Art or other?

Art or other?

Gary Meyer | Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Well, I’m not sure where this is going. I almost forgot to write a front page for this week, or rather for today as it is already Tuesday over there on the other side. My schedule has been a bit topsy-turvy of late and even though I knew today was a Monday (as I had a medical appointment) I sort of forgot that tomorrow is Tuesday. Having the day off and not thinking about going to work until tomorrow really made it feel like a Sunday.

Anyway… a recent thread on SL has been bouncing around in the back of my mind. The thread is about tightening up the back cast. It is a topic that I have been thinking about, and working on, for quite a while. Accordingly, a common statement that I make in all my beginners classes is that “you cannot make a good (forward) cast without making a good back cast first”.

Many of my students are attempting the transition from fishing with a spinning rod to the fly rod. I commonly see folks try to supply extra power into the presentation stroke after a very weak and poorly executed back cast. You can do that with a spinning rod. In fact, it is a common thing to see folks simply position the tip of the rod behind them, hold it stationary for a beat, then add all the energy necessary to reach the destination on the forward stroke. That is not how an experienced angler casts as spinning rod, but the tackle will function that way.


A mental picture I employ to give my students an idea of how a fly cast works is to ask them if they every played with a yo-yo. Most older folks can relate since before miniaturized electronics, as youngsters, we had to entertain ourselves with stone-age toys. Students without grey hair will usually say they have played with a yo-yo too, but I think they are probably fibbing. Anyway, to get a yo-yo to do anything exciting, even the simplest down and back up routine, you had to add some extra energy to the thing on the down stroke. If you did that, the toy would “sleep” or spin at the end of the string. Then, all you had to do was tug lightly with your finger and the yo-yo would climb right back up to your hand by making use of that extra energy you gave it earlier.


I tell my students that fly casting is much like using that yo-yo. If you put enough energy into the back cast, and do it correctly, the forward cast can be a lot like that simple finger tug with the yo-yo. All it takes is a little nudge on the forward stoke… a bit like tacking a small nail into the wall to hang a picture frame. This simplification, of course, only hold true for a basic short fishing cast, but that is all I’m hoping for on their first time touching a fly rod.


Casters more advanced than these complete beginners realize there is more to it than this, and one of the finer points is to achieve a straight rod leg on the back cast. The “frozen rope” is something I have been personally trying to achieve, but so far perfection has eluded me.


So, that thread caught my eye. But it was the videos that were supplied in the first half dozen or so posts that made me do a double take. The videos show two fine casters with glaringly different strokes. Whether either or both of them were able to produce arrow straight rod legs on their back casts was indeterminable from the videos, but anecdotal accounts and documented records would seem to suggest they must have.


And that is what has been bothering me. If either of these casts were modeled, the other one would be considered far from optimal, yet both styles apparently produce excellent results. Granted, the equipment used was very different, or at least that is how it looks to my eyes. So, the best guess I can come up with is that each of these fine casters were able to optimize their casting strokes to match the equipment in their hands.


As a scientist and a lover of equations, after a life of trying to simplify things down to their basic parameters, I hate to say this, but, is not this ability to adapt to the infinite number of variables presented by the equipment, (flyline, leader and fly) more of an art than a science?


As to my own casting, I got a break from the weather this evening so I grabbed my practice rod and ran out to the field. I had no real goals in mind, just some “fly chi” to chill out from a rather nerve-wracking day. The conditions were almost unreal: completely calm and almost stifling humid, but the setting sun was behind clouds and I had almost an hour before dusk. I was prepared with some bug spray and a cold can of beer.


A lot of my enjoyment likely came from the fact that the equipment I was using (rod and flyline) felt as if they were made for each other! And, in the literal sense they likely were, being both SL products: a HT6 and the Thunderbolt line.


Given the heat and the conditions, I decided to start out real slow and easy. Actually, as of late as the years catch up I have found that now I always have to start out slow and easy! But today it never progressed to anything more energetic. With no wind to battle or assist, I found that I was casting to my usual distance seemingly without an ounce of effort. False casting became almost a trance-like meditation. All I had to do was fit into what the equipment asked of me.


Now, do not imagine that I was setting any distance records! Years ago, at the insistence of the then Florida ACA president, a tape came out and showed my casts were sneaking out over 130 feet, but those days are past. These days my best efforts are a good ten feet short of that. The amazing thing this evening proved is that my standard distance is achievable easily. In fact, the less I try to push, the more reproducible my results. This evening I was never tempted to try to “hook one up”. I knew what that would do and I did not want to kill the buzz.