Gear Changes and Adaption

In the previous post I spoke about a practice session using different lines on two 5wt rods with different actions. Same reel for both rods. The gear variations weren’t huge in quantitive terms but taken altogether they did produce significant demands for adjustment in order to maintain control and sustain efficiency.  They changed the feel and, in particular, the feedback provided while casting. Not many casters need to be told that qualitative differences matter because they do and because changing outfits requires our sensory motor system to adapt. Adapting is what fishing demands of us and the better we are at it the better our fishing will be. Simply put, it is an integral part of sound casting technique.

Here in Melbourne Australia we are back under even stricter lockdown so casting practice is out for me until restrictions are eased. As I’ve become fond of saying, when it comes to transmission of the virus population density is indeed a problem. Sigh. My last extended practice session involved another cut at adaption, this time by changing the weight of the outfit by changing reels – heavier reel, lighter reel and zero reel (off the rod and in my pocket).

It all started, as these things often do, with a discussion of how reel weight affects the feel of the rod. My friend in the UK said it made a lot of difference, to the point where shedding the reel made some of his rods come alive.  My own experience suggested it made a difference but not to same extent. So we started weighing some of our reels with different lines spooled up and I devised an experiment. Off to the park I went with my two 5wt rods and various reels and lines. I set up a targets at 60′, 70′, 80′ and 90′ and after limbering up I put the two rods and two different reels (GT125 5wt on an SKB 6/8 cassette reel and GT90 5wt on an ancient Danica 6/9) through their paces. With the reel pocketed that made a total of 6 combos.

Lest anyone think that I’m trying to promote any of the gear, I’m not. This stuff is simply what I fish(ed) and practice with most often. Normally I avoid any mention of brands or models but in this instance an exception has to be made. Why avoid tackle talk? Because technique can’t be bought at a tackle shop.

The Tests

Practice regime for each combo – limber up, short accuracy work, some TLT (Svirgolato and Lancio Angolato), single hand spey, backhand side as well as forehand for overhead and spey.  Casts were then repeatedly made to each target finishing with a series of longer casts 80’, 80′ plus, 90’ and 90′ plus. No casts made for maximum distance. The idea was to get familiar with each combo applied to wide range of lengths and tasks. Sundry extra combo swaps were thrown in to check felt differences.

Didn’t take notes because this was about qualitative feel rather than quantitative fact. Conditions were wet ground and a very slight head wind which was actually good because there were no free lunches on turning over the leader completely at distance or with roll casts.


Two overall “metrics” – performance and preference. For this exercise mechanics are a side issue to caster experience.

Rod 1 Hardy Wraith 590

No significant performance outcomes except maybe for shorter casts <60’. At that distance the feel aspect actually favoured the heavier outfit. Of course this is the one I and my sensory motor system know best. Going up from zero reel to heaviest reel, yes I could feel the heavier weight/load especially at medium to longer distance. Didn’t really like the zero option until the carry was 70’+. Then things smoothed out nicely.

Takeaway? Slight preference overall for the lighter reel. The rod is an absolute weapon in fishing terms with a really nice balance of power and finesse – distance, accuracy and specialty casts.

Rod 2 Sage X 597

No significant performance outcomes. Zero reel felt especially “off” with this rod – heavier tip, whole thing felt a bit wobbly and unbalanced until the longer casts were being made.

Takeaway? Clearer preference for the lighter reel. The weight and effort distribution were nicer on this rod which needs a gentle approach to truly show its class. More about finesse than power but the power of this rod is not to be underestimated when stroke timing and effort are properly adjusted.


I didn’t think that the action and feel of either rod were “set free” by the lighter reel or by no reel but I did like the effect of less weight for stroke control – except for the shortest casts with the Wraith 590. Would not choose the no reel option for either rod. Of course it’s a) not an option and b) the least familiar combo. Confession time, I placed an order for  a lovely reel with nordic design and engineering. Sadly, haven’t had the chance yet to see how it fishes and what it’s like to cast but I expect pleasant experiences in both domains.

My suggestion, with due regard for individual preferences and needs, is to try switching gear around occasionally during practice sessions. It reduces boredom and increases skill.



Control, Adaption and Casting Mechanics: A Practicing Example

I mainly practice with a fast action 5wt 9′ rod and a long belly 5wt line (Barrio GT 125). Every now and again I like to switch to something else not just to break the monotony but to force adaption to a different gear setup and thereby fine tune sensory motor control. So, for a recent session I changed rods to a slightly longer and slower action 9′ 6″ rod.  (More about that rod here).  As well as the GT125  5wt line I took along an SLX “5wt” single hand spey line. The inverted commas are there because technically it is significantly heavier than the AFFTA standard range for a 5wt line which is in no way a criticism but rather a simple statement of fact.

