Paul Arden | Monday, 20 March 2017

I suppose that for those of you on the outside looking in, it must be rather bewildering that fly casting instructors have spent well over a decade arguing about fly casting definitions and more to the point, still can't yet agree on them! Last week Bernd was training candidates for the IFFF test and found considerable difficulties in understanding their definition of Creep, indeed he disagreed with it, but equally I disagree with both of their persepctives. So allow me to try to explain the Definitions Story which really started 14 years ago...

Back then, on the Sexyloops Board our good friend Frank Lopresti posted a set of early definitions from the FFF Definitions Committee that on the first reading looked good, stating that the Casting Stroke began when the rod tip first moved in the direction of the cast, Creep narrowed the available Casting Arc, and Casting Arc was the angle change made by the rod through the Casting Stroke. Now if you think about that, it simply cannot work! Because Creep was defined outside the Casting Stroke in the definition of Creep and inside the Casting Stroke in the definition of Casting Stroke, which is completely impossible since Creep cannot be inside and outside the Casting Stroke at the same time!

Another definition of Creep was tied to the unrolling loop, i.e. rod movement in the direction of the cast while the loop was unrolling. Sounds good until you realise that you've then made all movement against the unrolling loop to be Creep, making it literally impossible to begin the Casting Stroke too soon - i.e. the Casting Stroke always begins when the loop has unrolled. This is a problem because we CAN begin the Casting Stroke too soon, which often pops the fly off at Loop Straight!

So the big question became, when does the Casting Stroke begin?

Lots of attempts were made at this, since it could obviously not be tied to the unrolling loop, it must be tied somehow to the rod. It was argued, at various points; when the rod first makes sustained acceleration, when the rod has sufficient acceleration to form a loop, when the rod tip has sufficient speed to form a loop. Various definitions ran around for months on the Board always coming around full circle only to cause a definitions conflict at some point.

Broadly we ended up in two different camps, with one camp trying to define key terms first and making them fit together by continually tweaking them (and failing) and the other camp trying to construct a model and then working out how to make pieces fit. It didn't make sense to me to try to make solid definitions first only to find they break when you start Spey or Distance Casting. The model that I ultimately conceptualised was to have three different movements; motion with the purpose of repositioning the rod, motion with the purpose of repositioning the line and motion with the purpose of forming a loop, which, with a lot of help, became the Sexyloops Definitions set.

My big lightbulb moment however, was when a couple of our guys (Magnus and Stoats) sat everyone down in Scotland and explained the difference between Qualitative and Quantitive definitions. Curiously it didn't change our definition set, but it certainly changed how we understood them, for then one camp became Quantitive and pieces first and the other became Qualitative and model first. Specifically the FFFDC created measurable definitions that were both unmeasurable and wholly two-dimensional, which split the overall model into rotation and translation, before, during and after the Casting Stroke, in essence creating 6 key terms (although curiously only 5 were defined!) whereas Sexyloops created a conceptual purpose-driven definitions set that were split into line repositioning, rod repositioning and loop forming.

We had numerous private discussions on the subject - because after all we are all good friends here! - however we couldn't budge the FFFDC who were entrenched in their thinking and so we published first. The FFF didn't then publish for 7 years more years which allowed for our definitions to sit nicely in the Board, and curiously we didn't have any definitions arguments any more - so they worked.

One argument that constantly came up, is who are the definitions for? The IFFF argue that they are purely for instructor-to-instructor discussions in exams. Of course that's never going to happen. I use definitions while teaching flycasting, indeed it makes teaching clearer to use terms such as Casting Arc, Drift, Drag and so on - but I cannot use the IFFF definitions because they fail to address certain key movements.

For example I teach "Drag". Drag is a term that Bruce Richards first coined; I first learned of it through Bruce after reading an article on "the Slip" by Herb Spannagl (as in "slipping clutch") - Drag seemed much more purposeful and so I adopted that term soon after. Drag is the part of the Casting Stoke that pulls the line prior to "delayed" rotational. This is very important in Distance Casting, but equally in long roll casts and makes the rod go \\\\/ as opposed to \-|-/

We also have the term "Slide". Slide is an identical rod motion but instead of the tip pulling on the line, the rod butt is moving towards the hauling hand, resulting in a rod repositioning move. We often use this in distance casting with long belly lines for example when the backcast has finished at full arm stretch behind us. We could turn Slide into Drag by reaching fully back with the hauling hand too, so that when the rod comes forward it is immediately pulling on the line with both hands moving forward together, and some casters actually do this. Others, such as myself, prefer usually to put the hauling hand at its most powerful starting position, i.e. elbow in, hand aligned and slightly above the shoulder, remaining on the same side of the body - in other words we sacrifice some Drag and instead Slide in order to have a more effective forward cast haul.

