Archive for the ‘Fly Casting’ Category

AFTM Numbers

May 15, 2022

What’s this?
A new initiative to post some information primarily designed for novice fly anglers, if you see “The Beginners Page Logo” it means that the post is primarily designed to help novice anglers but of course everyone is welcome to read and comment. I hope that you will, it might help end up with a better product overall.

The Beginner’s Page logo is designed to show that the post is primarily aimed at novice anglers.

The Beginner’s Pages: The AFTM system, it seems logical and sensible but the system has real problems which you should understand, at least a bit.

The AFTM system is nominally a means of matching line weights to the rod and on the face of it a pretty simple and sensible way of doing that. AFTM stands for Association of Fishing Tackle Manufacturers.  

You will almost definitely be aware that at least to some degree “the line should match the rod”, that is to say that if you are casting a weighted line then you need a suitable rod to cast that particular weight most effectively.

So, the AFTM system is designed to provide at least some sort of guidance as to which line to cast on which rod. The system defines the mass of any given fly line based on the weight of the first 30’ of line (excluding any level portion at the front) by measuring that weight in grains and then converting to a simple number.

In case you are wondering, a grain is a pretty small measurement of mass; approximately 64.79 milligrams. There are a thousand milligrams in a gram and a million in a kilogram. There are then approximately 15432 grains in a kilogram. Grains are small amounts of mass, that’s the point.

Taking the lines, weighing them and giving them a number is at least objective, you should find that any line measured as, let’s say, a five-weight line, should perform similarly to any other line with the same AFTM rating. You do know at least that the first 30’ should weigh the same.  (We will see in a minute that all is not necessarily as it seems, but at least we have a pretty objective test to start with).

The second part of the equation is that every fly rod has a designated AFTM rating supposedly showing the ideal line weight to be used with that rod, again it seems pretty straightforward, except that whereas the weight of the line is at least measured in some sort of scientific manner the designation on the rod is little more than a guess. There is no standardized means of determining if a rod is a #4 or #9, so unlike the weight of the line the designation written on the rod is highly subjective, pretty much just the opinion of the rod builder.

Much of the time that will still suffice for the novice angler, and as a base point it is probably the best option to simply mate the rod designation with a line of the same designation. (It is highly recommended that if you are a novice, you get some help from the guys at your local fly shop).

Where the problems come in:

Firstly: there is a very simply issue and that is that there is no standard as to what line casts best with which rod, one angler may prefer this and another angler prefer that. Not to mention the guy on a small stream is casting a lot less line than the angler on the side of a lake. In reality you can (perhaps with some difficulty) cast any line on any rod, so the numbers aren’t set in stone. 

Secondly: The line weights as designated #4, #5, #6 etc include lines within a band of weights, so, even measured correctly two different #5 weight lines may not actually have the same weight for the first 30’. Looking at the table above you can see that the maximum variation for a #5 line to still be a #5 line is approximately 8%. Imagine if you and your mate both ordered a beer and your glass contained 8% less beer than his, you might feel rightfully miffed. 8% is a pretty large variation.

Thirdly: Even if the weight of the first 30’ of two different lines is exactly the same there is the issue of the taper. The taper, is the shape of the fly line; fly lines are universally tapered, they don’t work properly if they are not. But there are hundreds of variations of taper, usually designed for different casting or fishing situations. In essence what the taper and the AFTMA number mean is that if you are casting 30’ you should be casting the same overall mass. BUT, and it is a big BUT, if you are casting 20’ of line with two different #4 fly lines the mass most likely won’t be the same.

Fourthly: There is no clear means of defining which rod works best with which line, for a start, a lot of that is up to the caster, the way they cast, the distance they want to cast etc.
In fly casting, it should be obvious that there is no one ideal weight to be casting with any given rod. We are casting different distances all the time and as the line has mass each time we change the distance we change the mass we are throwing. So, with the best will in the world there is no ONE weight that can be said to be correct. (if lines were level and not tapered a #5 line would weigh 4.66 grains per foot. If you cast 30ft the line would weigh 139.8  grains and would behave like a  #5 weight, BUT, if you cast 35ft it would weigh 163 grains equivalent to a line designated as #6 weight. As Simon Gawesworth at RIO fly lines often explains, the difference between a #5 and a #6 line at 30’ is about the mass of a standard business card !!! (about 25 grains). The whole system, although at first glance simple, is actually complicated and confusing I admit.

MORE PROBLEMS:

The above issues are problems which are entirely built into the system as it stands, an error allowance of something like 8% and the fact that we cast different distances and therefore different mass all the time. Plus that there is no specific means of measuring the AFTM number of a rod in the first place, that all makes it more tricky that it looks at first, however there are further problems with the way it all works.

For some time, fly rod manufacturers have been driving demand for what they refer to as “fast action rods”, supposedly they recover from bending more efficiently but at the same time they are to all intents and purposes simply stiffer. Perhaps one way of doing so, although I couldn’t prove this actually happens, would be to simply take a rod that was previously designated as a #5 weight and call it a #4 weight. With a #4 line on it, it would seem stiffer when casting and this has been something of a trend now over a number of years. One equally needs to bear in mind that fly rods are flexible levers which bend in a progressive manner, the more force applied the more they bend into thicker sections of the blank, so again there is no ONE answer to what mass works best. Push that too far and the average angler can’t cast rods that are that stiff, (fundamentally because they don’t match up well to the lines being used).

So, the line manufacturers started to come up with lines which are heavier than designated by AFTM. Generally, they give them some sort of additional notation such as AFTM + or similar, but in effect they are cheating the system. Also, they often don’t tell you, so you have no idea that your lovely and easily cast #5 weight line is in fact a #6 with a different label on it. (I have to admit though that the line manufacturers have to some degree been pushed into this by the rod manufacturers, because actually few people can cast these “fast” action rods, which they keep pushing, without “overloading” them)

As a general rule, particularly if you are a novice ,it feels much easier to cast a line heavier than the one specified on the rod, a LOT of that is due to poor casting technique but one expects that with a beginner. What has happened though is that this “overloading” either intentionally or otherwise has become almost standard.

It is a bit of a joke because the rod manufacturers are all saying “people want fast action rods” and the line manufacturers are saying “overload them to slow them down”.. Who is right?

I would still say that as a general rule if you are a novice you should go with a line nominally rated the same as the rod, if you can get expert advice from a pal, the fly shop or whatever go with that. But beware, what was once a rather subjective but at least simple system has become a minefield of complexity and I might be tempted to add, dishonesty too.

As things stand, about the best that can be said for the system is that it offers a loose guideline to matching lines and rods, a very loose one. If it is at all possible you want to test out different lines with different rods before you purchase them. Equally if you are a novice, I highly recommend that you don’t get trapped by the “fast action rods are better” mantra of the marketing department. It is true that they perform more effectively when an expert caster is aiming to cast the furthest in a casting competition, but that in no way relates to what you generally want when on the water.

The top end of competition but not much good for a trip to the shops.

It may well be the case that Lewis Hamilton’s Formula One Mercedes is the quickest thing on the road, one could reasonably perhaps prove that to be true. However, it probably isn’t going to be the ideal transportation for a family of four, heading to the shops for some retail therapy. Even if you could manage not to stall it when leaving the driveway, where would you put your parcels? or for that matter the kids? The point is that what might arguably be “the best” in one situation, is undoubtedly NOT the best in another. Super fast (stiff) fly rods used for distance casting competition have no place out fishing and there is little if any reason to assume that they would be of any benefit to the angler, novice or not.

To my way of thinking this obsession with super fast action rods simply doesn’t make sense when compared to most fishing situations, after all, these things are fishing rods not casting rods. They need to provide the angler with some “feel” and control and to be able to perform at different distances with some level of comfort. In general rod and line combinations which are “slower” in action and provide more feel for the caster, particularly the novice caster, are going to perform better and feel much more pleasant to fish.

For a more humorous discussion on the subject you may also enjoy reading a post from this blog from some time back. https://paracaddis.wordpress.com/2012/03/15/an-aftma-fairy-tale/

Fly Casting is Difficult, isn’t it?

May 6, 2022

The Beginners Pages: Is fly casting difficult?

Having become more than a little frustrated with a lot of the “fly fishing instruction” I find on-line and so I have decided to embark on a “mini-project” of addressing some issues which I hope may primarily be of interest to novice fly anglers or those simply thinking of starting out with fly fishing.
What I intend to call “The Beginners Pages”

Where a post on “The Fishing Gene Blog” is designated with “The Beginner’s Pages” logo the idea is that it is primarily about something which I hope might be of particular use to the novice. Of course, that doesn’t mean that anyone else can’t gain something from it. Hopefully, if some more advanced anglers have ideas or comments, that might help this grow into an even better resource. Novice angler or experienced expert, if you have some comment or input, please do feel free let me know in the comments section. Equally if you have suggestions for topics I would love to hear from you.