During the first part of the practice session I warmed up with the GT125 going through the parts of the practice regime I considered would help to make the necessary adjustments. Then I moved on to making accuracy casts to 4 targets laid out at 10 foot intervals.

There were a few signs of things needing refinement with the most important being the size, shape and orientation of the loops – overhead and roll casting. They were just a tad too wide for my liking signifying that the efficiency of force application – amount and timing – was just a bit off. A little less effort overall and a slight delay in final rotation were the required adjustments.

Now it was time to switch lines and limber up with the SLX. These lines have a comparatively shorter, heavier head and as Vince Brandon pointed out to me in subsequent discussion, their taper profile is somewhat similar to a Wulff triangle taper – a line I have never owned or cast. I bought the SLX on something of a whim and have fished a couple of sessions with it on my fast action 5wt. On that rod I found it just a bit clunky at distance when overhead casting. On my 9′ 6″ rod it is a much sweeter line to throw.

The surprise came when the SLX was used for accuracy casting to the 4 targets. The loops were noticeably tidier, meaning tighter and not just for the shorter range casts of 60′ and 70′.  What was that about? Wider loops for the GT125 and narrower ones for the SLX when initially deployed.

Sparing you most of the analysis I think there were two related things going on that shed light on the different results with different lines and made the heavier line initially easier to control. On the sensory motor side the additional weight increased feedback. When feedback diminishes, from slack or lighter line weight, we have an instinctive tendency to speed up the stroke and increase effort until we find what we are searching for – the feeling of effective effort. Unfortunately, we are also in grave danger of producing a negative outcome – we heave and when we heave we rotate too much or too soon or both. That’s why loops get wider – in extreme cases we see the effects of a windscreen wiper stroke.

On the casting mechanics side I suspect the different weight of the amount of line aerialised affected the amount of rod bend. Rods shorten when they bend. If the body movements are identical then for the same casting stroke the tip of a longer rod travels more distance, ideally in the intended direction of the cast. The tip of a shorter rod travels less distance. In summary, the length of the lever amplifies the movement of the casting arm. The detail of what the rod does as a third class lever is explained here. A longer rod performs more Work on the line because the Force is applied for a greater distance.

So in the present example a slightly shorter rod giving more feedback is somewhat easier to control and we need control to cast efficiently. On the other hand the Work done by the longer rod is greater. For the same movement of the casting arm we get more kinetic energy going into the line. From a caster’s perspective the efficiency sweet spots for the two different lines will be slightly but significantly different. Staying in those sweet spots  produces a noticeably different overall feel. For the longer rod I needed to “wait for it” just a bit longer and throughout the casting stroke.

The actual measurements slotted into the relevant equations are not where this is going. They might be interesting but they provide no feel or feedback to a sensory motor system which is what we use to control our casting strokes. The extra rod length is proportionally small and the difference in rod flexibility is probably also on the low side. However, those differences combined with different weight distribution in the two fly lines do produce significant demands for adjustment in order to maintain control and sustain efficiency. Making those adjustments is enjoyable and produces better overall technique. Try it and see what you think.





Free at Last! Expressing Yourself

There hasn’t been much to write about for a couple of months. Been in lockdown mode so no casting practice. No practice means I’ve had nothing to preach about.  Here in Oz the restrictions have eased enough that the optics of throwing some loops have greatly improved and I’ve managed a couple of park sessions.

With the aid of a structured practice routine the first session was about discovering how much had been lost and the second was about picking up where I left off in the last post. The key point there was making a delivery without any conscious attempt at oomph, a delivery that I went easy on all the way through, right to the very end.

The obvious place to resume was at a medium casting distance, the point where no effort or restraint from effort is required. Physically, this is biomechanical easy street. From a sensory motor perspective little conscious thought is involved and movement is largely automatic. Technique is sound. Mentally it’s a composed and confident space. I really enjoy this place; it’s where learning is relatively clutter free because available attention is high. If you haven’t visited this clearing in the casting jungle I urge you to seek and explore it. Yes, I know, I’ve said most of this before but for now, consider it context establishment.

So, there I am, casting to a target at medium distance and then to the next one ten feet further away and then back again and then ten feet short of medium distance and then progress as before. Something importantly different starts to happen. Instead of an external focus on technique (eg tracking, tracing, translation, rotation, loop width, full and straight turnover) I am now experiencing the movement internally. Rhythm and tempo are matched and in balance between forward and back casts. Minor changes in trajectory can be made at will. I’m fully in the movement of my body rather than trying to observe it and its results from the outside. Not only can I do it correctly I can do it expressively. Then the question becomes for how long and how far can the experience  be extended. Space, time and distance.

