Mysterious Creature

Mysterious creature

Tailing loops have the aura of a mysterious creature. Currently we know pretty well how they are formed but, at the same time, we can’t help to surprise ourselves when we get a tail now and then, no matter how experienced we are.

When casting for perfect loop control I will immediately detect any error in the stroke, my hand will easily feel any deviation from its intended straight line trajectory. The view of the fly leg getting out of plane in relation to the rod leg at the latest stages of the loop life does nothing but confirm what I already knew before stopping the rod: that I had messed up the stroke tracing.

Next cast I drive the rod butt straight but fail in accelerating it progressively. Now, though, I am only conscious of my fault when the dreaded tailing loop appears in the line; I don’t feel any clue in my hand. The mystery lies in the fact that the most subtle error in force application may result in a noticeable tail. An error as subtle that we can’t even feel it. The cast shown below is a good example of that.

tailing fast

What’s is the nature of that error in applying force? Just a spike in acceleration somewhere in the middle of the stroke. If the rate of acceleration decreases before reaching the end of the stroke the tip of the rod rises over its previous path; it is that rising what produces the transverse wave that we call tailing loop. Nothing mysterious but somewhat hard to grasp for some casters.

The main issue contributing to this confusion is the lack of differentiation between the concepts of velocity and acceleration and their respective roles in rod loading.

High rod speed doesn’t necessarily means big rod load. Load is a consequence of force, and force isn’t related to speed but to the rate of change of that speed, that is, to acceleration. Let’s take a simple view to that.

Let’s imagine that, at a given instant during the stroke, we have a rod butt speed value of 6 units, and in the previous instant the speed value was also 6 units. Rod butt speed is constant, no acceleration.

On another cast at a given instant the rod butt speed is just 5 units and in the previous instant the speed was 4 units. It has increased its speed from 4 to 5 units, that is, it has accelerated during that period time.

So we have a cast with a rod butt speed of 6 units against a cast with a rod butt speed of 5 units. Guess what? At that point in time the cast with the slower rod speed will show a bigger rod load!

This is a somewhat simplistic approach since there are other aspects at play which affect rod loading, such as air drag and angle between line and rod butt, but it is accurate enough to illustrate what we are dealing with.

We also know that any premature unloading will make the tip rise over its previous path creating the wave which will evolve into a tail. For the rod to unload the force applied to it must decrease. And here comes the fundamental part to understand this issue:
We don’t need to stop the rod to unload it; we don’t even need to decrease the speed applied to the rod for it to experiment some unloading!

Let’s imagine a casting stroke whose speed increases progressively. The rod butt speed profile measured at successive instants could be like this:

2, 4, 6, 8

This shows that the speed is increasing in a progressive way, accelerating at a rate of 2 units of speed per unit of time.

But then we measure the rod butt speed at the next two instants and find that its progression has changed:

2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10

Speed continues increasing but acceleration has decreased from 2 units of speed per unit of time to only 1.

Remember that force is directly proportional to acceleration so a decrease in acceleration equals a decrease in force: the rod unloads correspondingly.

This is what has been traditionally called non-smooth, non-progressive or erratic acceleration of the rod. This is what gets our tailing loops flowing. And, IMHO, this is the reason why tailing loop formation is so subtle and difficult to feel.

One more apparent mystery with tails: when made on purpose even a casual glance to high speed video clearly shows that their alleged cause very rarely matches the real one. Even with pro casters. This leads to the idea that those long lists of tail-producing problems are just part of the story; they aren’t causes of tails by themselves, they just might be conducive to tailing loops… if you aren’t good enough at force application.

Tails, so easy to make when you don’t control and so hard to purposefully produce when you have refined your skills! So difficult in fact that even terrible timing or creeping usually fail to get the expected bad result when our force application is spot on.

In practice, the only real cause of tailing loops is a faulty acceleration, or a casting angle too narrow to accommodate the bend in the rod. In my experience the latter is much more common in casting instructors demos than in real life.

