Practice Makes What?

Bought a new rod. Not my usual. It’s six inches longer than nine feet and it is about finesse rather than power. Have to adjust my casting accordingly which means being even smoother and more efficient. This rod will not be driven hard but caress it with a gentle sensibility and it surprises with both distance and accuracy. That, is my kind of rod because what it teaches me is exactly what I want to learn. I bought it for several reasons but none more important than that one.

Been down to the park with it a few times and today it taught me something I wasn’t expecting. It showed me a way of optimising my practice because it revealed how I can tell how good (or bad) the practice session was. It was a good session because I learned something new, a couple of things actually, that I wasn’t expecting to learn.

Why does that matter? Mostly obviously it matters because it makes practice a more attractive proposition. Big tick. It matters because it puts practice in a different light. Let’s talk about that one a bit more.

I’m guessing that most people think of practice as a simple means to a general end. You need to practice in order to cast better so you can fish better. Sigh. Typically, it will mean banging out a whole series of casts to targets or making hero casts into the next time zone. On my personal ten point scale where zero is no practice at all, practicing somewhat reluctantly, mindlessly and robotically is a one or a two. At the other end, practicing mindfully, purposefully and with a sound structure is up there around eight or nine. I’ve posted about The Practice of Practice before so no need to go over the details again. It gets up to a ten when I learn something surprising and meaningful.

So, the new longer rod is very nifty and accomplished for single hand spey stuff, an area I decided to explore more deeply a couple of years back. I find myself using these skills more and more to reposition and to present quickly and accurately without the false casting ado that can waste time and spook fish. The centrepiece, of course, is the dynamic roll and for that the standard instructions are to lift, sweep back and then up to the ready position before making the forward cast. Nothing wrong with any of that, as far as it goes.

Let’s assume the positioning and maintenance of the anchor have been sorted out, what I have been exploring lately is how, when and how much force to put into the sweep and upward movement into the ready position. Why bother? Because I want the optimal amount of line in the D-loop/V-loop positioned optimally before the delivery. Why? So that I can cast accurately to a distant target with the most efficient delivery stroke. Same deal as for an overhead presentation. I know the line is not perfectly straight but the more of it there is in the top section of the V – loop and the straighter it is, in both planes, relative to the forward cast the less effort will be required to complete the delivery. Straight Lines Rule – Ok? In short, what I am looking for is to make the dynamic roll as dynamic as possible. As ever it is the back cast that sets you up for the forward cast.

By the way I make no pretence to being a spey casting whizz but I do know the difference between an efficient easy delivery and one that is strained, struggling and a bit overpowered. So today, with the new rod, I played around until I got the “back cast” sequence nicely in order. In my case that meant a little less emphasis on sweeping back and a little more emphasis on moving up into the ready position. A more dynamic back cast makes it easier to throw a narrower loop and a straighter forward cast that drops the fly on target. (The size of the loop is an indicator of how efficiently Force was applied. Narrow good, wide bad unless intended.)

The second thing I learned, or rather perhaps confirmed, is that pull back might help turnover but it doesn’t do much for accuracy. So I have been dropping pull back in favour of a slight thrust finish. The latter adds to the Work done on the line, effectively increasing the stroke length instead of increasing the stroke effort. Pull back, which is a little lift or rearward tweak of the rod after loop formation, increases tension in the rod leg of the line which promotes turnover of the fly leg. It also helps narrow the loop.

For practice to help you cast better so you can fish better the practice ideally needs to be mindful, purposeful and intentional. Structure helps too. Doing this with some rigour provides the opportunity for refinement which is simultaneously both a small thing and a big break through. Trust me, when that happens  practice is anything but boring and routine. This is how I know when I’ve had a good session – when it creates a new (level of) understanding. I always want more of that. Practice doesn’t make perfect. It enables constant improvement. Perfect is an absolute. We live in a relative universe.

The Post Tassie Post

Been back from my 2019 Tassie trip for about a month. How did it go? In all honesty it was a stinker. Poor weather, poor fishing and bad things happening at home and to a treasured Tassie friend. Casting wise, however, it threw up some talking points.

