Methods to Evaluating Fly Casting Techniques
By Steve Rajeff
When we go out to practice fly casting accuracy or distance, many of us forget to evaluate important basic techniques. Distance casters often resort to the "hit it harder" method while accuracy casters execute countless, mindless, imperfect false casts. While power and lots of practice are important, effort spent on pure technique may yield even better improvements.
Flycasting may be analyzed from four main categories: Loop; Stroke; Tempo; and Trajectory.
Face it, without a really good, narrow loop, not much is going to happen. A controlled, tight loop should be priority number one, both on front and back casts. The size of the loop is controlled by the path the tip top takes as it travels back or forth. The closer to a straight path, the narrower the loop. For most casters, the back cast loop needs more attention than the front loop. The key to improved back cast loops is the ability of the caster to stop the rod abruptly. This will transfer the stored energy in the rod bend to the line and help form a narrow loop. Depending on the length of line, the exact stop position shifts between 12 and 2 o'clock. The longer the line, the more bend the rod experiences and the further back it will need to travel to help maintain the straight line path. Also, depending on the length of the cast, a slight drift back on a short cast or a longer drift for longer casts may be needed depending on rod length and stiffness. Longer and stiffer rods allow the caster to power harder during the stroke, resulting in higher line speed and it is possible to shorten the stroke significantly. Softer rods require a longer stroke and more drift.
The sudden stop of the back cast helps the tip track a straight line path. The typical novice caster relaxes the hand and wrist as the rod reaches the back cast position. This relaxing promotes a wide arc or curved path of the tip resulting in a wider backcast loops.
The final forward cast loop of a distance cast can be improved by a slight forward drift via wrist turnover, following the stop. Very good casters achieve a "Vee" shape to the front edge of their loop because of this subtle follow through drift. This slight drift, while simultaneously reducing grip pressure absorbs the tip deflection bounce down, minimizes shock waves and tightens the loop.
While wide loops are bad, tailing loops are worse. Every caster has had the fly catch the line or fold back on the leader creating big problems. This is the infamous tailing loop. It is the result of the tip of the rod curving under a straight line path. It is the opposite of too wide a loop. Overpowering the rod in to short of a stroke causes the rod to "overload" and as a result the tip top will dip under a straight line path causing a tailing loop. Spreading the power over a wide portion of the stroke, and also lengthening the stroke will reduce or eliminate tailing loops.
The stroke is the second most critical aspect of improving fly casting in general. Length of stroke and arm positions during the stroke should be analyzed and the assistance of another caster or coach really helps here.
In accuracy casting to a short target, the hand should be forward of the body, in front of the shoulder or even slightly toward the center of the body. Think of tossing darts at a dart board. A good tossing position is holding the hand with the dart just forward of the eye or slightly off to the shoulder. Casting is similar in position.
When we start lengthening line, the hand should shift gradually outward to the side to make the longer stroke easier. Think of the throwing motion of a baseball if you had to throw 25 feet, then 75 feet, then 125 feet, and finally from deep center to home plate. As we cast with longer length line, we should similarly extend the stroke and reach back.
In order to locate a casters most comfortable and powerful stroke posture the assistance of a second person is very helpful. With the caster stopped at the backcast position, the assistant should stand just behind the caster and grasp the rod just above the handle. Providing resistance to the forward stroke, the assistant holds the rod back while the caster tries moving the hand and arm up, down, closer, or further from the shoulder, then drive forward and through the stroke. Casters should seek their most comfortable range of movement in this exercise. This will result in better casts because the most "natural" throwing motion is employed, translating into greater speed.
In addition to the stroke, the perpendicular to horizontal tilt of the rod (overhead to sidearm) during the cast affects the stroke. Direction control is most enhanced with the rod more perpendicular, while extra power can be gained with a sidearm slant during the cast. Wind conditions, rod stiffness and even leader design and how fast it turns over the fly have an effect on how perpendicular or sidearm you should cast to optimize control.
Having looked at loops and stroke, the next emphasis should be to evaluate the tempo or cycle time of the cast. Many casters have a tendency to cast a little too slowly front to back. Probably each of us has been reminded of rushing the backcast (not allowing the line and leader to straighten out), so we slow down. Instead of slowing down, it would be even better to quicken the actual stroke, and wait the same time for the line to straighten on the backcast. The faster the line moves, the more we can feel the rod working and less effect a wind will have. The next time you practice accuracy, test your tempo, try a faster cycle time cast. Sometimes you may find it necessary to lengthen the leader tippet to stop from ticking. The added line speed will cause the leader to kick over the leader much harder, so the tippet adjustment is your way to compensate for the added power and speed.
Finally, study the trajectory. In accuracy we should cast high enough not to tick, but as low as possible to help see the fly just above the target, enhancing depth and distance perception. When distance casting, adjustments to trajectory and overhang is ongoing. Aim higher on windy days and use longer overhang. On calmer days, try lowering the cast while using a shorter overhang. The overhang adjusting controls how fast the shooting head turns over during the flight of the cast. Too short of an overhang, and the head will straighten out too soon during the shoot. The back end of the head is heavier than the tip end, so it will catch up to the tip and eventually the whole head will land in a big spaghetti pile. Too long of an overhang, and the loop will not have straightened out when the cast lands. The overhang adjustment control is the most critical in Angler's Fly because the head is relatively short, and turns over very fast. In singlehand and twohand fly distance, both having rather long heads, changes in overhang are still important but do not require as much change in length.
Loop, stroke, tempo, and trajectory are key elements to good fly casting and worth evaluating every time you go casting.