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Ally Gowans - Learning To Fly Cast - Part 1

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Learn how to fly cast with Ally Gowans - fly fishing for beginners.

More and more anglers are taking up fly fishing because of the pleasure it brings. There is a tremendous pleasure in casting a pretty fly line, watching the loop unfurl and fall delicately upon the water. Anglers are also learning that a fish on a fly rod fights much better than one on a bait rod and that lots of species of fish in either salt or fresh water take artificial flies. There is no gender or age discrimination in fly fishing, anyone can do it and with a little practice they can do it very well.

Sometimes revered as an art form, often thought difficult, casting with a fly rod is neither of these things; instead it is a relatively simple and undemanding physical process that depends on obeying the rules and observing reasonable timing. If you develop bad habits as a beginner, eradicating them can be difficult but if you understand the foundations of efficient casting from the start the process of learning many different casts becomes much easier. There are no bad students, there are bad teachers though because the teacher must be able to communicate the essentials of the methods clearly and then the student will understand and practice them to the best of his or her ability. I have no strong feelings about the style that anyone chooses to cast with. We are each differently made and if the individual wishes to cast in an different or unusual style that is for him to decide, in this series of articles I will try to concentrate on what makes a cast work, the essential fundamentals rather than style preferences but I will mention the things that my experience suggests are efficient and easy for most people to achieve good performance with minimum of effort and that I think is important. First I am going to remind you of the three essentials - every good, every correct cast has used these principles whether the practioner was conscious of them or not!

Casting Rules

Rule 1. Start with straight (or organised*) line.

Just as it is impossible to pull a car with a slack tow rope it is impossible to move a fly with a slack line. If the line is not organised rod movement is wasted to straighten and tension it and your effort is not only wasted, you have now got the rod in the incorrect place to start the cast. Always start with the line organised and this of course applies whether your line is on the water, in the air or formed into a roll casting D loop. Remember that the cast does not actually start until the fly moves. The simplest organized line is of course a straight line on the water surface with the rod tip low and tight to it.

*Note: I have used the alternative word organised to include the starting point for roll casts which is a curve, but it is still organised.

Question: What happens if you start a cast with slack line?

Answer: You will cause a jerk in the line when it eventually tightens and will be unable to make the cast correctly. Note that because an overhead or straight line cast is actually two casts, (a forward cast plus a back cast) continuing with the forward cast if the back cast has not straightened also causes a jerk the results in untidiness or slack line in the delivery.

Rule 2. Every casting delivery stroke is a smooth acceleration of the rod tip followed by a stop.

The accelerating stroke bends the rod against the line resistance, loading it like a spring. Whilst the rod is accelerating the bend deepens (increases), when movement of the rod stops the rod recovers and straightens, it is the stop that transfers the stored energy in the spring (rod) to the line and this added to the speed of the line (or it's kinetic energy if you are scientific) speeds up the line to complete the cast. That is why descriptions 'like flicking paint off a brush' are applied to casting but be careful to understand that casting is not a flick, a long smooth acceleration to the stop gives the smoothest casts. The better the 'stop' the better it goes.

Question: Why does the rod have to accelerate smoothly?

Answer: If not the rod will jerk, the will line will not remain straight and tight and the cast will be less than perfect. The rod must be pulling line (accelerating) throughout a cast. The cast stops when the rod movement stops for instance with the stop and pause at the end of the back cast.

Question: What is a stop?

Answer: A stop is one of those rare physical states that is described perfectly, it is a stop. Not a slow down, not an over hard snap followed by vibration of the rod tip, a stop is just a dead stop. By relaxing the grip immediately after the stop the angler will reduce any vibration in the rod and prevent shock waves traveling down the line.

Rule 3. The line always follows the rod tip and when the rod stops the line projects in the direction that the rod tip was going in when the stop was made.

This is the least understood rule and absolutely fundamental to the construction of every casting technique. Every direction that the line takes was produced by movement the rod tip. This is so obvious and yet so often overlooked. If you want your line to go in a straight line - make the rod tip move in a straight line, the direction of the line is the same as the direction of the rod tip and the same thing goes for circles or parts of circles, eclipses or any other shape that can support continuous motion for the duration of a casting stroke. Similarly if you want the line to rise, stop the rod when the tip is rising and the same is true for every direction, stop the rod in that direction and the line will attempt to follow. Try it!

Question: If you cast only with your wrist or by breaking your wrist excessively as shown in Fig 1 will the line travel in straight or not?

Answer: Wrists make circular movements and so using your wrist too much means that the rod tip path is curved, it is therefore impossible for the line to travel straight with a narrow loop, it will produce a wide curved loop. If at the same time the back cast the rod is stopped after 12:00 the tip will be heading towards earth and therefore the line will be sent downwards. See Fig 2 for the result of excessive wrist movement and arm movement and note that the rod tip would be going downwards when it stopped and therefore according to rule 3 the line will project downwards. In this situation the line does not fall, instead it is thrown to the ground - very bad technique but all too common I'm afraid!

Understand these rules and remember them because they are the fundamentals of good casting. They apply to every cast, regardless of your style, casting technique or anything else. Next time I will discuss the practical aspects of good casting, tackle, grip, stance and the differences between straight line and roll casting.

Alastair Gowans is an professional fishing writer, instructor, demonstrator and photographer based in Perthshire, Scotland, internationally well known for his casting expertise, famous salmon flies and contributions to many fishing publications. See his web sites www.letsflyfish.com and www.flyfish-scotland.com for lots more fly fishing information

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