I can't have that discussion with the IFFF set, because there is only one term and which is "Drag" and that's unfortunately been defined *outside* the Casting Stroke by them. Furthermore the way it has been defined, Delayed Rotation using Drag results in shortening the Stroke Length, and it must be confusing to hear that elite World Championship casters with delayed rotation are using short Casting Stroke Lengths despite casting to a full forward reach, and always with lots of body movement, beginning the Casting Stroke considerably after they thought they had. So there can be no question that this set has severe limitations when it comes to practical discussions. Now the argument I've heard is that the definitions are not meant for extreme distance casting, only for internal instructor discussions, but why restrict discussions to two-dimensional false casting with a short line?

Creep really is another big one however. It was Bill Gammel who first identified Creep with his father and named it. So let me tell you what Creep is according to Bill Gammel; it is while the caster is pausing between Casting Strokes he is so fixated on what is about to happen next (i.e. the next Casting Stroke) that he slowly inches the rod towards it without even realising he is doing so. This is a very human thing to do. Bill's test for Creep is to ask the student to pause for longer. If the movement gets worse then it is Creep. If on the other hand the caster, stops and then starts the stroke in the same way then it was not Creep and instead it was starting the cast too slowly and too early! I think you would agree that the instructors' method of fixing each case is different. Creep is subconscious and needs to be dealt with differently than a conscious early poor force application.

Unfortunately the IFFF has really missed a trick here for now they have lost maybe the best ever instructor definition, one that is really a fault, one that needs an instructor to solve, and yet the IFFF has defined Creep to be neutral and an overall blanket term that includes intentional Forward Drift (Forward Drift does not exist in the IFFF set since Drift is defined to be only ever in the direction of the unrolling loop). And here of course you've going to see a massive difference between our sets, because for Sexyloops Drift is rod repositioning in any direction, Sweep is line repositioning and Casting Stroke is motion with the purpose of forming a Loop.

I'm not saying that our set is perfect - although it is pretty bomb-proof and I believe it is exceptionally practical. Certainly one of the things I dislike about it is that we have Casting Stroke (purpose of forming a loop) contained within an "Overall Stroke" . This allows for the Overall Stroke Length to be separated from Casting Arc, which is necessary otherwise you end up in the situation either where the Lift is included in the Casting Arc, or - as has happened with the FFF - that you can have a dramatically shortened Stroke Length occurring only when the rod is being rotated forcefully with the Casting Stroke beginning later by definition than the Caster started his cast. We tried to find an alternative term for "Overall Stroke" but couldn't find anything that made sense and didn't compromise some existing terminology.

It is also true that our definitions require some research into the caster's intentions, for example you can't look at a caster from a distance and say categorically that the caster is Creeping. However since they are instructor definitions this should be viewed as a bonus! After all we teach real people, in all the complexities that this involves.

There were a couple of potential clashes, for example the Lift serves two purposes, 1) to reposition the line and 2) to reposition the rod. We got around that issue by selecting the primary purpose i.e. the purpose of the Lift is to reposition the line (unstick it from the water surface) and so it is a form of Sweep. Also you will find that there are some pretty grey areas, for example when does Sweep turn into Casting Stroke. I actually think that the Casting Stroke begins in when the caster starts the cast in his head, which is certainly going to make life difficult if you intend to measure this, but most commonly we don't need to accurately measure things and certainly not when teaching, instead we use broad terms such as "Make your Casting Stroke longer" "Widen your Casting Arc" "Pause longer" etc. And the hardline boundaries between Drift, Sweep and Casting Stroke can be soft and fuzzy blending smoothly into one another. After all, one doesn't generally need to know if the Casting Arc was 35 or 39 degrees, and for those who like do measure these things on the Board, they are not going to be constrained by measuring according to any definition set but instead are going to measure according to their puposes.

So that's the background behind the two different sets. I would hope that if you are an instructor, or are planning to become one, that you will read both sets and try to understand the mechanics behind them. There is no question that for me and everyone else involved that we all learned a massive amount over the decade or so of battling hell out of them, and hopefully in trying to conceptualise them for yourself, and in particular trying to apply them to any cast that you might imagine, that you will see the challenges faced in forming such definitions.

You can read the separate sets here;
IFFF Casting Definitions
Sexyloops Flycasting Definitions Introduction
Sexyloops Core Flycasting Definitions

I remember once that Mark (Stoats) and I gave a presentation to the AAPGAI on these definitions and the comment came back, "So what - we already use them!" Which I took as a good sign but of course I'm sure they'd have said similar with any proposed set because from a distance they all look quite similar, until that is, you start to apply them together.


Today's photo is a photo of Chuan who joined me last weekend for some Snakehead fishing. Unfortunately my outboard broke at the end of the second day and so we spent the rest of the time casting! Bit of a nightmare journey back up the lake, getting tows at various places and paddling for many kilometres in the midday sun... quite the adventure!

Have a great week everyone.

Cheers, Paul

PS If you've missed it, i am once again active posting weekly fly fishing videos which you can find here;