Casting Efficient, Narrow Loops – Why, What and How

There I was down at the park again dodging rain showers by standing under some fir trees with their obligingly dense foliage. While I waited I played with side casting using PUALDs and false casts producing delivery casts out to fifty something feet. Circumstances limited how far I could cast and how vertical my casting strokes could be but they put me in a modified triangle method situation where I could see everything that was going on. Had time on my hands so I used it to explore just how narrow I could make the loops and how consistently I could throw them.

To understand my thinking it might help to catch up on my earlier and more recent stuff on practice, efficient effort and sensory motor learning. It’s all there in the blog. Before I get to where it lead me today a very quick return to mechanics is in order (see Physics For Fly Casting – the Einstein Series in the pages menu) . Newton’s second law of motion tells us that net Force in the intended direction of the cast will equal mass times acceleration. Efficient casting optimises net Force and inefficient (over powered casting) reduces net Force.

From there we jump to the five essentials and touch base with the Straight Line Path (SLP) which is the path described by the rod tip which tows the line. To optimise net Force we need to cast in straight lines and with straight lines (minimaL slack and good tracking). Logic says a longer SLP will generate more net Force. What Fitts Law tells us is that moving slower (smoother) enables us to move more accurately. A longer, smoother, slower stroke will mean more control and thus greater efficiency where that is defined as moving so as to optimise net Force in the intended direction of the cast..

That all begs a not so obvious question. Where, exactly, is the intended direction of my next cast? I’ll get to that in a minute.

How About the How?

What none of the above tells us is how to do it. Casting “instructors” are taught to tell their students about the faults in their technique which are working against producing narrow loops at will as a result of moving efficiently. This kind of direct teaching is somewhat useful for beginners but saying what not to do because it’s wrong isn’t always going to facilitate learning how to do it right, especially when the student’s technique is fairly settled at an advanced or even intermediate level. There are crucial differences between learning a basic movement technique and learning to refine that technique.

Concentrating on what the body bits should or shouldn’t be doing in a fixed sequence and with desirable effort (timing and force application) is known as internal cuing. It has been clearly established that external cuing works better. External cuing assumes people have sufficient movement control over their body bits to achieve a specific result or purpose. Clarity of purpose and trust in the student’s processes of self organisation and self discovery are better tools for teaching movement than finding faults and picking nits. Most of us will be familiar with useful casting similes like painting the ceiling or flicking the potato off your fork. Those are examples of external cues – prompts to adapt already learned movement routines to another similar movement routine.

Like a lot of fly casters I can get reasonable results by focussing on what the line is doing including loop size and I can use that as an external cue which prompts me to vary my movements until I get what I’m seeking. It’s not exclusively about loop size before turnover but for the sake of simplicity let’s pretend it is. When we are fishing it’s almost always desirable to put the fly where we want it to go (range and bearing thing) as well landing it in the way we want – tuck, pile, rain drop or plop etc. Again for simplicity I’ll leave out everything but narrow loops and full turnover/extension so the fly lands deftly on target.

When we are practicing to improve our casting technique aiming at targets on the deck is certainly helpful, not least in training for “see the shot, take the shot” fishing scenarios. However, if we want to improve technique by casting narrow loops what I discovered underneath those fir trees was about aiming the casting stroke itself (rather than thinking about the fly) at a target. Picking a tree and a fork or bark patch as the target was where it started – where do I have to aim so that the stroke optimises the SLP and thus narrows the loop? What I finished with was somewhat different. It concerned where the stroke itself was aimed, how I moved to direct it at that target and, perhaps most importantly, how I finished the movement. It was more like aiming the whole movement at an unmarked point in the air towards which the rod tip moved smoothly and then stopped on that unmarked spot – end of movement, cast completed. The whole movement now had a specific purpose – hit that target.

That might sound a bit weird so let’s go back to painting the ceiling only this time we do it so that the brush or roller repeatedly travels along the same straight line and then stops repeatedly and exactly at the chosen limit of our reach. Take that a half step further and beyond the limits of normal brush control. Stop the brush repeatedly at a transverse pencil line so the finished brush strokes form an even, straight line or edge of the painted area. If the pencil line doesn’t work for you maybe think about stopping at the cornice edge or the corner where the ceiling joins the wall making one of those two the straight line we want to paint to – and no further. Either way this is what I was trying to do by aiming my casting stroke. That was my purpose and my exact intended direction of the cast.

To achieve these brush strokes of a master artist or fly caster we will need to carefully and thoughtfully adjust both where we aim and how fast we move. An ultra narrow loop in the fly line with fly leg and rod leg in the same plane without casting tails and with full unhurried extension of the leader is actually quite tricky but it will demand exactly the sort of stroke and effort control needed to land the fly on a saucer placed underneath overhanging branches, between two tree trunks or into a gap in the rocks.

I’m putting this out there in the hope that it will be of help, especially to those who want to refine their technique beyond the basics. I don’t know to what extent my “aiming the stroke” at an invisible target will help you because I haven’t tried it with anyone else. Take what you want from the specifics. Maybe you need to find another external cue that works for you like your exact hand position at the end of the stroke. Please feel free to use the contact button to let me know via email how you got on.

The more general message here, of which I am quite confident, is to find and follow a purpose for your casting movements during practice. Work on something or a couple of things at a time. It’s generally wise to start at about the short-medium distance, lengthen out and shorten up trying to maintain form.

Repetition for it’s own sake gives a cents in the dollar return compared with mindful practice. By “mindful” I mean being purposeful as well as focussed and relaxed. When any of those three things begins to wane irretrievably I start thinking about wrapping up a practice session.