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Making adjustments on the fly
by Bill Gammel
[Versión en español]

Bill in actionThe world of Sexyloops is a wonderful place. You can come to the pages of Sexyloops and find the answer to thousands of questions. Some of these answers might even be correct. However, Sexyloops can't come with you to the lake, river, or bay. You must learn to use the knowledge gathered here and take it with you, making adjustments on the fly.

The art and science of fly casting poses a unique challenge when it comes to adjustments. Fly casting is the only part of the sport that literally changes between false casts. The wind conditions can be polar opposite from one false cast to the other and line length often changes from false cast to false cast. Couple this with a moving boat or fast swimming fish and you have a myriad of changing conditions. You must adjust your casting stroke as you fish. You will be constantly adjusting the stroke in order to achieve that Sexyloop. To be successful, it takes knowledge, understanding, and muscle memory.

In my experience as a casting instructor, I have found that the knowledge level of the average fly caster has improved over the years. The essentials of fly casting are more commonly known and accepted. The basic physics of the cast is even becoming common knowledge. However, many casters still lack the understanding and muscle memory to make the adjustments necessary to consistently throw Sexyloops.

This article is designed to outline the steps needed to become proficient at adjusting your casting stroke while on the water. I will first discuss the essentials in a brief overview. I will then take a look at how these essentials work together. As I go through the article, I will outline the step by step method for developing the muscle memory needed to make these casts consistently. By the end, you will have the knowledge, hopefully the understanding, and a practice method that will allow you to build the muscle memory needed for a fully adjustable stroke.

In order to throw a tight loop in a straight line, there are five essentials elements to the cast. However, I want you to think about the mechanics of the cast in a slightly different way than simply there being five things that must be done. There is one overriding result that must occur for a tight, straight loop to result from the cast. The rod tip must travel as close as possible to a straight line during the casting stroke. That is from Rod Straight Position (RSP) on one end of the stroke to Rod Straight Position on the other end. Now, a perfect straight line is theoretical, in reality we need to approach a straight line "as close as possible." In order for a rod tip to travel in a straight line from RSP to RSP, there are five things that must occur.

The first essential states that the rod tip must travel in a straight line throughout the casting stoke. The first time you heard this it was presented as the desired result, however, it is also an essential action. The rod tip must travel in a straight line in the horizontal plane and the vertical plane. The rod tip must travel from RSP to RSP with no right or left deviation. This is known as tracking. The tip must track straight. Also, the rod tip must travel from RSP to RSP with no (very little) deviation up or down. This is accomplished by properly executing the four remaining essentials.

The next essential I would like to discuss states that the casting arc or angle, through which the rod butt travels from RSP to RSP, must vary with the amount of bend placed on the rod. As the bend gets deeper, the casting arc must get wider. This is most often done by lengthening the over all length of the casting stroke. This is the foundation for adjusting your cast.

The pause between each cast must vary with the amount of time it takes the line to straighten. Very simply the line must straighten before the next stroke begins. Now, most of us try to predict the straightening of the line and catch it just as it straightens. To do this, you will need to think "go" when the loop still has a small amount of line in the top leg. If you wait until the line is straight to think "go," then it will take some reaction time to actually start moving. The line is falling at this point, and you lose the advantage of a perfectly taut line.

In order for the rod tip to move in a straight line, you must apply the power in a smooth acceleration from RSP to RSP. To achieve this, move the butt of the rod through a smooth acceleration to a crisp stop. The maximum tip speed should be reached at the second RSP just after the stop. This is very important when trying to bend the rod at the correct time in the correct amount in order to keep the rod tip moving along the straight line. Too much or too little bend and the rod tip will not travel a straight line.

There can be no slack in the casting system during the application of power. You will learn to shoot line while false casting, but during the application of power, the rod tip must be pulling against a taut line. If this doesn't occur, then the rod tip will not travel along a straight line path. When you pull against slack, the rod tip will rise, because there is not enough load (bend) being placed on the rod. When the line finally straightens, the tip will dip sharply. Then you will inevitably stop the stroke too short causing the tip to rise. The tip will actually travel through the path of a sine wave, and this will cause a tailing loop.


