Learning Fly Casting

by Fly Fisherman

In learning fly casting, don’t worry about whether you have a pool or pond or river or any other water to cast over. You can learn just as well, and perhaps even better, on a lawn, in your back yard, in a convenient school yard, or even in a gymnasium.
A beginner who has never fly cast at all can learn more easily on a lawn than on water because his line and leader won’t sink at the start of the cast. Actually, you can learn almost any place where you have about fifty feet clear in front of you and about forty feet clear behind you. Of course, you need enough room overhead for your line to clear at the top end of the back cast.

In learning to fly cast well, the first thing to do is to think through every correct action you are going to make in one complete cast. This is good common sense if you remember one basic thing: every physical action you make is performed by muscles that are either consciously or subconsciously controlled. Before a muscular habit is learned your mind must consciously be educated by repeated mental consideration of the exact movement, or movements, that will correctly execute the physical action you want. After the conscious mind has been correctly trained, it is then easy with a little practice to train the subconscious mind to take over the job; in a very little while, you have a habit formed of doing this physical act correctly and without even thinking about it.
That’s the way it is with fly casting. Learn to think the action through correctly. Know what you want to do, why your own actions will bring the results needed in casting a fly properly, and you will have mastered the fundamentals of good casting. Then you can do it anywhere—on a lawn, stream, lake, or tournament casting platform.
In a later chapter, I’ll tell you how to select and put together a balanced fly casting outfit; but right now, I’m going to suppose you have such a suitable rod, reel, line, leader and fly.

Let’s suppose you are in the center of a lawn ready to cast. Clip off the point and barb of the fly. Pull out twenty-five feet of line and leader on the grass. If you are right handed, take the rod in your right hand, pointing forward with the reel on the lower side of the rod. Grasp the butt of the rod with your thumb extended along the upper side.
The thumb should lie flat along the upper side of the handle of the rod. Grasp the rod firmly between the thumb and the
index finger with the handle of the rod fiat across the palm of the hand. The lower end of the rod handle rests firmly against the heel of the hand. The rod is supported by the thumb and index finger. The other three fingers are merely closed over the handle to support and strengthen the grip when necessary. The pressure points are the under side of the thumb, the inside surface of the index finger and the heel of the hand.

If you happen to be one of those fishermen who have, through years of practice, become accustomed to using a wrist action in fly casting, and your wrist is strong enough to stand the heavy strain of all day casting, then grip your rod with the thumb at the side of the grip. In this grip the pressure points are the side of the thumb, the side of the index finger, and the heel of the hand.
The wrist action cast is more tiring and harder to learn for fly casting than a full or free-arm action. I have proved this beyond question by experience and experimentation in teaching literally hundreds of beginners to fly cast. Many of these proteges of mine, scattered from the Pacific Coast to the Atlantic, have proved to be among the greatest fly casters in America. Only one of these most successful pupils is primarily a wrist caster. As a matter of Met, this man casts mostly with an arm movement, merely moving the wrist as a minor part of the action.
The fundamentals of fly casting are the action and rhythm of the rod and line. These fundamentals may be achieved by either the arm or wrist action. The so-called wrist-action cast is really a combination of arm and wrist action. I advise the arm action cast because it is less tiring and easier to learn with the same amount of practice. It is also much more simple to get a high back cast with an arm movement made without bending the wrist.

Let’s return now to our beginning caster. The best position of the body for fly casting, for a right handed caster, is with the right foot a little in advance of the left and pointing in the direction of the line. The weight should be on both feet, the right shoulder forward and the body erect. After you have learned the fundamentals of fly casting and can execute them by habit you’ll find you will be able to cast from a lot of different positions, as you do in wading a trout stream or sitting down in a boat or canoe; but in the beginning, better stick to this “best position.”

The upper part of the right arm should point downward, with the elbow slightly advanced and the forearm parallel to the ground. Hold the rod, as I told you before, at an angle of 221/2 degrees above the horizontal.
There is one important point for the beginner to remember. In fly casting, the right elbow should become the pivot of the rod, the hand is the socket, which, with the wrist firmly controlled, makes the forearm and the butt of the rod act as one continuous part of the rod, Now, in starting the cast, raise the tip of the rod steadily and vertically upward (on water this brings the line to the surface of the water and starts it moving towards you), and without stopping this lifting movement, convert it into a powerful upward-and-backward motion of the rod to a definite and considered angle of 22 1/2 degrees back of the vertical. At this point your forearm should be vertical (the 12:00 o’clock position many call it).

I want to emphasize that this upward and backward lifting motion of the rod must be an accelerando movement. It starts slow and finishes fast. If you start the cast fast and then finish it with a slow motion, as most beginners do, the line will come back too low—maybe hit you in the face or hit the rod—and the line will flop weakly down behind you on the back cast. This will cause a big, round, floppy loop in the line on the forward cast. Your fly will go up in the air but not far out in front of you and the line will fall down in a bunch.
About that time you’ll think fly casting is the bunk and want to quit. But don’t get discouraged. Just stick with these fundamentals I’m giving you and you’ll wind up as one of those fly casters other fishermen come miles to see.

Be sure that at the end of the back cast you stop the arm and rod sharply and firmly. In this whole upward and backward lifting motion the wrist is kept firmly controlled and not bent backward like a hinge. This bending of the wrist is the chief fault of beginners—and one most mediocre casters never get over. It spoils the power and rhythm of the lift in the back cast and, by letting the rod go back of the 223/2 degree angle at the end of the back cast, makes the line go too low behind, take a big, floppy loop, and thus ruin the forward cast.
In order to overcome this wrist-bending fault, your attention should be concentrated on your forefinger and thumb during the lift of the back cast and during the abrupt stop of the rod at the end of the back cast. If you think of squeezing your thumb and index finger firmly together it will lock your wrist and prevent the wrist-bending fault. With practice this will become a habit and you will forget all about it.
Keep on practicing the back cast until it is consistently high and straight and fairly smooth. A good back cast is the most important single element in fly casting. Without a good back cast you can’t have a good forward cast. But with a good back cast you will nearly always get a good forward cast.

The length of the pause at the end of the back cast must vary with the length of line used. The longer the line the longer the pause required for it to straighten out in the air behind you. In many cases, it has helped beginners to have them say aloud, as they start the back cast, “Up-and-thumb.” At the word “Up” they start the lift, or pick-up, movement. The word “and” comes during the pause at the end of the back cast when your arm and wrist must be held still and rigid while the line straightens out behind.
You start the forward cast with the saying of the word “thumb.” This little trick of auto-suggestion helps not only with the timing of the pause between the back and forward casts but helps to concentrate your attention on your thumb —which actually starts the rod forward.

The forward cast is again an accelerando movement. You start it slow, with a sort of spearing motion as if you were going to thrust the rod point-first into the sky in front of you and at a level of little higher than your head. This slow start and spearing action gives your forward cast unusual power and drives it through rough wind and bumpy air conditions. It also is the greatest guarantee of the narrow loop of the line in the forward cast that is the universal sign of a good fly caster.
Without any pause, the forward thrust of the rod is blended into a forward-and-downward motion of the forearm, hand and rod until the forearm is parallel with the ground and the rod held at an angle of 221/4 degrees above the horizontal. Just before the end of the forward cast, a sharp pressure of the thumb on the rod handle puts a finishing zip into the cast. The rod should be stopped firmly at this point so that the line, leader and fly will roll in a narrow loop straight out towards the place you want the fly to light. From this point on you let the rod and forearm sink down easily and smoothly to a position where the rod is parallel with the water and the forearm a little below that.

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