In Search of Beauty

That is what fly fishing is about, isn’t it?

Hatch in progress. A quartering dowstream cast to a good brown trying to get a drag-free drift in the tricky currents of a Bosnian chalkstream. The fly falls short of the target but the trout moves half a meter to its right to inspect the size #22 Shuttlecock Emerger. The fly is, apparently, right; obviously the drift is not. I get a well deserved refusal.

Three more casts get the fly drifting freely above the trout’s head. It couldn’t care less. Fourth good drift and the fish opens its mouth with confidence. Trout are a mistery. Fortunately.

Not the biggest fish of the season nor the most difficult, but beautiful. For several reasons.

Fly fishing is a permanent search of beauty, isn’t it?

Mel’s Pulling Through Stroke

Mel's pulling through

Mel Krieger’s concept of a “pulling” stroke as opposed to a “pushing” one wasn’t intended as a way of differentiating two different casting styles, it was coined to describe any good casting stroke whatever the style used. So you should “pull through” when using an “elbow up-down” style, as much as when using an “elbow backward-forward” one.

Pulling was the term Mel chose to convey the idea of leaving for the end of the stroke as much of the rod rotation as possible. In summary (and using two other Mel’s concepts) “pulling” isn’t a style, it is substance; “pushing” isn’t a style, it is a fault.

The gif above shows the paradox posed by the interpretation of “pulling” as just an stylistic issue: Mel himself is showing what he meant by “pulling through” while performing a cast that some instructors would still define as “pushing”.

Better to let Mel explain himself about the “pulling” concept, and what the gif above is showing (bold is mine):

In the pull through casting stroke, the casting hand precedes the rod tip through most of the casting stroke and the turnover and stop take place only at the end of the casting stroke… Lay out 70 or so feet of fly line on a lawn behind you, fly rod pointing to the fly, and throw a javelin, turning the rod over only at the very end of the throw. You may be pleasantly surprised with this extreme pull through casting motion.

Relax, Balance, Control

balanced reel

We usually say about masters in any discipline that “they make it look easy”. Probably it isn’t just that it looks easy, I have the conviction that they look so relaxed because… well, they are totally relaxed.

As my fly casting mentor likes to say, a long cast starts in the tip of the toes and ends in the finger tips. Less extreme casts have less body parts in play, but share some important trait in common: good form requires to be as effortless as possible.

In everyday trout fishing casts, our main engine is a combination of arm, forearm and hand. That is why fly casting manuals recommend to apply force with the hand only at the end of the stroke: just around the stop.

Closing your rod hand tight only at the right moment, and for a brief time, makes a lot of sense. Open and close your rod hand while holding your forearm with your other hand, and feel how many muscles get tensioned by that simple exercise. This offers an explanation for that ache starting in the neck and going down the back, so many of us feel after a long day on the river.

I have no idea about biomechanics, but my gut feeling tells me that muscle tension and accuracy are rather incompatible. Just another good reason to train the closing-opening of the hand during the casting stroke.

But truly relaxing the hand is pretty much impossible if we departure from an inadequate starting point. Every time I see someone casting with his reel parallel to the casting plane, I know that things aren’t as effortless as they could be. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, so if it is a video probably even more.

I must confess that just making a few casts with the rim of the reel facing the target felt totally uncomfortable, as you have to constantly force the rod to keep the reel in place. The same goes for an overhead cast, as we normally make them with a slight inclination to the side.

One day this Autumn I handed my rod to the guide and asked him to show me his long nymphing approach in a particularly deep run. I immediately noticed how he got the reel in the “hanging”, relaxed, position. I asked him why; “balance” he said. A much more concise way of conveying the same idea.

Reflections of a False Beginner

no activity

Maybe it is a problem of lack of recruitment, or that every new angler is focused from the start in fishing nymphs without a fly line, most probably both, but over here, it is a fact that most of those interested in casting instruction have already been fly fishing for a number of years. They just hadn’t cared about polishing their casting skills. They are what we call “false beginners”.

It is known that deeply ingrained bad casting form is very hard to uproot. It is far easier to get quick, good results with those who start their fly fishing careers taking some casting classes.

Being a self-taught angler puts you in a similar scenario. I know it from experience. Seeing myself repeating the same frustrating mistakes over and over again forced a decision: I won’t forget about those bad habits as soon as I leave the water, only to face them again the next day; I will take my time remembering those bad moves, will reflect on them, and will start an unlearning program.

The season is over, so it looks like a good time put down a list of those bad moves I have been guilty of perpetrating over the years. Some are already eradicated; others still bring swearing to my mouth from time to time.