To start off I want to address this notion, which seems widely held, that fly casting is tricky, that it was somehow invented to make things harder, to frustrate us all and leave us scowling on the riverbanks with hooks in our ears and in the trees. Something far too difficult for mere mortals to so much as attempt. I have, sadly, known more than a few fly anglers who delayed their start in the sport because they always thought that it would be too difficult to learn. Later, as accomplished anglers they bemoan the years of opportunity lost simply because they thought they would never manage something that now gives them endless pleasure. Fly fishing isn’t fly casting, but of course, you can’t be proficient at the former without mastering the latter. It is something that puts a lot of people off where it shouldn’t. Perhaps understanding a bit about how fly casting evolved helps, it wasn’t invented to make things hard, it was invented to provide a solution and anyone can learn to do it.

“Why is fly-casting so weird?”

The apparent origins of fly fishing came from some ancient Greek guys tying bits of red wool on a hook and tempting the fish to eat it in the belief that it was food, specifically insect food.

Whether the Greeks imagined this more effective than other forms of fishing or if they were just tired of getting worm guts all over their nicely starched togas isn’t clear. But certainly, even back in the times of the Ancient Greeks, it would be pretty obvious, to even the casual observer, that some fish, particularly trout, eat insects. One can easily watch a hatch of flies on a river and see the fish intercepting them. If you were up for some sport, or simply hoping for a bit of protein to add to your olive oil and eggplant supper after swinging swords and throwing javelins all day, trying to imitate the flies that the fish were quite obviously eating would seem like a pretty cunning plan.

Even the casual observer would realise that fish eat flies.

So, with that idea, came more than a few problems, one of them, but far from the most difficult to address, is how to imitate tiny insects on a hook? Another, in fact more problematic consideration, how are you going to “throw” that imitation far enough to catch a fish, given that it has no weight?

Flies, both real and artificial don’t weigh enough to be thrown

In essence, those two considerations are the exact reason that even today fly-fishing gear and fly-fishing techniques look very different to almost any other form of angling. It is important for the novice to understand however that fly fishing isn’t more clever or more difficult than any other form of angling (I might add that a lot of us do find it more rewarding, but that’s a different discussion).

The, “how to imitate an insect on a hook” problem was initially solved by the very simple “cheat” of attaching real bugs to the hook. Even today this form of fly fishing is practiced, with live “Daddy Long Legs” or “Mayflies” in a style known as “Dapping”.

But in time the need to imitate insects on hooks so as to fool those feeding fish in the river gave birth to the “art” of fly tying. If you are a novice, you can comfortably skip this step, at least for a while and simply purchase the flies you want or need. In time you will no doubt wish to start making (tying) your own.

The bigger problem, both for the Ancient Greeks and the modern newcomer is to find a way to “throw” these diminutive flies far enough to catch fish. That is the idea of fly casting, and there seems to be some sort of fear of it, that puts off numerous anglers from ever even trying, but in reality, it is simply another way of casting and fishing. Not unlike perhaps the difference between driving, what the Americans refer to as a “stick shift” and an automatic transmission vehicle. Just another way of achieving the same goal.

Now to start with, nobody came up with a better solution than having longer and longer rods, from which they might dangle their flies over the water. In Europe, at the time, rods were made from wood, usually Greenheart and they were heavy. The longer they got the heavier they were so there was a limit to how much of a rod a normally muscled individual could manage.

Interestingly in Japan the rods were made out of bamboo, a far lighter material and with that the length of the rods could be considerably greater and reach more distant fish without effort.

With the length of the rod being quite a severe limitation eventually the idea was born (and I have no idea by whom), that perhaps you could put the weight into the line rather than the lure (as is the case with almost all other forms of fishing and casting).

Over time the materials to manufacture weighted lines for fly casting have varied from horse hair to silk and on to modern plastics, but the only really important part is that now, with a weighted line, one could, with a different technique, cast near weightless flies some distance.

(Do bear in mind that weight and density are two different things, so that one can have a relatively heavy line that might still float if constructed to do so).  So, anyway, with the birth of the weighted line; fly casting was born. Back in Japan, with lighter and longer rods the need for weighted lines was less and the method of “Tenkara” became standard practice for “fly anglers”.

Tenkara Angler, there is no reel or rod guides, just the line tied to the end of the pole, that is very close to the original origins of fly fishing, before the invention of casting and special lines.

(Incidentally, Tenkara has seen a rise in popularity in recent years, the main difference being that the rods are long and light and the line is only attached to the tip of the rod, there are no guides or a reel in the setup, ).

Now the rub is that if the weight is in the line, and not at the end of it, you need a different means of “throwing it”. (Don’t ever use the word throw amongst fly anglers, they get upset about it, the correct term is “cast or casting”). That is the only real difference when it comes to fly fishing tackle, the gear is designed to cast the line and pull the fly along as a passenger, in most other forms of fishing the mass is at the end of the line and the line gets pulled along as the passenger. That’s it! The only REAL difference and this certainly shouldn’t be enough to put off any aspiring fly fisherman from starting out. If some ancient guy in a worm-stained toga can manage it then so can you!

It isn’t as though someone dreamed up a “more difficult” means of fishing just to annoy us all, but rather that a different technique is demanded by the mechanics of how fly-fishing gear works.

So, the real point here is that the mechanics are different to other forms of fishing simply because of the physics involved, but there is absolutely no reason for that to put anyone off fly fishing, don’t get hung up on it, if you can walk and chew gum you can learn to fly-cast.

Of course, as with any new skill, it is a huge advantage to get some proper tuition from a certified instructor as early as is practicable. Learning the correct technique from the outset will save a lot of frustration later on. There are several organisations which certify casting instructors in various parts of the world. The one I belong to: Fly Fisher’s International provide an on-line resource to find a casting instructor near you on the following link: https://www.flyfishersinternational.org/Get-Involved/Connect-with-FFI-Members/Casting-Instructors

Some additional fly casting posts on “The Fishing Gene Blog”:
https://paracaddis.wordpress.com/2015/09/27/casting-about-2/
https://paracaddis.wordpress.com/2015/12/09/more-casting-about/
https://paracaddis.wordpress.com/2016/05/17/casting-accuracy/

Fly Casting and “The Barometer Question”

February 24, 2021

The “Barometer Question” is really a test of the correct positioning of a question when used to measure the understanding of the person answering it. It has seen several variations but the central theme is much the same.

In the barometer question, the query is “describe how you may use a barometer to measure the height of a tall building” the expected, some would suggest required, answer is that if you take the difference in barometric pressure between the base and the top of the building you can estimate the height.

But there are of course a number or correct answers which may not necessarily demonstrate any great understanding of physics.

  • You could tie the barometer to a string, lower it from the building and measure the length of the string.
  • You could measure the length of the shadow of the barometer and the building and a simple ratio given the height of the barometer would tell you the height of the building.
  • You could go to the supervisor’s office and offer him a nice new barometer in exchange for him telling you the height of the building.

There are more possible answers: but the essence is that none are actually incorrect, they just don’t demonstrate any real understanding of the physics of the issue. In effect it is a clear illustration that all too often there is more than one answer and at one level it doesn’t matter that it wasn’t the answer you were expecting. It is, for example, quite possible that using the shadow is going to give you a more accurate answer than using barometric pressure despite the fact that the former is technically not the correct answer.

That brings me to much of the on-line discussion of fly casting, some of it is wildly inaccurate or at least apocryphal, much is well meant and moderately true, at least in a simplistic sense, and to be frank nearly none of it is absolute fact in terms of quantum physics.

The problem is that most of these discussions (read arguments if you wish) relate to teaching fly casting, not in fact the physics of it, and I would suggest that teaching anything requires that one fib, at least just a little bit, if not actually lying, one at least is going to be forced to simplify things beyond what a bone fide geek would accept as factually correct.

This really is the norm when it comes to teaching near anything. We were all taught the same basic structure of the atom in physics in high school. That the electrons whizz around the nucleus (containing protons and neutrons) usually illustrated with something like the diagram below:

Informative perhaps but definitely untrue

Speak to anyone who really knows this stuff and it is wildly inaccurate if not indeed untrue. More “advanced” models have the electrons in an electron cloud with probabilities of their position changing based on wave function.(yes and if that lost you, as it did me, that is the point of the discussion).