Now let’s make some analysis of the cast shown here.

Obvious thing number one: the forward cast starts toooo soon.

If we don’t wait for the line to straighten we are walking in dangerous terrain: we are not necessarily getting a tailing loop but we are conjuring it up.

So when the line straightens while the forward stroke is in progress the weight of the whole line shocks the rod and produces the tail, right?

Well, no, that is an explanation from the times when casters didn’t have the tools to check what is actually happening. As the gif above shows the hint of a wave in the line which will turn into a tail appears way before the backcast gets straight.

What makes a rushed timing more prone to tailing loops is much more subtle.

The cast shown here, with that early start of the stroke, accelerates just part of the line. By the time the loop is formed there is still line getting incorporated to the forward cast adding more weight to the launched line. This obviously decreases line speed. So to compensate for that lost line speed the bad timed cast must launch the line with a higher speed than in the case of a proper cast with the line fully straightened back. For the same stroke length and angle that implies necessarily a higher acceleration. In layman’s terms you must cast “faster”, and fast motion and control don’t come along very well. Conversely, going “slow” and smoothly increasing speed are a perfect matching pair.

Obvious thing number two: lack of hauling on the forward cast.

What helps enormously in getting control of the rod hand is… the line hand. Let’s get a little deeper into this.

To send the line and fly to a given distance we need to propel it with the required minimum speed. We can get that speed by the use of the rod hand only, or, by means of a haul, we can add extra speed to the line making the task of the rod hand easier: it doesn’t need to apply the same rate of acceleration, going “slower” with the rod hand is now enough to get the necessary line speed to reach the target. And by going “slow” it is much easier to get the proper progressive acceleration we are looking for.

In my view an efficient haul could have avoided the tailing loop even with the fault in timing present.

What are your views?

Normal Nymphing

Pliva Autumn

Watching a nymph fisherman practicing his art awakes old echoes in my mind. I can see my grandfather dredging the river depths: just mastery, monofilament, weight… and a hook at the end. The only real difference is artificial nymph instead of earthworm… and rod length.
I wonder why nymphers don’t use some 5m long rod, similar to that telescopic fiberglass one of my grandpa. I presume that it is just competition rules what prevents fly fishers from arming themselves with a long bait rod with a fly reel attached. It would be a strange vision indeed, but just a little step up from the usual view of a fly reel with loaded with as much leader as fly line, the latter acting exclusively as a very expensive backing. Anyway I suppose that we should, again, put the blame on competition rules for the current irrelevant presence of fly line in a fly reel.

A matter of personalities I suppose, but, although worms proved to be much more effective at times, I never asked my grandfather to introduce me to the bait fishing secrets. It was the take to the fly what haunted me, even when, in these old times of mine, “fly fishing” implied a combo of bubble float and a bunch of Coq de Leon wet flies. But it was the utmost gracility of presenting a fly by means of a fly line what attracted me to proper fly fishing in the first place, and I am very reluctant to renounce that pleasure just to catch more fish.

But don’t get me wrong, I respect every approach to fly fishing. In fact I am guilty of trying, now and then, to catch some fish just by means of long leader, 7X tippet and a tungsten nymph (you know, even casting geeks like to bring fish to hand once in a while). Not an easy task judging by my results.

But, when I had finally admitted with resignation that nothing could ever fill the current gap between nymphing and fishing with a fly line, I met Pliva River and Zeljko Prpic; both unique in their own right.
Pliva is an amazing water. Born of a couple of sources coming out of a wooded mountain slope, it gets up to some 50m wide when it is just 1km “old”. Due to its depth wading is restricted to a few specific areas or plainly impossible, depending on when in the season you are visiting.
Pliva trout and grayling aren’t very inclined to feed on the surface so nymphing is the usual approach to this very technical river. A very heavy tungsten nymph on a long leader and a 2m long 0.10mm tippet. Getting the proper depth and drift, and detecting the lightning fast takes without an indicator, require extraordinary skills. I see myself unable of learning them all, what usually leads to Zeljko’s desperation.

