Loop Control Paradox (divertimento for curious casters)

Loop width control is a recurrent topic in casting instruction. Several aspects govern loop width, but “matching casting arc to rod bend” is what instructors use the most; so “if your loops are too wide narrow your casting arc” is the usual fix we offer.

Let’s say that I am bass fishing with a popper knotted to a short, stout leader, followed by a bass taper #7 weight line. I want to cover a very promising spot, just a small hole among low hanging branches, which asks for a side cast with a narrow loop.
First try my line crashes against a branch: I need to narrow the loop considerably. So keeping everything equal I decrease my stroke angle… and the loop fails to straighten, for same acceleration along a smaller angle gives, obviously, less line speed.

So keeping the same stroke angle I increase the force applied to the rod to gain that lost line speed. But, hold on one second! More force applied results in more rod bend, and a basic principle of casting mechanics says that we have to match casting arc to rod load! So this time I must increase the stroke angle! Now I widen the angle applying more force at the same time… and my popper curves to the left hooking a branch, as a result of an overpowered cast.

Reducing casting stroke angle to narrow your loops doesn’t work in isolation. No wonder that beginners have a hard time in controlling loop width, as it is a question of very fine-tuned adjustments, more than just varying “casting arc”.

Playing with loops by changing the casting stroke angle is fine; play with force and stroke length as well just to see what happens.

Anchor Loading the Rod?

 

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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:

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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.

Sweep, Loading… Unloading II

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In the first article of this series we studied how the setting of a V-loop doesn’t put any load in the rod. The momentum of the line travelling backward is transferred to the water, without affecting the rod tip. In many spey casting technical works we find another purported source for that mythical rod pre-loading: the rod motion from the tilted sideways position at the end of the sweep into the more vertical position suitable for starting the forward cast, a maneouver also known as circling-up. A quote from the internet about this circling up and its consequences puts things in perspective:

It is intended to transfer the rodloading created during the Sweep, on through to the Forward Cast, in a continuous, uninterrupted fashion… no stopping of the rod, no load-unload-load action… thereby maintaining continuous loading of the rod.

As H.G. Wells wrote: It sounds plausible enough tonight, but wait until tomorrow.

Will tomorrow be able of invalidating plain logic?

As we have seen in the first part of this study rod bend comes from a force. After the sweep is finished the line moves on its own backward; the rod pulls on the line making it turn and a loop is formed.

– Well, for that to happen the rod has to exert a force on the line, and the line exerts the same force -action/reaction- on the rod in the opposite direction, right?

– Yes, of course.

– So the rod gets loaded, right?

– No, slo-mo says it doesn’t and so does physics.

Let’s take a look to the equation for force:

F = m.a

What this equation states is that force is directly proportional to mass (weight in layman’s terms) and acceleration (change in velocity). The bigger the mass the bigger the force needed to accelerate it; the bigger the acceleration the bigger the force applied. So for a force to be increased we could increase m, a or both.

So what happens to the mass of the line and its acceleration -and consequently to force and then rod load- in those two phases of spey casting known as sweep and circling-up?

During the sweep we are applying force to the whole length of line at play in order to form a loop; during circling-up we exert force only on the short piece of line which is actually turning around in the loop front, the part of the line changing direction but not on the rest of it. During the sweep we are pulling on a much bigger mass.

What about acceleration? During the sweep we have to accelerate the line significantly to form a loop; when circling-up the rod is not accelerating anymore, for the caster moves it to the key position leisurely, without the intention of applying any significant force. During circling-up we are pulling with much less acceleration.

The logical conclusion? The force bending the rod on the sweep is comparatively big and decreases hugely when the sweep ends. In fact the force exerted on the rod by the line during circling-up is so low that the amount of bend left is irrelevant. Some video to clarify things:

 

The following pictures correspond to three frames taken from the video above: they show both the difference in the mass the rod is pulling on, and the difference in rod bend between the sweep and the circling up.

whole-line

The sweep applies significant force to the whole line. The rod is bent.

rsp

End of the sweep. No force applied to the rod or the line. Note how the line has lost tension and the rod is straight.

loop-front

An instant during circling-up. The rod is pulling only on that piece of line inside the red circumference, so there is no appreciable bend in it.

