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What’s Next?

I suppose most blogs and personal web sites are vanity projects at some level. Here we are trying to show the world that we are knowledgeable and clever. That wasn’t part of my conscious intent in setting this site up but it would be silly to dismiss the possibility out of hand.

Up until I decided to write the Einstein Series I had vague ideas of recording my journey as a casting pilgrim, a travelog for fellow travellers, and then along came a determination to cut the crap about physics and fly casting which finished up as the Series. Once it went live some intriguing things happened, new ideas came to mind; some of them more original than others; some of them pointed me in different directions and some affirmed my earlier choices. This thing is organic, it’s an expression of me and because money is not involved I am free to go where instinct and reason tell me to go.

So, with blessed technical help from a friend I get the Series live to air. My entire marketing effort consists of a heads up post to several bulletin boards and a couple of emails. Two things pleasantly surprise me. First, the Series is well received. Second the site goes from an occasional visit by some poor lost soul to nearly 500 people dropping by within a week or so and mostly they have a good look around the place. So I go from deciding to publish technical stuff which is relatively accessible to a niche within a niche market and hoping someone will find it useful to realising that if you publish good content, people will find it, read it, and appreciate it.

Don’t get me wrong and expect an equivalent Series to pop up every month. That’s not feasible and I’m not going exhaust myself trying to become an internet celebrity who becomes rich from being famous. Not going to happen.

Instead I’ve decided to learn from the experience. The experience says, “Write with your personal values. Write stuff that is accessible, practical, authentic and authoritative.”

So what’s next? Right now I am looking at the biomechanics of fly casting. It makes  sense in several dimensions. The mechanics of fly casting, as written about in “Physics FOR Fly Casting“, is about how we can put kinetic energy into a fly line to make it do what we want it to do. It tells anybody who will listen that efficiency trumps effort and exactly why it does so. If we follow the trail of kinetic energy it leads back to what we do with our body parts to get the optimal transfer of kinetic energy into the fly line so that it deposits our fly on target.

If kinetic energy is a bit ethereal for you then how about this. Bruce Richards’ six steps for sorting out casting problems are Line, Rod, Body; Body, Rod, Line. The line responds to the rod being moved by the body. Change your body movement, to change rod movement to change the line movement. The key point here is that the body is the middle two steps. It is both the problem and solution. It ought to be the centre of attention far more than the rod and the line but in the fly casting literature, including internet content, it seems to be all about the rod and the line.

Here’s the more poetic take. What do we notice when we see a seriously good caster in action? We notice the grace of their movements. “He/she makes it look effortless”. What’s that about? My partner is an ex professional ballet dancer. “Grace”, she once explained to me, “is economy of movement.” In other words, graceful movement is the result of efficient movement. My conceptual theme for fly casting excellence is that Art marries Science and Efficiency presides at the ceremony.

Stay tuned.

 

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Pardon My Regression

Here’s the story. Early December last year I go out for a practice session, my first since a 5 week fishing trip to Tassie. After loosening up a it I try a distance cast. It lands nicely and close to the tape but it’s a bit short. I repeat the cast several times with much the same results. Huh? Where did that other 15 feet of distance go? It all feels nice and relaxed and the accuracy is fine but clearly something(s) is wrong with my technique. How can that be when I’ve been fishing most days for 5 weeks, catching my share and generally hitting the targets?

Nothing else for it but to video my casting and analyse. Doesn’t take long to find the problems. One look at the first few casts and I know what’s wrong, basically several of the things that used to be wrong with my distance technique – insufficient body rotation, lack of weight transfer, tracking error out to the left on the back cast, too much rotation too early. Bugger! Back where I started as long as 2 years ago. Cringeworthy.

Well yes and no. Out to the outer reaches of the “kill zone” where targets can be hit confidently and comfortably I’m fine. Yes I’ve regressed but, in my defence and while I was away fishing, my technique adapted to the demands I placed on it.  It is also fair to remember that standing knee deep in the water, having to avoid the shrubbery on the back cast and covering the target fish before the opportunity passes ain’t the same conditions as chucking a long line in the local park.  Lastly it’s a more general reminder that play is rarely a substitute for practice in many sports. The envelope of technique has to be  nurtured and pushed if it is to be maintained and extended.

No way I’ll rest until the missing 15 feet have all been recovered and after a couple more sessions I’ve got roughly half of it back.  Don’t get me wrong. It’s been hard work. However, the problem won’t be solved completely until I insure against future loss. The insurance policy is only in draft but when finished it will include some clauses which trigger review – things I need to notice in future and fix before they get out of hand. Without vigilance we default to old habits. Without a lot of practice we don’t consolidate new habits as much as we like to think we have.

I really hate to say it but I have a sneaking suspicion this is another instance where progression is the only alternative to regression. Either I go forward or I go backwards; staying still isn’t really a viable option.

 

 

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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.”