I've been an AAPGAI flycasting instructor for eight years, and only now, finally, am I really beginning to understand how flycasting actually works. That's quite a surprising statement in itself, but furthermore I maintain that the flycasting model we use to instruct is incorrect and that anyone who tells you that they understand flycasting would be well advised to read this page, because I'm saying something that is certainly off-key, different to everything I've ever read on the subject, and I'm pretty damn sure I've got it right now.
For the last 18 months or so Ian Walker, Graham Anderson, myself and a few others have been having technical flycasting discussions on the Board, talking about some of the most fundamental principles behind flycasting. Last summer I was engaged in some fast and furious emailing with both Frank LoPresti and Bruce Richards over pretty much the same thing. These guys are all very advanced flycasters, three of them being Master FFF instructors, and although there is still plenty of disagreement, I'm beginning to at least understand my position.
Here is how I understand the basic flycast, solely picking out the forward stroke, completely ignoring things like preload (which Mike Connor uses), line stretch (as mentioned recently on the board by Paul Burgess, although Bruce tells me it is unimportant), the “boing” effect (as used by Rudi Ferris and, I think, Jason Borger)… see? It could get really complicated, but I'm trying to keep it simple for the sake of sanity.
The basic stroke is a smooth acceleration to an abrupt stop. Once again it could get real complicated, from experience if I posted such a thing on the Board, five instructors would jump in right now and say that wasn't enough and could I be more precise and Herb Spannagl would insist that I explained exactly when I was rotating the butt and would ask me whether I was “slipping” the rod through the early part, someone else would bring in the “sliding load” to counteract this and Rudi would undoubtedly bring in his Karmic “boing” effect.
During the stroke two things happen:
- The rod flexes
- The tip of the rod moves
Now that statement there is already quite revolutionary.
Say you had read the Flycasting Manual by the late Peter MacKenzie-Philps you would be questioning part 1, because nice guy that Peter was, all his diagrams and instructions were misleading because they all dealt with a rigid lever, and not a flexible one. Don't get me wrong here, I have a great deal of respect for Peter; when I first taught flycasting I used some of his methods, and they certainly work, but the mechanics just ain't right.
Part 2 is more interesting, because in the US they have got it the other way around and teach: “when you make the stroke you load the rod and when you make the stop you unload the rod”. Which is true, but also misleading because it fails to take into account the rod tip moving throughout the stroke, and if the tip moves, the line moves. If you don't believe me watch any video on this site – apart, that is, from Underpant Coffee. When you are applying the stroke the flyline is in the air, it's not held at some fixed point, and so as well as loading the rod you are pulling the line through the air.
This is absolutely critical to your understanding of flycasting and it's why a catapult cast just doesn't go 30 yards, but nearer 10; when you stop the butt the line is already moving through the air.
What happens next is this:
The instant you stop the rod the rod is flexed, the rod tip “bounces” forward through the straight position and re-flexes again, bending the other way. We know that rod tip is at its maximum speed precisely when it's straight. Bruce Richards and Noel Perkins have proved this.
(There is some debate as to whether the flex in the rod is at its deepest at the stop, or whether the deepest flex occurs when the rod butt is perpendicular to the line and then begins to travel up the blank due to the angle of the pull – because, you know, it's interesting)
Here's how a loop is formed:
Maximum speed of the rod tip is at the straight rod position on the forward bounce, after this the rod slows to (what I call) the re-flexed position, curving away from the path of the line (remember the flyline has – hopefully – been pulled in a straight line path, or as near as dammit). The line continues to travel along in a direction along its length and as it passes the rod tip it forms a loop.
Several things can happen here, but in general let's assume we're shooting line (that's more complicated of course) the momentum of the top leg of the loop travels forward, pulling line out through the rings as it goes. The friction of the line in the rings keeps the loop unrolling in the air.
