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Henry Mittel with Randy Olson

When you guys cast fly distance, do you brace the rod butt against your forearm for extra leverage?

Only in single-handed (and of course only during the back cast). It would be restricting doing that in double handed and not necessary. In Angler's fly, I see both - with and without.  I don't do it because I want to hold the rod as close to the butt end as possible (to have the longest possible rod).

Casting 101 and up in the form of questions and answers.

I am thinking I should just order the largest arbor reel (spey reel) I can find rather than worrying about storing the line on large wood spools the first time out.  Would I be in the ball game or frustrated with tangles?

As long as the largest reel isn't too heavy, it should be managable. You can experiment while you are practicing.  You may need to find a way to stretch the line (mostly the running line).  If you practice on a soccer field, the goals have hooks for the net.  You can hook the middle of your running line into one of those and pull on the two ends.  If your stretching attempts give a reasonably straight line then you know that stretching it at the nationals with a helper will work too.

By the way, you don't have to have a wooden spool. Some people use the rims at the top of 5-gallon paint buckets.  The have a large diameter (larger than my spools) and two raised parts creating a deep enough groove for running line and shooting head.  I also hear that kite flying suppliers have large wooden or plastic spools. Way back when, I used the rim of a stroller wheel (of course I had to carefully remove all burrs and unevenness, but back then time was all I had).

I practiced Angler's Fly yesterday.  The good news is that I could easily shoot 150 feet of line.  The bad news is that the leader and shooting head were piling up between 120 and 130 feet.  So I am losing at least 20-30 feet due to poor loop shape. I then studied my video and discovered it was that damn "hooking" backcast biting me again. Am I off to a good start??

I'd say yes.  I have seen other experienced fly fishermen give Angler's fly a (semi-) serious try.  While they were still trying just to do the technique, they got to 120' - sometimes more - without much piling up of the line.  Then they tried for distance - and got to 120'+ with piling up of a lot of line. There can be multiple reasons for that.

Slack in the back cast (sideways or otherwise) is a very common cause.  It kills the loop of this light but rapidly moving line.  Angler's Fly is almost like trying to throw a match like a javelin - any motion away from the straight direction leads to disaster (supposedly a match properly thrown can go many yards without wind).

Once you are able to make a straight and tight back cast, the motion of the rod forward must maintain the straightness of the line.  This is probably where most casters fail when they start to apply power. Even if one is able to do the exact same motions as before applying extra power for distance, the rod will bend differently under the power application. A stronger rod bend or a bending earlier in the forward stroke will change the path the rod tip takes. As a result, what maintained a relatively straight loop while trying for technique won't exactly do the same when applying power.

Another issue is the un-rolling of the loop. The length of the overhang is a factor in that. A longer overhang promotes a slower/later straightening of the line. Using too short an overhang or holding on to the running line too long makes the loop straighten out faster - or too fast and it's anybody's guess what happens after the loop straightens out.

However, I feel that the loop rarely straightens out at all. From what I see from my view point while Angler's Fly casting and from what I have observed in others, the loop begins to unroll but then the tip part slows down to a speed equal to or less than the butt section of the line. I probably still have several and significant enough quirks in my casts to account for this behavior of the line.  But even Steve has recognized this problem as a fact of life in many of his casts.  He times it just right and grabs the running line and even gives it a little jerk.  You can see this well in some of the single-hand footage from the world championships (the reason why I didn't cut the scene after he lets go of the line). This really works, but it takes great judgment and timing.  Of course, you wouldn't want to do that to a cast that is perfect - one that would straighten out by itself - the one that would win you the competition.  So virtually everyone, including myself, who tries to grab their line does it too late. The importance of that stop or pull can be seen in the fact that my longest competition cast happened when the line got hung up on the rod in just the right moment or hit the reel. If you are not able to grab the line at the right time, there is an alternative. You can strip just a few more feet of line from the reel than you think you can cast under the conditions. In a cast that gets close to that distance, the line will hit the reel helping it to straighten out. Unfortunately, you'll never cast a way-out personal record this way but the odds for a really good cast are much better than without this trick.

I've been casting fly distance with my thumb on top of the rod. This hurts my thumb a lot. Should I change my grip to finger on top?

Chris would very much agree (I do too but still to a lesser extent) to get rid of the thumb on top of the grip.  However, his index finger is not on top of the grip either.  He describes his grip as:

- Use the strong area where the index finger joins the palm of your hand to push the rod.

- Use the most natural wrist motion to promote a straight rod path.

While thumb-on-top requires a wrist motion way off the natural/strongest way to move the wrist, index finger on top is on the other side of the optimum. The idea is to use index finger and thumb to cradle the grip. This way, both thumb and index finger contribute to the push on the rod and you can keep left-right motion of the rod in check. The latter is also promoted by using the natural wrist motion to turn over the rod.