Fishing and Casting Practice

Last year I realised that I loved fly casting for its own sake and separately from fishing though never entirely divorced from it. Two related loves in an open relationship. As a conceptual monogamist by nature I struggled with this a bit, fearing that casting practice had or might become an end in itself. Six weeks of fishing put those fears to bed and casting back in its rightful place as a means and not an end.

Post Trip Casting Analysis

The good news, in a nutshell, is that all my practice paid off and I could do more, more accurately and with less effort. Smoothness is as sweet on the water as it is down at the park. Efficiency rules.

The ban on heaving held up mostly, tracking was good and fishing distances were easy, even in tough wind conditions. By “easy” I mean doable with controlled effort. My sensory motor learning of new habits, as adjusted by research and practice regimes, worked out well. A few things got a little loose but nothing came radically unstuck.

Only had a couple of practice sessions since my return, not least because my favourite rod is with the rod doctor for a new set of guides. (The old recoils wore out despite my obsessive cleaning of lines after each practice session.)

Haven’t done the video analysis yet but I can feel and see some slight slippage of technique particularly in wrist timing and effort during the finish of a long casting stroke. In a recent post to the Sexyloops Board John Waters related how a caster whose technique he admires described this as being like carrying a matchbox in the palm of your hand and then putting it up on the shelf. That’s it exactly. BTW in the same thread John talks about a distance cast as a “slinging” action rather than a pulling action. I think this captures nicely the biomechanical difference(s) of distance casts to a standard throwing action.

Open Loops

Tassie is about impoundment fishing. One obvious change post trip was that my loops were more open. I put this down to frequent use of multi fly rigs including dry flies which need a more delicate presentation. River fishing compounded the effect as nymphs were often combined with a dry fly as an indicator. I wanted to give the nymph more time to sink before being towed downstream. Rather than overpower the cast to splat the nymph down this was achieved with long tippets and a slightly underpowered cast using a higher than normal trajectory. The loop is opened late and kind of stalls in flight dumping some slack on the surface.

Tails and Tangles – The Zone of Death

It gets bit windy in Tasmania because it lies in the path of the roaring forties. If, like me, you prefer the bank to a boat then relatively few sessions will be spent with the wind blowing both gently and obligingly behind you. Even when it is behind you your problems are not over.

Imagine you are facing south, the wind is from the north. If a fish rises anywhere downwind between east and west it is no big deal. You might need to present from the backhand but that is manageable.

However anywhere upwind of the east west line takes you into tangle country. Worse with multi fly rigs, strangely worse than casting directly upwind. What happens?

At first I thought I must be throwing tails from trying too hard to push the cast out and across the breeze. After a number of tangles I decided it might not be as simple as that. I suspect now that the cast begins to stall into the wind, especially if it meets an unfavourable gust. As turnover weakens the rod leg loses tension (as well as the fly leg) and blows back downwind where it collides with the fly leg. The latter has a bit more oomph (kinetic energy) left in it so it doesn’t deviate as much from the intended direction of the cast. Put all this in sequence and bingo a cross over happens, one of the the flies swings around the rod leg and a bunch of horrible bastards is the inevitable result.

Of course you can do all of this with a standard tailing loop but I don’t think that is the whole answer.  The problem diminishes when you open the loop a bit more – not an unsightly fat loop but just not a sexy arrow head. True you could avoid any casting into the zone of death BUT if the fishing is slow and the opportunities few and far between…. the risk is overwhelmed by desire.

Gone Fishing

The camper van is nearly packed, ready for the ferry to Tassie and six gloriously educational weeks of fly fishing. The high country calls.

It’s been a big year for the Curious Fly Caster so thanks to all my visitors for making the  effort so worthwhile. Sure to have more to write about after the field trip.

Best seasonal wishes to you all.

Mark

 

Tension Thrills (Slack Kills)

Back in February this year I posted about The Meaning of Slack. The opening paragraph went like this:
“As part of the Einstein Series I wrote about the Straight Lines Rule and part of that was casting with straight lines which means fly lines having as little as possible slack in them. The reason to avoid slack is that taking up it is a Force thief. It steals from the net Force in the intended direction of the cast – forward or back – and we don’t have that much Force to spare. We don’t want to spend part of our stroke length taking up slack instead of powering the line out to where we want it to go. That’s the mechanics taken care of.”

