“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.

Practice Update

As I mentioned a few posts ago, tuning up my back cast lead to some further savings in effort – going both ways. My standard practice regime has since been changed to include minimum effort and also back cast delivery drills which have helped cement in these recent improvements.  The page on Fly Casting Practice has been amended to incorporate the changes. Here they are the in a bit more detail.

Minimal Effort Casting Drill

This is now how I often begin and sometimes end, a practice session. Beginning with it sets the tone and ending with it reinforces that tone as the new normal.

Start with a short length of fly line out, say 5-10 feet plus leader which is around 10 feet long for my usual practice set up. Make gentle, short strokes both ways, while making sure the loops are kept tidy – narrow, in the same plane and pretty much parallel. 

See if you can reduce effort enough to make the cast fail – incomplete turnover. Trust me, it’s not easy until you get a fair bit of line out. No hauling or shooting is allowed at this stage. Try to make slow, easy movements, finishing with soft or hard stops but soft is probably more in the mood.

Gradually, extend the cast until to you get to medium distance or longer as you wish. The idea, obviously, is to remind us just how little effort is needed. That’s the groove you want to stay in for most overhead (and side) casts.

As a variation and reinforcement try making PUALDs both ways – one back and then one forwards. Then make a single false cast in one direction before making a delivery in the other. I do this in one delivery direction at a time.

Extend distance and the length of the stroke but keep the same effortless, smooth and soft stop stroke. Keep the stops high and the loops narrow.  When it becomes necessary to haul in order to preserve low effort casting I do that but until then I try not to haul. How far can you go? I’ve gotten out to 80’ both ways and will be looking to extend that.

This is also how I often finish up, coming in shorter again and maybe sneaking out to medium distance.

Accuracy Casts in Both Directions

To reinforce the improved back casting I deliver, to targets, off that cast as well as the forward cast. For this exercise I add hauls and false casts back in, one at a time. When things are going well I might shoot line for the longer range targets.

Timing of Drills

When I started the new regime each drill/exercise was timed using my cell phone. These days I rarely use the phone, not because I’ve given up on time management but because I don’t really need it now. A drill is performed and when all seems in order it is time to move on. Overall the sessions range from 45 to 60 minutes.

Purpose

The particular purpose(s) to which each session is dedicated changes but always with the resolve to never practice without at least one clear, conscious purpose. Good practice is intentional. 

Fly Casting: Distance, Technique, Effort and Practice – Redux

Recently, I spent five or six practice sessions concentrating on tuning up my back cast to get rid of some bad habits that returned during a long fishing trip.  Structural restoration has been achieved but deeply grooving the changes is ongoing work. Doing that work led to me further clarify my thinking on the relationship between distance and technique. Within that relationship effort is the key performance indicator of the health and wellbeing of my technique.  Less effort means better technique and vice versa. Less is more. Using more effort than is (absolutely) necessarily means my technique could be improved. More is less. 

I’ve known that for a long time now but I keep revisiting the well and every visit provides fresh insight as I learn more about the reach and importance of this simple idea. It means so much more than “don’t heave” or “stay smooth”.

Here are my conclusions after reflecting on my recent experience. I’m assuming they have general application but please note that they come from personal experience and what you do with them is up to you.

1. If you have the technique you can go long and it will be easy and effortless. 

2. If you don’t have the technique going long will be difficult and you will probably heave (because that’s instinctive) which will compound rather than fix the problem(s).  Let’s bring that to a sharp point. You need sound technique to go long but going for maximum distance won’t give you sound technique. Cart before horse problem.

To bring both these conclusions into a practical focus, we can improve technique effectively and sustainably (only) by gradually extending carry and distance achieved on delivery.  I practice this way, often, and (try to) make a habit of making a longer smoother stroke instead of a shorter punchier stroke to cast a given distance.

When the limits of technique are reached it’s time to back up, get back in the groove, tidy up, restore order and only then advance once more. Repeat as required. Effort is no substitute for efficiency.  Yeah, trust me, I know how painfully and fundamentally “unnatural” and “counterintuitive” that sounds but….such is life.