Equally and more simplistically I could point out that in reality an electron is about 10,000 times smaller than a proton, but of course how the hell would you draw that on a piece of paper?  Physicists should be screaming from the roof tops that we are teaching our children inaccuracies, and threatening to burn books. We have been teaching lies.

In fact the structure of an atom, as we best understand it, means that a solid isn’t actually very solid at all and is mostly space, and yet with the simple diagrammatic representation above and our concept of what solidity is, none of us worry about sitting on a table for fear that we might fall through and end up with a Higgs Boson up the bum.

It should come as no surprise that I like fly casting, and recognize that it is a functional skill which will no doubt catch you more fish or at the very least make the catching of fewer fish less frustrating. But I like it, I will cast on a lawn with no prospect of catching a fish and still be happy.

I am not sure that I am a card-carrying member of the “casting geek” fraternity, but I could be, I may even aspire to be. My problem comes with much of the on-line discussion related to fly casting, most of which is targeted at learners or the instructors of those very same learners.

It is, I would imagine, imperative, that as an instructor you know more about your subject than your pupil, I would suggest that it is equally important that you don’t necessarily try to convey all that you know during the first class.

I see endless debate about SLP (straight line path) or hard and soft stops at the end of the strokes, I see what are to my mind overly pedantic discussions about the minutia of rod flex or arguments about what is or what isn’t a tailing loop. All good, perhaps if you are an instructor you need to discuss this stuff, I can certainly enjoy the debate, but I don’t believe that you need to baffle your student with it.

The above image supposedly demonstrating SLP (straight line path) and adjustments to casting arc with increased rod bend is in exactly the same class as the atomic diagram. It is wildly inaccurate. There is virtually no translation (stroke) the arm movement is questionable, there is some degree of curvilinear hand movement etc. we can discuss it ad infinitum, but for most novices it is probably “good enough”.

Teaching is, by definition, explaining something to someone who currently doesn’t have knowledge of the subject. To do that, educators require some basic format to work with and it is likely that the format will become more complex and possibly more accurate depending on the level of the education. In fly casting for example, Bill Gammell’s “Five Essentials” have stood the test of time, not perhaps because they are the final word but because they do offer up a workable framework in which to position instruction.

For the average, or even relatively advanced student, the casting equivalent of the above atomic diagram is more than sufficient to convey what needs to be conveyed.

Certainly, our understanding of some things has evolved, as indeed should be the case, by all means question everything, but the reality is that students often need to understand things in a more practical than scientific sense.

So, the old “casting clock” system of moving the rod between 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock has been debunked, it is pretty easy to prove that that isn’t a reliable manner of casting a fly line and I wouldn’t accept anyone using that as a reasonable method of tuition. Even for a complete novice such instruction, although simple is perhaps “too wrong” to be reasonable.

Other things however, if still not entirely true on a quantum level, are to my mind “good enough”. Suggesting that a student try to move the rod tip in a straight line is probably a fair explanation of what we are aiming for. That some of us recognize that a true SLP isn’t possible and quite likely not even desirable doesn’t matter a jot. The student is trying to improve their casting and “SLP” is a reasonable approximation of the truth, at least until they reach considerably more advanced levels.

So, a recent on-line discussion as to whether the rod tip in a video by Carl McNeil actually moved in a straight line as he suggested, is on the one hand a fair and reasonable discussion, on the other hand what Carl is attempting to demonstrate in a video aimed at relative novice casters is to my mind “good enough”. Actually, more than good enough, he produces in his “Casts that Catch Fish” series some excellent tuition, all clearly filmed and in glorious surroundings. I would recommend those videos to any aspiring fly caster.

Virtually all of my academic education was focused in the sciences, it is essential that from that perspective we continually update our knowledge, question the status quo and explore better explanations, it is equally important that we don’t become overly dogmatic and accept new evidence as it is presented. The demise of the “clock system” is evidence of the benefits of doing exactly that. But the vilification of a teaching method because it isn’t “entirely true” probably over steps the mark.

Most five-year old’s have a fairly limited understanding of physics and most fly anglers cast poorly, neither group requires the quantum mechanics explanation of cosmological string theory to help them better function in the world. What they need are clear and simple explanations which whilst perhaps not entirely accurate are “good enough” for them to progress.

It is probably important to be as accurate as one can when teaching something, but absolutes rarely exist and if they did may still not be entirely desirable.

For all of that, if you are a novice caster I would highly recommend to you that you get proper instruction from a certified instructor at your earliest convenience. Most of us (instructors) spend far more of our time undoing ingrained faults in anglers who have been taught poorly than we ever do with beginners who with a few simple instructions can improve greatly.

FRUSTRATION

January 2, 2021

I do wonder sometimes if fly fishing and frustration simply go hand in hand, one gets hooked in the bushes or misses a take, there will always be a fish that one loses for one reason or another. If you are a novice the frustrations are even worse, because without skillful casting and line control the things that can, and do, go wrong, increase exponentially.

Perhaps one of the very best reasons to practice your casting skills and never stop doing so.

So, yes, I sort of expect some level of frustration at some point when on the river for a day, but I didn’t realise that the frustration can be “enjoyed” just as well in the privacy of one’s own home without so much as a rod in one’s hand.

I expect at least some level of frustration on the stream, particularly fishing under high banks and thick vegetation, but I figured I would be safe at home on the patio.

We are again, as so many others, currently experiencing further lock down measures as a result of the expanding COVID 19 viral pandemic and so many things which we might otherwise be doing during the holidays are currently out of bounds. That is an added level of frustration just to start with.

So, I have found myself sitting on the patio, tying some flies and watching a number of fishing related video clips on YouTube. One would imagine that to be a relaxing way to spend a pleasantly warm summer day but it turned out not quite so much as one might expect.

The problem is that so very many of the clips I have been watching, often from very well-known, and one would have assumed proficient anglers, are to my mind pretty good examples of how not to do things. There are of course some excellent videos out there, and even the less good contain some nuggets of information which can help any of us become better anglers and more proficient casters. The trouble is how do you sort out the wheat from the chaff?

I am not going to name any names; for one reason some of these anglers command my respect, they may be highly advanced in some aspects of the sport, perhaps tie excellent flies or cast well. Perhaps they have really mastered the art of fishing photography or videography, something that I certainly haven’t, but time and time again I am watching what I would consider glaring errors. The trouble is that if you are a novice, and perhaps even if you are not, you will watch these videos and because someone is apparently successful in catching the odd fish you imagine that they are doing things the best way possible when in fact they are not.

So I sit watching some tranquil scene of a clear stream flowing through verdant farmlands, perhaps some fish rising and the “influencer” expounding the virtues of some technique or another, and inside myself I am screaming “no, no, no”.. as said, not as relaxing as I had hoped.

A lovely pastoral scene, great for a relaxed day, or not.

I have now watched two different videos from a well known and well respected angler and fly tier in which he has several times ranted on that “you don’t need these very long leaders which are becoming fashionable”.. or words to that effect. Much of the time the leader in use is little more than seven feet long with some tippet added.

That is bad enough, but then he proceeds to fish and constantly comments that “it is very difficult to get a drag free drift because of the conflicting currents, or the troublesome position of the fish”.. Several times he spooks fish after repeatedly dragging a fly over them and still the penny doesn’t drop. The very best way to get longer drag free drifts is to use a much longer leader and a casting style to match it.

The presentations on the video are almost universally made with low line speed and a relatively high trajectory and open loop style, with the supposed “goal” of a gentle landing of the fly.. This is COMPLETELY AT ODDS with the way I believe one should present a dry fly and counter to everything that I teach on the stream when guiding.

Not surprisingly the “influencer” then tells us that with a downstream breeze one cannot turn over the fly on a “long leader”, well no of course you can’t if you cast the way he is casting!! Such casting style is both wildly inaccurate in all but zephyr like breezes and inefficient to boot.

I know that I have written about this previously and there will be some links to other articles on this blog on similar subject but having endured a couple of hours of very frustrating video watching I am moved to argue the point again.

Firstly, it has to be recognized that “drag”, that is the abnormal movement of the fly, either slower or faster than the current, is a dead giveaway to a fish that the imitation should be avoided. On many catch and release waters not only will you fail to illicit a take but may well spook the fish and stop it from feeding entirely.

Real bugs rarely make headway against the current and the fish know this. Drag is the dry fly angler’s most notorious enemy.

Drag doesn’t need to be the “V” wake inducing high speed skating of the fly through the current, a slight variation of speed can be enough to indicate to a fish that all is not well. Imagine sitting with your knife and fork hovering over a rare slice of fillet and ask yourself how much it would need to move for you to lose your appetite!

