Almost every fly fisherman wants to cast farther, and easier. In salt water we are always confronted with the wind--most of the time we are forced to throw into it or at least sideways to it. The most efficient cast is one where the loop size is very small. If the fisherman can control the size of the loop, a major step toward making longer and less effortless casts is the result.
Fly casting differs from all other kinds of casting (spin and plug) in a special way. With all other methods of casting it is the weight attached to the line end that pulls the line toward the target. When you are fly casting, the exact opposite is true. The fly line is in reality a long, unrolling sinker, to which is often attached a near-weightless fly. The rod bends as it is swept forward toward the target, with the line relatively straight behind the angler. When the rod stops, the line folds over at the tip and begins unrolling toward the target in what is described as a "loop".
The ability to control the loop's size
is essential to good fly casting.
And the tighter the loop, the less
effort is required to throw
a longer cast.
The hallmark of any good fly caster is that the caster has the ability to throw any size loop desired. A really fine caster appears to be casting, even a long line, without effort. And, that is exactly what is happening. He or she knows how to throw a small, tight loop. The ability of a fly caster to throw a long line, even into the wind, or make an effortless cast of any kind, is mainly determined by how tight a loop is thrown in the fly line during both the back and forward casts.
An oft-repeated and totally wrong statement is that large line loops don't go anywhere when fly casting, because of wind resistance against the line. Wind resistance has little to do with the lack of distance obtained. Big loops don't go anywhere because the energy of the cast is being thrown around a curve or half circle. Small loops are easier to throw a longer distance because most of the energy is being concentrated in the target's direction.
One of the laws that govern casting is that the line and the fly are going to go in the direction that the rod tip speeds up and stops at the very end of the cast--in back or front. When a wide loop is thrown, not only is the energy being thrown around a curving arc, but the tip of the rod stops in a downward direction--throwing some of the energy (and fly line) toward the water instead of the desired direction. The reason why a good caster appears not to be working when making long, or difficult casts is that almost every bit of energy in the cast is being directed at the target!
Making a small loop is easy, once you understand the basics of a cast. It is essential to realize that a backcast and a forward cast are governed by the same laws of physics. What makes a back cast go well, is exactly what makes a forward cast travel well. There are two parts or segments to any back or forward cast. During the first portion of the cast every thing is made ready, so that during the final brief portion of the cast, the line and fly can be directed in back or front of the angler.
To make any cast, the angler must get the end of the line moving, before the fly can be propelled backwards or forward. If a longer cast is needed, it is best to start with the rod tip low, almost pointing at the fly. Remove all slack before starting the cast. Make sure the line end is moving and that all line has been lifted from the water before attempting to throw the line behind you. Failure to get all the line off the water before making the cast will create problems. The ripping of the line from the surface also often frightens any nearby fish, and it steals energy from the caster that would otherwise be used to throw the line.
With any cast, either behind or in front of the angler, the first segment is moving the rod through a fairly long arc. This draws all slack from the line, gets the line end moving, and readies the rod to deliver the fly. The second stage is what I call a speed up and stop. This is an exceedingly brief acceleration of the rod tip, combined with a very sudden stop, that occurs in the very last few inches of rod movement.
Here's the key to making both a tight loop back and front. Move the rod to get the line end in motion and in the very few last inches of movement, accelerate rapidly and stop the the rod tip abruptly in the direction you want the line to go.
THE SHORTER THE DISTANCE THAT THE ROD TIP TRAVELS DURING THE RAPID ACCELERATION PERIOD, AND THE FASTER THAT YOU STOP THE ROD AT THE END OF THAT SHORT DISTANCE, THE TIGHTER THE LOOP. AND--THE QUICKER THE ROD TIP MOVES THROUGH THE SHORT DISTANCE, AND THE MORE ABRUPTLY THE STOP--THE FARTHER THE CAST WILL TRAVEL.
Do not drop the rod tip immediately after the stop or you will open the loop because the rod tip will drag the bottom of the loop downward. Accelerate the rod tip over the desired distance in the direction that you want the line to go, and then after the stop if you tilt the rod ever so slightly downward you can prevent a tailing loop.
Remember, at the beginning of a back or forward cast, sweep the rod forward slowly to get the line moving Then accelerate over the shortest distance you can and come to a quick stop. If you do, you'll be throwing tight loops.
Once you understand the function of the distance that you accelerate the tip at the end of the cast, combined with a quick stop, you can then make any size loop desired. And, the shorter the distance you accelerate and the faster you move the rod tip and stop--the tighter the loop and the longer the cast will be. What is also difficult for all but expert casters to realize is that a tiny motion of the hand gripping the rod, is a much longer movement at the rod tip. Try this experiment to understand this. Hold the fly rod parallel and wave the rod back and forth. Look at the front of the rod grip and move it back and forth only two inches. Then, look at the tip. If the front of the grip moves two inches, the rod tip is probably traveling 6 or 8 feet. What this exercise illustrates is that when you want to make a very tight loop, that only the briefest of motions is required at the rod hand.
Almost no one appreciates how short a distance the rod moves to create a small loop. It might be interesting to try a simple experiment. Put about 30 feet of line outside the rod tip and then begin false casting. You can quickly see that the shorter the distance you make the rod tip move during the speed up and stop at the end of the cast, the tighter the loop becomes. Most people make the speed up and stop stroke by flexing the wrist. If you want an illuminating casting illustration, try making a series of speed up and stops by flexing the wrist, Then, do the same thing using only the forearm. You will instantly see that the more you move the wrist the larger the line loops become. So, the less wrist you use the tighter the loop you can throw. Since the quick stop is vital to long distance casting, you will also learn that you can stop the rod much faster with the forearm than you can with a wrist motion.
There are fishing situations where a tight loop is not always desirable. When casting with sinking lines, or when using heavily weighted flies, or very short leaders, better casting results with a more open loop. Once you understand that the distance the rod tip moves on the speed up and stop determines loop size, you can then alter the length of the stroke to get the desired loop size.
The tight loop alone will not obtain you distance. It simply allows the angler to concentrate most of the cast in the correct direction. You have four factors that occur when you form a loop: (1) The line will go in the direction that the rod tip speeds up and stops at the end of the cast. (2) The size of the loop is determined by the distance that the rod tip travels rapidly during the speed up and stop at the end of the cast. (3 & 4) HAVE TO BE EXPLAINED TOGETHER. How fast the rod tip travels over that speed up and stop distance, and how quickly the rod tip stops, determine how far the cast will travel.
The faster that the rod tip travels and quicker it stops, the farther the line will go on. This is easy to demonstrate. Make a forward cast and try to make a very short speed up and stop, which will form a tight loop. On the first cast, move that brief distance, but don't go too fast and don't stop too sudden. You will see a small loop form that travels slowly and not very far. Then, make another cast and try to exactly duplicate the length of speed up and stop distance so that you form the same size loop as the first cast. But, on this second cast, make the tip travel faster and halt quicker over the speed up and stop--the loop will be the same size--but the line will go much farther. Finally, repeat the operation, but this time, move the rod tip over the same distance, but as fast as you can and stop it as sudden as possible and you will find the line loop the same size, but the cast will really travel a longer distance.
So, if you want to become a more efficient fly caster, throw long distances, penetrate the wind, and get heavy flies to fish you need to do the following. For both the back and forward cast, move the rod tip a fairly long distance to get the line straight and the rod flexed. Then, do four things: Speed up and stop over the shortest distance you possibly can. Move the rod tip as fast as you can and stop it as quickly as you can. And, make sure that the rod tip travels in the direction you want the fly line to go on both the back and the forward cast.