Anchor Loading the Rod?

A fishing roll cast: look at the lack of tension in the fly leg of the D-loop

I was trying hard to follow exactly what I had been reading on all those books. The roll cast was an easy one —authors said— in fact easier than an overhead cast because you get rid of the backcast part. However, when practicing it my results were awful, to say the least.

A guy waving a rod in the middle of an urban park is like a priest on top of a mound of lime. Fortunately, the guy coming to me this time was a fly fisher.
—Are you trying a roll cast? It is easy, I use it everyday on the river.
—Show me, please!
… and the cast ended in a heap of line.
—I don’t know what happens, maybe it is your gear —he said.

Looking for an answer to that frustration; what I found was mostly something along these lines:
It’s best to practice this cast on water because the water creates the friction and drag necessary for a good roll cast. The friction of the water on the line in the roll cast helps load, (bend) the rod.

Yes! That corroborated what I had been studying so far! Rod and line were the equivalent of bow and arrow: the rod gets bent —loaded— and it propels the line when unloading.
This approach leads to a widespread conclusion: any action or thing contributing to rod loading —sometimes only in appearance— is good by itself, while most of the problems with failed casts have their source in an “insufficiently loaded” rod.
But this isn’t how a fly rod actually works —in fact this view is totally misleading when trying to explain a good bunch of casting phenomena— however, since the bow/arrow model is still the prevalent view in the casting scene, it is worth examining rod load in spey casting. So the present article comes as a complement of this one about bend when the anchor settles, and this other one on the effects of circling-up after the sweep.

The following video is the second most viewed one of my Vimeo channel, and probably one of the less well understood. Let’s analyze what that experiment shows. What I am using to make some roll casts is an Echo Micro Practice Rod, whose “line” consists of braided cotton cord with a short piece of red wool as the “leader”. A tiled floor makes for the perfect scenario for the experiment. Since when casting on water the anchor is said to be the main actor providing rod load, what happens to rod bend when we have no anchor at all?:

Another roll cast from a different point of view:

What is happening on those clips? We have a very slippery floor that allows the line lying on it to slip freely, with almost no resistance due to the very low friction provided by the polished surface. As the current view on anchor and rod load states, the water “grip” on the anchor provides the resistance against the rod is moving, putting a bend on it. The rod pulls on the anchor and the anchor reacts and pulls on the rod bending it. But is that what actually happens?

Let’s address the main factor to understand this issue: during the casting stroke tension on the fly leg of the D-loop is very very small, that is, the force exerted by the moving D-loop on the anchor is very small, so small in fact that the anchor on a tiled floor remains in place during the whole casting stroke. It is important to notice that the line starts slipping backward only when the casting stroke is finished; the turning D-loop is able of making the anchor slip only when it is very close to the line end, when its small force is exerted on a shorter piece of cord, whose small mass opposes much less resistance to the pulling.

A fly rod bends due to action/reaction: we apply force to rod and line and these react due to their inertia —a body that isn’t in motion wants to remain still and opposes itself to any force trying to put it in motion; inertia we call it—, trying to oppose that force. Since the rod is flexible it bends, gets “loaded”. But, as those videos above show, if the fly rod pulling on the rod leg of the D-loop is unable of moving that super slippery anchor it is because it isn’t actually pulling on it, and if the rod doesn’t pull on the anchor the anchor doesn’t pull on the rod!; no pulling, no load!

And what about the bend in the rod on those slippy anchor casts? As we can see the rod gets loaded even without the supposed effect of the anchor. If it isn’t the anchor, what is it that provides that load? Just action/reaction, as explained above. When the stroke ends the rod has been pulling only on the piece of line that forms the rod leg of the D-loop, but not on the rest, that is, not on the piece of line lying on the floor. So that rod bend comes from the reaction of the rod itself and from the reaction of the rod leg of the D-loop only. That length of line that the caster has impulsed during his casting stroke is what I call live line, as opposed to the dead line which forms the fly leg of the D-loop; this dead line contributes nothing to our cast, it is just a passenger, a payload. But this is an interesting aspect that will be analyzed in another article.

OK! —you say —but that is just an experiment, what happens in a real cast?

As shown on this clip, on water we face the same phenomenon: the anchor slips after the casting stroke is finished:

The following picture was shot in a real fishing situation. It shows that even with a water anchor, tension in the fly leg of the D-loop is so low that that piece of line isn’t tight at all:


Another clip showing how small is the force exerted by the rod leg on the fly leg:

So, if the anchor’s function isn’t rod loading, what is its role? The following video addresses this. Take notice of the instant in which the anchor starts sliding backward and its effect on the front loop speed and shape:

Conclusion? Don’t think of rod load, just concentrate in as long a live line as possible, with it, V-loop and anchor pointing in the direction of the target. And consider rod load just as a by-product of a well executed casting stroke.