Drag occurs for one reason, the fly is tied to a long string and the string is tied to you, flies just dropped unfettered into a stream do not drag, it is the line moving at different speeds as it rests on varied currents that is the problem

Further, much as many books will claim that one can “eliminate” drag, in fact you cannot, you can only delay it. A fly tied on a string with an angler tied on the other end WILL ALWAYS drag eventually.

If you cannot eliminate drag what can you do to at least slow its onset?

  • Firstly, you can consider your casting position, the less line on the water and the less varied the currents that it crosses the longer the fly will drift drag free.
  • You can simply cast less far, again less line means less variation of conflicting currents.
  • You can hold line off the water (much easier to do with a longer leader) so as to avoid those currents
  • You can “mend” or “cast” the line so as to provide slack in the system or compensation of varied current speeds. (reach mends, curve casts, slack line casts as well as in the air or on the water mends all can be used to play a part in slowing down the onset of drag)
  • And to my mind the MOST important thing you can do is fish a longer and thinner leader which will provide more slack in the system, particularly slack near the fly which will be the most effective place for it to be to slow down the onset of drag.

One can use all or some of the above depending on the situation, I would suggest that positioning and leader length are the most useful and easiest to master. On the small freestone streams that I fish the most there is rarely time or space to do fancy casting and mending, the fly lands in a pocket drifts for a few seconds and is either recast or whisked away by the current. (oh happy times, it can be intercepted by a fish too)

Some things that you can do with a long leader which are all but impossible with a short one:

  • Hold the line off the water, with a fly line in the system the line will sag back towards the angler dragging the fly. It is the same “technique” which makes Euronymphing so effective, at short range with a long leader you can be nearly in direct contact with the fly with no line or leader on the water. It is a short-range technique but it doesn’t work if the leader isn’t at least a rod and a half long.
  • You can cast with very high line speed, providing accuracy and control even in a stiff breeze, because the leader will burn off the energy of the cast and still allow gentle presentation of the fly. With a short leader one is forced to cast gently, high up from the water to prevent the fly slamming down.
  • You can get slack into the terminal section of the leader without modifying your casting stroke or giving up on accuracy. This cannot be done with a shorter leader because it will not burn off the energy of a rapidly unrolling line.
  • You can cast tighter loops under branches and such without giving up on presentation or accuracy.
  • You can get very good, long drag free floats without specialist casts or mends simply by fishing a longer leader which itself puts slack in just the right place.

Essentially, from my perspective, you the angler should not be worrying about “presentation” of the fly, you should concern yourself ONLY with hitting the required target, be that a feeding fish or just a likely looking spot under the trees. It is NOT your job to “present” the fly, that is the leader’s job and correctly constructed it will do that for you all day long without additional effort.

So, what is a “longer leader”? To me it certainly is considerably more than 9ft, in my case usually between about 14ft (larger flies windy days) and 22ft (small flies and perfect conditions). The actual length doesn’t really matter that much, what matters is how it “works” and that depends on a few things:

  • Wind strength and direction (if you are casting with the wind you will want the leader longer, if against it perhaps a bit shorter but not a lot).
  • Fly size and aerodynamics, this makes a very large difference and if your leader is functioning correctly with a #18 parachute dry tied to it, it almost certainly will not function correctly if you up the fly to an extended body #10 Mayfly.. (so you need to modify your leader as circumstances and flies change).
  • Your casting ability: essentially the better you cast and the more line speed you can generate the longer the leader needs to be to burn off the excess energy and present the fly. “Long” leaders aren’t about some imaginary pissing competition of whose is longest, it is simply matching the outfit to the fly, wind and casting to provide effortless slack in the system without thinking about it. Even a poor caster can actually fish quite effectively with a 12 to 14ft leader, the better your casting gets the longer the leader will need to be.
  • Taper: A longer leader isn’t just a matter of adding 10ft of 7x tippet and expecting that to work. The leader really has a battle going on within it, in part trying to maintain momentum and energy to turn it over and part trying to burn off energy and slow things down to provide slack and presentation of the fly. Getting the correct balance between those two opposing things is achieved by playing about with the taper of the leader or at least of the additional tippet sections added.

A typical dry fly leader:
A very simply dry fly leader which I use a lot of the time is simply a 9’ tapered leader from a packet, to be honest I don’t much care about the brand, even the thinnest part of this is going to be far far stronger than the tippet, it is, if you wish, the base of the leader.

Generally, I will use a leader with a point of about 2-3X thicker than I intend to use as the final tippet section. (One of the great advantages of this system, amongst many others, is that the leader lasts me for an entire season most of the time, it rarely gets cut into or shortened from fly changes)

I will then add approximately 3’ of different tippet diameters, starting with 1X less than the leader and then 2X less than the leader and so on. I usually add two to three tippet sections, what the US anglers refer to as a “compound tippet”.

For example, then a typical small stream dry fly leader will be a 9’ tapered leader terminating at 4X, to which is then added about 3ft of 5X, then 6X and then 7X. (I frequently add a further similar section of 8X when the conditions demand it. That will give me 9’ + 3’ + 3’ +3’ = 18’ total. A good starting point.

Alternatively, I could start off with a 12’ commercial tapered leader and have it 1X thinner, and add less tippet sections, Say 12’ to 5X plus 6X and 7X the result would be much the same.

Testing:

You have to then “test” your leader set up based on the fly, your casting and the conditions, if it is going out dead straight you need to lengthen some of the tippet sections, if it is falling in a puddle you need to reduce some of those sections, although generally not by as much as you might think. Simply taking a section apart and retying it will use up enough nylon to make a difference. What you are aiming for is accurate high speed presentation with automatic slack in the tippet without having to modify your casting.

Bear in mind that there are numerous advantages to this sort of system.

  • If your fly drifts longer without drag you can cover more fish or likely spots more efficiently and with less casting
  • You don’t actually have to be quite as accurate as if the fly drifts longer without dragging you can lead the fish by more without negative consequence. You are also less likely to accidentally “line the fish”.
  • False casting is less likely to put the line shadow over the fish
  • You can “high stick” or hold line off the water with the longer leader
  • You don’t need to modify your casting to obtain good presentation, the leader should do that for you.

In the end I am absolutely convinced that the advantages of longer leaders are far greater than most anglers imagine. I would estimate, having “taught” this system to numerous clients for well over a decade, that they generally see a catch rate get close to double what it was with short leaders in the 7 – 9’ range. That is a BIG difference.

There are two additional problems that come with the system described.


The first is that your leader/ line joint will continually be coming inside the tip top guide of the rod, when casting or playing fish and a smooth joint becomes essential. So, I glue my leaders into the line (bear in mind that I don’t need to change them for a season most of the time)

The second is if you are forced to fish into a stiff downstream breeze, but this isn’t the problem that most imagine. Most anglers do turn over the leader, the problem is that it turns over high above the water and then blows back. It is essential when using such terminal tackle that your casting stroke is aimed higher behind you and lower in front of you, such that the leader turns over but centimetres above the water , additional reading on this blog https://paracaddis.wordpress.com/2016/05/17/casting-accuracy/

In short, all of the above is why I am frustrated, because I know that a correctly set up longer leader system is in fact easier to fish, more accurate and more efficient and will potentially double your catch rate. Having someone say on their video, that “you only need a 7’ leader” is really just telling me that they don’t understand the dynamics and advantages of such a system and/or that their casting is so poor as to be unable to put such a system to good use.

I have over the years “forced” numerous clients to fish leaders which they found very uncomfortable to start with, but they all caught more fish than they expected and they all refused to let me shorten the leader after a couple of hours on the stream.. That is evidence enough that it works and I recommend to you that you play with the idea, you will be amazed by the results.

When I first started fly fishing back in the early seventies one of the “recommended” ways of attaching a leader was to form a figure eight knot in THE FLY LINE.. obviously that isn’t going to easily slide through the tip top guide and historically as a result the “nine foot leader” became something of a standard. There is absolutely no logical reason for a leader being 9′ long, or for that matter 12′. It is one of those foolish elements of history which stick because nobody questions the validity of the assumption. Doing something in a particular manner for no reason other that “it has always been done like this” is one of the worst of all reasons and I find that sort of thinking very frustrating..

Lockdown day11

April 6, 2020

Coronavirus Lockdown day 11

So we have been at this self-isolation fly tying lark now for 11 days, that is significant because TODAY IS HUMP DAY.. that imaginary spot on the calendar where you are now getting closer to the end rather than simply further from the beginning. (I have my doubts that there won’t however be an extension)

Eleven days isn’t really that long, I am sure that many of the hoarders out there aren’t too worried about running out of materials just yet. I am quite sure that a few fly tyers I know could undertake a expedition to Alpha Centauri and still not be running low on hackle by the time they got back, but today I thought I might discuss the use of a common material which can be put to much greater use than it usually is.

