to minimise effort. It’s like being on a swing, easy back and easy forward. I feel the beat and stay in rhythm. Why? Because it feels nice, because that’s where I want to be when I’m sight fishing and want a precise cover that lands like a raindrop. Because the longer my carry in this state of grace the longer I can cast accurately.
Now, after a while I might get the distance itch so I add five feet and then another five and so on until I am near the limit of my technique. I might keep pushing and adding shoulder rotation and weight transfer until I reach full stretch or I might back off and stay in the comfort zone because right there life is simple, covering casts are tidy and the fish is all I will have to worry about.
I could tell you how all this lines up with mechanics but I won’t spoil the show. I am still reading up on biomechanics but it’s a good fit there as well. It’s all about efficiency. That’s where aesthetics and science reunite.