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Going Long : The Top Secret Secret

Here I am, back at the keyboard after another practice session. Going back a few posts I wrote about regressing after an extend fishing trip to Tassie. You can find that one here . As part of fixing the problems I shot some more footage of my casting. OMG, there I was doing a bunch of things I thought I had stopped doing a year or two ago. Wrong! Leaving out some of the longer story I decided it was time to rebuild my backcast and that meant being able to extend the stroke, staying straight in the tracking department, then smoothing out the forward stroke, extending it a bit. In other words the job was to extend my stroke and carry, stay in the comfort zone and minimise slack. I’ve written about that too. The Meaning of Slack

Understanding all my necessary work requires understanding a little bit about anatomy and the biomechanics of fly casting – essentially a throwing action. It also brings us back to a couple of the 5 essentials.

Let’s start with the basic or “foundation” casting stroke as it described by Jason Borger. You stand pretty much front on or square to the target. On the back stroke the wrist starts out being in a slightly cocked position (ulna deviation) and the elbow is bent at about 90deg. Here, roughly, is the sequence of movements. The upper arm is lifted and rotates at the shoulder joint in the direction of the cast. The forearm moves toward the bicep, the wrist uncocks (radial deviation) and at the stop your hand finishes beside your head at about eye level. The forward cast is essentially the reverse of that sequence. Upper arm lowers, forearm extends, wrist is cocked again as you stop. The whole casting sequence, back and forward, is similar to hitting a nail into a wall, roughly at eye level. In biomechanics terms the kinetic sequence is essentially proximal (nearer to your torso) to distal (further away from your torso).

Now we know from Bill Gammel, Essential #2, that the length of the casting stroke must increase with the length of the line being cast. The rod bends more when we use it to tow more line and we have to compensate for the extra bend. The other reason we need a longer stroke is that more Force will be needed to put more kinetic energy into the line to make it go faster. That energy can come from punching the same stroke length harder or, much more preferably, from a longer period of acceleration using the same kind of Force applied over a longer distance. That’s called Work and is explained here. Smoothness of the power application ( line acceleration) is the reason why longer is better. Control, accuracy and avoidance of tailing loops are the reasons you want to be smooth instead of punchy.

To stay smooth while casting longer lines (extending carry) we extend the stroke. With the foundation stroke, however, we reach a point where extending the stroke hits some anatomical road blocks. Your forearm will hit your bicep because the elbow is a hinge joint and not a ball joint. Your upper arm can only rotate backwards so far at the shoulder, especially with your lower arm bent at the elbow. You can get a bit more stroke length from leaning forward a bit at the start of the back cast and leaning back slightly at the start of the forward cast.

My preferred means of increasing movement beyond the natural limits of the foundation stroke is to rotate my shoulders (torso) just as you do when throwing a ball or stone or javelin or whatever a long way. To do that you have to open your stance by putting your throwing side foot back behind the other one. Long throws in any sport I can think of involve open stances and significant shoulder rotation which enables extension of the throwing arm. They also involve significant weight transfer, back and then forward again in the direction of the throw.

One of my self video discoveries was that I wasn’t rotating my shoulders far enough to free up the full extension of my arm. The elbow is a simple hinge joint. You can twist your forearm below the elbow and your upper arm above the elbow but the elbow joint only allows flexion and extension of the forearm in line with the upper arm. Accordingly, if shoulder rotation is insufficient there are only two ways your arm can extend. Your forearm can go somewhat away from you and outside the proper straight line of the back cast causing a tracking error. Alternatively, you can push the upper arm and lower arm upwards, which is what I was doing and, trust me, it looks really dicky. How far you want your shoulders to rotate, of course, is a matter of personal choice,  physical ability and the length or type of cast you want to make. I’m not medically qualified but I can safely say  if you ain’t straining when performing a smooth, easy and natural throwing movement you are a lot less likely to be injured. Efficiency trumps effort, yet again.

Like any red blooded individual I like casting long but, and it is a non negotiable “but”, I am only interested in long casts that can deliver the fly accurately. That means I have to stay inside my comfort zone and avoid any and all heaving.

I’m going to stick my neck out here but I don’t get much pleasure from watching a lot of distance competition casters, especially on their delivery stroke. From my perspective, throwing (heaving) yourself off balance is cringeworthy. If you want to see what I’m talking about go to YouTube and watch a video of  Joan Wulff making a serious distance cast. See how she looks at the finish of a delivery cast. She was a dancer. It shows. Grace. Balance. Likewise, when I read distance casters going on about “hitting it” I shudder to think of what will happen to even an advanced caster who takes that stuff too seriously.

The top secret secret to (my kind of) going long is to stay inside your comfort zone, extend your stroke, shift your weight and, above all, stay smooth.


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