Most of us are probably not yet running out of materials.

Magical Marabou: Nature’s dubbing brush.

I doubt that there is a fly angler or a fly tyer who isn’t aware of marabou as a fly tying material. Many would have first fished a woolly bugger sporting a sinuous marabou tail and most fly tyers would have whipped up more than a few of these or similar flies. The stuff seems to be one of those magical materials with fish attracting properties that are hard to match. The only issue with it is that marabou, or more correctly Turkey Marabou has become so linked with the idea of large and wiggly lures and streamers that some of its better uses have been neglected.

Marabou has a lot more uses than simply putting wiggly tails on large lures

Certainly marabou is highly mobile and very well suited to larger lures but it has wonderful micro fibres branching off it, not dissimilar to CDC and used as a body material, in much the same way that one might use a dubbing brush, superbly delicate fly bodies can be manufactured, with built in one step tapers and “abdominal gills” to better imitate the natural bugs.

From a guide fly perspective marabou has the most amazing qualities, it isn’t simply mobile on a macro level, the micro-fibres of this stuff exude life, it is available in an absolute rainbow of colours both plain and fluorescent, at reasonably low cost, from most fly shops. It is almost as though it were made for guides and guide flies. There has been a lot of interest of late in pre-manufactured dubbing brushes and similar but marabou, either blended or in a single colour will serve much the same purpose, particularly in smaller flies and I like to use it as a body material in a variety of standard nymphs, bead heads and Czech nymph styles.

Turkey marabou has both macro and micro movement, has a natural taper, comes in a wide variety of colours and is inexpensive. A hugely versatile material for all manner of flies.

Marabou is the simplest stuff to use, provides wonderful imitation of abdominal gills and adds lots of movement to small flies. In short it has been neglected and it shouldn’t be.

The marabou nymph as shown is only one of many variations that can utilize this feather as an abdomen and I tie them in everything from sombre browns and olives, for imitative flies, to brighter chartreuse and orange colours and hotspots when fishing dirty water.

As mentioned, it is so easily available and so relatively economical as a material that it really is a shame that more fly tyers don’t think to use it in this manner and it will allow you to produce a wide variety of great fly patterns, even dry fly bodies.

Some years back I was fishing the Exe River in Devon in the UK; I was a guest on some private water and a combination of travel requirements, high water and short notice meant that I wasn’t able to fully prepare for the trip. Having been on the same river a few miles downstream on the previous day it had become apparent that, although I didn’t do too badly, I would have done better with some heavier flies. I didn’t have a great deal of time at the vice, and fly tying opportunities had been somewhat wasted whilst I procrastinated drinking real ale in the garden of “The Fisherman’s Cot” and watching the river not yards away.

I had wasted away some of my fly tying time drinking real ale at The Fisherman’s Cot on the banks of the Exe

So it was that I needed to whip up a number of heavier flies in short order and early morning fly tying isn’t my forte, actually early morning anything isn’t particularly my forte. However taking this simple marabou nymph pattern and with the use of some tungsten beads I was able to churn out a couple of dozen flies of reasonable weight, pleasant and realistic profile and a wide variety of colours all before breakfast.

On the river they proved deadly, we caught brown trout, salmon parr, rainbow trout and grayling, all on these hastily assembled flies. That alone is enough to prove them to be worthwhile “guide flies” quick, simple, inexpensive and effective, there isn’t much more one can ask of a fly pattern and these ones in various colour combinations always have a place in my fly box.

Marabou is hugely versatile, easy to use, and to my mind underrated and underutilised as a material.

If you are keen to push on and not to wait for the various instructions coming you can download the books on line and benefit from a 50% discount. The links and discount codes are shown below:

Discount code Essential Fly Tying Techniques: DR62J Code will expire 17 April 2020

Discount code Guide Flies : SB94S Code will expire 17 April 2020

Thanks for reading, stay safe out there.

A Load of Ol’ Clock

March 19, 2018

This post is a reproduction of an article written some time back for Fly Fishing Magazine. It is posted as a result of discussions on line with novice casters who have been struggling because they have been taught “the clock system”

“Cast by moving the rod from ten to two o’clock on an imaginary clock face” , if you have been knocking about fly fishing and fly casting circles for more than a few minutes and you have managed to avoid this dangerously misleading piece of advice you can count yourself extraordinarily fortunate.

During my casting clinics and tutorial sessions I spend more time trying to assist fly anglers to unlearn the bad habits of poor tuition advice in the past than I ever spend on newcomers. The single most pernicious piece of advice, and one that has resulted in endless frustration for generations of anglers, is the clock system

If you have been taught using this methodology then the chances are that you are in need of some remedial exercise to undo the habits formed. But before we go there perhaps let’s look at why the clock system is so misleading.

The casting clock suggests that the tip of the rod should be accelerated to a stop on each stroke, (AT LEAST THAT MUCH IS TRUE). The stops are then designated on an imaginary clock face with the stop position being at two o’clock on the back cast and ten o’clock on the forward stroke.

The first thing wrong with this is that it implies the rod rotates around a fixed pivot, in this case your hand, as though it were pinned in the middle of an imaginary circle as indeed are the hands of a clock. This is not the case in a good fly cast.

The idea that the rod rotates around a fixed pivot as do clock hands is incorrect. FIG #1

 

Secondly the clock system suggests that the stop/pause at the end of each stroke can be conveniently designated as constant positions irrespective of other variables, such as rod bend or line length. . Truth be told the stop/pause position at the end of each stroke is variable depending on the amount of bend in the rod when under load. The most likely (but not the only) cause of different amounts of bend in the rod is the different amount of line out of the rod tip during longer or shorter casts because more line weighs more and less line weighs less and will thus bend the rod more or less.

The idea that the pause/stop positions are fixed is incorrect.FIG#2

In an ideal cast, the rod tip will move along an imaginary straight line path as it bends and unbends and that straight line path is virtually impossible to replicate with a simple rotation of the rod about a pivot point, particularly as the amount of line and then of necessity the mass of that line changes on longer or shorter casts.

In fact the rod shouldn’t rotate around a pivot at all; the rod has two primary movements, a longitudinal movement, (as though the middle of the clock was moving horizontally, called STROKE) and a rotational movement (as though the rod was moving like a clock hand called ROTATION).

So in effect then, the “casting clock” (if one has to use that term) doesn’t have a fixed pivot, but rather that pivot moves “to and fro”.. as shown in Fig#2

FIG 3

 

Equally the stop/pause positions have to change as more or less bend is put into the rod during the cast.  In an overhead cast the more the rod bends the closer to the ground is the ideal imaginary straight rod tip path and as such the ideal stop/pause positions will vary in line with that maximum flex.To best understand that we need to define a few bits of terminology

“Arc” is the angular variation between the pause on the back cast and the pause on the forward cast.

“Stroke” is the linear movement of the hand or rod butt along an imaginary straight line within the arc during the cast.

“Effective Rod Length” is the apparent length of the rod once it is bent (flexed) during the cast. In other words when bent the rod effectively shorter and the tip lower to the ground, so the imaginary straight line path is also lower to the ground.

“Equivalent Rod Angle” is the angle at which an unflexed rod needs to be held to match the tip with an imaginary straight line along which the flexed rod will travel. Imagine, what angle would you have to hold the rod indoors to touch the ceiling. If the ceiling is your imaginary straight line then the angle of the rod to touch the ceiling is where you would pause the rod during a cast. The more the rod bends the lower the ceiling.

FIG 4

That all sounds rather complicated but hopefully we can clarify things.  In simple terms if the rod tip is going to follow a straight line path, which is what we want, then it must start the stroke (whilst unflexed) in a position that will correspond with the height above the ground of the rod when fully flexed during the cast.
It should stand to reason then that the less line out of the rod tip and the less bend (flex) in the rod during maximum load, the longer the effective rod length and the less acute the equivalent rod angle. Put another way, the more line out of the rod tip, the lower the pause point of the cast, the more acute the equivalent rod angle and the longer the actual stroke.

FIG 5

What does that all mean in terms of the “casting clock”?, It means that the clock cannot be right except for one specific length of line. (It is at least theoretically possible that the 10 to 2 angles will correspond to a particular degree of flex in the rod, but after that it cannot work). It is essential that the pause/stop points of your cast correspond with the effective rod length when it is bent and as such requires constant adjustment for different lengths of line. (Rod flex can also be affected by the make-up of the rod itself, the power/speed of the caster, wind direction, water hauling and more). You simply cannot obey these laws if you stick to ten o’clock and two o’clock and it is absolutely certain that you cannot make longer casts if you are stopping the rod in the positions advocated by the clock system. Watch any reasonably competent caster throwing a long line and it is certain that they will not be stopping the rod at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock.