I went on to explain that when I see slack creeping into my fly line I take it as a sure sign that my technique is starting to falter. In the extreme case the whole cast can fail and I have to strip in and start again. A review of the website stats shows that this post has had relatively few views – it’s in the bottom 30%. That’s a pity because I actually rate it as being one of my better and more insightful posts – in the top 10%. Duh, failure to connect!

Meanwhile down at the park practicing and out on the water fishing I have found the idea of line tension (the opposite of slack) to be one of the gifts that just keeps on giving. So I decided to have another go at communicating its importance because I know I’m not the first or only person to get the concept and understand how central it is to casting better.

After thinking about it for a while I wondered whether talking about “slack” as a fault to be corrected might be less effective than talking about tension as a strength and driver of improved casting. All casts, I was once fond of saying, are tension casts – even the ones we intentionally land with slack line. So let’s turn this around and ack-sen-chew-ate the positive. I’m also going to ease up on the mechanics or rather come at them in another way.

Here’s a practical and graphic demonstration of how much line tension matters. Cast or lay out 60-70 feet (18-21m) of fly line, preferably on some grass rather than on the water. Lock up your drag and keep the line length unchanged. Make sure the line is lying nice and straight. With your rod tip pointing down and your rod aligned with the fly line lift up and stop with your casting hand about level with your eye. Let’s be clear, I’m not suggesting that you to pick it up and aerialise it behind you as you would for a normal, full strength, PUALD cast. Just make a somewhat casual lift with no real effort and no real attempt to accelerate it hard. What happens? How much line was moved?

Next step, lay out the line again but this time put a bunch of wiggles in it or just one big curve like the large belly of a sagging cast, often a back cast. Repeat the lift with the same length of stroke and the same effort as before. (As an afterthought I wonder if doing this with eyes closed would control the natural temptation to power up and lengthen the slack line lift.) Again what happens and how much line has been relocated? Compare the pair.  If your experiments work like mine a there will be a noticeable difference between the results of straight and wiggly lines. Try both experiments again but this time using a snap cast. Use more oomph if you like. Similar results. Straight line – zippy snap cast. Lots of slack line – snap cast is a bit of a fizzer.

Moral of the story? It takes surprisingly little effort to move a lot of straight line and a lot more effort to move the same length of line when it isn’t straight. What’s going on?

I could say that it is about F=ma and net Force in the intended direction of the cast and bang on about (the) Straight Lines Rule again. I will say that the line tension I am talking about is not really concerned with opposing forces that create tension in a string. With a fly line only one end is tethered and the other end is free to move so the result is that in casting a fly line is not under significant “tension”. After the loop forms there will be some tension between the rod leg and the fly leg mediated via the loop and dependent on the timing and extent of line shoot. That tension is important because without it we could never complete a cast. Turnover would fail. However, all that is frankly consequential. It is dependent on having a fairly straight rod leg before the loop was formed. The rod leg has momentum and its kinetic energy which power turnover as the rod leg becomes the fly leg and goes back to being the rod leg. Being straighter provides more energy and momentum. And no, I’m not going to analyse the effects of friction when the line is pulled across the substrate, grass or water. Rod loading? Whispers of the devil.

The significant point is that straight fly lines move in the intended direction of the cast with considerably less caster effort than slack lines do. We all know this already, because we all know the felt difference between an overhead cast and a static roll or even a dynamic roll. In an overhead cast when we make the casting stroke we act immediately on far more live line (mass) than we do with a roll cast. The dead line which has to be towed by the live line is… well… “slack”. Of course knowing about it and appreciating just how significant it is are not necessarily the same thing.

To tell the same story a different way let’s think about motor vehicles, engine power, wheel traction and the effects both have on drive. On a dry tarmac road with good tyres you have good traction and can make good use of a powerful engine assuming you don’t just plant the foot and spin the drive wheels. Same vehicle but this time on ice or a greasy clay pan. All that power is now a problem and less traction means less drive.

