by Jeff Mishler
I spent some time last week helping a new-to-the-sport angler/buddy work on his casting. My initial intent was to find a fresh steelhead for him, but his casting flaws brought the line, leader and fly down from the sky in a heap, keeping his fly too close to his casting position for any kind of swing. Between stepping down to free his fly from the river rocks and repeated attempts to execute a complete turnover, he spent a lot of time with his fly out of the water. I will give him credit for his tenacity. In twenty years of casting two handers I’ve only seen a couple people work so hard for so long to get it right. I’m confident he will put the pieces together and feel that yank at that end of a straight line delivery as the line unfolds completely.
From my upriver position I could assess his casting motion. Setting the anchor and initiating the sweep were obviously motions he had worked on because those elements were very good. Where his cast fell apart, and where many casters struggle, is in the turnover/setting the D loop phase of the casting motion.
Constant Motion/Constant Load casting, as Ed Ward presents it, requires a compact casting stroke; elbows down and tucked close to the body throughout the sweep and turnover. The turnover in CM/CL happens in the hands. The top and bottom hands work together to shape the upside down C the rod tip is scribing out there off the casting shoulder. A subtle push, or 45 degree thrust towards that C helps keep the line behind the rod tip and away from that zone behind your body. The turnover is a constant motion that accelerates to a stop at the end of the casting stroke when the bottom hand pulls on the rod butt, and the top hand reaches an extension, effectively stopping the rod tip around the 10 o’clock position. That abrupt stop is what controls the finish of the cast, and the energy delivered to the loop comes from a constantly loaded rod.
The spey casting technique incorporating a 180 relationship between D loop and forward cast–a more linear style–requires a good turnover still. After setting the anchor and beginning the sweep, a more conscious effort to “Set” the D loop by accelerating into a subtle pause, 180 degrees from your casting direction requires one to carve the upside down C, and sometimes even incorporate a slight press to the sky of the hands, or poking of the rod tip to the trees behind the caster, to keep the D loop from crashing on the water. Then prior to the forward stroke, the elbows settle back into the pocket and the forward stroke occurs. Keeping the rod loaded or forming a nice D loop is where I see most of the flaws when beginning casters struggle to get the line moving forward during the casting stroke.
If straight overhead is 12 o’clock and 10 o’clock is out over the water and 2 o’clock is behind your shoulder, my observation point on river right from directly upstream from my buddy told me all I needed to know about whether his rod was getting to a good casting position for the casting stroke. Most often, and in his case, the rod tip never gets to a 2 o’clock position. With CM/CL casting, the rod tip moves through this zone quickly as the casting motion never really pauses. With a 180 style cast, the rod tip does pause momentarily to allow the line to pass behind the caster and form the D loop. This is where my buddy was experiencing a total melt down of his well executed, up to that point anyways, set up.
It is a very common mistake to thrust the bottom hand forward, once the top hand comes to the position in front of the casting shoulder just prior to the forward casting stroke. The thrust of the bottom hand is part of the caster’s incorrect preparation to haul with the bottom hand at the end of the casting stroke. But the effect on the turnover phase of the cast is disastrous. The rod tip drops below the 2 o’clock position behind their shoulder after the D loop is set, and crashes all of the line moving behind the caster, onto the water. The cast killing move is rarely noticed because for some reason it is very difficult to get a beginner to turn and watch the formation of their D loop. When I say to them, “Your rod tip just crashed into the water after the sweep” they can’t understand how that can happen because they were very conscious about getting the rod tip to the 2 o’clock position at the end of their sweep. It’s the little hitch they add just prior to the forward stroke that dumps everything behind them. The forward stroke looses its load and no mass remains lined up behind the tip. When the new caster turns their head to look, they don’t replicate the same move and never see the flaw. Video cameras reveal the flaw, but how do you take a movie of yourself when you’re suppose to be fishing?
The other, more obvious flaw I notice occurs during the sweep when the rod tip does not travel parallel to the water or in an ascending, out and around path. As the caster initiates the sweep and the rod comes towards the turnover the path of the rod tip dips a bit. The line crashes on the water and kills any possibility that the rod will stay loaded in a CM/CL cast or that the line will travel behind the rod tip in a 180 style cast. This flaw is easier to correct because the caster can see it happening out in front of their position as they track the rod tip with their eyes.
I spent the better part of the day trying to find a few analogies or key words to help my friend understand what was happening and by the end of the day I found that a dart throwing reference seemed to resonate: The top hand, at the end of the sweep should come to a position in front of your shoulder, turned towards the target, like you are preparing to throw a dart at the board. The bottom hand should stay relatively quiet until the forward stroke is initiated. Any additional movement by the bottom hand introduces a lot of off-path tip movement, unless the casting stroke has become intuitive. Not the case here. Only after the forward stroke is initiated does the leverage build in the bottom hand and and eventually result in the bottom hand stopping against the center of the torso. Again, top hand in front of the shoulder, bottom hand centered on the torso; this keeps the rod tip canted out over the space beyond the casting shoulder, and the fly out of your face.
The abrupt stop of the top hand, after the dart is released, is the exact stop the rod tip needs to deliver a powerful loop. If you push with the top hand only causing the rod tip to move forward in an ascending arc rather than a straight line, the loop will be open. The bottom hand pulling at the end of the stroke tightens everything up.
Just some thoughts.
Tom Larimer in perfect firing position for the casting stroke.