Again, none of that is hardly a new and stunning discovery. It’s trite but I’m far from convinced that it is blindingly obvious or widely practised much less religiously observed and intentionally practiced.  If you see someone making or trying to make long casts and they don’t look graceful, easy and composed in their movements chances are they skipped that lesson or weren’t paying full attention.  You don’t need quantitative measurement to detect excessive effort. You can feel it when you are casting and see it if you watch the video footage.  Failed or poor distance casts that don’t fully turnover and lay out straight are a clue. This brings me to a third conclusion and my most recent ahaa moment.

3. I’ve written about practice and sensory motor learning a few times now and won’t plow that ground again here. However, it might be worth reading that stuff if you haven’t already done so. Certainly, I’ve changed my practice regime since writing about it and I might get around to revising those pieces accordingly. On now to the most recent insight.

What is less obvious, but perhaps more important than my first two conclusions, is that frequently trying for maximum distance means we are “practicing” at and beyond the limits of technique. What that likely means is that we are actually grooving its weaknesses and failures.  If we practice within the limits of technique we can instead refine its strengths and reinforce its successes. That’s the groove I want to be digging deeper.  Note to self and reader; please read this paragraph again so that you practice success, not failure.

Going back to where this started, improving my back cast technique had consequences for the forward cast technique.  As I’ve said:

“I have become a great believer in the virtue of making the back cast movement mirror, as far as possible, my forward cast movement.  By that I mean I want the cadence and tempo to balance out and I want the technique and its kinetic sequence to feel essentially the same in execution and effort going back and going forward. Translation, rotation, completeness of the finish and most especially the timing, amount and progression of effort – I want all of this to feel like two cycles of a pendulum.  I want to make two focussed casts – one backwards and one forwards – with the same conscious intent such that with trajectory adjustment I can deliver effectively going either way.”

Having adjusted the effort profile on my back cast I needed to adjust the forward cast to match and… I have. Less effort going both ways means better technique. The job now is to groove that success deeper with purposeful practice. That’s good practise.

A final thought. I fully realise that my approach diverges from the orthodoxy on making long casts which derives from distance casting competitions and instruction. The accepted approach there is that distance comes from line speed and line speed comes from (correctly timed) effort by the rod and line hands.  More is more. 

From a physics point of view that is basically correct provided the effort is applied in the intended direction of the cast and, of course, that’s the hard part. Accordingly, technique tends to ride the knife edge between power and tailing loops. That is no longer my journey or motivation. As Bob Wyatt put it, so well:

“When one understands its ethos, the difference between fly-fishing and all other forms of fishing becomes clear. An aesthetic tradition embodied in the tackle, theory and practice, is a large part of what makes the fly-fishing experience meaningful.” (Trout Hunting, 2005, p.15.)

My journey is about graceful movement and accurate delivery.  It’s about ease rather than distance.  It’s about aesthetics rather than athletics. Sure, I still like to see how far I can go but now, only within those constraints and, as ever, only with standard fishing outfits.  Consequently, I have “lost” around 10 feet in maximum distance but what I have gained is worth far more – to me anyway.

The argument of this journey is fly fishing therefore fly casting. Casting efficiency, therefore ease, therefore grace, therefore control, therefore accuracy. Mastery, rather than dominance or display, is what I seek.

Back Cast Tune-Up

At the beginning of April I arrived back from another extended and delightful trip to Tasmania. Unfortunately, I also came back with a bad casting habit I thought I had gotten rid of.  Five weeks fishing in Tassie conditions – wind and an urge to make quick covers – brought back the (felt) need for speed and with that my version of over rotation on the backcast – too much effort. The result of this over rotation was a pronounced dip (slack line effectively) in the back cast, especially with longer carries. It’s mechanically inefficient and a Force thief because the next forward cast has to remove the slack before it can propel the line where and as I want it to go.

The problem was picked up by Graeme Hird with whom I had a post trip “cast and a chat”.  It was confirmed with some video footage. He also suggested a remedy which was to practice making a delivery off the backcast – something I have long needed to do more of.  I took up and adapted his suggestion. Thanks mate.

At first glance all this refers to a common and “simple” problem. Viewed from a fault correction perspective both the problem and the solution are straightforward. Too much rotation? Rotate less. How? Use less effort and don’t use your wrist joint as much. Oh, ok then.

If you, like me, tend to over rotate on the back cast and a standard fault correction approach works that’s your good fortune. However, I need to know the why if I’m going work out the how to of fixing the problem. In this instance I wanted to work out why going a bit hard was driving a biomechanical bug which came in two parts. First, too much hand movement (extension) at the wrist joint (effort induced) and secondly, not enough freedom to extend the forearm more and thus the rod hand less. Both these problems derive, essentially, from excessive effort.

