Style is Substance… Sometimes

I perfectly understand why getting deep into casting mechanics is regarded as useless by a majority of fly fishers. But, that sound casting mechanics is equally rejected by such a big percentage of casting instructors is another matter entirely. Calling yourself a master and, at the same time, avoiding getting deep into the nuances of your trade seems rather weird to me.

On the other hand, some of us find casting mechanics not only fascinating, but —and this is key if you are an instructor— an indispensable tool to use in our teaching.

The following clip shows my mate Bernd Ziesche (Master Casting Instructor by the FFI and AAPGAI) when he visited me long ago for some casting courses. The day before our first course together, we were talking about casting mechanics and shot some slow motion videos; like this one:

When, four years ago, I showed this video on a fly casting forum thread to illustrate a point, it immediately prompted replies along these lines —all quotes are verbatim—:

“…terrible cast…”

“…biomechanically very inefficient…”

“…never even seen anybody roll cast like that…”

“…terrible loop creation, very restricted casting arc…”

“…it [probably] tailed…”.

“…inefficient stop too…”

“…does he look balanced or comfortable at any point during that cast? Buggers going to fall in!

What I see is a very long backhand roll cast, that, although I don’t remember exactly, it reached about 20 meters. Not an easy task, and, IMHO, almost impossible to do with what Al Kyte calls elbow forward style (up-down or pulling style depending on the author). Exactly the style those commentators had in mind, and the only one they saw as acceptable.

But what advanced casting mechanics tells us is that, for the same distance:

  • Overhead cast and roll cast strokes are different.
  • That, as explained in the article linked above, the reason for that is that the line layout of a roll cast doesn’t allow us to apply as much force as with the line configuration of an overhead one.
  • That we have to compensate for that by means of increasing stroke length.
  • That styles are interchangeable… but only to some degree, and not in all cases.

At times, style and substance are the same thing. A good grasp of casting mechanics gives you the clues to know when they merge and, consequently, the ability to percibe when changing your student’s style is the sensible thing to do.

Fly Fishing Guides

What makes a great fly fishing guide?

It is not an easy question, and —who knows—, years ago, my answer would have been different. What I think now is that a top guide is that one who is able of turning a bad catching day into a good fishing session. It is all about the experience, and —in my book— that experience is about finding beauty and learning something in the process.

It might be about the history and culture of the country your are visiting; preferred fly patterns; fish behavior; some drinking and bantering; cooking a fantastic steak for dinner; fishing tactics and techniques; politics… who knows? It is an art that goes well beyond fly fishing proficiency.

Thank you, friends, for giving me the opportunity of learning from your art!

Did you see that rise? Prpa. Bosnia. 2011.
Team work. Chris and Varo. New Zealand. 2019.

Slack Line

A hungry backcountry brown.

At last! A long and deep pool of gin clear water! After a very long, sweaty hike upstream, where the river looked much more suitable for whitewater sports than for fishing, this was a really relieving view. I started scanning the water in the tail slowly progressing upstream. Nothing. I was close to the head of the pool when I saw the fish: a big brown trout patrolling the slow water in the far bank, lazily taking bites from the full of debris surface

With all that defeaning chirping from the cicadas around it wasn’t hard to choose a fly pattern. At its head, the pool was narrow and with a fast tongue of current in the middle. In its search the fish was following a rather inconsistent upstream-downstream-upstream path; always beyond the strip of faster water, of course. I had to wait for the trout to be looking away from me to make a cast. Some good casts were useless, as the fish changed direction unexpectedly. And when things were right in that regard, drag resulted in just a number of disdainful looks. A reach cast wasn’t enough to counteract the big difference in speed between the two pieces of water and I couldn’t wade more upstream of my current position. Not an easy challenge.

Finally, the trout decided to search farther downstream. Following it I got to a place where the problematic current was slower and, by presenting my fly downstream instead of across, I had a much better angle to make a successful reach cast. Soon after the brown was posing for the picture above.

When everything was finished I reflected on how many times the thrill of the moment doesn’t allow us to think clearly. Why didn’t I use a bucket cast in the first place? Placing a good amount of slack line in a heap just beyond the fast water tongue of the pool would have resulted in the longest drag-free drift possible. Simply I had not remembered it. I tend to be too affected by the sight of big fish.

Strange Loops

I have been regularly shooting slow motion videos of fly casting for the last ten years or so, and many of my filming sessions show some unexpected things that make me think and learn, and even change some of my previous views. Reality trumps fly casting models every time.

The following video is the result of one of last week’s filming session. At first sight, the appearance of two loops on the very same back cast was puzzling. Then I noticed how my leader was momentarily caught by the grass; how that short pull affected the rod tip; how, as a result, a small wave was formed in the line (a tiny tailing loop in fact) and how all those ingredients resulted in that weird loop configuration.

Did you notice that I love to study fly lines in slow motion? 😎

Notes on Teaching Fly Casting

Some more interesting ideas can be found in the following link to an article by Bruce Richards and Dusty Sprague:

The first point in that piece has brought me some mildly embarrassing memories:

A couple of years ago I gave a Spey casting course to two anglers that were preparing a salmon fishing trip abroad and wanted to up their game with the double handed rod. I knew one of them from a previous course; he fly fished for trout and salmon. About fifteen minutes into the lesson I noticed that something wasn’t going properly judging by the face expression of the second student.

—Just one question —I said—, do you fly fish for trout?

—Yes —he replied—, but I use spinning tackle.

So I had been talking to him about loops —and all that stuff exclusively related to fly fishing with a fly line— without checking first if he knew the terminology… which he, obviously, didn’t!

Lesson learned!