The Backcast

The Backcast

Paul Arden | Wednesday, 28 June 2023

When I was 25 I had just passed my first instructor exam in the UK and I believe I was the youngest instructor in the country at that time. And by quite a long way! Back then, most instructors wore tweed and bizarre shooting shorts that went 2 inches before the knee. I was the exception. And being a relative youngster, I was asked to demonstrate at various angling fairs at the time, including the Chatsworth Angling Fair, which was the premiere angling fair in the country.

In my very first demo I remember dismantling one of the “golden rules” of flycasting, that you “can’t have a good forward cast without a good backcast”. Because this isn’t entirely true. However, I think it’s fair to say that a good backcast will certainly make a good forward cast more likely! And generally speaking most anglers have very poor backcasts.

I talked a little bit about how I think the body should move in Sunday’s FP. I thought today I would mention some key cues and exercises for developing a more proficient backcast.

We have some very good exercises that enable you to watch it. The Triangle Method being arguably the most important. One of the hardest things to do however, is to move this side casting exercise to the vertical plane. For that I like Loop Control Exercises and Accuracy Target Casting. (If I was to give you one exercise to train your casting, it would be targets. I use them extensively for teaching almost everything! Rolls, Presentations, Speys - you name it).

In particular let’s talk about overhead casting to accuracy targets, because there needs to be two targets and not just the one you can see in front of you. I teach and imagine an imaginary bell suspended in the air directly above and behind my shoulder. This bell is 180 degrees aligned to the front target both in angle and trajectory. And you must ring the bell! “Ting” (it’s an imaginary gold-head nymph you are casting).

There are a couple of cues you can use to position the bell. One I like very much, is at the end of the Lift to look at the line angle being made between the rod tip and the fly (the flyline clearly shows this!), now extend this line up and behind you and it will lead to your imaginary bell.

This is not just something you need to be aware of when training. This is something you need to be aware of every single backcast. It needs to become automatic so that somewhere in the recess of your mind, you are mentally aiming your backcast towards a target, every cast.

Take any shot. Shots for me are the pinnacle of fly fishing. A big fish (mine are always big, especially the imaginary ones) moving target and we need to lead the fish. There is a deliberate pause that must happen before we even begin. Firstly we need to sight our front target, which is not the fish, but where we want to place the fly, ie in front of the fish – pick the mark and look intently at it. Next in this important process, we need to mentally position our imaginary backcast bell into place, 180 degrees from the front target. Only then can we backcast. (You want to get quick at this; but still, it has to happen).

I cannot overemphasise how important this process is. Because many people forget it when the Big Fish appears and their knees start wobbling. And as a consequence the fly doesn’t go anywhere near the fish! So don’t forget to ring the bell!!!

That focus on ringing the bell continues by the way and is not just for the Casting Stroke itself. But instead this focus continues all the way up to the fly reaching the bell and going “ting”. You must let the loop fully unroll. Only then can you start your forward cast. Consequently you have to stay with the bell, in your mind, until loop straight. This takes training. So get the accuracy hoops out and play. It’s fun! When you are casting to targets have a think about where your focus lies. Stay on the bell until you hit the bell.

Have a great day. I'm going fishing; bloody fish are playing hide and seek!

Cheers, Paul