In fly casting what we are after is drive, the more direct the drive the better. Straight lines, lines with tension, give your casting drive. Wobbly lines, lines with little tension and fat loops give you wheel spin. The nature of casting beast is that that “traction” is so, so precious and ultimately no amount of grunt will substitute for defective drive. Drive problems include the line sag or belly we often see, particularly with windscreen wiper casting strokes. Also included are failed or failing loops prior to the start of the next stroke. Tracking errors which create line hooks to the side are another though lesser culprit. In fact anything that diverts the line is a force thief and the small mass of the line means we have effectively precious little force to accelerate it with and any loss is surprisingly costly. As ever, efficiency is the solution and effort is usually part of the problem.

Now we can also reconsider why a tidy series of casts, forward and back, is required to make a decent cast of any great length. Good line tension facilitates increasing carry, makes shooting line less of a cost to turnover and generally sets you up nicely for the next cast in the opposite direction. Poor line tension does the reverse. Good line tension produces accumulating benefits. Poor line tension produces accumulating losses. Tension thrills, slack kills. Of course if you are typically casting <50 feet it won’t matter quite so much but if you are often casting >70 feet it will matter a lot more, exponentially so as the cast lengthens.

It is now part of my practice regime to focus on line tension and work to optimise it. Being smooth and optimising tension are parts of a virtuous cycle, each facilitating the other.

The Practice of Practice

I’ve been considering whether to follow up my pieces on mechanics, biomechanics and sensory motor learning with an article on casting practice. At present I won’t be doing it. The reason is that my work seems to have moved steadily towards the pointy end of the audience cone – the deeper I go, the fewer people seem to be interested. Even though I have no commercial aspirations and thus restrictions on what I publish, there is a point where I have to ask if there is a point.

In corresponding with friends, including qualified casting instructors, it seems that relatively few casters practice regularly and even fewer do it with any kind of structure – some sort of regime based on defined objectives. A vox pop on a forum I inhabit confirmed this. In fact a majority of the follow up posts were concerned with whether practice was necessary or useful to experienced fly anglers. Err, ok then.

My casting practice, research and writing are all directly interconnected in the sense that I don’t preach what hasn’t been meaningfully practiced. After finishing the piece on Sensory Motor Learning  I got a recommendation to read Practice Perfect by Doug Lemov et al from Vince Brandon and Mark Surtees so I bought a copy and read it. Consequently, I decided to re-jig my practice regime.

Now, I won’t go into extreme detail but a key message from the authors is that the best coaches and elite sports people analyse the required skill set in two ways. First they determine the essential and fundamental skills and then they break those skills down into simple components and practice them intensively. This approach is a good fit with my other research (and the trend line of my own practice). It is focussed, rigorous and highly structured. To put it in two words – it is purposeful and mindful. Consequently, everything in a practice session becomes intentional. Time is not for wasting. This is the very opposite of heading down to the park and banging out a whole lot of casts, mostly at maximum distance. Yeah, I know, it sounds a bit anal but try it and see. My expectations were proven wrong.

If you have other structure in your practice then feel free to let me know via the contact link. We might be able to cook up a smorgasbord of practice regimes.

Determining the essential and fundamental skills is concerned with choosing the 20% of things that really matter (most) and concentrating on improving their performance.

Below you will find an outline of my new practice regime. (It might pay to bear in mind that it reflects my fishing bias toward fresh water impoundments and flats fishing in the salt. Somewhat different deal maybe if I mainly fished small streams.) It’s a WIP and I’m not saying I only practice with strict adherence and never do anything else. However, the signs are that it works well so I am sharing it with you fwiw. Like cooking, use the recipe for ideas and make the meal your own. The terminology is my shorthand so might not always make sense.

A few last things. I use my cell phone as a timer. I chose 45 mins to keep it tight. I might spend another 15 mins for less structured stuff but that time could also serve to expand or repeat any of the other sections. For each of first four drills I focus on the 20% incrementally instead of everything at once – it’s really a question of what needs fixing. Don’t overload the attention buffer. So far I haven’t been recording results for the accuracy casts as I have found it was enough to count the hit ratio out of 5 shots then move on or move back and then go forward again when the count is good enough – typically 80% which is 4 out of 5.

