June 30, 2022
By Mac Brown
This article originally appeared in the April/May 2015 issue of Fly Fisherman.
It’s been weeks (or months) since you were last able to get on the water, and the last thing you want to do is spend a few hours getting your casting back up to snuff. What you need is a five-second casting fix to quickly knock off a winter of rust so you can stop worrying about casting, and start worrying about finding fish and catching them.
It takes only five seconds to say “begin slow, and smoothly accelerate toward a sudden stop with the rod high. Pause, and repeat.” If you think about it for just a few moments and visualize this acceleration and sudden stop, it becomes difficult to make a poor cast.
Over the years at fly-fishing shows and seminars I’ve used the visualizations of the five-second fix with casters of all skill levels to get them instantly throwing longer, tighter loops. First, they must understand that acceleration is a totally different concept than “faster.” Acceleration means starting slowly and smoothly, and delaying “the fast” for the very end of the stroke.
If you hear a noticeable swooshing sound during a short 30-foot cast then you are using too much force, too early in the stroke. This is common for self-taught casters, but it is incorrect and will never lead to better efficiency on the stream.
If we use the keyboard to describe an overhead backcast (as viewed from the side) it would look like \\\\/ (moving left to right). This will help you scribe a straight path with the rod tip.
One of the analogies that works well for most people is to imagine you have a cup of scalding hot java, and you are going to throw all of it directly over your shoulder. You probably have a pretty good idea how to do that without getting coffee on yourself. You’ll have to start slowly with your arm slightly extended in front of you, and progress to faster and faster speeds with a sudden stop over the shoulder that sends the coffee safely away from you.
With a fly rod you’ll make this same motion, with the line on your backcast traveling directly away from your target.
The high rod stop is essential for a short length of fly line (anything under 30 feet). Use little to no wrist for this high stop, and your backcast will dramatically improve. It is easier if you think about using mostly shoulder and forearm, just like you would answer your cell phone—in this world of technology, perhaps that’s a better analogy than the hot coffee!
Take Your Time
An unrolling loop takes time to extend behind you, and this is where the pause is essential. My students often ask “How long do I pause?” but all casts use varying amounts of pause depending on the distance of the cast and many other variables, including the desired outcome of the cast. Try to watch your backcast unfurl—it’s okay to turn your head and watch the line. Start your forward cast at the moment the backcast straightens out.
All these principles of acceleration toward a sudden stop are the same on the forward cast. A successful visualization for many casters is to imagine holding a long paintbrush dipped in red paint. Your goal is to flick the paint onto a wall in front of you without getting any paint on yourself or on the floor. To do this, you’d move your hand straight toward the target using only shoulder and forearm for the slow part of the stroke. Smooth acceleration followed by a sudden stop sends the paint hurtling toward the target.
Using the keyboard to describe the rod position on the forward cast would look like \//// (moving right to left). That final wrist rotation at the end of your casting stroke helps define a sudden stop, and puts you well on your way to mastering the art of loop control.
These mental visualizations take just a few seconds to review in your mind before your first cast. Spend a few minutes false casting to help ingrain them in your mind and muscles, and pay attention to how your movements affect the bending of the rod. Your goal with these mental exercises is to learn to bend the rod in a way that allows the rod tip to travel in a straight path. After that, there’s little else to do but choose your flies and catch fish!
Mac Brown (macbrownflyfish.com) is a Federation of Fly Fishers master casting instructor. He started the fly-fishing programs at Western Carolina University and is a professional guide both in his local North Carolina waters, and abroad.