Confession time. Whether I’m fishing or just practicing my casting I haul more often than not. However, I’ve never before set out to do it by the physics text book as it were. My hauling works fine but in my relentless, some would say obsessive, pursuit of efficiency I wondered if it was time to giving my hauling the efficiency treatment.
More specifically I wondered what peak hauling efficiency would look like from each of the perspectives I have explored in depth on this site – ie mechanics, biomechanics, sensory motor learning and practice. Would like to have included teaching as well but not enough teaching miles on the clock.
With that in mind I ran it past some casting teacher friends whose views I respect. As you would expect we didn’t agree on everything but here is what I came away with and took down to the park for play and experimentation. Most of what follows are my thoughts but other ideas and considerable clarification came from the email group and it’s only right that I acknowledge their help.
In the Einstein Series hauls got mentioned a few times and I don’t want to cover the same ground again in detail. What’s important to remember is that we are using both the rod and the haul to put kinetic energy into the fly line. That energy is the result of the Work done on the fly line. Work equals Force times distance. This, obviously, applies to both the rod and the haul.
The rod will always do most of the Work but the haul is invaluable in sharing the workload because it means the rod can do less for any given cast than it would have to do by itself. Putting less effort into the stroke means we can make an easier and more controlled stroke.
My search for how I could haul more efficiently took me to a fresh consideration of how the haul works. We all know that force applied by the rod and haul combine but how do they combine best – most efficiently?
Instead of grinding out a technical analysis let’s consider a practical example to answer that question. Say you peel off the leader and 30 feet of fly line into a pile on the ground near your feet. Next you make a ring around the line with the thumb and a finger of one hand. With your other hand you are going to pull some of the slack line through that ring. If you hold the ring hand about head height you can make a decent length “haul” with the other hand, the line hand. Now you can experiment to see how much energy you can inject into the slack line with different movements of the two hands. For example, you can keep the ring hand still and pull straight down with the line hand or pull at an angle less than vertical.
Now, and this the most important bit, if you lower the ring hand to about chest height and then start lifting it at the same time as you pull down with the line hand something different happens. What you will find is that the fly line gets the most energy put into it (the greatest length of fly line is moved) when the two hands move in opposite directions. As always force is applied most efficiently when applied in a straight line.
Yes, the force applied to the fly line by the rod is not in a perfectly straight line. Similarly, a long haul can only be made when the haul hand goes around the body, outside the plane of the rod. But that isn’t the focus here. We are concerned with applying a combined force using two hands moving in opposite directions. This separation of the hands works best when the separation is executed at 180 deg. This is the winning combination. The losing combination would be to lower the ring hand while the line hand is hauling downwards.
Back to the fly rod and the haul. The rod is towing the fly line and when you haul the angle of the force applied to the line is diverted by the moving rod. If you haul while the rod is coming towards you then the haul might add something to the speed of the line but, as above, that is the losing combination. If you haul while the rod is going away from you then you are in the running for a winning combination because the separation of the rod and line hands can be made in a fairly straight line.
The last mechanics point is about total line speed produced by the combination of forces applied to the fly line in the intended direction of the cast. The best combination will be a sequence of peak line speed produced by the rod (during rotation) followed closely by peak line speed produced by the line hand.
If you click on this link it should take you to a video of Lasse Karlsson letting a long one go. He’s not thinking much about mechanics but his cast demonstrates all the above points about mechanical efficiency.
As described here a fly cast is a modified throwing action produced by a kinetic sequence of body movements. A shortish accuracy cast is performed using the basic or foundation cast. That uses a sequence of upper arm, forearm and hand movements made possible, respectively, by the shoulder, elbow and wrist joints. The longer the cast the more body bits are recruited to the sequence, right up until everything we can press into service has been incorporated. On seriously long casts there is a weight shift (legs and feet), rotation of the hips and of the torso added to the arm movements.
What about a haul? Well to my mind it is also a modified throwing action so the basic biomechanical principles apply to both the rod casting hand and the line hauling hand. The shortest haul might be just a twitch of the hand. As haul length increases, next would come forearm movement and then finally the upper arm. In this way the haul length can be extended and varied from a few inches to several feet. Biomechanical efficiency will come from the correct sequence executed with correct flow between the components of the sequence. The flow and sequence will be from proximal to distal – upper arm, forearm and hand for a long haul. Peak haul speed should closely follow peak rod speed.
