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.

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.

Distance casting? What for?

It is useless, most of the fish are caught within 12 meters. I have lost count of the number of times I have read and heard that kind of statement. Being a 99.9 % dry fly fisher myself I, almost, agree. There is a lot of truth in that reasoning. Anyway, if we don’t catch as many fish further than 12 meters away it could also be because we don’t cast to them, couldn’t it? Admittedly getting a dead drift with a long cast is some sort of mission impossible, although there are nymphing techniques for which distance isn’t a problem: if there is a fish lie out there… out there my nymph goes. There is another type of very special nymphing that asks for being able to cast as long as possible: nymphing for sea trout. Are you kidding? Sea trout on nymphs? Yes, big sea run brown brown trout on small nymphs. Only in Southern Patagonia I must add. For instance on Río Gallegos. Size #10 nymphs, like that in the following pic: Rubber legs

I will commit to training more specifically for distance with the double handed rod before traveling to Río Gallegos again. Not all the lies are very far away (although some of them ask for 30+ meters casts) the real problem is the relentless wind; if it wasn’t so cold one would say it comes directly from hell. Here is the result of a sideways breeze (an a mild one by the river standards) on a cast with a 500 grains skagit head (correction from César -the caster himself: isn’t a skagit but a Rage Compact, something like an embrutished Windcutter :-):Wind-1

Sometimes frustration is a word that falls short of explaining some feelings. I will never forget what Loro, our guide, told us the last day on the river: I have guided people who after a couple of hours fishing thrown the rod away and sat angrily on the bank. So I want to thank you for understanding how things are here. Fortunately great prizes await those who persevere:

Yes, definitely distance casting practice isn’t a strange proposition.

Mysterious Creature

Mysterious creature

Tailing loops have the aura of a mysterious creature. Currently we know pretty well how they are formed but, at the same time, we can’t help to surprise ourselves when we get a tail now and then, no matter how experienced we are.

When casting for perfect loop control I will immediately detect any error in the stroke, my hand will easily feel any deviation from its intended straight line trajectory. The view of the fly leg getting out of plane in relation to the rod leg at the latest stages of the loop life does nothing but confirm what I already knew before stopping the rod: that I had messed up the stroke tracing.

Next cast I drive the rod butt straight but fail in accelerating it progressively. Now, though, I am only conscious of my fault when the dreaded tailing loop appears in the line; I don’t feel any clue in my hand. The mystery lies in the fact that the most subtle error in force application may result in a noticeable tail. An error as subtle that we can’t even feel it. The cast shown below is a good example of that.

tailing fast

What’s is the nature of that error in applying force? Just a spike in acceleration somewhere in the middle of the stroke. If the rate of acceleration decreases before reaching the end of the stroke the tip of the rod rises over its previous path; it is that rising what produces the transverse wave that we call tailing loop. Nothing mysterious but somewhat hard to grasp for some casters.

The main issue contributing to this confusion is the lack of differentiation between the concepts of velocity and acceleration and their respective roles in rod loading.

High rod speed doesn’t necessarily means big rod load. Load is a consequence of force, and force isn’t related to speed but to the rate of change of that speed, that is, to acceleration. Let’s take a simple view to that.

Let’s imagine that, at a given instant during the stroke, we have a rod butt speed value of 6 units, and in the previous instant the speed value was also 6 units. Rod butt speed is constant, no acceleration.

On another cast at a given instant the rod butt speed is just 5 units and in the previous instant the speed was 4 units. It has increased its speed from 4 to 5 units, that is, it has accelerated during that period time.

So we have a cast with a rod butt speed of 6 units against a cast with a rod butt speed of 5 units. Guess what? At that point in time the cast with the slower rod speed will show a bigger rod load!

This is a somewhat simplistic approach since there are other aspects at play which affect rod loading, such as air drag and angle between line and rod butt, but it is accurate enough to illustrate what we are dealing with.

We also know that any premature unloading will make the tip rise over its previous path creating the wave which will evolve into a tail. For the rod to unload the force applied to it must decrease. And here comes the fundamental part to understand this issue:
We don’t need to stop the rod to unload it; we don’t even need to decrease the speed applied to the rod for it to experiment some unloading!

Let’s imagine a casting stroke whose speed increases progressively. The rod butt speed profile measured at successive instants could be like this:

2, 4, 6, 8

This shows that the speed is increasing in a progressive way, accelerating at a rate of 2 units of speed per unit of time.

But then we measure the rod butt speed at the next two instants and find that its progression has changed:

2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10

Speed continues increasing but acceleration has decreased from 2 units of speed per unit of time to only 1.

Remember that force is directly proportional to acceleration so a decrease in acceleration equals a decrease in force: the rod unloads correspondingly.

This is what has been traditionally called non-smooth, non-progressive or erratic acceleration of the rod. This is what gets our tailing loops flowing. And, IMHO, this is the reason why tailing loop formation is so subtle and difficult to feel.

One more apparent mystery with tails: when made on purpose even a casual glance to high speed video clearly shows that their alleged cause very rarely matches the real one. Even with pro casters. This leads to the idea that those long lists of tail-producing problems are just part of the story; they aren’t causes of tails by themselves, they just might be conducive to tailing loops… if you aren’t good enough at force application.

