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Lefty on Casting Bamboo

Learn to eliminate inefficient shock waves.

Lefty Kreh on Casting Bamboo Fly Rods
For a cast with virtually no shock waves, keep your rod hand at the same level (in the same plane) during the entire stroke. At the end of the backcast, shove your rod butt to the rear in a stabbing motion away from the target. On the forward cast, keep the rod at the same level, and on the speed-up-and-stop, stab the butt toward the target (not up and down) to eliminate rod tip bounce. (Mark Susinno illustration)

[This article is a modified excerpt from Lefty Kreh’s book Casting, published by Stackpole Books in the fall of 2008. THE EDITOR.]

Here has been a surge of interest in bamboo rods as more craftsmen make them available. Unfortunately many younger fly fishers have never cast one.

To get the best performance from this older material, it is important that you use a different casting stroke than the one you use when fishing fiberglass, graphite, or boron rods. To understand why this is true, it may help to understand why bamboo rods almost faded from the scene when fiberglass rods were introduced more than 50 years ago.

Fiberglass rods outperformed most bamboos, and the best bamboo rods were so expensive that only well-heeled anglers could afford them. Almost everyone could afford to buy fiberglass rods, and they did. During the early 1970s my friend Irv Swope and I shot more than 5,000 photos for a book on fly casting. We observed that at the end of the cast, when the rod speeds up and stops (straightens), the tip makes two distinct up-down flexes and then a series of minor ones before finally stopping.

Those two flexes create shock waves in the line that mirror the rod tip’s movement. These vertical shock waves are lost energy because it is not directed toward the target. Larger shock waves, as they travel through the line during unrolling, can also tangle the leader.

Bamboo is heavier than more modern rod materials. At the end of the speed-up-and-stop, the weight of the bamboo tip causes it to make two major up-down flexes–creating shock waves in the line—before stopping. Bamboo rod tips calibrated to throw lines lighter than a 5-weight are light, so the shock waves are less pronounced, but they are still there. The extra tip weight of heavier bamboo rods can cause larger shock waves. It is possible for craftsmen to design bamboo rods for heavy lines, but at a sacrifice. The rods have to be constructed much heavier to better stabilize the tip on the casting stop.

An illustration of a fly-rod tip waving, creating shockwaves in the cast.
If the rod tip moves up and down after the stop, it throws inefficient shock waves into the cast.

Fiberglass, boron, and graphite are so much lighter than bamboo that on the stop, the up-down flexes are smaller. Glass is not as stiff as boron or graphite but it tends to flex less than bamboo. Boron and graphite are stiffer, producing smaller waves, with more of the line energy directed toward the target during the cast. Boron is expensive, so graphite has become the most popular rod-building material.

With this in mind, when you are casting a bamboo rod you need to reduce the degree of the rod tip’s up-down flexing during the speed-up-and-stop on your back and forward casts. To do this, your conventional graphite rod stroke needs to be modified.

Most fly casters move their rod hand up and down when casting a graphite rod. Changing to a more horizontal, back- and-forth rod-hand path (rather than the traditional up-down hand movement) makes your cast smoother, with more of the line energy directed toward the target. When the heavy bamboo tip stops in a downward direction on the backcast or forward cast (using the up-down hand movement), the tip will continue to flop down (and up) twice. To reduce these cast-robbing energy waves, the rod tip must not stop downward but toward the target (or away from the target on the backcast). This is the key to throwing efficient casts with a bamboo rod. To accomplish this, modify your casting stroke so your rod hand does not travel up and down but straight back and forward.

To cast the smallest waves in the line and with most of the energy going directly away from or toward the target, your rod tip must stop directly away from or toward the target. This is best accomplished by tilting your forearm outward at 45 or more degrees before beginning the cast. Your elbow should stay at the same level during the entire cast. If you elevate and lower your elbow during the cast, your rod tip will stop in a downward direction, producing unwanted waves.

A man's hand and wrist as it holds a fly rod and reel.
It helps if your thumb is behind the rod handle—away from the target—before the cast starts. Do not twist your wrist during the cast. (John Randolph photo)

The grip: It helps if your thumb is behind the rod handle (away from the target) before the cast starts, and it is important that your wrist is never twisted during the cast. For a cast with virtually no waves keep your rod hand at the same level (in the same plane) during the entire stroke. At the end of your backcast, “shove” your rod butt to the rear in a stabbing motion, much like stabbing a stiletto. The motion is straight away from the target, never allowing the rod tip to dip downward on the speed-up-and-stop. On the forward cast, keep the rod at the same height throughout the cast, and on the speed-up-and-stop shove the butt forward, stabbing in the direction of the target, and allowing no downward motion of the rod tip.

By doing this, the upper portion of the rod bends under the strain of pulling against the fly line. The size of your line loop is determined by the bend in the rod. Because the rod tip stopped in either direction straight away from or toward the target, the result is a flat, tight- loop cast virtually free of shock waves.

Recommended


Fishing conditions often call for a tight, slightly open, or even wide, loop during presentations. To open your loop, finish with a slight downward motion in your forward stroke, instead of a stop going straight away from or back to the target. Only practice can teach you to make a very slight downward motion to open your loops: too much downward motion and those troublesome shock waves will appear.


Lefty Kreh was a longtime Fly Fisherman editor-at-large.




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