(Air resistance and friction slow the loop, and on a good cast the loop completely unrolls in the air and gently presents the fly to the fish – yeah I know, you knew that, but what the fuck)
Let's talk about timing of the release here, just briefly, the time to release the line is after the straight rod position. If you release before the unloading of the rod it will not be delivering its force to the line, so you must release after this point. I believe, and everyone else agrees, well everyone who knows about this sort of thing, that the best moment to release the line for maximum shoot is precisely at the straight position, and not any later. Good luck.
This is the case, not because the slowing tip will slow the line in its path – the line is still behind the rod tip at this point; a slowing rod tip will simply be overtaken – but rather because if as the loop is passing the rod tip the line tightens albeit for an instant, the shoot will be slowed (and a bit more of the loop will unroll than it would of otherwise).
I don't think anyone can argue with any of the above. They might not understand it of course, but that's another thing altogether.
So let's go for broke and talk about hauling…
The flycasting model says this: we load the rod during the stroke, we unload by stopping the butt. When we haul we increase line speed, which in turn increases load, and that's how it works.
This is partly true, but I think there's more to it than that, and this was the subject of our fast and furious discussion last week on the board, which so many people have followed (or tried to).
In a nutshell it is this:
1. If you haul to the butt stop, the rod tip bounces forward and pulls the line through the air.
2. If you haul to the straight rod position, line speed is combined haul speed plus tip speed, but the hauling reduces the tip speed.
The question is, which is more effective?
Actually there are more questions, as anyone trying to follow the discussion would have instantly surmised.
One in particular is that, although many people think they are only hauling to the butt stop, are they? I believe that video analysis is the only way to know for sure. I've been studying my casting with slow motion video, and I know that my haul finishes AFTER I stop the butt and continues on at least until the straightening of the rod.
During the Board's discussion I quickly emailed Simon Gawesworth. Simon also confirmed that he too continues his haul through the butt stop.
One of my biggest problems with hauling only to the butt stop is this: when you stop the butt, the line is travelling quicker than the tip of the rod (remember the line travels at the speed of the rod tip PLUS the speed of the haul), what happens next? It simply can't work smoothly as one tries to pass the other.
But what really swings me my opinion, and the reason why I think everyone hauls through the stop, and not just to the butt stop, is that try as I might, I just can't do it any other way. I find it to be quite impossible to coincide the completion of the haul with the stopping of the butt – certainly not with any degree of accuracy. I'm sure that it would be possible, with a hell of a lot of work, but I doubt that anyone is doing this, no matter what they currently believe, because it's not natural and it feels out of synch.
I reckon that maximum haul speed should occur simultaneously with maximum tip speed, and although hauling through the stop will undoubtedly slow tip recovery, the resulting combined speed of hauling plus tip speed is greater than tip speed alone (even with a rod loading haul) and this is how in fact hauling works; by directly increasing line speed.
If you don't know how to haul in the first place, incidentally, right now you're probably buggered.
I hope that helps to make some sense of the discussion on the board and okay it's mainly my position, and I can think of at least two or three hundred flycasting instructors who'll disagree with me. Maybe more actually.
Here's an experiment for all you doubting haulers: s l o w everything right down and feel the tension with you hauling hand. If you continue hauling you can feel the moment when the rod tip passes the straight position – because the line goes slack in your hand. For short casts (not Ian Walker's shorts casts) I release immediately the moment I feel that line go slack.
So okay that wasn't your normal newsletter at all, I mean there was no socks in it, but this is a flycasting site and so sometimes I've gotta do that thing. This week: there's more from Mike and Saltfly, there's Ben and The Fly to look forward to, I'll have something for the Flow and Lars will be continuing along his Shooting Head series – basically it's just jam-packed with excitement.
And while all this is happening I'm going to try my hand at some saltwater action for salmon, seatrout, kahawai and Mugwai.
Further reading: The Double Haul, Double Trouble, Paulcast movie, Syncron movie, The Dirty Harry series, The Master Blaster (hang on to those shorts!) and this thread on the Board.