That first problem was assisted by more upper arm movement during a basic cast from a squarish stance. The second problem arises with a more open stance for longer casts and so more shoulder turn/torso rotation assisted effort reduction and also improved tracking issues which also arise during the rotation stage. (More squared stance for short to medium distances and more open stance for the medium to long casts.)

As always, casting movements of the rod hand should be executed with smooth acceleration and minimum effort. In my case the acceleration was smooth enough until the point where too much effort was being applied during wrist extension. A lack of shoulder rotation on the longer carries was forcing my forearm to move outwards in an attempt to get around the block imposed by the limited movement permitted by the elbow – essentially it is a hinge. That outward movement put my tracking off by about 20 degrees. Like I said, none this was entirely new nor is it the end of the world for fishing casts. It was old habits returned in both square and open stance casting that produced slack line and a tracking error. You can check this fairly definitively for yourself by making a delivery off the back cast and seeing how the line lays out. The best evidence, however, will come from video footage.

I don’t want to make this either more simple or more complicated than it deserves but, as you may have found out already, tweaking one thing often results in consequential changes of two kinds. 1) Other things have to be adjusted to accommodate the change. 2) Insights gained from changing one thing can inform how you do other things. In fixing my problems I’ve had to make adjustments and I’ve benefited from both varieties of consequential change. More on that another time but for now let’s look at the remedial process. Off to the park for some practice and (re)learning.

Step One 

Working with a square stance and basic stroke I could watch my loops in real time and then on video. Were they tight enough or a bit fat?  Starting with a medium length cast and then going longer and shorter did the trick. Pick up and lay down casts in both directions helped as did smoothing out the forward cast in response to the easier tempo of the back cast. Also incorporated was something Peter Morse showed me recently – deliberately casting with (absolutely) minimal effort in both directions. It feels like the casts will fail – but they don’t. 

Step two 

The next job was sorting out the longer carries for longer casts from a much more open stance. This was more complicated, of course, because the casting movements involve a lot more bits of the body. To give the adjustments a clear purpose I used my line of targets but instead of facing them I turned around and aimed at them off the back cast. The focus became back casts with false casting, delivery and trajectory alterations to suit. While I was doing this I could sortout the biomechanical issues to keep the loops tight and the tracking correct. It soon became obvious that I needed to ease up a bit more to keep everything tidy. Easing up applied to casts in both directions. Oh my, did I just find a way of saving some more effort? Yep, an unexpected bonus.

Step Three: Reflection

I had made significant changes to my back cast which had consequences for my forward cast technique. Instead of merely correcting a “fault” isolated from the rest of my movements I had finished up renovating and reconstructing a significant part of my overall casting technique.

Let me explain that a bit more. I have become a great believer in the virtue of making the back cast movement mirror, as far as possible, my forward cast movement. By that I mean I want the cadence and tempo to balance out and I want the technique and its kinetic sequence to feel essentially the same in execution and effort going back and going forward. Translation, rotation, completeness of the finish and most especially the timing, amount and progression of effort – I want all of this to feel like two cycles of a pendulum. I want to make two focussed casts, one backwards and one forwards, with the same conscious intent such that with trajectory adjustment I can deliver effectively going either way.

Outcomes

My practice regime has been amended to include:

  • Casting in both directions with minimal effort – meaning just enough to complete turnover and with gradually increasing distance from medium to medium long – no hauls.
  • PUALD casts made in one direction and then the other – pick up and back cast then pick up and forward cast – no false casting allowed at first and then allowed in one direction at a time.
  • Accuracy casting in both directions – as above with increasing distances. False casts and hauls added back in.

My casting has been restored to its pre-trip status and with added benefits. More on where those benefits took me that next time.

The Thrust: Longer Stroke, Less Effort, More Control, More Accuracy

I’m always looking to improve some aspect of my casting which usually means finding ways of increasing efficiency and thus reducing effort. At present I’m trying to use a more extensive thrust (full arm extension) finish, especially on my delivery. I also want to see if I can enhance my backcast by adding some sort of thrust component to it as well for both false casting and for delivery off the backcast. However, that will have to wait because I have returned from another Tassie trip with some work to do on my backcast and I’ll post about that another time.

