The Essentials

By Jim Valle
             Certified Master and Two Hand Casting Instructor
                          Federation of Fly Fishers


 Start with the Basics!
Tight loops, accurate casts, distance and more hook ups are all the result of fundamental physics. No matter where you are with your casting ability you will improve your casts when you understand the forces at work in your cast. 
First let’s start with the essentials. There are five. Summarized into one statement it goes something like this:
Move the rod and line forward under tension (remove all slack), smoothly accelerate (apply power) through the appropriate stroke (stroke length) moving the rod tip in a straight line path to a firm stop (Stop or pause).
What does the statement cover? Actually, it covers all of the physics involved in transmitting energy from your arm through the rod or flexible lever to the line and the fly. So let’s discuss each one and its effect on your cast.
I think Lefty did a great job explaining this one with the garden hose/sprinkler example. You know, there is a hose on the lawn with lots of coils. You want to move the sprinkler by pulling on the hose. Obviously the sprinkler won’t move until all the coils have been pulled out and the hose is straight. Simple! The same thing applies to your fly line. If you pick up a slack line you must use up valuable inches or even feet of your stroke to remove the slack and no tension or power is applied to the rest of the line until All the Slack Has Been Removed! Now think about this. The same holds true of moving forward on the forward stroke before the line has straightened on the backcast. We have all “cracked the whip” at some point. What’s the cause? Moving the rod forward before all the slack has been removed! That unrolling loop of line, even a perfectly tight loop is terrific except if it is still unrolling backwards it is slack relative to the beginning forward stroke. Start moving your rod/line forward before it has straightened and nothing happens to the end of the line, the fly, until All of the Slack is Removed! So again you have wasted valuable stroke length removing slack. Bottom line: In either case, protect every inch of your stroke length, it’s all you have, and as your distance increases you will want every bit you can get! Attempting to cast with slack in the system is a waste of time and energy!
 Power (acceleration)
The smooth application of power is essential and this power must be continuously increasing. Many have the wrong concept of power in fly casting. It is not this urgent rush or burst of energy. Brute force will not get you there. (That is why women do so well with fly casting. They naturally use balance and timing rather than strength). As a matter of fact if you have been experiencing tailing loops, this is one of the causes. Erratic or spikes of power cause the rod tip to flex and unflex and this causes a dip in the tip path and the fly line follows, which may cause a tail. (Note: A major cause of tailing loops when learning to throw longer lines is a spike in the application of power, trying to heave that thing way out there, the hero cast!) Bottom Line: Make the power stroke a smooth, continuous acceleration to a Stop.
Stroke Length
Stroke length is the distance the rod/hand moves from the first movement in the direction of the cast to the stop. Stroke length is variable. That is it changes based on the amount of line you have aerialized. Basically, Long Line…Long Stroke, Short Line …Short Stroke is the adage that applies. Ever have the problem of a loop turning into mush? It just doesn’t have the get up and go and just collapses. Lengthen your Stroke! You need more power! Let me get a little technical on this one because it is critical. Let’s assume you are false casting 30 feet of line out of your rod tip. Your rod bends in proportion to this 30 feet of mass (the weight of the line outside the tip plus the energy you have input into the system). You now see a fish at 45 feet. You haul and shoot or shoot more line on the backcast and then make the cast. Doesn’t matter how you do it. You have added more mass and/or energy into the system. Your Rod Bends More! It must, you have “loaded” the rod more. You are now carrying more line, the rod is flexing more, You must lengthen your stroke to match the additional bend of the rod (see Straight line Path below). Bottom line: Longer Lines require Longer Strokes!
Straight Line Path of the Rod Tip
This is the most important essential of all. This is where loop size/shape is determined. From the beginning of the stroke to the end, the rod tip must travel in a straight line, period! Form a convex (rainbow) path of the rod tip and you will get a large, unfocused loop. Unfocused because the energy you have worked so hard to get into the fly line has been disbursed throughout a large circle and will dissipate quickly. Form a concave path of the tip which dips the line below the straight line path and you will see tailing loops. Now apply power through the appropriate stroke length in a straight line path of the rod tip and all your energy will be focused in a straight line. The answer to tight loops, accuracy and distance! (Couple Clarifications) Straight line does not necessarily mean parallel to the ground. I can cast from a high backcast position to a low forward cast position and still travel the rod tip in a straight line. This is “line plane”, a subject for another discussion. Just imagine the rod tip traveling down a string from point A to point B. I can also travel low to high, “trajectory”, which we will cover in distance and wind casting. The other point I would make is that a straight line path of the rod tip is not necessarily a straight line path of the rod/hand stroke. That is a little advanced and not the point of this conversation. Bottom Line: Focus on the Straight Line Path of the Rod Tip and your loops will tighten, your accuracy will improve and more distance will come automatically.
The proper pause is fairly easy. When you stop the rod, Stop Dead! Don’t Move! (Note: The loop is born at the Stop, and without a firm, crisp stop the loop is anything but efficient.) You must pause for the line to roll out before you make the next stroke. Start moving sooner and you are back to Slack. Wait too long and all the casting system energy will be lost and your line will fall to the surface. So when is the proper time to start the next stroke? The answer is when your fly line (not including the leader) has just inches before it is completely straightened. (PS: In actuality by the time you react …the entire system, leader and all will be straight). Bottom Line: Stop the movement of the rod, Dead Stop, by squeezing your hand and forearm muscles. That’s when and how you form the loop you want.
All of the essentials work together in a balanced equation to provide the final result. So these are the things to consider when you are having problems and need to return to basics. Sometimes this is a hard thing to do by yourself because your minds eye sees what you think you are doing but this may be an illusion. One of the worst things a caster can do is to “practice wrong”! Fly casting is about understanding and applying physics and then building muscle memory and control through practice. If you are having a problem or want to move up to the next level seek competent instruction. In the long run you will progress further and faster and dramatically improve your success rate.
Great Casts!!!