“Power Snap” Out of It?

Emerging (slightly) from a two month lockdown last week saw me have my first casting practice session for what seemed like a scary long time. It was exciting to string up for a cast but I did it with some trepidation in wondering how much of my technique might have gone missing. The result was a pleasant surprise. My accuracy was a bit below par but the efficiency gains I’ve been working on for a couple of years now were all still there. In fact, it was sweet enough to reassure me that a lot of the good stuff had become largely unconscious, meaning it was now being controlled by the fast lane of my sensory motor system. The learning had stuck courtesy of structured, intentional practice. By the end of the session my accuracy and other things had improved significantly – almost back to peak expectation.

One thing I noticed early on was the absence of anything recognisable as a snap at the end of the back cast or forward cast even on medium long to long casts. Yes, I did get a bit snappy tidying up a bit of slack a few times. However, for the core casting cycles, including those leading to long casts aimed at the 90 foot (golf ball on a spike) target, snappiness was omitted. Stroke length rather than wristy effort was doing the job.

So what’s the big news here? Two things come to mind. One is Joan Wulff’s power snap of the wrist at the end of a stroke. Another is a memory of someone else I respect saying that power snaps and tailing loops could be a cause and effect couple. So a power snap was/is not an open invitation to go for it right at the end. Late rotation and late haul are the way to go as the finishers to smooth acceleration during the rest of the stroke. A power “snap” that gets just a bit too snappy too early is, like a vigorous haul that finishes too soon, asking for tailing trouble.

Not trying to score points here, much less get into another unnecessary and unproductive argument but rather just saying that what works for me doesn’t require anything truly snappy at any stage. What feels right and gets pleasing results is smoothness throughout the stroke which is finished fully in that same way, feel and rhythm.

Over the years I have caught a few fish out at 90’ or so but by “few” I mean maybe a handful or two over more than 30 years. So when I cast with a 5wt combo to a target 90 feet away it’s not make believe but it’s not meat and potatoes fishing either. Going to have another practice session before I publish this and see if it confirms or qualifies what I’ve just written.

Just back from that second session and it partially qualified what I wrote above. It was a reminder that one never steps onto or into quite the same field or water. Different conditions today – less benign wind and Spring growth of the grass and flowering of the daisy like weeds made things harder. The wind was both stronger and more flirty. The fly was catching more frequently during the lifts and the ticks. As a result I found myself having to “punch” more casts a bit more often to get full extension and remove slack. This meant that both back casts and forward casts incorporated a “snap” more often.

When I could be as smooth as I wanted to be – easy start, smooth acceleration and full finish to the stroke – a snap was unnecessary and frankly, unwanted. In that mode I could still make the great majority of fishing length (accuracy) casts – despite the changed conditions. I could also see that in true fishing conditions what would be necessary would be variable. For example, quick re-positioning, restricted back cast room, wading thigh deep and chancy wind gusts would change the situation and the ask.

Dynamic Rolls

These are a standard part of my practice regime. At the best of times roll casting is less (mechanically) efficient than overhead casting and when I got going today I realised again what an excellent test of casting technique and its controlled adaptability they provide. To make a nice dynamic roll cast it’s best to rotate late and as length increases it pays to begin applying a measured and still smooth “snap” – think subtle and well timed increase of effort rather than getting punchy at the finish.

Longer dynamic roll casts require both more effort and (therefore) more care in how and when it is applied. All of that is, of course, true for overheads as well. One of the differences, however, is that with a longish dynamic roll cast the pause between the setup (back cast) and the delivery is considerably and necessarily shorter. This changes the cadence and provides a temptation to hurry up instead of waiting for it. The rushed delivery is usually poorly executed. Being in a rush instead of being in the smooth flow of correct timing isn’t helpful with any cast. To stay smooth technique has to be adapted to avoid temptation and embrace the different timing requirements. Done nicely, cadence changes but control remains solid.

Summing Up

f I were starting over or advising someone who was getting started “power snap” would probably not be standard terminology. Depending on skill levels, I would prefer describing a finish that was smooth at all times and sometimes needed to be a bit firmer or more positive/decisive. That additional effort should be avoided if possible. When it isn’t necessary it isn’t helpful. My initial thoughts weren’t wrong but they were a bit idealistic. The second session produced some qualifications. Ahaa… but.

Not that much about fly casting is as simple as “always” or “never”. Two notable exceptions for me are always being smooth and never heaving. But you knew I was going to say that. Efficiency rules.