A good cast contains both stroke (Translation) and Rotation.

A further illustration of the correct combination of stroke and rotation in a good cast is shown in the graphic below, notice that with stroke (translation) acceleration occurs over a longer distance, which means you get the same line speed with a lot less force. A key concept to good and easy casting.

Remedial action for clock casters:

If you have had the casting clock drummed into you and you are finding it tricky to get past your old habits, a few things to consider.

The most common problem for clock casters is that they throw wide loops. This is because if you simply rotate the rod around a fixed point, as suggested by the clock system, the rod tip will travel in a wide convex arc and throw a wide loop. Focus on the stroke aspects of your cast, add some linear movement of your hand, to and fro as you cast and watch what happens to the loops. Remember that the loop in the line will mirror exactly the movement of the rod tip.

The second most common problem amongst “clock casters” is that the moment they try to cast further than normal they end up with tailing loops. There are other reasons for tailing loops but if you learned the clock system and you find that you are throwing tailing loops as soon as you go for some distance or cast into the wind then it is a fair bet that you are not opening out your arc (changing the equivalent rod angle) to accommodate the additional weight of the line and the flex of the rod.  The incorrect position of the rod tip during the pause phase of your cast will not be lined up with the rod tip when bent and will cause the rod tip to get pulled down and then bounce back up during the cast, causing tailing loops and tangles.

Practice by watching your rod tip position during the pause. Do you change that position as you let out more line or leave it the same? If you aren’t opening out that casting arc and changing the position of your pause on both the forward and backward strokes then you are heading for trouble.

 

About the author:

Tim Rolston has fished three World Championships as a member of the South African National Fly Fishing Team. Both Captained and coached the SA Commonwealth Fly Fishing Teams. He was the first  South African to gain certification as an IFFF (International Federation of Fly Fishers) casting instructor  and is now the only IFFF certified Master Casting instructor in Africa. Tim runs group and individual casting instruction through his business “The Casting Clinic”. You can contact Tim via “The Casting Clinic” on thecastingclinic@iafrica.com to arrange individual or group casting tuition.

Get out of Jail

January 14, 2018

 aka: “The roll cast pick up”

This is one of the most versatile and useful casts you will ever learn to make, not perhaps technically a cast in itself but a very useful skill to master.

So what is a roll cast pick up? Or perhaps we should start with “what is a roll cast”.

All too often people attempting roll casts end up with the line lying in a bit of a puddle and I think that the error is in the understanding of the “roll” part of the description. Sure the line “rolls out” but the casting stroke shouldn’t be one of rotational acceleration. It should, as with all good casts be one of more straight line “translational acceleration combined with rod rotation at the end”.  Actually, the forward part of a good roll cast, from the angler’s perspective should be identical to a normal forward stroke in an overhead cast.  Bear in mind though, that you are only accelerating the little bit of line that is behind the rod, so it requires a different amount of acceleration, for my money, the longer the better. Getting the maximum amount of line in the “D” loop and extending the stroke for as long as possible aid good roll casting to a considerable degree.

So a roll cast is one in which the line is drawn back behind the rod tip to form a “D” shaped loop, (the vertical leg of the “D” being the rod). Then the forward stroke is the same as a normal forward cast, it is worth noting that with a roll cast, the distinct stop at the end of the forward stroke is perhaps even more important than with a standard overhead cast.

Roll casting has a serious drawback though, you can’t change direction and without modification you would simply keep placing the flies back in the same spot.  It also isn’t great for dry fly work, because of course the fly tends to stay damp without the drying effects of overhead casts and false casts. So why bother to learn to roll cast?

Firstly, the roll cast is the basis for the dynamic roll, switch cast and the entire family of Spey casts, you might think that you will never need those but even if you aren’t going to use Spey casts another great reason for perfecting your roll cast is that it has a wonderfully useful cousin, called the “roll cast pick up” and that is useful to almost every kind of fishing you might imagine.

Roll Cast PIck Up Animated

The roll cast pick up is essentially the same as a straightforward roll cast, but that the casting angle is set much higher to aerialize the line prior to the back cast.

The roll cast pick up is a cast which uses the exact same methodology as a roll cast, but as one can vary the vertical direction of a standard cast you can do the same with a roll cast. That is you can roll cast down into the water (not a great idea), or you can roll cast upwards into the sky.

A roll cast upwards provides one with a lot of benefits and multiple uses in all kinds of fishing.

#1: Long leader dry fly or Euro-nymphing fishing.
A problem frequently faced with these styles is that the leader runs back inside the rod guides before the drift is complete. To avoid that, most anglers will lift the rod to take up slack as the flies progress downstream towards them, instead of drawing in more line. That’s good but it leaves one in a very poor position to start the next cast. (Remember that all casting instructors will tell you to keep the rod tip down so as to eliminate slack at the start of the next cast).

Trapped in this position after fishing out the drift, it is very difficult to make an effective cast

 

It is almost impossible to make a good cast starting with the rod tip high, and yet long leader styles often leave the angler in this position.  However if you use the high rod tip to create a “D” loop, just as though you were going to make a roll cast, and then roll cast upwards, you end up with the line in the air, in front of you and ready for a back cast.  Eliminating slack and putting yourself already in a great position for the next cast. It doesn’t hurt that this is a very efficient cast not requiring multiple strokes and thus putting your flies back in the water, where the fish are, far more efficiently.

#2: Heavy nymphs, sink tips, bulky saltwater flies.
With a standard pick up when fishing outfits as outlined above, you are forced to drag well sunk flies, leaders, or bulky flies out of the water, using up a great deal of energy and creating, all too often a lot of disturbance on the water.  If however you make a roll cast pick up, the motion of the line pulls the flies, and/or leader, nearly vertically out of the water. This minimizes energy loss and surface disturbance.

#3: Light lines and stiffer rods

Much as with example #1, pulling in too much line with faster actioned rods makes it very difficult for most anglers to “get the cast going again”.  If instead you take up slack with the rod tip during the latter part of the retrieve you can keep more line (and thus mass) outside the rod tip. With a roll cast pick up then you are immediately casting a more suitable weight of line, reducing false casting and maximizing efficiency.

#4: Strong wind from behind.

Most anglers will tell you that they prefer to fish with the wind behind them, often not the best choice because you are casting into the wind on your back cast and most people’s back cast is weaker than their forward stroke. However the commonly accepted principle of casting with wind is that you cast “downwards” into the breeze and “upwards” with the breeze. That makes a lot of sense, because the upward cast with the breeze is aided by the wind. Flying out like a kite if you will.

We know that, based on the 180° rule, that to make a forward cast low into the wind, you need to make the back cast “high” with the wind, and vice versa.

Making a high initial back cast, when the wind is into your face is easy, because the line is coming off the water and thus the 180° rule confirms that your initial back cast MUST then be upwards.  But what if the situation is reversed?  Standard logic is that you cast upwards behind you and then let the line fall, rotating the rod at the same time, to position yourself so as to launch a forward cast with an upward trajectory. The problem here is that with anything like a serious amount of wind coming from behind you, you can’t “wait”. If you do the line is going to pile up in the air, stopped in its tracks by the gale.

Now what if you could start your backcast on a horizontal or better yet downward angle, wouldn’t that be a huge advantage? Well you can if you use a roll cast pick up. Roll cast upwards into the air, the wind from behind will assist that even with a less than perfect roll cast. With the line up in the air in front of you and you can now blast a powerful downward sloping stroke into the breeze on your back cast and without waiting, launch your upward slanted forward cast which now wind assisted will sail out for miles..  Easy when you think about it.

#5: Change of direction

Although there are a lot of ways to make change of direction casts, moderate changes of direction, up to perhaps 45°, can be very easily achieved using a roll cast pick up. Roll cast pick up with the forward stroke angled half way towards the new target and make the forward cast at the new target. By splitting the change of direction into two strokes it will be more efficient than trying to do so with standard overhead casting.

#6: Striking

If one uses the rod tip to control slack in the latter part of the drift, as per #1 and #3 not only do you end up in a poor position to commence a standard overhead cast, but you are also in a poor position to strike should you get a take right at the end of the drift. Amazingly you can generate sufficient striking power to hook a fish by making a roll cast pick up. Don’t forget that the roll cast pick up will “lift the flies” near vertical, which will frequently result in a very positive hook up.

