Posts Tagged ‘The Casting Clinic’

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.

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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