15 comments on “Anchor Loading the Rod?

  1. flyqcca says:

    Excellent work sir!

    The demonstration is very conclusive. I’m using your video as an reference as how to get a straight tip path: the slow motion reveals very sharply how the progressive acceleration of the the line, using an horizontal trajectory and the delayed application of the wrist movement makes the tips following the desired path.

    Thanks again,


    Liked by 2 people

  2. John Putnam says:

    I have have been spey casting for 8 years now and while I can achieve a decent fishing cast, I still struggle with understanding how to properly form an effecient D loop. I also seem to struggle with some forward motion in my stroke (creeping) that is not under tension from my D loop. Your posts are very helpful as I try to understand the mechanics of a good spey cast. I am still not quite clear on what role a “good” anchor (and what is a good anchor?) plays in the cast (do you still want to avoid a slipped anchor if possible?) and welcome any addtional information.

    Also, what are the practice keys to work on to achieve a stronger live line section of the D loop and to make sure that any forward movement of the rod is under tension and adding to the cast and not taking away from the cast (creeping). Is any pause or circling up in itself damaging and to be avoided or ?

    Thanks in advance for any clarification you might provide.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Aitor says:

      Hi John,

      Just back home from a fishing trip to NZ. Back to you asap.



    • Aitor says:

      Hi John,

      Let’s go step by step. You wrote:
      “I am still not quite clear on what role a “good” anchor (and what is a good anchor?) plays in the cast (do you still want to avoid a slipped anchor if possible?).”

      The role of the anchor is avoiding the line slipping backwards when we make the forward cast. Why? For two main reasons:

      1. If the anchor slips the fly or leader may get tangled in the vegetation behind us. This is annoying but not that serious; it is more risky when we have a clean space behind like a big gravel bar or beach, in this case the slipping anchor could result in a broken hook, and that would happen inadvertently.

      2. When we perform the forward stroke we, obviously, want the line to move forward, if it moves backward it does by stealing energy from the forward cast. It is inefficient.

      So, what is a good anchor? That which doesn’t slip and holds its position with the minimum amount of line on or in the water. It is easy to avoid slipping by setting a very long anchor, but that is also inefficient because it takes energy to peel the line off the water.

      Hope this clears things up.


      • John Putnam says:

        That make perfect sense on the role of the anchor. Can you share some thoughts on how best to achieve a stronger “live” line load on the rod (i.e. what mechanics should I focus on to improve the live line load) and how best to maintain that load if I have been battling some “creep” in my casting. I do quite a bit of skagit style casting and am somewhat confused on whether to try and maintain CM (which may be leading me to creep some) versus allowing a slight pause or drift to occur. Thanks for any addtional insight Aitor. John


  3. Aitor says:

    Spey casting instruction —and I must add that in my book Skagit is just another style of spey casting based in the use of very short shooting heads, and as such subject to the very same physics that governs any other style— traditionally takes a too superficial look at the D loop constituting elements, and that prevents us of getting some capital info about how the spey casting mechanics works. Let’s make a simple dissection of a D —or V— loop first.

    A V loop has two parts: upper or rod leg, and lower or fly leg. This is a very important distinction for when we finish our forward stroke what we have impulsed to the target is just the rod leg of the V loop, the fly leg is just a passenger.
    The implications of this concept are deeper than it seems at first sight, a simple experiment will show what I mean.
    We take a tennis ball, a ping-pong one and a three meters long piece of backing. We glue each end of the backing to each of the balls.
    Now we place the ping-pong ball on the ground beside us, and throw the tennis ball forward as far as possible. Both balls fly a given distance.
    But we will try another time introducing a small difference: now we place the tennis ball on the ground beside us and throw the ping-pong one as hard as we can. What happens this time? That no matter how much force we try to apply to the ping-pong ball, the tennis ball keeps “nailed” to the ground.