Now, I am going to assume that you can false cast tight loops with 20 feet of line beyond the rod tip. Drawing #1 depicts the rod positions for a short 20 foot cast. Position 1 and 3 depict RSP, and position 2 depicts the deepest bend in the rod. Position 2 sets the height of the straight line path. There is only a slight bend in the rod, therefore the casting arc or angle at the rod butt between positions 1 and 3 is very narrow. Practice casting this length of line as softly as you can form the loop. Literally cast so softly you do not bend the rod, so softly your loops don't straighten, cast as softly as you can. Now, we know that you can't cast without bending the rod and you do want the loops to straighten, but practicing with this in mind will force you to cast as efficiently as possible. Do this until you are able to repeat the tight "u" shaped loops every time.


Now, add one to two feet of line and begin again. There are two adjustments that should be made. The only change you have made is to add line. What will this do to the casting system? It will increase the bend in the rod. If the bend in the rod is increased, then the overall height of the rod tip will be lowered. (Note Drawing #2) The deepest bend in the rod will go from position Green 2 to Red 2. Thus, the straight line path is lower (red line) than it was before the addition of line (green line). If the straight line is lower, then the casting arc must get wider (position red 1 and 3). This is most often done by lengthening the stroke, however this is not the only way. The important thing is to widen the angle between position 1 and 3. By widening the casting arc, the tip of the rod at RSP (1 and 3) will be lower, matching the height of the bent rod at position 2. Keep in mind, changes between the green and red line are small because you only added a foot of line, therefore the angular change should be very little. If you had added a large amount of line the change is more drastic. There is one other adjustment that must be made. You have lengthened line, so it will now take the line slightly longer to straighten. Therefore, you must pause slightly longer to allow the line to straighten.

Do this drill one foot at a time from 20 to 40 feet. It is important to go slow and ingrain into your muscle memory the stroke for a perfect, efficient loop at each length of line. The more thorough you do this drill, the better you will be as a caster.

Now, start over with 20 feet of line. False cast as softly as you can. Once you are comfortable add a small amount of power or speed. I want you to accelerate from RSP to the RSP slightly faster than you were in the first drill. This will cause you to need two adjustments in order to keep the rod tip traveling in a straight line. (Note Drawing #2) Each time you accelerate faster from RSP to RSP, you will increase the amount of bend in the rod (Green #2 will become Red #2). Thus, the casting arc must get wider (Green Position #1 and #3 need to move to Red position #1 and #3). The pause between casting strokes will also be effected by the acceleration. The faster the line travels, the shorter the pause will be. Now, cast a little faster. Do this as long as you can throw a smooth tight loop.

You need now to add one foot of line from 20-40 feet. At each length of line, cast from as slow as possible to as fast as you can smoothly. Make sure to make the appropriate adjustments for both extra line and extra speed. (False casting 40 feet at a quick pass will have you now casting along the red line.)


Once you have reached the 40 foot mark, you should add the double haul. The double haul will add extra bend to the rod and will increase line speed. Therefore, you must adjust your stroke. The casting arc must get wider and the pause between cast must get shorter. Now, add one foot of line and adjust. Do this until you have reached 55 to 60 feet of line in the air. (Note Drawing #3) You will now have a substantial bend in your rod with 60 feet and the double haul. This increased rod bend will have lowered the overall height of the rod tip. (From position red 2 to purple 2) The casting arc must be widened to keep the rod tips traveling in a straight line. (Red 1 and 3 must move to Purple 1 and 3)

Now, continue to practice throwing the perfect loop, the perfect loop faster, and the perfect loop longer. A really good caster can hold 80 feet of 5 wt. line in the air while false casting. Muscle memory is the key to success. You can not be thinking about this stuff on the river. Those loops need to just roll off your rod tip.


Now, why did you have to go through all of that specific practice? (Note Drawing #4) If you have followed directions, you will have muscle memory of the perfect stroke for every amount of bend that you will encounter and you will have used every casting arc angle that will be needed. You are now armed with all of the muscle memory that you will need to tackle fly fishing and be very successful.