 

 

More video:

 

Is it that important to be aware of these intricacies? It is, in my opinion, if only for one reason: if you train or fish focusing on getting some impossible pre-load, you won’t be paying attention to the things actually defining spey casting efficency, namely: minimum anchor, maximum live line in the V-loop, all that aligned with the target and as close to the forward rod tip trajectory as possible.

Quiénes somos? Hacia dónde vamos? Habrá cambio de 100 euros?

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Tres amigos, tres enfoques distintos, y complementarios, del lanzado

No cabe duda de que no hay necesidad de entender los mecanismos de las cosas para que éstas sigan su curso. Todos somos capaces de conducir un coche con relativa habilidad, sin necesidad de tener idea de cómo funciona su motor.

Pero cuando se trata de “maestría”, en mi opinión, hay que empezar a hablar de otras cosas. Valga el ejemplo los pilotos de F1: ¿solo conducen? No, también saben un montón de mecánica, y ese profundo conocimiento parece la forma más eficiente de orientar a los ingenieros sobre qué es lo que hay que modificar para que las cosas funcionen lo mejor posible.

Entonces, en esto del lanzado y la maestría en su instrucción ¿cuánto hay que saber para enseñar?

Esa cuestión me plantearon hace unos años en una famosa feria de pesca a mosca cerca de Munich, donde nos reunimos un buen puñado de instructores de la IFFF.
Un candidato al título Casting Instructor, que solía seguir por encima alguno de los debates del foro de Sexyloops, me preguntó si realmente hacía falta profundizar tanto en cosas para él ininteligibles; si no era algo superfluo y una pérdida de tiempo. Salíamos de un hotel y justo enfrente había aparcado un BMW de los gordos. Le dije:
¿Crees que alguien podría disfrutar del placer de conducir un coche como ése, si antes no hubiera habido otros investigando sin descanso esas aburridas cosas de la física?

Mi opción personal es la de estudiar a fondo la mecánica del lanzado. Y no, no pretendo que otros instructores profundicen en esos temas que les quedan tan lejanos, me conformo con que no critiquen a los que sí nos interesamos por ellos. Al fin y al cabo ningún daño les hacen nuestros desvaríos, con que los ignoren es bastante; digo yo.

Introducción al lanzado spey

 

 

El spey es una técnica de lanzado nacida como una evolución del lance rodado convencional. Aunque en principio estaba enfocada a la pesca del salmón no está en absoluto limitada a ese uso. El spey es un recurso más para pescar: con dos manos, con una mano, con moscas para salmón, para trucha, tímalo, streamers, ninfas… en casos puntuales incluso moscas secas.
No obstante es cierto que donde mejor se pueden apreciar las ventajas del spey es en la pesca del salmón. La más obvia de esas ventajas es que permite presentar la mosca, incluso a largas distancias, sin apenas espacio disponible detrás de nosotros.
Sin embargo, para la pesca al swing su uso tiene ventajas en comparación a un lanzado convencional, aun en espacios abiertos:

  • Mayor seguridad en el manejo de la mosca, especialmente si se trata de moscas grandes y pesadas: un spey bien ejecutado mantiene la mosca siempre por delante del pescador, por lo que las posibilidades de que nos golpee o se nos clave son nulas.
  • Mayor control en el manejo de moscas pesadas: no hay lances falsos con moscas que, debido a su masa, tienen vida propia.
  • Mucho mayor número de presentaciones de la mosca al final de la jornada: en la técnica convencional se requieren varios lances falsos para cambiar de dirección y volver a presentar, con el spey basta con un par de maniobras. Especialmente con el salmón esto no es baladí: un pez que se ha mostrado indiferente a lo largo de mil presentaciones de la mosca puede cogerla a la 1.001.
  • Menos cansancio: menos movimientos con la caña a pesar de que presentamos la mosca más veces.
  • Estética! No olvidemos que pescamos a mosca por algo más que por su eficacia.

 

Principios Básicos

Podríamos decir que el spey es la evolución natural del lance rodado, el perfeccionamiento necesario para conseguir la máxima eficiencia.