  1. All anglers know that fish seem to have a strange predilection for the opposite bank… Just be aware that your own bank is the opposite one of someone else, and may hold as much fish as that in front. So do look purposefully before entering the water; a big wake running away will remind you of this if you don’t.
  2. Trout always look upstream, the problem is that upstream doesn’t always mean upriver. Analyze the current’s real direction before making your first cast.
  3. Cast to specific targets. Always. Even when just fishing the water.
  4. When your fly drifts over the target, study the curved configuration of the line on the water. That is the radiography of dragging disease.
  5. Think of fly drag before thinking of fly change.
  6. Always check every knot after changing a fly.
  7. Never lose sight of the drift of your fly. If you need to fix something in your tackle remove your fly from the water. Lack of focus equals missed fish. Maybe The Fish.
  8. If yo are tired and feel unmotivated stop fishing. Take a break. A nap. Have a beer or two. Whatever. Lack of focus equals missed fish. Maybe The Fish.
  9. Slack line is a must for a drag-free drift, but make sure that don’t compromise your ability to strike effectively.
  10. If you shift from a short rod to a long one, keep in mind that the same arm motion when striking will probably be too much for your thin tippet.
  11. If after days of fishing #22 emergers on a 7X tippet you change to a big streamer on a stout leader, remember that they invented the strip strike to put it to use. Unless you want to miss the trout of your lifetime, that is. Based on (very recent) actual events.
  12. When playing a fish stand with your feet touching each other. I managed to break the tip of a new rod when a trout changed its mind, deciding that running downstream through a perfect channel between my legs, was much more relaxed than fighting the current.
  13. Last but not least: During a feeding frenzy… Don’t eat! 😃


Focus Shift

Nowhere in the world of sending a fly out there with a line you can find “rod load” being more glorified than in the spey casting scene. Everything seems to gravitate around that. If the cast is good it is because the rod was properly loaded. If it went wrong… well, sure it is due to the rod not having enough load or unloading prematurely.

Sometimes it is possible to get more clues from the analysis of a bad cast than from a perfect one. That is the case with the casts depicted here. The video and pics show a pretty common occurrence that will be used to point out some keys of spey casting mechanics. Take them just as a brief introduction to following articles which will get deeper into that subject (slow motion clips and some not-that-heavy-physics included).

The scenario is the forward cast of a spey characterized by some kind of V-Loop that we will call 7-Loop (thanks to Simon Gawesworth). An extreme 7 for that matter.

Let’s say that you set a nice V-Loop, make the cast and present the fly on target.
On the next cast you manage to get a 7-Loop and the fly falls short of the target on top of a heap of line and leader. That is just one of the possible outcomes of that loop configuration -as it is a fat loop, a tailing loop or even the three of them combined-  if the caster doesn’t compensate his stroke to adapt. Even if he modifies his stroke successfully the 7-Loop is still inefficient due to the amount of wasted energy.

The following gif made from a couple of pics from a still camera will shed some additional light.


We could look for an explanation to the inefficiency of that 7-Loop in the gif above in the usual way, basing our analysis in the behaviour showed by the rod. It would go along the following lines.

What happened to this cast?

  • Hmm, probably the rod didn’t get loaded… but I see a pretty good bend, though!
  • However, is that a properly loaded rod? Who knows? I, for one, don’t have a clue nor have met anybody capable of quantifying whether a given load is enough for a given cast or not. If only because you can make a cast to the same distance with the same rod and line with rather different loads.
  • Well -you say to yourself- it could be that the rod got unloaded prematurely due to the anchor slipping… but the loop’s rod leg looks pretty straight, whereas the rising tip of an early unloading would have set a wave in it!
    As shown here:

Hmm, we are not getting very far with that approach.

So let’s address the issue from a different standpoint, forgetting the rod and putting the accent in the line.

From the gif above we can quickly draw some visual clues:

  • A totally ineffective anchor due to the angle of attack.
    Only part of the leader is in contact with the water, moreover the angle at which the loop pulls on the anchor makes the latter specially prone to slipping. See how at the end of the stroke the apex of the loop still hasn’t moved forward due to the slipping anchor! In fact it moves a little bit backward! It is a perfect case of a loop propagating but not traveling (but that will be the subject of another article).
  • The amount of line in the rod leg of the 7-Loop.
    The length of line in the rod leg at the start of the stroke is very very short. The longer the piece of line we propel during the casting stroke (the “live line” so to speak) the more efficient the cast:

The reason for that inefficiency has already been covered in this previous article. You can also relate it to the case when we rush the forward stroke of an overhead cast and start it with the line still half its way backwards.