Tails, so easy to make when you don’t control and so hard to purposefully produce when you have refined your skills! So difficult in fact that even terrible timing or creeping usually fail to get the expected bad result when our force application is spot on.

In practice, the only real cause of tailing loops is a faulty acceleration, or a casting angle too narrow to accommodate the bend in the rod. In my experience the latter is much more common in casting instructors demos than in real life.

Now let’s make some analysis of the cast shown here.

Obvious thing number one: the forward cast starts toooo soon.

If we don’t wait for the line to straighten we are walking in dangerous terrain: we are not necessarily getting a tailing loop but we are conjuring it up.

So when the line straightens while the forward stroke is in progress the weight of the whole line shocks the rod and produces the tail, right?

Well, no, that is an explanation from the times when casters didn’t have the tools to check what is actually happening. As the gif above shows the hint of a wave in the line which will turn into a tail appears way before the backcast gets straight.

What makes a rushed timing more prone to tailing loops is much more subtle.

The cast shown here, with that early start of the stroke, accelerates just part of the line. By the time the loop is formed there is still line getting incorporated to the forward cast adding more weight to the launched line. This obviously decreases line speed. So to compensate for that lost line speed the bad timed cast must launch the line with a higher speed than in the case of a proper cast with the line fully straightened back. For the same stroke length and angle that implies necessarily a higher acceleration. In layman’s terms you must cast “faster”, and fast motion and control don’t come along very well. Conversely, going “slow” and smoothly increasing speed are a perfect matching pair.

Obvious thing number two: lack of hauling on the forward cast.

What helps enormously in getting control of the rod hand is… the line hand. Let’s get a little deeper into this.

To send the line and fly to a given distance we need to propel it with the required minimum speed. We can get that speed by the use of the rod hand only, or, by means of a haul, we can add extra speed to the line making the task of the rod hand easier: it doesn’t need to apply the same rate of acceleration, going “slower” with the rod hand is now enough to get the necessary line speed to reach the target. And by going “slow” it is much easier to get the proper progressive acceleration we are looking for.

In my view an efficient haul could have avoided the tailing loop even with the fault in timing present.

What are your views?

Double Hauling Musings


Lately I’ve been thinking about the approach to double hauling from the mainstream instructing standpoint. To be honest that hauling is somewhat considered an advanced technique leaves me scratching my head. When I was a child I broke one of the pedals of my bicycle and it took some days till my father fixed it. Did I stop riding the bike during that time? Come on! Are you kidding? It wasn’t very pleasant but, at least, it was still cycling anyway; when eventually the pedal was back in his place… What a difference!

Having two hands you should employ the same logic you apply to your feet: using both isn’t an advanced technique, it is a basic one! That, once learned, hauling is always used (whatever the distance we are fishing at) seems to mean something, doesn’t it? So, in that regard, leaving for later the learning of a fundamental technique for efficient casting looks debatable. Specially because in the case of a lot of fly fishers that “later” actually means “never”. And they can’t be blamed for that. In fact those to be blamed are casting instructors themselves, not only for delaying addressing that task but also for a poor understanding of the function of hauling.

This is the logical route followed by many anglers: They say that hauling is for giving speed to the line; but I only fish small to medium streams, I don’t need to cast far… so learning how to haul doesn’t interest me. Quite logical reasoning if you ask me, when what you have heard about the function of hauling is just increasing line speed. Of course hauling actually accelerates the line, and it is a fundamental tool for distance due to that. However the main goal of hauling is a more comprehensive one, something that applies to every cast whatever the distance: Increasing our overall control of the cast. Just try this by yourself: make some casts at around15 meters with the narrowest loops you can get by using just the rod hand; then try the same by adding the line hand: hauling narrows the loop significantly. Think of that prime lie under those long low hanging branches and we are talking control now.

Moreover (and here comes the capital aspect of this control issue contained in the act of pulling with the line hand) underneath any activity involving motor skills lies a fundamental truth: the faster we perform a motion the harder it is to keep it under control. For the same line speed the portion of that speed provided by the haul allows for a slower, less accelerated, more relaxed motion of the rod hand. Rod hand motion sets trajectory and shape of the loop; any error in tracking or force application is going to have a bad effect in line behavior (and regarding force application even the smallest error is going to have a big effect). A rod moved with a relatively slow motion can be much better and easier “driven” than a faster one.

Conversely moving the line hand fast doesn’t pose the same problems due to the line being guided by the rings. The only serious risk is a tailing loop due to the haul ending too early in the stroke, and that isn’t very common.

OK, you say, but every instructor is aware of the utmost importance of double hauling, and this technique is a basic aspect of every teaching program, so this is just some byzantine discussion of interest only to some casting geeks. Well, not in my opinion. The issue has much more implications than it seems at first sight, because this popular attachment of hauling to “line speed” as an absolute —and its consequent exclusive link to distance casting— has had a profound effect in how the technique is taught.

In terms of timing and length of the haul all the instruction we receive is intended at getting maximum distance, but not at allowing a greater control at the most usual trout fishing distances. And since these two different goals also require —I think— different technical approaches it is the time to get a little deeper in the nuances of hauling. I for one have changed the way in which I teach the double haul.