The unconscious wrist

The unconscious wrist

Gary Meyer | Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Pretending to be a casting instructor has opened my eyes to an assortment of what I think are physical human instincts that are not beneficial to the novice casting student. Some may be archetypes from spin fishing to be sure, but others seem physically instinctual, as complete novice anglers are prone to them too.

Two of the most common novice errors I see include moving the hand forward on the casting stroke in a downward arc instead of horizontal, and the famous floppy wrist.

It seems many techniques required for good fly casting are unlike most anything in sports. Try to name another sports technique that is physically similar to making a backcast! Add to that the fact that human musculature is all about facing forward, and it is easy to see why many folks have weak backcasts.  I commonly see many folks that think they can compensate by adding more or most of the energy into the forward stroke. Why not: it works that way with a spinning rod?



The idea that a good back cast is the setup cast, and actually necessary for a decent forward cast simply needs to be explained.



Getting the novice to gain control of their wrist is often quite challenging.  They quite often seem oblivious of what their wrist is doing as if they have always allowed the wrist to run on some sort of autopilot their entire lives. Many do not even seem to understand the command, “Watch what your wrist is doing”.


I have, more than a few times, had a conversation and situation similar to this:


I say: “Your wrist is falling back completely at the end of your back cast. Try not to let it bend so much.”


They cast again, with no change.


So, I say: “On your next cast, don’t worry about watching the fly or the line, instead, watch what your hand is doing”.


They cast again, looking straight ahead, with no change but they seem to be concentrating on something. What I don’t know.


So, I implore: “Seriously, look at your hand! It is that thing on the end of your arm. Don’t worry about the cast, just watch what your hand is doing”.


Sometimes it sinks in at this point, and they do look at their hand. And guess what? They don’t flop it back as bad as they did up until then.  I like to suggest that their wrist is a lot like a young child: if you keep your eye on them they may be well behaved, but ignore them for just an instant and all bets are off. For some reason that sinks in. I then ask them to cast a few more times and, while watching, consciously take control of their wrist. Usually, their cast improves significantly and we both see the results.


Then again, to be honest, sometimes some folks are just stubborn and they ignore me. They know they can figure this thing out if I just let them alone. So, often I do.


Now, please understand: many of the students I see are at a free class offered by a big-box sporting goods store. If they don’t want my advice I don’t feel required to give them more than their money’s worth. Of course, I follow a different tack for folks who actually pay me to try to help them.


But it is that wrist thing that really has me curious. There is a common concept held in high esteem by many advanced fly casters that you will find scattered all over Sexyloops.

It is the idea of “late rotation”. I am not going to disagree, but, just for fun, how about we turn the concept around? Instead of focusing on the “late rotation” part, what if we look at the beginning and bulk of the stroke where rotation is delayed. Is that not really just another way of describing a solid wrist, one that is consciously locked and loaded but not employed until just the right moment?


On one of the forums, there has been some good discussion about casting heavy single hand flyrods, and a number of folks have admitted they pin the rod butt against their forearms on the backcast. I personally don’t do that, but with my thumb-on-top grip I do consciously extend my wrist as far forward as I can, and keep it that way throughout the majority of my back cast. With either the rod butt levered against the forearm, or the thumb completely adducted, in both cases are we not looking at a consciously solid wrist?


On a few occasions, I have heard casting instructors tell their students not to use their wrist. I get where they are going. There are a lot of new concepts that a novice has to absorb; so breaking down the numerous new ideas into simple statements seems like a good way to do it.  But there has to be a better way to address the unconscious wrist. How do you go from there to ideas like curves, and mends, and tracking, or late rotation after you start the student with the “no wrist” idea?


There just has to be a better way to explain this to a novice and/or an approach to teach it.

How do you go about it?