Practice Regime – 45 Minutes

The 20%

  • Be Straight (both planes ie tracking and SLP).
  • Start slow. Be smooth. Be full.
  • Optimise Line tension.
  • Optimise Loop Shape (size and form).
  • Optimise Haul timing, length and straightness.

Warm Up – 5 mins

String up, stretch (body), roll out line 50’- 60’. Overhead and roll casts mixed up – freestyle.

Back Cast Drill – 5 mins

Loop shape, tracking, hauling, no haul, line tension. 50′ carry slowly extended with good form.

Forward cast Drill – 5 mins

Loop shape, tracking, hauling, no haul, line tension. 50′ carry slowly extended with good form

Dynamic Roll Drill – 5 mins

40′ casts slowly extended with good form

Accuracy Drills – 20 mins

50, 60, 70, 80, 90 (feet)
Cast, puald, cast, puald moving on when 80% land within

  •  2′ radius for 50 – 70
  • 3′ radius for 80, 90

Go back and reset if 80% isn’t achieved then advance again. Repeat the back and forward cast drills as required to get back in the groove.

Odd spot – 5 mins

Choose spey, specialty or off shoulder casting.

Accurate Distances with No Measuring Tape

Having religiously used a measuring tape for a long time I have recently started practicing without one sometimes, but with no loss of the lie detector effect. Here is how it works. As a long time hiker I am pretty tuned in to my stride length and producing it consistently. My normal rhythm and stride length is the easiest to use and I’ve measured it enough times now to know it doesn’t change significantly on flat ground.

So, with the tape laid out I walk up to the same point and then back again at normal pace and count my steps. Having done this enough times to check, my standard step comes in 2.86 feet. That’s 3.5 steps for 10 feet and 35 steps for 100 feet.

When I use a tape I often mark distances with fluoro golf balls on spikes at a mixture of 5 and 10 foot intervals from 50 feet to 100 feet, odds on one side of the tape, evens on the other. Small targets encourage accuracy. Casts can be made straight up the tape or from off to one side at various angles.

When I don’t use a tape I can get very much the same set up with just three golf balls, a step count and some simple arithmetic. Stick one in the ground, walk off, stick another in 3.5 steps away and the third at the same distance. Walk away another 21 steps and the balls now mark out 60′, 70′, 80′.  Obviously, the distance can be changed as desired without a significant loss of accuracy and I find the spread of 3 targets less “noisy” than several times that number.

Setup and knockdown times are minimal. Can’t fault the ease of transporting the kit.

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Practice – Change of Objective, Better Than a Holiday

For a several years I have been practicing with clear purpose by adopting an objective and, as the military say, maintaining it. It started way back when I decided to expand the zone within which I could comfortably and reliably cast to a target, be that a covering cast or simply putting the fly on the water exactly where I wanted it. The idea was to expand that comfort zone from a radius of 60’/18m to one with a radius of  80’/24m.

To do that I reasoned it would be necessary to be able to cast 100’/30m, more or less at will, so that a target at <80% of the maximum distance would be relatively easy to hit. The implication of this approach was that going longer while staying accurate was the best strategy for of achieving my objective. So I did all that and banged endless casts out there with my 5wt combo with a lot of them going a fair bit further than 100’/30m. My accuracy out to 80’/24m certainly improved but still I wasn’t happy.

Now, call me a perfectionist or an idiot or both, but the source of my unhappiness was not just obsession with greater length but rather dissatisfaction with a lack of repeatability. It became obvious that the further I cast the smaller was the margin for error. A few degrees of tracking error at say 45’/14m doesn’t matter too much but it matters a hell of a lot more at twice that distance. In fact any compromise of casting efficiency matters more and more as distance increases. Distance makes increasing demands on technique, exponentially so in my experience and I’m not Robinson Crusoe.

Gradually it dawned on me that better technique probably wouldn’t be acquired by constantly casting at or beyond the limits of that technique. So I sort of reversed the strategy and started spending more time casting to comfortably reachable targets and progressively extending the range. I could do this easily because I used a tape measure and marked distances along it with golf balls painted in fluoro colours and attached to 4” nails as spikes. Yeah, you’re right. I practice in the park and not over water. The tape means an end to delusions of grandeur because it tells no lies. It also forms a straight reference line which is both an aiming guide and a measure of deviation from the target in both range and bearing. I know when I’ve made a good cast not just because the practice fly is near the target but also because the fly line will be laid out along the tape.