Roll Cast Hook Set

#7: Obstacles

Perhaps not that common, but it does happen that a standard pick up would result in your flies hanging up in intervening obstacles which you cast over to get to your fish. A roll cast pick up, takes the flies out of the water pretty much where they are, without need of dragging them down into the risky tree trunk or weed-bed that is in the way.  This is a particularly common issue when fishing in stillwaters with a weedbed around the edges in the shallows. Instead of having to clean the weed off the fly on each retrieve you can simply avoid hooking the weed in the first place.

By the way, the roll cast pick up, (preferably after letting more line out into a large “D” loop), will unhook your fly from obstacles in front of you fairly efficiently too. So you can get free of the snag without spooking your fish.

I am sure there are more uses for this amazingly useful casting stroke, one that all too many anglers haven’t heard of or haven’t considered. But for all the fancy casting that one can play with, the roll cast pick up is an astoundingly practical one and worthy of mastery for all anglers.  It doesn’t matter if you fish fresh or salt, big flies or small, stillwaters or streams, this is a cast that can improve your efficiency, aid you in the wind, avoid obstacles and make casting those weighted streamers a lot more pleasant.

 

 

 

 

Casting Accuracy

May 17, 2016

AccuracyHead

“It isn’t so much a matter of feet but of inches”.. wise words from a client on a local stream, trying to land a fly across a current seam, between two boulders and under a tree so as to get a six inch drift, drag free and close enough to a feeding fish to illicit a take.

All too often we consider fly casting in terms of distance, and that is no bad thing, but there is another part to casting effectively , what perhaps golfers would refer to as your “short game”.

Most stream fishing requires casts of only moderate distance but frequently demands unprecedented accuracy combined with delicacy. To achieve that there are a few things that anglers need to understand, much of which goes against the normally accepted wisdom of fly fishing.

Firstly you need to use a longer leader, quite possibly a LOT longer and if a long leader and accuracy seem an oxymoronic combination to you I would suggest that you read on.

Line speed:

It should be obvious to anyone with much experience that accuracy requires line speed, a fly line flipped out in a wide loop is at the mercy of the wind, won’t get in under trees or penetrate a downstream gale and results in the fly floating down well after the fly line has landed.

So the goal is to have tight rapidly propagating loops produced by a straight rod tip path, (remember that the shape of the loop, in particular the top leg of the loop is entirely determined by the rod tip path), and a rapid rotation to produce rod tip speed. For the most part that goes for all casting but for a few specific exceptions.

Once you are able to cast nice fast, tight loops the next “problem” is that fast tight loops are liable to have the fly crash into the surface perhaps sinking the fly and scaring the fish. This is where the long leader comes into play. Ever wondered why a fly line is tapered? Getting thinner and thinner towards the front end. It is to burn off energy, bleed away all that casting energy that you created such that the fly will land gently, but the taper in the line is not sufficient on its own to slow things down enough. Try casting a fly line without a leader on it and see how much the tip of the line “kicks” over at the end of the cast. This is residual energy that hasn’t been burned off as the cast comes to an end.

Long leaders

A long tapered leader then assists in burning off excess energy such that in an ideal world the fly runs out of steam just as the loop turns over.

If I were to offer you five hundred bucks if you could cast a fly into a tea cup ten metres away and then say that you could choose a set up with a 9’ leader or a 15’ leader which would you choose?

Most would pick the 9’ option believing it to offer better accuracy, but to be sure of hitting the cup you would have to generate a lot of line speed and with a 9’ leader the fly would almost certainly bounce out of the cup.

The alternative option with the shorter leader , which is in fact what most anglers do when fishing, is to aim high and “hope” that the fly will miraculously float down into the cup. The traditional “land like thistledown” presentation. Useless in all but windless conditions and not the best way to approach things.

The smart money would be on the longer leader where the energy of a fast accurate cast would burn off just as the fly arrived inches above the cup and it would fall in, winning you the money in the process.

In essence, the better you cast, the tighter the loops and the more energy you impart into the line, not only CAN the leader be longer, in fact it MUST be longer.

(as an aside, this is the reason that I detest furled leaders, furled leaders preserve casting energy, the antithesis of what I believe you want. Certainly if you are a poor caster they may make casting seem easier, but I assure you that you would be better off to practice your casting and ditch the furled terminal tackle).

So you have now got the perfect loop sorted out, you are generating massive amounts of line speed and are using a long leader to burn off all that excess energy such that the fly lands softly after all. There is still one very important step that you have to take, you have to change the angles of your cast.

What happens most often on the river when casting against the wind is that anglers perceive that they are unable to turn the leader over. Frequently this is not the case, the leader is turning over just fine but it is blowing back in your face because it ran out of energy too high above the water. What you need to do is aim at the water (or only fractionally above it).. Most don’t do this because if they do the fly hits the surface like a brick and that is because the energy didn’t burn off in time.(The leader is too short)

Cast High

Often in an attempt to “aim at the water” then the caster breaks the 180° rule. Making a near horizontal back cast and bringing the rod down along the ideal casting angle on the forward cast, resulting in a wide loop, the line hitting the water before the fly and no accuracy or line speed.Break180

The answer to getting more accurate is to aim at your target, not above it and to burn off the energy just as the fly arrives. To aim at the target you have to change your casting angles. The 180° rule states that the line should follow a 180°path. If your back cast is low or sags down your forward cast will either be high or have a very poorly formed wide loop.

Take a look at the diagram below to perhaps make this more clear.

Angles

 

In essence then, it is your back cast which determines the forward casting angle, back cast along the ideal line between target and rod tip. For close targets this means a back-cast that, to most people, looks ludicrously high above your head.

To summarize then, if you want pinpoint accuracy and delicate presentation you should:

  • Adjust your back-cast angle in line with the target, higher for closer fish and more horizontal for far ones.
  • Lengthen your leader to insure that all the energy is burned off at the completion of the cast.
  • Maintain the 180°rule at all times
  • Maximize line speed, do not modify your cast or loop shape to try to achieve delicate presentation. Delicate presentation is the leader’s job NOT yours.
  • Have the fly turn over only inches above the target.

The best way to practice is to have some targets on the lawn, a bit of wool in replacement of the fly and play with the angles. To start with you will no doubt find that the closer targets are the hardest to hit. Adjust your angles and all of a sudden those close ones will be easy.

One final note: as the targets (fish) get further away and the angles get shallower so also you will be casting longer lines and the rod will be bending more. So you will not only need to adjust the angles but also the stroke length of your cast or you are going to get tailing loops.

Stroke-accuracy

Get out there and play on the lawn, it will improve your fishing.

Tim Rolston is an IFFF (International Federation of Fly Fishers) Certified Casting Instructor and runs both Inkwazi Flyfishing Safaris , a guiding operation based in Cape Town South Africa and “The Casting Clinic” offering individual and group fly casting tuition to both beginners and experienced anglers. You can contact The Casting Clinic by email, just click on the logo below.

CastingClinicRound

Tailing Loops 101

December 24, 2015

TailingLoopsHead

This is the third of a series of articles  written for Vagabond Flyfishing Magazine , this one a little more detailed still and focusing on the relationship between rod flex and casting arc. You can’t escape it, fly fishing is about fly casting, or at least that is the starting point. So in the next few pieces for Vagabond I am going to be looking at some structure in terms of what makes fly casting work, what is happening when it is going wrong and how to fix it. So this and other articles on casting will also appear on The Fishing Gene Blog, for the benefit of those yet to discover Vagabond.

Following on from the previous articles some slightly more advanced thoughts on the mechanics of fly casting.

Last time we looked in some detail at the concepts of arc and stroke, the basic movements of the fly caster and those which ultimately determine the track of the rod tip and thus the movement of the line and shape of the loop.

Trouble is that with fly casting, unlike any other form of casting in different types of angling, one is not casting a constant mass; the weight of the line cast varies all the time as a function of the length of it out of the rod tip.

So how does that change the structure of the casting stroke?

The issue here is that the more line out the more weight and the greater the inertia and it then follows that the rod will load more (bend to a greater degree). In effect then the rod gets shorter under more load and flex, “The effective rod length”.

If one is aiming to move the rod tip in a straight line the starting point of that straight line is the height above the caster that the rod tip finds itself when bent. The more bend the “lower to the ground” the starting point of the stroke and thus the wider the casting arc has to be. Now that isn’t very easy to explain in words but perhaps a diagram will assist in understanding.

EffectiveLength

Images are copyright protected and generously provided from Tim’s latest book on casting which is still in the process of being completed.

