One of the greatest things about fly fishing, in comparison with other sporting activities, is that it can be practiced through our whole life; old age not really being a serious obstacle. In fact one of my fishing buddies is 70+ years old now, and it takes some serious effort to follow his rhythm on the river. Paradoxically, aging as a fly fisher is a sort of advantage, as it is the passing of years what makes our experience and technical abilities grow.
I think that, apart from extreme distance presentations, the same is applicable to fly casting, an activity in which you never stop learning and improving. In my view, along this path there are some significant milestones, like steps in the ladder of proficiency. Thinking about it I distinguish four of these “stages of enlightenment”. There are probably more, and you surely will have your own list if you reflect about it; feel free to comment your views.
So let’s go with the first stage of enlightenment.
The natural tendency of any self-taught fly angler is to cast by describing with his hand a purely rotary motion, like that of a windscreen wiper. That motion usually is too ample, drawing too big a stroke angle and forcing the rod tip to describe a curved path, like an arc of a circle. Of course, this results in loops that are too wide and inefficient. Learning how to adjust that stroke angle is the first step in the journey to the goal of presenting the fly accurately and naturally.
The following step leads us to the first stage of enlightenment: the motion that our rod butt should describe is a combination of a linear motion and a rotary one. During the casting stroke we have to start moving the rod butt without changing its angle in relation to the water; only at the end of the stroke we will make the rod to rotate, describing the appropriate stroke angle. That is, translation and then rotation. This maneuver puts us in the route towards excellence in line control —provided that our stroke accelerates progressively from start to finish.
This is a simple graphic representation of the idea of translation preceding rotation (the direction of the cast is from left to right):
The following video shows the look of that delayed rotation —or rotation at the right time, as some fine instructors prefer to say— in the real world. It depicts a long cast by Paul Arden:
Being a very long cast, Paul needs a very long casting stroke as well; such a long stroke allows us to discern very distinctively the difference between the translation phase and the rotation one.
In medium to short casts the difference between the two phases is more diffuse, as the translation is shorter, the stroke angle smaller, and, moreover, the casting styles more suitable for fishing at short distance are not so inclined to facilitate a pure translation motion as that javelin throw above. Although it is true that for presenting the fly at very close quarters you can use a rotation only casting stroke, using the translation/rotation sequence helps in ingraining that motion in our muscle memory to use it when it is vital —for instance, when that frustrating experience of the big fish eating two meters farther away than our best efforts allow arises again.
The following is an exercise for training this “delayed” rotation technique:
Let’s do a visual analysis of this delayed rotation concept.
The following video is composed of 131 frames. I divided it into three time periods of equal duration; the first period goes from frame number 1 up to frame number 44; the second one, from frame 44 up to frame 88; the third period covers from frame 88 up to frame 131.
Overimposed you can see the rod butt angle in relation to the horizontal for each phase:
The following still frames are taken from the video above:
As you can see, most of the rotation (119º out of a total of 128º) happens during the last third of the casting stroke. It is also important to notice that that last phase involves translation and rotation simultaneously. This is a graphic representation of that:
As the old Spanish saying goes: pequeñas causas, grandes efectos —that is, small causes, big effects.