So, compared to a proper V-Loop configuration, for presenting the fly at the same distance a 7-Loop:

  • Will ask for a higher rod butt acceleration, as a way to give enough momentum to the comparatively shorter length of “live line” we propel during the stroke, to carry a comparatively longer length of “dead line”. That is the reason why the  “dead line” to “live line” ratio is key regarding efficiency: the longer the live line the better.
  • Anchor slipping wastes energy: the line moving backwards goes in the opposite direction of the target, and it doesn’t move by itself so it detracts from the energy needed to move the line forward.

Obviously the longer the cast the higher the impulse you need, which may result in a bigger load, but load is a byproduct of our force application to give the line enough momentum. It really isn’t our goal.

Given that the function of the casting stroke is to give enough velocity to the line in the right direction, it is better then to shift our focus from the rod -which says very little- to the line -which speaks volumes.

Why is a Jump Roll More Efficient than a Static One?

That is a rather usual question and also a very interesting one. It has been asked to me again recently via the internet by a couple of fellow casting instructors. Let’s go for it.

Let’s take a look first at the Roll vs. Overhead video used in a previous article:

I will describe the scenario:
Just one rod rigged with two lines: Royal Wulff #7 and Rio Tournament #6.
The TT has the ideal taper for roll casting; the Rio is designed for long casts overhead.
The Rio is unrolled behind the caster; the TT set in a roll cast configuration with its leader anchored by means of a screwdriver stuck in the ground (is there a more solid anchor than planet Earth itself? If there is let me know).

In this way the very same casting stroke applies force to both lines. What the video shows, however, is that the overhead line reaches its target whereas the rolled one falls short. It is an interesting experiment that any caster can try by himself (just in case somebody doubts of the result).
Anyway the result is that, if you use a stroke with the amount of energy needed for the overhead line just to straighten, the roll cast line falls short of the target. Always. Why?

I have said that the very same casting stroke applies force to both lines simultaneously, but is it the same amount of force for both? No, it isn’t.
What our stroke is doing is applying the same acceleration to the rod, and the rod to both lines, but the length of line actually accelerated in one case is much longer than in the other: we accelerate the whole length of the overhead line whereas only a short piece of the roll line is subjected to acceleration.

Do you remember the basic formula of Force?
F = m.a.
For a refresher this is a nice and easy source Force

Acceleration is the same for both lines but mass isn’t. So the force we apply to the roll cast line is much less than that we apply to the overhead line. For the same, identical, casting stroke getting the same distance with much less force sounds impossible, right?

If you prefer we can address the problem from the standpoint of Energy.
By applying force to the lines over a given distance we are doing Work on them. Do you remember the formula for Work?
W = F.d
For a refresher this is a nice and easy source Work

The work done on an object amounts to the energy transferred to it; that is, more Work = more Energy transferred.
But we have already discovered that the roll line has been subjected to less force than the overhead one; less force amounts to less work done on the roll line and, consequently, less energy in it.
How do you expect to get the same distance with less energy?

So what we have is that the casting stroke that works for an overhead cast isn’t good for a roll cast. By the same token the stroke good for a jump roll isn’t enough for a static roll.

Some may say that, after all, that rod load shown in the video is just enough for propelling one line but not both. Another of the blindfolds that the casting paradigm based in load puts over our eyes.
Yes, only one line is propelled all the way forward but, how is it that it is always the one with the longer piece of “live line”?

So, as a corollary, IMO we have to think in terms of how long is the piece of line I am accelerating directly to the target, and not of the mythical “load” and “anchor loading” or the impossibility of a “highly energized V loop”.


The key to understand this issue lies in the fact that the rod in the video isn’t applying the same force to both lines, just the same acceleration. It seems that it isn’t easy to grasp so an additional (more graphic) example to clarify this is in order:

Let’s say I have a video showing three model railway coaches.
Two are connected together and laying on a straight rail. Parallel to them there is another rail with the third coach laying on it.

In the front part of both convoys we have a string, one string for each convoy.
At a given time the strings get taught and the two convoys start moving with exactly the same acceleration.

Since the track has a ruler alongside, by means of Tracker or any other application we are able of easily calculate the magnitude of that acceleration.

We also know the respective masses of each convoy: isn’t a surprise that mass A has a value X and mass B has a value of X/2.

By solving the F = m.a equation we get that the force applied to mass A is double the force applied to mass B. Right?

Well, after that first video I show you a second one with a general view of the scene. Now we can see that there is a guy pulling on both convoys at once by holding both strings in one hand.
So now, out of a sudden, we discover that he is applying the same force to both convoys? Not al all, the force exerted on each of them is different, one being exactly half the value of the other.