Off of the casting field I seldom reach for maximum distance. I do occasionally, of course, but the equipment I fish with is significantly different than what I like for fluff casting. Depending on how the rod, line and fly balance out, there is a practical maximum that I can reach, but it is good to determine it simply to know what I can expect. Catching, or even hooking a fish on one of those maximum distance casts is, of course, a romantic ideal but it rarely if ever happens. I do however strongly believe that the longer a fly is in the water the better the odds are of getting a bite, so therefor longer casts, in some instances, should result in more fish. So, creating that extremely efficient loop has some practical merit.
Despite the many years I have spent trying to master the perfect loop I cannot avoid the realization that it is necessary for only a very small percentage of casts during a typical day of my fishing. In fact, I know I spend the majority of my time trying to deviate from it, despite the fact it is often the cast that is much easier to produce. Where I fish, and the fish I target, frequently demand something different than the most efficient loop. They, in fact, want, or actually require a sloppy loop. And, throwing those sloppy loops on demand, with accuracy and touch, is the challenge.
Commonly I find myself trying to throw slow open loops when I am fishing with large wind resistant or heavily weighted flies. A cast with a lot of speed, when using the heavily weighted short heads common for saltwater lines, will turn the leader over sooner and spoil the potential for a longer shoot of the running line. And, of course, I want to keep those bigger or heavier flies from colliding with the rod leg, so a wider loop helps. I commonly find myself dropping the rod tip almost to the water to pull that rod leg down as low as possible. Obviously, when casting big rods and big flies all day, slower easier casts are more enjoyable and less tiring too.
When sight fishing, the sloppy loop I commonly rely upon is maybe the sloppiest: the underpowered curve. I can put the largest curve in the line this way and I can accurately place the fly and also, where the curve in the line lands on the water. If I do it correctly, of course. It is a cast that took me years to master but it is now one of my most reliable presentation casts when I want to lead a fish, or move the fly along a shoreline, from right to left. If the fly must move from left to right I will admit I usually resort to the overpowered curve (I primarily cast right handed), even though the overpowered curve will not produce as deep a bend in the line for me and is less accurate. Producing that left to right presentation with an underpowered curve from my right hand is significantly more difficult, so far, and not a cast I will attempt if the fish is important. Also it is usually not appropriate if there is another angler in the boat, as I tend to throw a real sweeper for three quarters of the clock. That underpowered curve off my left hand is an option here, and something I practice, but as with all my casts I can only manage about ¾ of the distance compared to my right hand.
Probably the most famous sloppy loop is the tailing loop. Producing it on demand and with some control is rather difficult, and has limited use in the situations I commonly fish. Well, at least when the rod plane is near vertical. Now, if you drop that rod plane close to horizontal and employ an under-slung loop that also has that tailing loop flip at the end you now have a real fish catching cast, especially when sight fishing in clear shallow water! Snook in particular love to cruise the shallow backcountry flats but will spook impressively if they detect a flyline in the air heading in their direction. Even clear floating lines are vulnerable to their eyesight. The answer is a low trajectory cast travelling just above the water. The low rod helps too. Getting that flip at the end to kick the fly up and stall before landing gently on the water is an added benefit. Black drum also commonly cruise the shallows. They prefer the fly to be on the bottom and I have my best luck with crab flies. Those drum, while apparently visually impaired, are very sound oriented and plopping a crab fly near them is unproductive, to put it mildly. That flip and stall is the key.
There are other sloppy loops that are real fish catchers too. Paul’s crashed loop is something that looks like a mess but has real applications. I was using it this last weekend to allow a weighted fly a chance to sink faster than an intermediate line when fishing a river with a good current and seams. The fact that I was essentially trying trout stream tactics with an 11wt tarpon set up was a real hoot, and not surprisingly, effective.
It seems to me the initial steps of becoming proficient at casting a fly rod are gaining control, forming nice loops and achieving distance. Unfortunately I think many anglers stop there. Then sometime after that, the next step is developing some touch and accuracy on shorter casts. After that, it seems like backpedaling to what looked like errors at first, but doing them on purpose and with control, to better feed the fly to a fish. The reality is the well-formed loop / distance cast falls short when attempting many things required to actually catch a fish.
Then again, maybe I’m just rambling to fill some space with words and nonsense? But it occurred to me that maybe a sexy loop is sort of like a trophy wife: they look good but maybe a sloppy one that puts food on the table is ultimately the better choice?