    What does this mean regarding spey casting mechanics? That trying to cast a relatively big mass with a relatively small one isn’t a good idea. What is the mass that we actually impulse forward with the casting stroke? The mass of rod leg of the V loop, that is the equivalent of the tennis ball; the fly leg of the V loop is, hopefully, the ping-pong ball.
    That is one of the reasons why a Jump roll (switch cast or any name you want to give it) is much more efficient than a conventional roll cast: in the latter we are trying to throw a big mass just by impulsing a small one. The other reason for the conventional roll cast inefficiency is too long an anchor: by peeling off the water a long anchor we waste a lot of energy.
    This also explains why spey casting lines are designed in the way they are, i.e. basically the traditional design of a Royal Wulff Triangle Taper line.

    So, what is the goal we should strive for regarding V loop formation? To get a V loop with a rod leg as long as possible (that is, with the biggest possible mass to impulse forward) combined with an anchor which holds without slipping backwards. This has its limitations in practice: too long a rod leg of the V loop means that the anchor is placed behind us and more prone to slipping. We must find the balance by trying different anchor placements in a given situation.

    To be continued.


  4. Aitor says:

    IMHO focusing in rod load is the wrong approach to casting. Of course rod bend helps in casting but it is a byproduct of the force we apply, apply force in a progressive way and load comes automatically.
    This reading material might be interesting:



  5. Aitor says:

    As my approach to casting mechanics is based in the concept of impulsing the line as straight as possible towards the target, I don’t relate creeping to any rod load issue. The main reason is because I don’t think that the goal of a cast is loading the rod, this being a byproduct of the casting stroke.

    In that regard I don’t make a casting stroke to load the rod, I make it to give the line enough speed to reach the target. The amount of that line speed depends on stroke length and casting angle.
    Creep is an involuntary decrease in the available stroke length and casting angle, so it either compromises the amount of speed achievable —due to a lack of space to accelerate—, leads to a very wide loop or results in some kind of tailing loop.

    Not getting enough line speed isn’t common, the caster knows how to compensate unconsciously. But that compensation can lead to the other two problems:
    1. Opening the casting angle to get enough line speed with the logical consequence of a very wide, inefficient loop.
    2. Accelerating more while stopping the rod at the right position for the intended trajectory of the cast. That may result in a tailing loop.

    Creeping is a common pitfall in spey casting due to the change in casting plane between the sweep and the forward cast. We must be careful when repositioning the rod after the sweep because it is very easy to go slowly forward with the arm (decreasing stroke length), to decrease the butt angle (decreasing the available casting arc), or both, before starting the forward cast proper.



  6. John Putnam says:

    Thanks. Very helpful as I try to understand the mechanics and principles that are important to improve may casting. Question, do you believe that incorporating some amount of “drift” or a “a pause” when casting shorter heads like skagit heads, is desirable to increase the amount of rod leg in the D/V loop, as well as working to mitigate any tendency to “creep” when circling up from the horizontal to vertical plane?


  7. Aitor says:

    I don’t rely on conveying mechanical motions without clearing up their purpose; if we know what we are trying to achieve with a given set of movements we will be able of fine tuning them based in their goals when things don’t work properly.

    I am aware of the debate regarding the convenience of a “pause” after the sweep in skagit style. The solution is very simple:
    What is the purpose of the sweep in spey casting, more precisely in a waterborne cast, as those used in skagit? To set the V loop, so it gets tight against the anchor; as soon as everything gets tight we start the forward cast without loosing that tension in the loop.

    Obviously with a relatively long head it takes more time to form a V loop than with a relatively short head, so with the longer head there must be a longer “pause” between the backcast (the sweep) and the forward cast.
    The problem is that, as the sweep is performed in a relatively horizontal plane, and the forward cast in a relatively upright plane, we must reposition the rod between those motions. It is what we know as “drift”. If you consider drift to be a pause or not is just semantics.


  8. John Putnam says:

    After reading other discussions on CM/CL/CT style casting and your thoughts, my take away is to be aware of maintaining tension during the re-positioning move without inadverdantly introducing “creep” into my forward casts therby shortening the stroke as well as possibly introducing some of the other problems (opening the loop/tailing loop). So the critical steps are: find the right anchor placement depending on the loop shaped desired and the amount of line speed desired, increase the rod leg of the loop to increase line speed and the ability to propel the fly leg of the loop, re-position the rod into the correct alignment to achieve a 180 degree alignment between your target and your D/V loop while maintaining appropriate tension and allowing the D/V loop time to fully develop and without shortening the forward stroke, and deliver the forward stroke in as straight as line with your target and D/V loop as possible. Assuming the above is essentially on target, it should help me better understand the process of spey casting. Thanks.


  9. John Putnam says:

    Thanks again Aitor for the great information. Your information and examples/demos really help to take some of the mystery as well an mis-understanding out of the spey casting journey. John


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