As I write this I’m doubting it will hit the spot with many of my fellow casting pilgrims but each and all the journeys are simultaneously shared and personal. A tag line I have taken from Emerson is that “The line of beauty is the result of perfect economy.” Graceful movement then, is economic. It is not surprising that Joan Wulff and Chris Rownes were both professional dancers. Their casting is pretty easy on the eye.




The Special Delivery Cast

In the fly casting universe huge amounts of the discussion come down to what happens on the delivery cast, especially when travelling in the solar system of distance casting. Competition accuracy casting is by comparison a mere asteroid despite accuracy rather simple distance being the answer most of the fishing time. Methinks something is not quite right with gravity in this neck of the space time continuum.

Ok, let’s face it, not too many people I know, myself included, wouldn’t mind adding another ten or even twenty feet to their maximum distance.  Call it what you will, this dark matter of the ego has a strong attractive force which is reflected in the map of the discourse. After all, this is what late rotation, late hauling, power snaps, hitting it after the rod passes the perpendicular and so on are about – really. The overt or implicit message is that the reward for these virtues is more distance. Simple translation (cough)? How to put more oomph into your delivery and get away with it.

So, let’s consider the elephant in the room question namely, how does this work out for most casters, especially those in the intermediate to advanced layers of the casting skill pyramid? My answer, informed by both observation and personal experience, is very badly. It doesn’t help at all in dealing with the natural inclination to overpower our casting, especially the forward cast and most particularly the delivery cast. That’s putting it mildly.

For those somewhat familiar with my schtick you probably know where this is going. He’s getting ready to sing his favourite song about efficiency and effort. You’re right I am, but this time with some instrumental backing from my thoughts on casting practice and how to tell a good session from an ordinary one.

For some time now I have been working on increasing the efficiency of my casting. Far from being about improved technique issuing a licence to put in more oomph, it has been about eliminating or at least reducing errors which create inefficiency, that is, casting faults which steal from net Force in the intended direction of the cast. Tracking errors, early rotation, (leading to) over rotation, slack problems, haul timing and such are all examples of force theft leading to inefficiency.

Many efficiency draining faults are rightly categorised as force application problems but usually without reference to the fundamental pre-requisite of efficiency in force application as illuminated by the relationship between Force, mass and acceleration of an object. F=ma and F is always a net Force – what is left of force in the intended direction of the cast after subtracting force which isn’t in the intended direction of the cast. In fly casting we can add by not subtracting.

To pick a prime example, heaving is endemic among fly casters but instead of understanding it more deeply as a cause of inefficiency it’s just said to be a fault.  Heaving is, counterintuitively, a thief instead of a source of net Force because it is the usual suspect if we rotate before translating or throw tailing loops or produce fat loops by over rotating and so on. Over rotation of the forward cast is what I want to concentrate on in this post and the cause in my case could be described as a subtle form of heaving because I find it very hard to resist the temptation to put a little extra into the delivery cast right at the end – ie during the last bit of rotation.  Importantly, it takes only a tiny amount of extra force to produce over rotation which steals a disproportionate amount of net Force. We subtract by adding.

How I know this? Let’s start with the evidence. Sometimes I’ve had the experience, as I am sure many of you have had, of a delivery cast that feels ridiculously easy and travels an unexpected distance. It’s the cast with a shoot included that would “normally” go 50 feet but instead goes 60 feet or a similar experience with much longer casts again. This can happen if we unexpectedly deliver off, say, the second false cast instead of the next forward cast which was going to be the delivery. Likewise we have all experienced the cast that should have gone ten or twenty feet further than it did. The effort was there alright but the efficiency sucked.

I practiced forward casting intentionally and mindfully until I found the problem which was indicated by the loop shape – just a bit too wide for my liking. Going for that extra little bit, no matter how little extra it was, produced a little bit of over rotation just at the end of the stroke. Remember, a small movement of the hand is greatly amplified by the length of the rod. Leverage has a downside too.

A clue was provided some time ago when I started playing with Lancio Angolato (as mentioned in my previous blog entry) and using the idea of the thrust in more standard overhead casts. It increases the Work done on the line and, more importantly for the current context, it mitigates against over rotation. More movement, less effort. Great, how far can I take this? How little effort can I finish with? You know, when you put the match box up onto the shelf delicately instead of smacking it down.

