Why are casting skills so important?
When we are fishing in the river, our ability to cast properly can help us to:-
- Place the fly accurately and delicately
- Make the fly move naturally on or below the water surface
- Eliminate drag by manipulation of the fly-line
- Overcome difficulties caused by undergrowth, trees and other obstacles in or around the water
- Counteract windy conditions coming from any direction
- Cast heavy nymphs
What are our objectives when we cast?
To cast properly we are attempting to use the fly-rod as a tool so that it causes the fly-line to be launched in a straight line, with a tight loop, between the lower and upper parts (back section and forward section) of the fly-line. This projects the fly forward and causes the fly-line and leader to fully extend, turning the fly over before it falls on the water.
To launch the fly-line straight, it must be manipulated during the back-cast so that is as straight as possible behind the rod-tip and in the exact opposite direction to where the fly is to be cast. Then the fly-rod must be pulled forward so that the rod-tip tracks along the same straight line that is used during preparation and the fly-line then continues along it after the launch.
To keep the fly-line straight, the fly-rod must be accelerated from where the cast commences to where it stops and the stop must be on the imaginary straight line path.
A good fly-rod is designed to help us achieve these objectives, using as little energy and body movement as necessary.
Many fly-fishers will have neither the time or inclination to become a master caster but if they do want to be an accomplished fisherman it will be helpful to acquire the skill to cast a good loop.
A Practice Drill for Loop Formation
To do this, it is adequate to practice on a sports field which has painted, straight lines (or a tape can be used instead). Using fly-rod and fly-line, with 30ft extended outside the rod-tip (the standard length used by manufacturers for rating the fly-line), connect a 9 -12ft tapered leader with a few strands of wool brightly-coloured tied to the end (in place of a fly).
Stand with your body facing the painted line and with the rod-tip resting directly over the line, when it is held at an angle representing the start position for the forward cast. Extend the fly-line, as best you can, so that it lies on the painted line as shown in the diagram, below.
You will now be set up to practice a forward cast, without the distractions of firstly creating a back-cast, or aerialising the fly-line. The objective with this part of the practice drill is to create a tight loop that appears to roll off the rod-tip and travel down the fly-line to the fly (wool) at the end of the tapered leader.
To do this firstly raise the fly-rod so that it is horizontal or parallel to the ground and then move the rod-tip in the direction of the forward cast, starting off slowly at first and reaching peak speed at the end of the rod-tip movement. You will find that it is important to stop the rod-tip directly above the painted straight line, precisely and crisply. Equally as important, the rod-tip has to travel along a horizontal straight line.
You will find that loop shape and fly-line turnover can be improved by focusing on the following:-
- Often, untrained casters have a tendency to create rod movement by flexing the wrist and for this reason it is difficult to keep the rod-tip on the painted straight line. A much better result will be found by pivoting from the elbow, although a small amount of wrist movement is permissible.
- Before attempting the cast, ensure that the whole of the fly-line is under control, which means that as much fly-line as possible has to be lifted off the ground, with the minimum amount of forward rod-tip movement, although the fly-rod itself has to be raised to the horizontal inclination quite quickly. Furthermore the movement of the rod-tip should start as close to the ground as possible, with the fly-line extended fully behind it, lying on the painted straight line.
- To obtain initial fly-line control, the fly-rod does not have to be moved quickly; the slower the better, providing the fly-line is kept under tension and not allowed to sag.
- The angle through which the fly-rod moves does not have to be wide, for a 30ft length of line. Try to keep this as narrow as possible but start the movement very slowly and build up speed throughout the rod movement, culminating in a very abrupt stop.
- Ensure that the rod-tip travels along a horizontal line as well as the painted straight line.
- Try to maintain the tight, rolling loop, with the minimum amount of casting effort. This means applying all of the above actions but by using less casting energy, so that eventually the fly-rod is doing most of the work for you.
- Pay particular attention to stopping the rod-tip, abruptly, on the painted straight line.
Using this practice drill will help you to feel how the fly-rod works and how the loop shape can be determined by rod-tip movement. You will be able to explore different grip styles and find the one which one works best and helps you to speed up the fly-rod and stop it effectively.
This same practice drill can be used for developing your back-cast technique, which should be as good as the forward cast. The hand and wrist anatomy makes back casting more difficult and so this drill is invaluable for perfecting the equally as important back cast, which is a weakness of many casters.
Later we will explore casting across the body, for coping with wind conditions and different fishing situations such the opposite side of the river to the one that suits your natural casting style.
Once you have mastered loop formation and fly-line turnover it will be possible to use this skill for casting with any fly-rod inclination from horizontal to vertical. More excitingly, this essential skill will assist you in making any number of mends, for achieving a drag-free drift on the river or for placing the fly in the less accessible fishing spots.