Mechanics

The heading of this post partly answers the “why” question. Why do this? If we take a mechanics perspective it is fairly easy to understand the explanation. By using a longer stroke we can do more Work on the line. Work is Force by distance so how much Force is applied for what distance determines the Work we do on the fly line and thus the kinetic energy we put into it.

Pardon my repetition but the relevant Force is not any old force going anywhere, it’s a vector Force, a net Force in the intended direction of the cast as we accelerate the mass of the fly line. To do X amount of Work we can apply more Force over less distance or less Force over more distance.

Biomechanics and Sensory Motor Control

We know from biomechanics that the bigger muscles are closer (proximal) to the centre of our bodies. The smaller muscles are further away (distal). The bigger muscles are better at grunt and the smaller ones at finesse. So if we lengthen the stroke we might well be taking the pressure off the smaller muscles by using some of the bigger ones to a greater extent. That means less effort is required from the distal muscles which means better control.

If I detach the rod butt and, using a basic or foundation cast movement, make a slow forward cast and stop I can see that there is still a bend at my elbow between the forearm and upper arm. Secondly, my rod hand is more or less in the same plane as my inner forearm. This is true regardless of my grip type (which in practice varies from thumb on top to a V grip).

Now, if I repeat the forward cast and this time fully extend my arm, the bend between forearm and upper arm disappears and, somewhat unexpectedly, I notice significantly greater movement of my hand which is now cocked (extended) further and somewhat turned in (pronated). The exact differences in angles may vary from person to person so I’m not concerned to make an exact measurement of the degree change. The difference is obvious and significant just watching where and how my hand finishes.

Back to casting mechanics. As the fly rod is a lever that amplifies the travel distance of the rod hand, you can bet that the rod tip is describing a much long path with full arm extension than it does with partial arm extension. From our body’s point of view the difference isn’t so much but from the rod tip’s perspective, the difference is very significant. It gets translated roughly the same distance in both cases but rotated a lot further when we thrust, fully extending the arm and pronating our rod hand.

From the perspective of sensory motor control we know from well accepted studies that we can be more precise in our movements if we move slower which is exactly what a longer stroke allows. Elsewhere on the site there is plenty more detail on the three perspectives I’ve just touched on – mechanics, biomechanics and sensory motor learning.

The Story of How

The other question is “how” – how to make a thrust finish, how to incorporate it and how did I get the idea of making a more expansive thrust finish on the delivery. Just for the heck of it I’m going to start with last part and expect that along the way we will cover the other two “how” questions.
If you watch any seriously competent caster the odds are you will see a thrust finish on their long casts. For example, find some footage of Joan Wulff finishing a long cast. Her casting arm will be fully extended, her torso rotated slightly toward the target and her weight has moved entirely to the front leg. It looks nice and it works well. As Steve Raejeff has put it, for distance casting his stop takes place when he runs out of arm, ie after full extension.

For many years I’ve incorporated a thrust into my longer casts. For much of that time I wasn’t thinking about anything to do with physics, biomechanics or sensory motor learning. It worked so I used it. Then, about a year or so ago I started playing with TLT, lancio angolato and svirgolato. These casts are not about prodigious distance but rather about subtle and artful control. So, I was intrigued and started seeing what I could take from lancio angolato, which finishes with an emphatic and extensive thrust, and import it into my standard overhead casting. It produces an extremely narrow loop, helpful for sneaking casts under the vegetation. What I noticed straight away was the extra zip it injected in all casts from shortish to quite long. (Little wonder that lancio angolato adds zip – lots more Work is being done.)

The next step was to play around with this expanded version of a thrust and modify it to fit casts of different types, lengths and applications. I find that reverting to a sidecast is often helpful. Going back to the start of the triangle method, as it were, allows me to see what is going on, what is working well and what isn’t. Visual clues and adjustments inform the sensory motor system nicely because we are built to use our sight as a primary sense. It gives us data that we won’t necessarily get or use just from feel alone.

Out on the water I get to play with new things and see if they work for me. A couple of examples. Casting upwind – angle up behind and then use the thrust in the low forward delivery. Casting across and maybe slightly upwind to cover a riser and you want it see the fly before the tippet? Side cast with thrust and let the wind impede the last bit of the turnover to keep the fly slightly downwind. The thrust is now a variation of technique I can and do improvise with. You can use it squared up with the basic or foundation cast. You can use it with a partially or fully open stance employing a much wider casting arc.

