One of my good friends, who’s thoughts I respect very much on all matters related to fly casting coaching, is of the opinion that for instruction it’s better to teach outcomes and that the student will find the appropriate way to move his or her body, through a process of self-discovery and he teaches accordingly. His objective is to facilitate this and he is of the opinion (or at least was on Friday evening when we last spoke) that the teaching video I made was for very high level casters only.
I realise that I’ve put a lot of words in his mouth there and he could very well have a different opinion now or even then – and would undoubtedly have put it far more eloquently himself! But it’s the gist of an argument I often hear from a few instructors. And I’m kind of with it to be honest. Some flycasting instruction is very old school; there are undoubtedly things that we could have done very much better in the past – and still nowadays too! Just like our students, just like in life itself and most importantly, just like in fly fishing, we are always continually learning. :)))
But here is the rub: in no other field of endeavour that I can think of, not as Hunter/Gatherers, not as Cavemen, not even in any other sport, do we throw backwards… or at least not in the way we do in flycasting. The closest I can think of to “throwing backwards”, is a frisbee… which is actually similar, albeit in a different plane, to the “170” technique. In fact I often use the frisbee throw as an analogy when teaching the 170. However, for your standard make-it-happen backcast, for both Closed Stance accuracy shots, as well as Open Stance distance fishing, this backcast throwing technique doesn’t compare to anything else that we do with our bodies. Consequently, expecting a student to work out how to do this from only knowing the intended outcome, is quite a big ask.
For me it took 30 years!! And from what I can see, most people never actually learn a truly effective backcast throw. Never! I see it regularly used in competitive flycasting and that’s where I leaned it; from throwing at targets. But to say it’s only worthwhile in the competition realm because of this, is a huge mistake I believe. As is expecting someone to learn this on their own, without assistance. It doesn’t “just happen” and takes a great deal of figuring out, unless someone shows you!
My personal understanding of this particular use of the body, came from two things; the first was trying to learn to throw left-handed Open Stance Distance (and not understanding why my arm was getting tired, until I compared what I was doing with the left side compared to the right, down to the nth degree) and secondly, a discussion I had on the Board at the beginning of last year with my good mate John Waters, who discussed the concept of “blocking” in throwing sports, as well as fly casting. (Thanks John. You don’t know how significant this concept has been for me. It’s changed fundamentally how I now look at flycasting – and that’s no small thing!)
For quite a long time now I’ve believed that flycasting instruction is not only about theory or concepts or outcomes. It is mostly, I believe, about teaching the body to move both effectively and efficiently. I see my role as a casting coach as one in which I steer the student towards more efficient, fluid and effective body motion. After all, it’s the body that drives the rod.
One major issue I see in flycasting instruction, is that there is considerable disagreement as to how best to move the body, indeed outside of the world of competitive flycasting, it is a topic that is glossed over. Well that’s too bad! That’s undoubtedly partly the fault of the associations/exams. Also, in the past, instructors were teaching only how they themselves moved their body, including faults and all. And finally, I suspect many instructors simply haven’t worked it out yet. It took me a very long time indeed! So that’s not a criticism of instructors, just an explanation as to why we are where we are, and it’s something that’s very relevant to myself too, because I’ve also been there.
Barring injury, I don’t believe that how to effectively move the human body is actually very different between people. There is good throwing form that suits the human anatomy and there is poor throwing form. And I would like to emphasise again, that throwing backwards is not something we can draw upon from prior life experience or indeed evolution.
So an appropriate question would be, at what point in instruction should we teach someone to effectively throw backwards with their body? Most of my flycasting students have been fishing for 15 to 50 years and have never had a lesson. I start to teach them good backwards throwing technique in the first lesson. For absolute beginners however, my first lesson is only about learning the Loop. That’s it! If they can understand the Loop, then I’m happy. Of course they will learn a few other things besides. Roll and Overhead Casts (both shoulders), False Casting, shooting line, the retrieve and playing fish – maybe even the Double Haul. It’s a big lesson! But they need all of this, at least to some degree, in order to go fishing safely. Despite all of that, I consider lesson 1 to be all about the Loop. If they can understand that concept and have the drills to work towards making nice and consistent loops, then it’s mission accomplished.
Second beginner’s lesson - BANG! Teach them to throw backwards, I reckon. Properly, efficiently, effectively. The entire second lesson can be all about that. Get it in early and they won’t spend the next 30 years figuring it out like I did. Throwing backwards is fundamental to what we do and it will change their fly fishing lives.
The only instructor I know, who has given me a flycasting drill which involves teaching backwards throwing, is Bill Gammel. He puts a set of car keys in someone’s hand and asks them to throw them over their shoulder as far as they can. (Best not to try this anywhere near a river, but do try it. And if you actually want to walk home afterwards then try the 170).
Anyway, me… I get in there, utilise the V-grip, apply the effort to “blocking” the forearm (thanks John) and flip the wrist over to maximum extension. Make the Lift, on a Pickup and Laydown, all the way to the fly by lifting the elbow, then flip the wrist. The trajectory is set by the position of the forearm block. Sight the front target through the V or, for a longer target, through the wrist. Draw back from the front target and flip the backcast straight to an imaginary bell up behind and above us.
For distance the movement (block/flip) is the same, but first translate (ie lengthen the stroke) through weight shift and then torso twist. However learn first to throw at targets before moving to Open Stance Distance. We are into lesson 3++. Personally I wouldn’t move a student to Open Stance until they are throwing 70’+, unless it’s to give them a technique contrast or if they have shoulder injuries. They’re going to get there eventually, but I’d rather get strong foundations in first and before I start adding other variables.
The forward cast, yes we can get super technical, but since we are all Hunter/Gatherers/Cavemen and women, throwing forwards is very much easier because we have very many similar things we can draw upon and to a degree that can actually happen naturally.
So I’ve been down the lake, doing my thing. Today I didn’t find a single Snakehead Set. It’s a process of elimination sometimes, and I’ve eliminated this particular fishing zone for a few weeks at least! I’m back in the Central Zone now and tomorrow morning I’ll hit a few bays to see what’s happening in these parts. I expect guests soon, now that the Malaysian borders will reopen to tourists next month and so this is important research. There’s nothing worse, as a guide, than taking a paying guest to the wrong part of the lake :)))
It was nice to get offline for a few days. We spend far too much time on our phones!
Have a great week and let me know what you think about this technique of backcasting if you don’t currently do it (block/flip). It’s not something you read too much about and I’ve been getting excellent results with it via my Zoom teaching of the past year. There is some other stuff I can add to this, but that’s the basics.
The all-new and very exciting HT5 blanks have been rolled and shipped. Lee will start doing his magic soon. There has been a small price increase in our rods. All of our rods are now made with more love, including the new 5WTs that have been pre-ordered. :))