When casting Salmon Fly, is there any special technique to pinching the line against the rod with your rod hand?  It seems like you would want to use more than one finger to hold the line against the rod when casting.

In two-handed - according to Steve, the holding line should come from the guides, go over the index finger of your strong (upper) hand, underneath the middle finger of the upper hand, over all other fingers of the upper hand, over the reel (to avoid getting tangled there), over the index finger of the lower hand, underneath the middle finger of the lower hand, and to the ground.

Not knowing what I was doing, I tried the same [as in the answer above] but using the index fingers of both hands to hold it and it seemed to work too.

I've done it too and I can confirm that it works. However, Steve recommends the use of the middle fingers to hold the line since they are stronger. Consequently, the risk of burns or cuts should be less. Also, it may pay to keep the index fingers safe for use in the accuracy events.

Oh yes, a general word of advice about holding the line in fly distance: Either hold the line really well or not at all.  Anything in between will cause burns, cuts, pain - the heavier the outfit the more.  That's true during your casting motion and also when you try to stop the line (no point in letting bad casts pull out a lot of line preventing you from practicing good casts sooner).

How do you hold the line for your double-haul?

In Single-handed and Angler's fly, we hold the holding/running line with the non-rod hand.  I put the line in my hand between my thumb and the index and middle fingers, much like you might hold a pen to point at something. This allows me a firm grip without slipping during all phases of the double haul and a quick release with a minimal chance for getting tangled up in the line.

One of my distance blanks is still in the shop for putting the guides on and the other blank still hasn't arrived.

You don't have to wait until you get your distance rods.  You can get started with any rod.  Go through the motions, stop at any point and see if you are really holding the rod as you should (grip, position and angles).  You can even do fluid motion just to train your muscles to recognize the motion later when the rod is heavier and further down the line when there is a line on the rod.  Of course, you are a seasoned fly caster and those preliminary steps may be totally unnecessary, but I recommend them to anyone learning new techniques or improving known ones.

In your video, it did not look like you had a reel taped to the rod.  When you practice do you just leave the shooting line still attached to the spool on the ground?

If I put a reel on the rod it's just for the weight.  There may even be some line on it but it has nothing to do with my distance line - just for practice.  The wooden spool on the ground is attached to the running line with a slipping loop.  The rest of the line is wound up until the fly (or rather its sorry substitute) is on.  With this direction of winding on the line, I just need to unroll as much as I need that day (sometimes little more than the shooting head if I only practice false casting). Of course, I do everything according to the rules when I cast in competition.

The shooting line I ordered from the ACA is about the thinnest line I have seen.   When double hauling is that what you hang onto with your left hand, or is there a section of thicker line between the shooting head and the shooting line that would be easier to grip?

In Angler's fly, the running line is the same as the hang-onto-line.  It's thick enough and the T19 shooting head is so light...In single-hand and double hand, there is an intermediate line - long enough to experiment with various lengths of overhang (plus a full haul in single-handed).  I have 0.016" (single) and 0.029" (double) diameters for those sections right now. But that's a matter of personal preference - a trade-off between safety while holding on to it and friction while not holding on to it.

In Salmon Fly, when I make a very powerful cast the line goes out very fast and, past seventy yards, the top of the fairly tight loop turns over early, then pitches down just like a nymph cast. This, of course, greatly shortens the cast. What's wrong?

Three possible reasons for this behavior come to my mind:

1) If you hold on to the holding line for too long, more energy is transfered from the butt part of the line into the tip part early on in the cast. Hence, the tip part passes the butt part early and bad things happen from that point on. Other than working on a faster release of the line, one can try to lengthen the overhang (if you can still handle the false casting with the longer overhang).

2) Too much drag from the running and holding line also causes a faster energy transfer from the butt to the tip of the line. I use a soft 8 lb (diameter around 0.011" to 0.012") running line. Steve does too but he says that a 6 lb running line could be better with good wind. The holding line and the knot to the running line also matter. The holding line is much heavier than the running line. If the tail end of the holding line approaches the rod from far away as it shoots out, the last foot or two tend to wrap (temporarily) around the rod and/or bottom guide. This pretty much has the same effect as holding on to the holding line too long. This effect is worse if there is a lot of "unused" holding line. I use 0.025" diameter holding line and at most two feet more than I need.

3) I can imagine that a leader that's too short or too light could cause this problem. Check elsewhere on the ACA website for recommended leader formulae and materials. While we are at it, make sure your line isn't too short (short line - short turnover time). The rules require 15 meters. I believe the top casters use more than 16 - even 17 m. While we are talking about the line, check if the tapered side is at the tip. When I got started with Salmon Fly, I had put the line on backwards and I believe I have seen a behavior similar to what you described. (I had no clue why). The taper should be at the tip of the line, which promotes a more gradual energy transfer to the leader, i.e. slower and resulting in less of a kick.