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No Substitute for Casting Technique

I know, wouldn’t it be nice if:

  • a change of leader would give us reliable turnover
  • a new line would give us more distance
  • a special line lube would double the length of line shoots
  • a new rod with top secret technology would magically increase our casting range by 30%
  • another magic new rod would have us casting into a tea cup at 60’/18m instead of a hula hoop at half the distance
  • a tip here and a trick there would give us all the answers to all our problems

I know because over the years my hope was invested in at least some of those things and all for little or no lasting return. My bubble has been burst – repeatedly. You can’t buy a better, longer cast.

Worse, far worse than false hope, is yielding to instinct, the one that says to cast further I need to throw harder. It’s been my public enemy No. 1 for nearly all the time I’ve been fly casting and still, I have to try not to heave on my longest casts, not even just a little bit, not even if it’s ok to “hit it” once I’ve gone past the danger zone. No, no, non, nein, nyet. méiyǒu, ie, nei, and the same in any other language.

We can’t play like Segovia, sing like Domingo, dance like Fonteyn, or cook like Tetsuya just by reading the book or watching the video. Why would it be any different for fly casting?

Of course, we do not all aspire, even secretly, to cast like Joan Wulff or Steve Rajeff but what made all these people great is relentless devotion to technique. From that we can learn something! What we learn is that there are no shortcuts, substitutes, silver bullets or gee whiz gadgets that will spare us the work, effort, discipline and dedication to task. We can not google the answers to everything.

There are several ways to respond to the inescapable, we can avoid and resist, we can be crushed or, we can be inspired.

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Line Release when Shooting

Here’s something fairly short and sweet. When shooting line, what is the best time to release it?

A few months ago I needed to have a play with my line release timing. My shooting distances didn’t seem to match the line being carried. Carry increased but shooting wasn’t increasing proportionately. Consequently, I was having to work hard to get full turnover on long casts without a following wind. I wondered if something (else!) was missing. Having to work hard usually indicates a technical fault.

Read up on Sexyloops forum and found some graphs plotting line speed and rotation speed (angular velocity if you want the technical term). They said the best time to release is about when the rod is fully straight again (Rod Straight Position) after being bent earlier in the stroke. To be precise, at RSP1.

Right then. How do we put this into practice? Let’s assume we are doing the right thing with our rotation and haul timing – ie being late for both.

  • Start hauling when we start rotating (yes there are probably finer adjustments but this will be fine).
  • Finish hauling just before the end of rotation.
  • Release the line immediately the haul is finished.
  • Hopefully, that means we release at about RSP

I had been delaying the release longer but realised after the research that I needed to let go earlier. So I went earlier and the shoot felt much more energetic. How much more? Always hard to say because it’s impossible to make a fully controlled experiment which isolates a single factor so we can compare the before with the after. My best guess, using a tape measure, is that it gives me a distance benefit of between 6′ and 10′ (2-3m). It’s exceptional value if maximum range, the longest repeatable casting distance, can be extended by that much. Oh, and here’s a quiet killer, it works the same going both ways – for back casts as well as forward casts.

Why does it work? Not going into the Newtonian equations in this piece so here’s an analogy instead. Imagine you are driving a car with an automatic gearbox. If you want an efficient launch you take your foot off the brakes before pressing the accelerator pedal. If you are still on the brakes you be will retarding the vehicle at the same time as trying to make it accelerate – forward or backwards. Well, a late release is applying a braking force on the line shoot.


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Tradition and Dogma

As a part of fly fishing, fly casting is more than a personal interest or activity, it’s part of a tradition. Dogma, however, while being all too common, is not part of a tradition. In fact I would argue it is the opposite of a living tradition which behoves us to keep an open mind and remain well, curious. Tradition inspires. Dogma dictates. In my view fly casting needs to embrace tradition and exclude dogma.

Here’s part of something I wrote about 16 years ago. (The subject was “What is a Fly” in the context of fly tying.) I haven’t changed my mind since then.

“Two of the great things about fly fishing are that it has a long history and a bright future. The long history gives us a tradition and in the age of discontinuity it’s very reassuring to have something like a tradition to hold on to. Tradition is a rope that leads back a long way and has been worked by many hands, recognisably just like ours.

To try to fix for any or all time “what is a fly” is to be pulled backwards by the rope of tradition instead of drawn forwards in the act of continuing to build it. Once you spend more time making sure you are still attached than making sure you are still going forward, the rope of tradition soon turns into the chains of dogma. More trees than fish are caught on this type of back cast.”