Let’s leave out a fair bit of the full story and cut to the chase. As I started thinking about and researching the biomechanics of casting and then the sensory motor system it became clear that there was a conceptual line joining the dots from physics to biomechanics to sensory motor learning. The origin of that line was efficiency. What I was discovering experientially fitted very nicely with what I was discovering with my research and doubtless each was informing the other.

What emerged from all this is the delight of capturing the feel of the efficient cast and what it takes to produce it. The next step was preserving that efficiency and how it feels as I try to progressively extend the distance to target without losing too much accuracy. I have settled on 3 or 4 increments of 10’/3m each for this process. I go back and forward in the sequence repeatedly trying at all times to keep the feeling. I get accurate, objective/external feedback on the results. I extend and reduce the starting distance from the series of increments. Wind direction no longer determines location.

The implication of this approach is that my notion of what is strategically correct has changed. My objective is now to improve accuracy by improving efficiency – to be smoother so I can cast better and more accurately. What I have learned is that distance is relative, accuracy is priceless and smoothness is essential to both. Makes a nice change. Easier on my casting shoulder which is now carrying a bit of osteoarthritis. (Nah, not caused by fly casting; consequence of too many falls from horses, motorbikes and such.)

There is a lot more of the story coming as I am nearing completion of the followups of the Einstein Series Stay tuned.

Going Long : The Top Secret Secret

Here I am, back at the keyboard after another practice session. Going back a few posts I wrote about regressing after an extend fishing trip to Tassie. You can find that one here . As part of fixing the problems I shot some more footage of my casting. OMG, there I was doing a bunch of things I thought I had stopped doing a year or two ago. Wrong! Leaving out some of the longer story I decided it was time to rebuild my backcast and that meant being able to extend the stroke, staying straight in the tracking department, then smoothing out the forward stroke, extending it a bit. In other words the job was to extend my stroke and carry, stay in the comfort zone and minimise slack. I’ve written about that too. The Meaning of Slack

Understanding all my necessary work requires understanding a little bit about anatomy and the biomechanics of fly casting – essentially a throwing action. It also brings us back to a couple of the 5 essentials.

Let’s start with the basic or “foundation” casting stroke as it described by Jason Borger. You stand pretty much front on or square to the target. On the back stroke the wrist starts out being in a slightly cocked position (ulna deviation) and the elbow is bent at about 90deg. Here, roughly, is the sequence of movements. The upper arm is lifted and rotates at the shoulder joint in the direction of the cast. The forearm moves toward the bicep, the wrist uncocks (radial deviation) and at the stop your hand finishes beside your head at about eye level. The forward cast is essentially the reverse of that sequence. Upper arm lowers, forearm extends, wrist is cocked again as you stop. The whole casting sequence, back and forward, is similar to hitting a nail into a wall, roughly at eye level. In biomechanics terms the kinetic sequence is essentially proximal (nearer to your torso) to distal (further away from your torso).

Now we know from Bill Gammel, Essential #2, that the length of the casting stroke must increase with the length of the line being cast. The rod bends more when we use it to tow more line and we have to compensate for the extra bend. The other reason we need a longer stroke is that more Force will be needed to put more kinetic energy into the line to make it go faster. That energy can come from punching the same stroke length harder or, much more preferably, from a longer period of acceleration using the same kind of Force applied over a longer distance. That’s called Work and is explained here. Smoothness of the power application ( line acceleration) is the reason why longer is better. Control, accuracy and avoidance of tailing loops are the reasons you want to be smooth instead of punchy.

To stay smooth while casting longer lines (extending carry) we extend the stroke. With the foundation stroke, however, we reach a point where extending the stroke hits some anatomical road blocks. Your forearm will hit your bicep because the elbow is a hinge joint and not a ball joint. Your upper arm can only rotate backwards so far at the shoulder, especially with your lower arm bent at the elbow. You can get a bit more stroke length from leaning forward a bit at the start of the back cast and leaning back slightly at the start of the forward cast.