 

In the above diagram the rod has been bent to 80% of its original height above the angler. So the correct point to start the stroke is with the rod at an angle which starts the stroke with the rod point at this height. In other words the starting point is where the tip of the rod at zero flex is in line with the tip of the rod under maximum flex..

CraigRodBend

If you let out more line, or to a point apply more force the rod will bend more, the effective height above the angler will reduce further and the starting point of the stroke will have the rod at a greater angle.

StrokeLength

Above, you will note that as the rod bends more deeply the starting point of the stroke is at a greater angle, and the width of the casting arc becomes greater. More line out requires a greater arc and longer stroke.

In addition to the above obviously the more line out the more power that is required , but one of the absolute keys to casting a fly line is to adjust the arc and stroke as the amount of line in the air changes (or as the amount of rod bend changes if you wish to think of it like that).. For the most part anglers adjust this naturally but understanding the relationship is the key to spotting the cause of some faults which may appear in your casting.

So what happens if you don’t get the adjustment correct?

Although there are more than a few ways of creating tailing loops, those annoying squiggles in the line which look remarkably like the ebola virus and which can be as devastating to your casting, resulting in tangles and wind knots in your tippet. Virtually all of them stem from the rod tip dipping down below the ideal line and then flipping back up again. Failure to extend the arc and stroke as you let out more line will cause the rod tip to do precisely that, dip down and climb back up again during the cast which will result in the line doing the same.

Stroke and tailing loop

In the diagram above one can see that based on the amount of flex in the rod it should have started “lower” and the arc should have been wider. Now the rod starts in the incorrect position, the rod tip bends down as it loads and then springs back up during the cast producing a tailing loop.

This isn’t the only way to get a tailing loop but all of the various faults that can cause one are based on the same thing. The rod tip dipping down in a concave arc and climbing again. Next time we will look at a couple more ways that you might inadvertently produce the same effect and create wind knots in your line.

Tight lines and tighter loops.. and of course MERRY CHRISTMAS. 🙂

Tim Rolston

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Tim Rolston is a fly fishing guide, past World Flyfishing Championships competitor, captain and coach, an IFFF certified fly casting instructor, fly tyer and author. His book “Learn to Fly-Cast in a Weekend” can be downloaded from his website at www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za . He is also available to run fly casting workshops for groups, clubs or fishing venues as well as offering personal tuition. Tim can be contacted on rolston@iafrica.com

 

 

More Casting About

December 9, 2015

MoreCastingAboutHead

This is the second of a series of articles I have written for Vagabond Flyfishing Magazine , this one a little more detailed and focusing on essential elements of a good cast. You can’t escape it, fly fishing is about fly casting, or at least that is the starting point. So in the next few pieces for Vagabond I am going to be looking at some structure in terms of what makes fly casting work, what is happening when it is going wrong and how to fix it. So this and other articles on casting will also appear on The Fishing Gene Blog, for the benefit of those yet to discover Vagabond.

There are many different ways and styles of teaching (and thus learning) casting, but there are equally a number of indefatigable truths about what works and what doesn’t. Sure you might prefer to have one or other leg forward, or use your finger, thumb or palm of your hand on the handle, ( I have my own opinions, which I am not going to share here). You may like to have the rod at something of an angle or favour those which are faster or slower in their actions. But the mechanics of good casting are an absolute given. This isn’t art, this is science, fly casting is pure physics and as such obeys critical scientific laws which aren’t going to change any time soon.

Not that one need to take a scientific approach, just that the laws of mass, acceleration, energy storage, resistance and such will directly affect the result. I can’t change that and neither can you.

So what makes a good cast anyway?

The very simple answer to what could become a complex question is that a good narrow loop makes for a good cast. We aren’t going to concern ourselves at present with the idea that occasionally one might wish to throw a more open one, good loops are good casts. Practice getting good loops and you will by default have good casts.

Note: The “loop” is the rounded link between the two legs of the line as the line unrolls in the air, looking rather like the tracks of a tank in motion. The closer together the legs the “tighter” the loop and the better the cast.

So then, what makes for good loops?

The movement of the rod tip controls the loops, sure you can argue that the movement of your hand , arm or whatever control that tip movement but the line doesn’t know a thing about that. The line only knows what the rod tip does and follows suit. Move the rod tip in a straight and accelerating line and the fly line will unroll in a neat tight and efficient cast.

Move the rod tip in a convex path and you will have a wide and inefficient, wind resistant cast lacking momentum and carry.

Move the rod tip in a concave path and you will throw tailing loops, those annoying squiggles which catch your fly in the line and produce wind knots in your tippet.

And you may well then ask what makes straight, convex or concave rod tip paths, and the answer to that question is YOU!

When you cast, move the rod using your hand on the handle, you can effectively do two things, you can “flex” your wrist, (It is what casting instructors refer to as “rotation”) , and don’t be too quick to tell everyone that is bad, because it isn’t. Or you can move your wrist “forwards and backwards” which is what instructors call “stroke”. If you want to think of it like this, rotation is like flicking a marshmallow off the end of a stick, (speed). Stroke is like punching someone in the stomach (linear acceleration). A good cast involves both of these motions.

If you rely only on rotation, you will have a massively convex rod tip path, (less so if you are using a very soft rod). On the other hand, if you rely on only stroke you will not be able to achieve much by way of acceleration. That said the vast majority of anglers rely far too much on rotation and focus far too little on stroke.

Looking at rotation first:

If you simply move your hand forwards, as in punching someone in the stomach, should you move your hand 30 cm in a second for example you will move the rod tip 30cm in a second. However if you rotate your wrist by a few degrees of arc, (when you do this is important), you will move the rod tip considerably more than 30cm and in a lot less time too. Whipping out my rusty maths, a 30° rotation of a nine foot rod will move the tip 4’6”. It should be obvious that you cannot move the rod tip that far using only stroke, not unless you have very long arms.

It is perhaps important to make note at this point that when I say “move the rod tip” and “speed” I mean that the rod tip would move that fast were it not bendy. But of course the rod is bendy so instead of the tip moving rapidly to start with it stays relatively still and “stores” the energy that you have put into it, held back by the inertia of the line. It is this storage of energy as much as anything else that makes it possible to cast easily with a fly rod. “Rotation” of the wrist then is actually a critical part to loading the rod to best effect and all these dire warnings about “breaking your wrist” are so much hot air. You cannot cast well or effectively without breaking your wrist or rotating your wrist, the more important bit is how much and when you do this.

Stroke

Stroke is the linear movement of your casting hand to affect a long and straight rod tip path. Without stroke you will always have a convex rod tip path and a less effective cast as a result.

So in Image One,  below you can see the effect on the rod tip of only using rotation. In this instance the rod is imagined not to bend to clarify things. The more the rod would bend the less obvious would be the convex nature of the rod tip path.

Arc OnlyImage One
Images are copyright protected and generously provided from Tim’s latest book on casting which is still in the process of being completed.

StrokeImage Two
Shows the effect of only using stroke, again an imaginary unflexing rod.

Finally the combination of rotation and stroke as it occurs in a real cast (exaggerated). Initial rotation loads (bends) the rod, and accelerated stroke keeps the rod loaded and adds a little more bend and then final rotation adds even more bend to the rod until it is fully loaded. When at the far left of the image you stop or pause, the loaded energy in the rod launches the line in a nice neat efficient tight loop.

 

RealCast
Image Three
A combination of rotation and stroke, providing high line speed, maximum loading of the rod and a straight and accelerating rod tip path.

This is one of the reasons why attempting to “Throw” the line doesn’t work, as the caster you can only load the rod, in reality most if not all of the actual “throwing” gets done by the rod itself as it unloads. So if you are starting off or trying to improve your casting, the first thing to do is to look carefully at your casting, does it contain both rotation and stroke? Is the stroke long enough? It probably isn’t. Better still have a mate watch , because it isn’t easy to see for yourself, best yet, get some lessons.

To see a graphic illustration of the combination of stroke and arc in a cast take a look at www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za the animated graphic at the top of the page illustrates the principle quite well.

In the next article we will look more deeply at that overall casting stroke, why the length of the stroke needs to change with line length and why if it doesn’t you will end up with tailing loops.

In fishing it is traditional to wish someone “tight lines” but here I think “tight loops” is a better “au revoir”

*******

Tim Rolston is a fly fishing guide, past World Flyfishing Championships competitor, captain and coach, an IFFF certified fly casting instructor, fly tyer and author. His book “Learn to Fly-Cast in a Weekend” can be downloaded from his website at www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za . He is also available to run fly casting workshops for groups, clubs or fishing venues as well as offering personal tuition. Tim can be contacted on rolston@iafrica.com