The advantages of being a higher primate.
I have at different times spent good amounts of time investigating fly casting, reading up on who says what, watching videos and DVDs, changing my own casting style, coaching others and finally even written a book about how to do it. I suppose if that doesn’t make me an expert it certainly does suggest that I have strong opinions about it. Mind you a friend of mine once commented that “opinions are like arseholes everybody has got one” and I suppose that is as true for me as anyone else.
Still it has come to pass of late that a number of anglers, some of whom I have coached or taught (you can read indoctrinated into my own narrow field of thought if you wish), have been inundated with advice to change things around. Not so much the stroke or the tempo or such but the grip on the rod.
When I teach fly casting I generally make no mention of anatomical parts, the elbow, wrist, left knee and such really make very little difference and teaching with reference to them simply results in confusion as far as I am concerned. So no, what you do with your left shoulder is really of very little interest to me, and in my opinion not a whole lot of import to you or your casting either. The only things that I feel are critical are your stance and your grip on the rod.
The stance is pretty simple, if you want to keep your shoulder out of the way of the rod and allow yourself freedom to cast properly, rather like a cricketer “giving himself room” it behooves you to stand slightly skew to your target, feet comfortably apart such that you are well balanced, the casting shoulder slightly behind you.
The grip, and I am totally convinced of this, should be with your thumb opposite the reel. I would say on top but of course your could be casting at any angle, horizontally for that matter but you really do want your thumb in a position so as to push the rod when making the forward snap. Sure it isn’t there during the backcast, which is probably why so many people find the back cast more tricky, but that is where your thumb should be.
Now there seems to be a move afoot to suggest that one should cast, and particularly cast light tackle with your forefinger in this position, numerous times I have heard this mentioned, something that I can comfortably handle, but of late some of my clients, protégés or whoever have reported back to me that they are under constant pressure to change. I don’t mind change, change is good, one should keep an open mind but in this instance there is never that all important caveat as to why. Why change? What benefit are you going to get and the answer in my opinion is NONE.
Oh you get better accuracy they are told, but why should you? There is never any accompanying logic to explain why this would be more accurate and I am pretty darned sure that it isn’t, it is just an affectation that is spreading like a virus within fly fishing circles.
So here are my thoughts and perhaps some experiments for you to do to see if the thumb opposite the reel rule works for you.
Firstly type out an announcement that you are going to change your casting style to using your finger instead of your thumb. Once typed neatly, head for the office notice board, select a nice new sharp drawing pin, (if I said Thumb-tack I would be giving the game away already), and then pin the notice to the board. Sure you used your forefinger didn’t you? Oh you didn’t, no you didn’t because you already know that your thumb is a heap stronger than your finger when it comes to pushing things, like fly rods for example. In fact your body has already stored muscle memory to help you push things with your thumb so you don’t need to learn something new. Plus you will have noticed that accuracy wasn’t too much of a problem, I mean you didn’t miss the pin did you?
OK never mind that, you are determined, your guide has told you this is better, you will get more accuracy and accuracy is important right? So try this: Go out in the garden with a friend and point out five different plants or trees to them such that they can identify exactly which ones your are interested in. Chances are that (if you are right handed), you pointed to each tree with the palm of your hand to the left, your forefinger indicating the tree and your thumb on the top. It is a natural action for most people, you point with your finger on its side, not with your hand palm down. Oddly enough most people count objects with their palm down and their index finger horizontal but of course we are interested in accuracy of direction here, not basic maths.
Still not convinced? Try this experiment: Start with your casting hand palm down, point your index finger and starting at waist height slowly draw an imaginary smooth vertical line up to shoulder level in the air.
Then holding your hand as though you were about to shake someone else’s, point your thumb and draw a vertical line slowly from waist level to shoulder level in the same manner. Almost everyone finds that it is far more natural to draw a straight line with one’s thumb. Your wrist, shoulder and elbow combine to make drawing a straight line in such a manner rather simple, it requires little muscle control whereas in the first experiment there is a lot of muscular control required and it is a battle to keep the line straight.
For me those little experiments are proof enough that accurate and sharp casting requires that you push your rod with your thumb. On top of that just try casting anything more than a five weight rod and thirty metres of line with your finger; you are probably going to end up in plaster for a month. I am not suggesting that there are not a few Houdini types out there with index finger arthritis who can’t chuck a line with their finger opposite the reel, I am just saying that I have NEVER met anyone who casts really well like this.
One of the great advantages of being a higher primate is that when our maker was dishing out the bits, we got opposable thumbs, it is a rarity in the animal world and I figure that so long as we were so blessed by God or evolution we might as well use the darned things for the purpose they were intended, which is quite obviously for casting fly rods. 🙂
For the record:
Disclaimer: From time to time adverts appear associated with this blog. The writers have no control over them nor receive any financial remuneration from their presence. This may not mean that they are not useful to you, however it doesn’t imply that we recommend or offer any endorsement for the products or services offered.