Distance: Lost, Found and Why


Going back a few years now I decided to expand the zone within which I could cover and catch fish effectively and reliably from about 60′ to about 80′. At 90′ I would still be very much in the game but for my fishing 90′ covers are (still) unusual events. Pursuing this objective, for several years I tried to cast further as a means of casting better. The idea was that the longer I could cast the easier it would be to cast shorter, well within maximum distance.

Then my quest changed and became about accuracy at progressively greater distance; same objective but different strategy. For that I would need to be smoother, minimise effort, cast more consistently and have greater all round efficiency. By “efficiency” I mean more mechanical, biomechanical and sensorimotor efficiency in both learning and performing the required movements.

Missing Distance

Fast forward to earlier this month and I began to discover that, when I occasionally went looking for it, a lot of my distance had gone missing – say 15’. Vain and curious creature that I am I started looking for (some of) those lost feet assisted by my standard bag of tricks – loop/line shape, dynamic roll casting, side casting (triangle thingy) PUALDs back and forward etc.

Stroke Change

Complicating the picture was the fact that I decided to take out some shoulder injury disability insurance by changing how I cast. Abducting your elbow on forward and back cast puts a lot of extra strain on the shoulder joint (rotator cuff) and my elbow was typically further from my body than was good for my shoulder.

If you want to look this up then in anatomical terms shoulder joint movement with the elbow out (abducted) and upper arm horizontal is internal rotation if the forearm moves forward/down and external rotation when it moves back/up. With the elbow in (adducted) the movement is shoulder flexion (upper arm moving up) and extension (upper arm moving down). Flexion and extension are a lot easier on the shoulder joint.

For short to medium casts my stroke is now far more like the basic or foundation stroke – elbow lead and elbow in. For longer casts we need a longer stroke so I went for more upper body rotation and after that the usual casting action of forearm and hand extension. In other words I moved towards a “170” distance casting stroke.

It’s reasonable to expect an initial loss of distance when we change our casting stroke significantly but my distance loss was not just a result of the changes I made.

Still on fast forward I decided that some of the missing yards weren’t there because of how I was finishing each cast. There was no longer anything like wrist snap, In fact there was little noticeable extra muscle effort in the final phase of rotation. (Dynamic roll casting gave me the clue as it requires late and slightly punchy rotation from the hand. It’s where the Peter Hayes \\\\\ / thing comes from.)

Biomechanically it makes sense to push a bit harder as the sequence moves to smaller muscle groups. From a Straight Line Path perspective, if the force applied lessens during rotation the rod will straighten (upwards) and, failing compensatory movement of the rod hand downwards, the loops are likely to start opening up as a sign of lost mechanical efficiency. Force is applied more efficiently in a straight line and less efficiently when some of it isn’t going in the intended direction of the cast.

From a practical perspective none of that is of much consequence for me during the first 60′-70’ of casting distance. After that the costs mount up ever more steeply.

The chosen solution for my missing yards was later and more positive rotation, especially wrist/hand movement for both back and forward casts. Results? Despite recently changing my short-medium and distance strokes a good bit of the distance has come back.

Ok, so I could have spared you the reading to this point and just said, “Make sure you rotate late and finish fully and positively.” However, the point of story is the journey from too much to too little and back to just enough contribution from the hand/wrist. I haven’t gone back to being “snappy” but rather i’ve retreated from not being crisp enough with my final hand movement. This brings me to the question that only curious people like me are wont to ask…..

Why Did That Happen?

Fluid movement such as we desire in fly casting does not come from a simple series of body bits moving and then stopping one after another. It’s not upper arm on and then off, forearm on and then off followed by hand on and then off. There is and has to be some overlap between the initiation and termination of the bits in the series of body parts moved – in the biomechanical sequence of a casting stroke. So it’s more that as the upper arm is stopping the forearm begins to move and as the forearm is stopping the hand movement begins. That pattern gives fluid movement and it is also both mechanically and biomechanically necessary. Body bits (and flexible levers like fly rods) don’t start or stop moving instantaneously and they are moved in overlapping sequence for biomechanical efficiency.

Initial attempts to find relevant scientific research on this has not yielded much. At this point, however, it was and is my supposition that to create fluid movement we will need sensorimotor control that allows complex activation and restraint processes and it would therefore make sense if it also allowed bits to be primed to move sequentially and to then move with a planned amount of effort before the relevant muscles actually begin contracting. So, if I start going very easy on the stroke (smooth gentle tempo) it may well have unconscious and unintended effects on the stop or rather on the hand/wrist finish. The tempo is applied to the whole sequence and thus extends through proximal to distal body bits recruited to perform the movement.  Crucially, in my mind, the movement tempo will be set by the intended/expected effort to be exerted and all that will in turn influence the range and timing of movement of the body parts performing the movement sequence. Grace, remember, is economy of movement; just enough and no more. That economy would apply to all the body parts being moved and for each and all there would be economy of range, speed and effort of movement.

This is my tentative intuitively appealing explanation for the introduction into my casting of a finish which was softer than is desirable, most particularly at distance. If we focus on smooth stroke movements then we are likely to power down the finish to match the beginning and middle. Going the other way if we work towards a power snap at the finish we will probably encourage spikey/jerky movements leading up to the snap.

We humans are adept at making movements with varying degrees of effort – minimal, maximal or anywhere in between. The intended effort level, in throwing for example, affects the whole of the movement rather than just one part of the movement. Compare a casual lob of a ball to a team member close by with a long outfield return. Like I said, this is just my supposition but to see what science says I need studies that focus on or incidentally consider the co-operation (pun intended) of body bits and sensorimotor control via the central nervous system. So far I haven’t found exactly what I’m after but I’ll keep looking and report back.