Practice and Sensory Motor Learning
As stated (many times!) my casting is devoted to efficiency because that is the pathway to economy of movement – to graceful casting. Such casting looks nice and works extremely well in landing the fly where and how you want it to land. Minimising effort maximises control.
So, off to the park I went to apply theory and see what worked in practice. I know from both research and experience with sensory motor learning how to incorporate changes in my casting. It means starting slow, really slow, like with the butt section detached and making the adjustments literally in slow motion. The next step was making casts at a medium distance, the comfort zone of my casting where movements are essentially automatic and don’t require much conscious control. From there the distance can be gradually increased and technique challenged. When it starts to falter I shorten up and repeat the process.
I also expected that concentrating on the haul to this extent might well mess up some of my rod hand technique. The haul and stroke co-ordination was being altered. Change one part of the movements and it is likely other parts will be affected.
I’ve had three practice sessions now (and plan on several more) with a haul tune up as the centrepiece. In the first session I could see immediately that I was getting more distance with less effort than usual. In the second session the hauling was much improved but the finish of the stroke was noticeably suffering – I was over rotating slightly which was opening the loops more than I wanted. This was more of a problem on the forward cast than the back cast. By the end of the third session it was all starting to come together.
Some of the other tricks I employed were looking for external cues to aid timing and execution. The most important of these was watching the rod butt about 30cm or one foot above my rod hand. That told me exactly when the rod was starting to head away from me. Secondly, I did quite a few side casts because these gave me a good view of what my hands and the rod were doing.
Was it worth it? Yes, absolutely. It was and is fun. It tested the sequence of my research and, dare I say it, the results were positive. It added distance without added effort. How much? In casts beyond about 70-75’ my guesstimate is at least 5’ and maybe 10’. Think about that. A 90’ cast with 80’ effort or 100’ cast with 90’ effort? Not saying you will get the same results but those were my results.
It’s all about the combination.
- When the hands should work together – haul timing
- How they work together – rod hand moving away – line hand moving towards you.
- What each contributes and contributes in co-ordination. There are parts but there is also a sense in which the sum is greater than its parts.
- So it’s not a matter of just doing the right things but of doing them so that each hand complements the other – effectively one movement sequence of two hands working together.
For me the last dot point had the most impact. I have tended to think of rod and line hands performing different and separate movements. (Learning to haul can at first be a bit like tapping your head with one hand and rubbing your tummy with the other.) The tune up changed my mind and my practise.
I had to revisit my work on the rod hand and the finish, say the last 25% of the wrist flexion and a tiny bit of forearm straightening with a thrust in the direction of the cast. Only then could I really assess what the haul was contributing, when it was in tune and slightly out of tune with the stroke. As it happens that last bit of the casting stroke is one I’ve been working on and adjusting more recently. I discovered that automation was incomplete or at least not deeply grooved enough to be unaffected by the hauling adjustments and having to work in a slightly different co-ordination with the line hand. Not unexpected but useful to know and the haul tune up made that apparent.
Dynamic rolls (also) encourage a very late straightening or flexion of the wrist because the timing and effort applied in that last little bit makes so much difference. How much? With adjusted hauling technique the results were similar to the overhead casting. It added maybe ten feet at max distance. I made some of my longest ever dynamic roll casts during the third practice session.
One last thing. Hauls are useful for all sorts of things in addition to adding casting distance. As I’ve said before “Whatever casting mechanics might prescribe as the ideal way to cast in terms of efficiency I absolutely reserve the right to do something else because it works or simply because I enjoy it. I can’t break the rules of physics but I am not their haplessly obedient servant.
Let’s take hauling for example. How we share the load between rod hand and line hand is up to each of us. I might not want or be able to time the haul to peak a few milliseconds before Rod Straight Position, which is ideal for going long. I might not be making a long cast. I might want a different tempo of movement in one or both arms that I find pleasant and helpful to accuracy. I might simply enjoy creatively playing around with different contributions of Force between rod and line arms.”
Tuning up my hauling to make it more efficient has been and will be enjoyable. It has changed what I do but not my mind on the freedom to cast expressively.