This one is different, but aren't they all? This one is about building a better backcast. “Why?” you say, “Why build a better backcast? Here I am in the sticks: I need a use for the tailing loop, my backcast is just fine, damn your lies!”
But most people get their backcast wrong.
I love statements like that; I imagine right now you're thinking, “What does he mean? Do I get my backcast wrong? How does he know? And that's not even proper English”
The backcast's main purpose is to position the line in the air, in the right place for an effective forward cast, and although there's more than one way to do anything in life, love and flycasting, a good starting point would be to aim for a horizontally straightening backcast, 180 degrees in line with the direction of your (intended) forward cast.
There are two everyday, commonplace faults in the backcast. The first is pretty obvious and is an open or ineffective loop, and the second is almost universal, and harder to detect – unless you're explicitly looking for it, that is – and it is tracking. I'm going to make another bold statement: if you've never worked on tracking then you probably have a tracking fault, in fact even if you have worked on tracking you probably have a tracking fault, it's one of those things.
That should please you no end of course, since we are about to give you a better flycast. But before we delve into the world of tracking let me first talk about the lift.
The lift forms two functions, one is to clear the line from the water – or “unstick it” – and the other is to remove all slack line. As Bill Gammel, US Master instructor, puts it: “slack line can literally cause your loops to fall from the skies”. And you wouldn't want that. And if you can remove the slack line before the lift, and you can, then you can make longer cleaner lifts, and you know what that means: Bigger fish.
The stroke itself is really only a squeeze of the hand. This is the part where you can either throw an enormous loop or a tight one. Think about flicking the tip of the rod upward and not backward. Really good casters emphasise this particular movement by keeping the wrist depressed during the lift and, using the grip we wrote about in the last Damned Lies, making a nice, crisp, short stroke. It doesn't take very much power to flick 10 to 15 yards of line about and the very best flycasters can carry 90ft plus of line. Believe me when I tell you that it's not power. Oh, and they all practice.
I'm going to digress slightly for something more advanced and considerably more exciting: seamless drifting. It's not necessary to completely stop the rod at the end of the cast; all you need do is stop the horizontal component of the stroke. For a smooth stroke, try blending the back stroke with the (upward) drift of the hand. This is a beautiful way to throw tight loops.
Back to basics: Tracking. The backcast should line up directly with the forward cast. In extreme cases, failure to get this bit right will mean the end of your line flips around in an interesting manner, and fails to lie straight. It's easiest if you have a friend, or better still a video camera, but failing this you can check your tracking by casting along a marked straight line, such as a football pitch.
Start with the flyline straight along the line, make a backcast and allow the line to fall behind you. The vast majority of casters will notice that the line is now lying out to the side and by at least 20 degrees. It's important to fix this if you are interested in either distance or accuracy. Some people aren't – apparently.
On a totally related subject, although undoubtedly outside the scope of this month's column, but I'm going to mention it anyway: many casters will now introduce another tracking problem and on the forward cast when they cast the rod to the front of the leading eye, and not directly to the front of the shoulder. Most people appear to do this quite naturally, and it's a fault.
Here's a couple of quick tips: cast upwards, not backwards, make a long slow lift and a short up flick, think smooth, brush your teeth at least twice each day, smile a lot, find something directly behind you and aim at it (avoiding people and large animals of course), and if your backcast really sucks try the finger pointing grip – unless you are a contortionist this should stop you casting like a windmill.