Pero ¿por qué es ineficiente un lance rodado?

  • Tras terminar la deriva necesitamos volver a presentar la mosca aguas arriba de su actual posición. Ese cambio de dirección no se lleva nada bien con los rodados convencionales.
  • La relativamente larga longitud de línea que se encuentra sobre el agua al iniciar el lance delantero nos roba mucha energía, desperdiciada en despegar esa línea del agua.
  • En un rodado la cantidad de línea que realmente impulsamos hacia adelante con el golpe de lanzado es muy corta, la mayor parte de la línea es un pasajero. Un simple experimento ilustrará mejor lo que quiero decir: unimos una pelota de tenis y una de ping-pong con un trozo de backing de tres metros de longitud. Dejamos la pelota de ping-pong en el suelo y arrojamos la de tenis hacia adelante. El conjunto vuela sin problemas. Tratemos de hacer lo mismo pero esta vez arrojando la pelota de ping-pong. ¿Qué pasará?

Para paliar todo esto empleamos lo que se ha dado en llamar rodado dinámico (jump roll, switch cast…). Con el rodado dinámico conseguimos una mínima cantidad de línea posada sobre el agua (que costará poco despegar), y una longitud de línea mucho mayor para impulsar hacia adelante (estaremos lanzando la pelota de tenis en vez de la de ping-pong). Este rodado dinámico es el alma de todo lance spey. La configuración que adopta la línea antes de iniciar el lance de presentación en un rodado dinámico, es el fin último de las diferentes maniobras previas propias de cada lance spey. Lo que diferencia a cada lance son, precisamente, esas maniobras previas, que no son sino adaptaciones a las diferentes circunstancias.

Unos pocos términos elementales:

  • Bucle en D (o en V): la forma que adopta la línea en un lance spey justo antes de iniciar el lance delantero para presentar la mosca. Se llama así porque la recta que forma la caña y la curvatura de la línea doblada sobre sí misma, vistas lateralmente, se asemejan a una D mayúscula.
  • Ancla: la porción de línea (más el bajo) que quedan en contacto con el agua una vez formado el bucle en D. Su función es impedir que toda la línea se deslice hacia atrás. Este “patinazo” del ancla tiene consecuencias poco recomendables: mandar la mosca a la vegetación a nuestra espalda; golpear la mosca contra las piedras de la orilla con el consiguiente riesgo para la integridad del anzuelo; en cualquier caso, desperdicia la energía destinada al lance delantero.
  • Punto de anclaje: La zona de la superficie del agua donde deberemos hacer posar la punta de la línea para formar el ancla.
  • Línea viva: el tramo de línea situado en la parte superior del bucle en D. Es la parte que impulsamos durante el golpe de lanzado delantero.
  • Línea muerta: el ancla más el tramo de línea situado en la parte inferior del bucle en D. Es un mero pasajero que se aprovecha del impulso que hemos ejercido en la línea viva, restándole energía.
  • Carga de la caña: cuando aplicamos fuerza para lanzar la caña se dobla; es algo automático, sin más historias. Cuanto menos te centres en la sobrevalorada “carga” más podrás concentrarte en los aspectos clave. Y ya que estamos en ello:
  • Claves:
    • Situar el punto de anclaje en el lugar adecuado. Este punto es relativamente variable dependiendo del escenario. Una buena referencia: apunta con los pies al lugar donde quieres presentar la mosca; pon la caña a 90 grados de esa línea imaginaria, a la izquierda o a la derecha, y toca el agua con la puntera, ése es el punto de anclaje.
    • Ancla la cantidad de línea justa, ni mucha ni poca. Si es mucha, el hecho de despegarla del agua restará velocidad al lance; si es poca patinará, con las consecuencias ya mencionadas.
    • Asegúrate de que el ancla está lo más recta posible y mirando al objetivo.
    • El bucle en D deberá estar también, en la medida de lo posible, alineado con el ancla y con el objetivo.
    • Relájate: no es cuestión de fuerza sino de técnica; cuando te salga el primer lance decente lo comprenderás de golpe.

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 my 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.