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Chaos and the Art of Fly Casting


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Thursday 17th July, 2008

Those of us who remember learning how to fly cast or have had the privilege of teaching others will recognize a certain progression that occurs as beginners advance from “never cast a fly in my life” to getting loops to form. Starting with the basics of moving the rod tip in a straight line and making sure there is no slack in the line the caster needs to learn how much force to apply to the line via the rod tip and the timing that needs to occur in order for sexy loops to form.

By applying force to the line via the rod tip we place the line under tension so that it begins to act like a rigid rod that is supported by the rod tip at one end rather than limp line. By moving the rod tip forward and slightly upward to compensate for gravity the line seems to be suspended in mid air. With controlled timing the line will oscillate in the air as it unrolls in one direction, straightens, reverses direction and then begins to unroll in the opposite direction.

This is one area where chaos and fly casting intersect. If we change various aspects of our cast (amount of line carried, force applied, cycle time, duration of pauses, etc.) it will either converge on the familiar sexyloop oscillation or fall apart. Beginning casters may find it difficult to stay in this zone. Advanced casters may find it difficult to fall out of it.

Another aspect of chaos theory tells us that systems may have more than one stable state. Classical physics that focuses on systems that have a single point of stability. Prior to chaos theory such systems were often considered to be non-deterministic in nature and were “left as an exercise for the student”.

At this point you may be asking, “How can there be more than one stable state possible when fly casting?” The answer is that by varying the duration of our casting cycle we can actually have more than a single loop form in the line. This may seem pointless but there are applications of this in the real world. Jason Borger in the “Nature of Fly Casting” talks about the hump mend which uses this phenomenon to dance the line over the water for repositioning. We can also use this multiple loop phenomenon when lifting sinking line out of the water.

Perhaps the most dramatic use is in the development of the snap cast and its various applications. By making a simple cast and then recasting the line before the fly reaches it target we can cause dramatic changes in where the fly lands or how the line lays out at the end of the cast. Want to make a curve cast at distance? Try the corkscrew curve described in Jason Borger's book. What a change of direction or to reposition the line in preparation for a spey cast? Various forms of snaps may be applied.

These are relatively simple applications of this principle with a fairly short history. It will be interesting to see what the future holds.


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