My preferred means of increasing movement beyond the natural limits of the foundation stroke is to rotate my shoulders (torso) just as you do when throwing a ball or stone or javelin or whatever a long way. To do that you have to open your stance by putting your throwing side foot back behind the other one. Long throws in any sport I can think of involve open stances and significant shoulder rotation which enables extension of the throwing arm. They also involve significant weight transfer, back and then forward again in the direction of the throw.

One of my self video discoveries was that I wasn’t rotating my shoulders far enough to free up the full extension of my arm. The elbow is a simple hinge joint. You can twist your forearm below the elbow and your upper arm above the elbow but the elbow joint only allows flexion and extension of the forearm in line with the upper arm. Accordingly, if shoulder rotation is insufficient there are only two ways your arm can extend. Your forearm can go somewhat away from you and outside the proper straight line of the back cast causing a tracking error. Alternatively, you can push the upper arm and lower arm upwards, which is what I was doing and, trust me, it looks really dicky. How far you want your shoulders to rotate, of course, is a matter of personal choice,  physical ability and the length or type of cast you want to make. I’m not medically qualified but I can safely say  if you ain’t straining when performing a smooth, easy and natural throwing movement you are a lot less likely to be injured. Efficiency trumps effort, yet again.

Like any red blooded individual I like casting long but, and it is a non negotiable “but”, I am only interested in long casts that can deliver the fly accurately. That means I have to stay inside my comfort zone and avoid any and all heaving.

I’m going to stick my neck out here but I don’t get much pleasure from watching a lot of distance competition casters, especially on their delivery stroke. From my perspective, throwing (heaving) yourself off balance is cringeworthy. If you want to see what I’m talking about go to YouTube and watch a video of  Joan Wulff making a serious distance cast. See how she looks at the finish of a delivery cast. She was a dancer. It shows. Grace. Balance. Likewise, when I read distance casters going on about “hitting it” I shudder to think of what will happen to even an advanced caster who takes that stuff too seriously.

The top secret secret to (my kind of) going long is to stay inside your comfort zone, extend your stroke, shift your weight and, above all, stay smooth.

 

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Feel the Beat, Keep to the Rhythm

Here’s one for the kinaesthetic learners, for folks who enjoy being mindfully in touch with their bodies and for anyone else who gets the general idea.

Way back when I read A River Runs Through It I remember coming to the bit about Norm’s dad and the metronome and casting being “an art that is performed on a four-count rhythm between ten and two o’clock.” And being younger and smarter than I am now the stiffness and stuffiness of this approach was all too apparent. But I missed something.

What I missed was not the limitations of the clock face and the robotic 4/4 rhythm, it was the advantage and beauty of casting smoothly with a rhythm shared between the back cast and the forward cast. Just enough effort, both ways, and no more. No rush.

I’ve read a fair bit about fly casting since then and tempo gets an occasional mention. Of course tempo is about the speed and not the rhythm of the two strokes. Shorter casts have a faster tempo because the strokes are shorter and the line takes less time to turnover. Rhythm rarely gets discussed like it does in sports such as golf. If you rush the backswing in golf, chances are you will rush the forward swing even more. Result? Horror show.

Now, the beat is what you hear when you tap your toes in time with the music. The rhythm is the number of beats to the bar. I am not, of course, suggesting a count or recommending jazz, blues or salsa for inspiration. What I’m talking about is feel and matching the rhythm of back and forward casts so that what you do on the way back feels like what you do on the way forward and vice versa. The “do” here being the extent and timing of effort and the smoothness of the acceleration. It’s easy when you stay in time. Obviously the muscle and joint movements are not the same in both directions but that doesn’t matter, feeling the beat of those movements and staying in time is what matters.

I love the hero cast into triple figures as much as the next mere mortal but when I need a break from polishing my stroke for more distance here is where I often go to recapture the simple life. I go back to a medium casting distance, one that is just long enough to get into the flow and I make a series of casts, with or without hauls. I don’t need to watch the back cast except to sneak an occasional peak at loop shape and trajectory.