Now, how do you use this mess? What does it help? You have got to have this muscle memory bank to handle the changing conditions of fishing. We will look at some fishing situations soon, but first let's look at what you must first understand. (Note Drawing #3) You are casting perfect 40 foot loops along the red line when a fish rises at 35 feet. So you strip in some line and begin to cast. You raise your rod to Red #1 and make the back cast to Red #3. However, there was a shorter length of line, therefore the rod had less bend and the rod tip traveled through the Green #2. (Red1 Green2 Red 3). This is a convex tip path and will cause a fat back loop. A forward cast of Red 3 to Red 1 with the tip traveling through Green 2 will throw another fat loop. You must adjust the casting arc until you are casting from positions Green 1, Green 2, and Green 3. This will give you a tight loop again. Therefore, when you see a fat loop, you should use a narrower casting arc. You must also use a shorter pause between casts. The shorter line takes less time to straighten.

(In most of the adjustment scenarios below, we will use the term "drift." This is a powerless repositioning of the rod that occurs between strokes.)

Let's look at another scenario (Note Drawing #3) If you are casting a 40 foot line with nice tight loops, your rod tip is traveling through Red #1, Red #2, and Red #3. A fish rises at 55 feet. You make an appropriate back cast with the rod tip traveling in a straight line. You shoot line on the back cast and start forward for the delivery casting. You start at Red #3 traveling through Purple #2 and Red #1. This is a concave path, and you will get a tailing loop. To fix this, you should adjust your stroke between the back cast and the front cast. Make a tight back cast with the tip traveling down the Red straight line. At Red #3 stop the rod and let the loop form, as the loop rolls back, shoot line, and drift the rod to Purple #3. Make the forward cast with the tip traveling along the Purple straight line. This will throw a tight loop to the fish at 55 feet.


Now let's imagine that you are on the bow of a salt water flats boat. (Note Drawing #5) You have 20 feet of line out of the rod and the fly in your hand. The guide calls "fish, 80 feet, 11 o'clock." Point the rod tip at 11 o'clock and roll the fly forward into the air. Your rod tip will be at Green #1. Make a tight loop along the Green straight line, stopping at Green #3. As the loop unrolls let what will probably be a small amount of line shoot and drift the rod back to Red #3. Make a tight loop down the Red straight line and stop at Red #1. As the loop unrolls, let line shoot and drift the rod forward to Purple #1. Make a tight back cast along the Purple line; stop the rod at Purple #3. As the loop unrolls, shoot line and drift to Blue #3. Make a powerful stroke, driving the rod tip down the blue straight line. Stop the rod crisply at Blue #1 and shoot line to the target. Remember at each stage the pause between casts should get longer in order for the line to straighten.

Wind will cause a deeper bend in the rod for two reasons. The force of the wind itself will bend the rod, and extra power is generally needed to overcome the increased resistance by the wind. However, a tight loop is the best tool to overcome an adverse wind. Now, how do you throw a tight loop? You must keep the rod tip traveling along a straight line. We have seen these adjustments in other examples, but wind is slightly different. Wind is only applying force in one direction; therefore, adjustments that apply to one cast don't apply to the next. In this example, we will keep the line length the same. You are standing on the beach casting to giant fish, however the wind as usual is blowing off the water into your face. Now you have forty feet of line out. Raise the rod tip to Red #1 and make a soft, perfect back cast with the tip passing through Red #2 and stop the rod at Red #3. As the loop is unrolling, drift the rod tip to Purple #3. Make a powerful forward stroke along the Purple straight line. Now, as the forward loop unrolls, drift the rod back to Red #1 and repeat. In this case, you will have a small amount of bend going back and a large amount of bend going forward. Also, you must keep in mind that the line will unroll very quickly on the back cast and will take much longer to unroll on the forward cast. Therefore you must make the appropriate adjustments to your timing.

In summary, in order to throw tight loops in a straight line, you must make the rod tip travel in a straight line during the casting stroke. To do this, you will always need to eliminate right to left deviations in the rod tip path, eliminate slack, and accelerate the rod tip smoothly ending in a stop. Every other addition or subtraction to the cast will affect the amount of bend in the rod and the time it takes for the loops to straighten. You should be constantly watching your loops, and making the correct adjustments. By following the one foot at a time drill, you will develop a feel for every rod position that you will need. The more you practice these situational changes; the quicker you will be able to execute them on the fly.

Bill Gammel is one of America's most respected authorities on flycasting instruction. Bill and his father were responsible for identifying the "5 Essential Elements" that make up all casts. He's from Texas where they shoot people who throw tailing loops ("because they look like rattle snakes") - a wonderful caster, Board member and flyslinger.


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