At first it seemed like it was only a few years ago, although in reality it was decades, when I met an incredible fly caster named Jack. This was back when inshore fishing, including flyfishing, was primarily communicated through magazines, but was otherwise commonly advertised to the public by travelling weekend shows. They were much like the annual US shows of today, just smaller. They would move around Florida hawking boats and tackle and there were always local shop booths, seminars, and demonstrations.
This was also around the time that a Florida chapter of the FFF was gaining momentum. I participated in as many shows as I could fit into my schedule. As I was very involved with the fly fishing club in Ft. Lauderdale I would help man their booth which was always near the casting pond, by design. I gave casting demos and free lessons to show attendees, and of course I also observed as many other fly casting demonstrations as were available. At that time I was like a sponge thirsting for every drop.
South Florida drew a lot of well known casting instructors (Lefty and Joan come to mind) and there were also a number of other fishing celebrities of print or television fame, like Flip Pallot, Chico Fernandez, Stu Apte, Mark Sosin, etc. but I don’t know if those names would be familiar beyond US markets. Any of these folks could be expected to be at these Florida shows of the past, and Jack was almost a fixture. It was a fun time to be a student of fishing.
Jack was somewhat of a quirky fellow, but wow what a caster! I believe he held some records or won a few casting competitions, but neither he nor others mentioned it. In other ways he really stood apart. I believe he was a retired military handgun instructor, and as such he was a proponent of what we would call now days a closed stand. I not only would be sure to watch his demonstrations, but I would seek him out afterwards for whatever private information I could glean.
As I stated above, these were the early days of the separate Florida chapter of the FFF and there were a number of long standing US members with whom I was acquainted. More than one of them took me aside and let me know that, lets just say, Jack was not considered to be in good standing. He held and proffered ideas about casting that did not fit within the tenets of the FFF, and I should avoid him.
But, as I said above, man could he cast! I did not understand how his concepts could be wrong, yet achieve those results, so I ignored my knowledgeable elders and continued to seek him out whenever the opportunity arose.
More than his heretical beliefs and defiant staunchness, there was something else about Jack that was very noticeably different. And I say this with as much delicateness that I can muster, but Jack had a twitch. I’m sure there is a medical term for it. Jack had an apparently uncontrollable occasional wink or small head jerk when he talked. I think it made some folks uncomfortable, but I easily got past it.
Once, after I finished giving a demo, Jack, who had been watching, approached me before I left the pond and offered some advice on my casting. I forget what fault he spotted, but I remember trying to follow his advice however I was failing to master whatever it was. Without my consent, Jack took my hand and began some ‘hands on’ coaching. I was initially horrified! Here I was a freshly minted CI and I was being coached this way in public!
My indignity lasted about as long as the forward stroke.
At the end of the stroke, with the help of his input, there was this unbelievable feedback from the rod as the loop formed and flew out beyond the end of the pond. To say that it was a breakthrough moment for me would be a gross understatement. There was a component of the unloading rod that I never even suspected existed, and it took this novel to me input to reveal.
To this day I believe that Jack might not have been able to control his facial tick, but I don’t think that held true with his hands. How else could he have been a handgun expert? In fact, I think his ability to have such a fast jerk reaction was available to him on command.
Over the years I have come across a number of “advanced” casting concepts that I think might be lumped together. Joan, I believe, had a concept of the “micro wrist”. Mac Brown has talked to me of his idea of “pulling” being the closing of the lower finger of the hand at the end of rotation. And recently, Paul had been espousing his infatuation with the “torque twist”.
I wonder if all of these different concepts are not simply physically quicker ways to apply input to the rod since they all happen in the wrist or hand? Lets face it, graphite rods are faster than we are… that is why we like them. As soon as we are not able to continue acceleration they are going to catch up and self-decelerate.
I once gave lessons to a gentleman who turned out to be the top exercise physiologist for the Olympic athletic teams of a South American country. He told me that one of the first tests they did for all their new athletes was a muscle biopsy to determine the ratio of fast-twitch to slow-twitch muscle fibers. Everyone has a unique ratio, and he said sometimes young athletes have mismatched muscles for the sports to which they aspire.
That is likely true for aspiring casting competitors too. But I do think it is a fact that the rod must be continually accelerated until it is not, and there is only so much acceleration that can be induced by the body and upper arm. At the end we need to use the wrist, whether it be a twitch, a pull or a torque.