This short article recently appeared in Fly Fishing and Fly Tying magazine as part of the " Get out of Jail" series - Paul.
Although we appear to have left the entire “Get out of Jail” concept for now, this one has a surprising metaphorical and literal twist to the end. And that's because it's tracking. Tracking for those of you off the rails, is the bird's eye path of the rod tip during the stroke.
If an incorrect application of power is the main cause of casting cock-ups, tracking comes in at a close second, especially when it comes to distance. There are two main faults, the first is the backcast not being in line to the forward, and the second is a forward cast not being in line to the back. And you think I'm joking.
The vast majority of flycasters throw their backcast at least 20 degrees off to the side (I don't mean that the rod is tilted – that's ok sometimes – I mean that the backcast is aimed 20 degrees off centre). If the forward cast is then delivered straight, the end of the flyline, as it unrolls, will flip over to one side. If you're casting off the right shoulder, this normally appears as a dogleg to the left. This is not a forward casting fault; rather it is where you have positioned the backcast.
There are a number of ways to check for this. The best technique is to place video camera directly in front of you. If you haven't got one of those, find an assistant and ask him or her to shout directions. Alternatively find yourself a long straight line, such as on a playing field and, with the flyline lying along the line in front, make a backcast and allow it to fall, to see where it lands.
The other main tracking fault occurs on the forward delivery, and is subtle, because it feels right, but it's not. If your hand finishes beside your shoulder at the end of the backcast/drift then it should finish in line with this point at the end of the forward stroke, and not come into line with the eye for example, as is the temptation. Fixing this error can take rather a lot of hard work, but is well worth it, especially if you ever decide to try to cast a long way.
Last month we talked about stance and mentioned that perfect tracking seems to come from a closed stance, and yet distance casters who put a shift of body mass behind their cast, often – although not always – switch to the open stance to facilitate this and prevent falling in. If you do this then it takes considerably more practice to maintain straight tracking.
One of Steve Rajeff's tips is to practice stroking the butt section of an old 4-piece rod along a wall. Yet more good tracking advice is to study your casting in front of a mirror. But perhaps the best advice of all comes from Flycasting Instructor God, Bill Gammel, and is to work on casting to a point straight in front or your shoulder, a fixed distance away, and then when you can consistently hit it, to move it forward one foot at a time (a good tip here would be to take one step back, instead of moving the object one step forward, but both work).
When going for distance many casters reach behind to lengthen the stroke. Certain well-known casters even advise this and although you can do it, if you do you'll find it very difficult to keep your tracking true on the forward delivery, and for most long distance casts it's unnecessary.
Finally I should add – this is the twist by the way – that there are times when you may desire a curved tracking – and during the stroke. A curved tracking can be used to throw curve casts and is one of the more effective techniques. A few excellent casters combine this and a tailing loop to form very precisely positioned slack line casts.
But that's a deviation.