On the forward cast all I am watching is turnover,  loop shape and how close to parallel the two legs of the line are. I want a narrow somewhat pointy loop, both legs in the same vertical plane and no hooking of the leader that indicates a tracking error. I’m probably using a foundation casting stroke with limited shoulder rotation.

The strokes are long enough to minimise effort. It’s like being on a swing, easy back and easy forward. I feel the beat and stay in rhythm. Why? Because it feels nice, because that’s where I want to be when I’m sight fishing and want a precise cover that lands like a raindrop. Because the longer my carry in this state of grace the longer I can cast accurately.

Now, after a while I might get the distance itch so I add five feet and then another five and so on until I am near the limit of my technique. I might keep pushing and adding shoulder rotation and weight transfer until I reach full stretch or I might back off and stay in the comfort zone because right there life is simple, covering casts are tidy and the fish is all I will have to worry about.

I could tell you how all this lines up with mechanics but I won’t spoil the show. I am still reading up on biomechanics but it’s a good fit there as well. It’s all about efficiency. That’s where aesthetics and science reunite.

 

 

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The Meaning of Slack

As part of the Einstein Series I wrote about the Straight Lines Rule and part of that was casting with straight lines which means fly lines having as little as possible slack in them. The reason to avoid slack is that taking up it is a Force thief. It steals from the net Force in the intended direction of the cast – forward or back – and we don’t have that much Force to spare. We don’t want to spend part of our stroke length taking up slack instead of powering the line out to where we want it to go. That’s the mechanics taken care of.

So there I am down at the local park practicing with my 5wt combo and trying to maximise carry. I’m not going for distance alone. My objective, as usual, is to extend the distance at which I can cast accurately. Effort and accuracy are sworn enemies because effort diminishes control.

My aim is to extend carry while staying in my comfort zone. That zone is staked out with a  bunch of big signs that all say “Keep out! No heaving allowed”. How do I know when I am at the edge of that zone? It is when my technique starts to crack, slack starts to increase and I am sorely tempted to heave to try and get rid of it. In other words the appearance of slack is an alarm signal telling me my technique is faltering.

A few dots need to be joined here. Some years back I watched a video of Matt Howell and he talked about “chasing slack” as an impediment to distance casting. I also remember a post to Sexyloops Board by Bernd Ziesche describing his observation that going long requires more than just a good back cast and a good delivery cast. It requires a good sequence of casts. Light bulb moment. A good sequence for me equals slack being minimised (among other things of course). During a good sequence carry length can be built. During a poor sequence slack starts to get out of control. Consequently, carry length is being demolished and, on the longest casts, sometimes to the point of complete failure.

When the carry gets hard to maintain I frequently start chasing slack. Sometimes I get it back in hand and sometimes I lose the battle and the bastard gets away.  Slack is, however, always a sure sign that something is amiss. Consequently, I look for that border between comfort and battle and try to find out why 65′ is a doddle and 80′ is often a battle. Slack marks the frontier. My job is to expand the empire.

Of course the presence of slack doesn’t mean so much in shorter casts because we can catch it more easily with a longer stroke or a touch more power in a “normal” stroke length. The longer our carry, however, the less margin for error we have. At the limit of our stroke length we only have more power to use in arresting the thief and that opens the door to heaving who happily teams up with the slack thief to increase the proceeds of crime. A vicious cycle ensues.

There are various ways of finding the culprits but CCTV (my phone on a tripod) is usually foremost among them. If I film a series of casts of increasing carry length starting well within in the comfort zone and finishing beyond it, I can often see what the problems are and just as importantly, where they start.

If you have come this far you probably don’t need me to say what drills or tricks I use but, fwiw, I do things like:

  • PUALDs in both directions to check out tracking and to see where the limits are and how they can be pushed.
  • Extend carry a little bit at a time (tighten the reel drag and peel off a foot or so each time)
  • As above, with and without hauling
  • Pantomime and slow motion using just the butt section of the rod especially to groove the joint movement sequence and therefore late rotation and haul timing
  • Making accuracy casts to a series of small targets at 5-10 foot intervals

All these things, performed with close attention to effort, loop shape and turnover, help me improve technique which then shows up in all the usual places, including carry optimisation and slack minimisation. It is all about energy efficiency – body to rod and rod to line.