I found further and better proof when I practiced until I could turn it on and turn it off again – so finishing easy and then finishing just a touch harder. What I was looking for was a delivery without any conscious attempt at oomph, a delivery that I went easy on all the way through, right to the very end. Bingo. A special delivery that goes a long way with good accuracy. (Same deal with the back cast too.)

With that refinement firmly in place – still a work in progress – I can go back to things like tracking, haul timing, trajectory, release timing and other useful things that are all important but perhaps secondary to comprehensive control of force application.


Svirgolato – Twist With A Tail

Confession time. I don’t fish small streams very often, much less overgrown ones so way back when I saw my first footage of “Italian style” or Tecnica di Lancio Totale  (TLT) I thought, “Yeah, ok. Ingenious adaption of technique to circumstances but jeezuss that looks awful. Not for me.” As with many things in fly fishing, my judgement turned out to be a tad hasty.

The first crack in the wall of my prejudice appeared when a thrusting motion at the end of the bog standard overhead delivery cast started to become a regular thing. As an extension of the casting stroke it adds to the Work done on the line so it facilitates going further while staying smooth. It has another benefit which is to counteract over rotation which makes for fat loops which are a sure sign that Force is not being applied efficiently. Straight lines rule – ok?

Fast forward a bit and I started to play with Lancio Angolato, the classic and basic cast of TLT. (Very good videos of this and more will be found here. The guys from SIM Suisse know their stuff.) It was fun, it was unconventional and I could see interesting uses for it beyond poking dry flies under the shrubbery. What’s not to like? For example, picture a cast to a target 70′ away, tight loop, low trajectory, high line speed, fly lands before leader or line. Perfectly doable with standard fly fishing tackle. Not a practical distance for small streams but for sight fishing, say on the flats? Fishing a dun hatch on a Tassie impoundment. The wind is blowing. My target rises upwind 50′ away and time is short. By now my wall of prejudice was completely demolished and beyond lay a fascinating garden that any curious fly caster would commit to explore with an open mind and the expectation of pleasurable reward for effort.

Then, on a forum I inhabit, along came a thread on curve casts which turned into an exploration of Svirgolato and next thing I was down at the park with something new to learn. Before I get into this cast let me say a couple of things. First, I’ve been able to curve cast for a very long time, long enough to know that I only liked overpowered curve casts because they were the only ones I could land with any degree of accuracy. Second, in all the years I’ve been fly fishing I can think of exactly one fish landed after a curve cast which I couldn’t have made a decent presentation to in any other way. True, I don’t fish small streams often but even so, one fish in thirty plus years tells  me/you something. Thirdly, when I started this site I wasn’t intending to explore specialty casts in much detail, if at all, and for this I’ve made a conscious exception. That also says something.

The initial motivation to learn Svirgolato was novelty and as a test of my sensory motor learning skills and knowledge.  The second stage came after I realised how useful this thing could be and how accurate it could be once mastered. The third was when I realised it was a cast of subtlety in power application, tension management and, as ever, timing. The fourth will involve identifying, via mechanics, the keys to efficiency and optimal line shape at the completion of the cast.

Perspective needed. This particular cast is not for long range. You can’t shoot line and still get a good result because you would lose tension in the rod leg. [Correction. As Malik has pointed out to me and practice has confirmed, you can shoot line but you need a check haul to stop the shoot and restore tension.] It’s a specialty cast whose specialty is delivering a fly out to the side of the main line at short to medium distance. On the vids you will probably see it used to negotiate current differences and buy time for a drag free presentation. But that’s just the vids. Imagination will take you to other scenarios. There is footage of Malik Mazbouri bending a decent sized deceiver around using a 10wt rod and 9wt line.

So if I have caught your interest go to the last few pages of the curve cast thread  and have a look at the posts and videos from Malik. They are about performing the standard Svirgolato with line going over the rod tip. As he says it is vital to make the outward movement of the rod hand during the stop – not before, not after. A second tip comes from Graeme Hird which is to divide the learning into 1) side casting so the line comes over the tip – loop in the vertical plane and 2) producing a tailing loop.

On the mechanics side we have to produce a tailing loop, transverse to or across the direction of the cast. This is a wave which propagates through the fly line at the same time as the loop is propagating through the fly line. Making the cast nicely and reliably means that the wave of the tail is still in the line as the loop is finishing up its work.

If we cast too hard the tail will have completed its journey before the loop completes turnover and there will be no kick around at the end. If we tail too early (before the stop) we get a similar result. There are other possible problems from power application and tension management but I won’t try now to list them all. Have a go and see what happens. Like I said, it’s a cast of some subtlety.


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.



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.