For medium long to long casts I began using a modified form of thrust which reduced total effort. I’m still refining the technique for the forward cast but it’s clearly there to stay. It allows me to use a longer stroke without excessive rotation at the finish.

Try this at home. Square up and use a foundation overhead cast out to a medium distance. Don’t stop and then drop the rod to open the loop. Stop “high” and keep your loop tight. Now, look at the angle between your upper arm and your forearm. As already described, my guess is that your arm won’t be straight. There will be a slight bend at the elbow and your hand will be in a similar position to mine. When I see that I see opportunity to get another little bit from the upper arm, forearm and hand. With an open stance a little extra contribution from final shoulder rotation and weight transfer can be added to the list. All this is what a thrust finish offers. It’s almost like a secondary sequence from proximal to distal. Why let the opportunity pass you by?

A nicely executed thrust will extend the Straight Line Path, that is, it will increase net Force in the intended direction of the cast. When my cast finishes with a thrust I often seem to get narrower loops and that could be just an SLP thing. It may also be that in thrusting we “push into the bend” of the rod, delay straightening (maintaining rod flex longer) and reducing counterflex. I don’t have the mo-cap footage to provide the proof but I suspect that is what’s happening.

If you don’t presently use a thrust finish, try it and see if it works for you. If you do already finish with a thrust try making a more emphatic thrust and see how that goes.

Teaching Fly Casting – More of the Instructors Odyssey from Vince Brandon

In his second excellent contribution to this collection Vince takes us further and deeper into his learning about learning and what happens in the relationship between fly casting teachers and students.

I won’t attempt an all inclusive synopsis but he explores verbal and non verbal communication, learning styles, the effects of teacher expectation and the beauty and functionality of “lies to children” – the legitimate use of half truths in taking a student forward knowing that as they progress the useful fallacies will and can be discarded.

He concludes with a challenge to instructors to remain open to new ideas and wary of silver bullet teaching techniques. To teach better we must continue to learn more.

Hauling – Tune Up

Background 

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. 

Mechanics

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.

Biomechanics

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.

Takeaways

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.

Making Waves 2.0

This is to let you know that I’ve added a new page talking about using the concept of a fly line as a wave medium to improve our casting. As the piece explains this is a relatively simple idea with a lot of very useful applications.

Waves got a mention back when I wrote the Einstein Series but  I have since been persuaded, mostly by Graeme Hird, that thinking of our fly line as a medium through which we make waves is more useful than my initial treatment gave credit for. In particular we can manipulate tension in the fly line after the loop has formed, something few of us do consciously. However, as Graeme points out, with deliberate movements of the rod tip we can actually maintain, increase or reduce tension. This is a very important insight.

In the new page I report on what I’ve learned about wave theory and tension manipulation during a number of recent practice sessions. Graeme’s experience and mine are much alike on some things and less so on others and I offer some ideas on what might account for the differences in the context of casting efficiency and finesse.

I’m not done with tension increases post loop formation and I’m certainly keen to get more from intentionally manipulating line tension for both casts and mends. Have a read, give it a try and see whether and how it works for you. 

Teaching Fly Casting – New Contribution

I’m delighted to announce publication of a new contribution from UK friend Vince Brandon entitled “2020: An Instructors Odyssey“. In this piece Vince shares part of his journey as a caster and casting teacher showing us how both have been informed by science and sports science. He does it all with authentic and refreshing openness.

Vince is something of a physics boffin and draws on his understanding of mechanics. He also draws on biomechanics, sensory motor learning and control and sports psychology. There is a lot of good stuff in this piece so its well worth making time to read it all the way through.

Teaching Fly Casting – Update

In my previous post I announced the creation of a new section devoted to Teaching Fly Casting. As explained here in the introduction, this section will open the site up to other contributors. You will also see in the intro what kind of contributions I am looking for – basically from people who have gone beyond orthodoxy in what they teach and how they go about it. Most likely, they have found and adapted knowledge gained in looking to other contexts, sporting or otherwise, in which skilled movement is being learned and taught.

The new section has been kicked off in fine style with a delightful and thoughtful piece from prominent UK casting teacher Mark Surtees entitled The Wizard.

If you are interested as a potential contributor I would love to talk it over with you. Feel free to send me an email via the contact button on this site.