The unique aspect of this nymphing technique, what reconciles nymphing to “proper” fly fishing, is that is normally practiced at distance. At times really serious distance. This clip shows master Zeljko presenting his nymph some 28m away; a very long cast for a superheavy 7g tungsten nymph on a #6 weight line.

Anyway I am equally frustrated and delighted by trying this particular technique every year, and I can’t avoid tears coming to my eyes when I hear Zeljko:

-Aitor, now we will try normal nymphing   :-)

Guggenheim Museum?

Pastrmka

- Guggenheim museum?

- Nope!

- Louvre?

- Nope!

Just brown trout from Pliva river in Republika Srpska (Bosnia-Herzegovina).

As the great Oscar Wilde stated:

Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life

I am watching you!

Owl-watching (light)

I found this owl hidden in a small hole among big volcanic rocks just at the sea shore. I can’t imagine a more strange habitat for an owl… but in Galapagos Islands the weirdest of things seem possible.

Double Hauling Musings

Silueta

Lately I’ve been thinking about the approach to double hauling from the mainstream instructing standpoint. To be honest that hauling is somewhat considered an advanced technique leaves me scratching my head. When I was a child I broke one of the pedals of my bicycle and it took some days till my father fixed it. Did I stop riding the bike during that time? Come on! Are you kidding? It wasn’t very pleasant but, at least, it was still cycling anyway; when eventually the pedal was back in his place… What a difference!

Having two hands you should employ the same logic you apply to your feet: using both isn’t an advanced technique, it is a basic one! That, once learned, hauling is always used (whatever the distance we are fishing at) seems to mean something, doesn’t it? So, in that regard, leaving for later the learning of a fundamental technique for efficient casting looks debatable. Specially because in the case of a lot of fly fishers that “later” actually means “never”. And they can’t be blamed for that. In fact those to be blamed are casting instructors themselves, not only for delaying addressing that task but also for a poor understanding of the function of hauling.

This is the logical route followed by many anglers: They say that hauling is for giving speed to the line; but I only fish small to medium streams, I don’t need to cast far… so learning how to haul doesn’t interest me. Quite logical reasoning if you ask me, when what you have heard about the function of hauling is just increasing line speed. Of course hauling actually accelerates the line, and it is a fundamental tool for distance due to that. However the main goal of hauling is a more comprehensive one, something that applies to every cast whatever the distance: Increasing our overall control of the cast. Just try this by yourself: make some casts at around15 meters with the narrowest loops you can get by using just the rod hand; then try the same by adding the line hand: hauling narrows the loop significantly. Think of that prime lie under those long low hanging branches and we are talking control now.

Moreover (and here comes the capital aspect of this control issue contained in the act of pulling with the line hand) underneath any activity involving motor skills lies a fundamental truth: the faster we perform a motion the harder it is to keep it under control. For the same line speed the portion of that speed provided by the haul allows for a slower, less accelerated, more relaxed motion of the rod hand. Rod hand motion sets trajectory and shape of the loop; any error in tracking or force application is going to have a bad effect in line behavior (and regarding force application even the smallest error is going to have a big effect). A rod moved with a relatively slow motion can be much better and easier “driven” than a faster one.

Conversely moving the line hand fast doesn’t pose the same problems due to the line being guided by the rings. The only serious risk is a tailing loop due to the haul ending too early in the stroke, and that isn’t very common.

OK, you say, but every instructor is aware of the utmost importance of double hauling, and this technique is a basic aspect of every teaching program, so this is just some byzantine discussion of interest only to some casting geeks. Well, not in my opinion, for the issue has much more implications than it seems at first sight; for this popular attachment of hauling to “line speed” as an absolute, and its consequent exclusive link to distance casting has had a profound effect in how the technique is taught.

In terms of timing and length of the haul all the instruction we receive is intended at getting maximum distance, but not at allowing a greater control at the most usual trout fishing distances. And since these two different goals require also different technical approaches I think it is the time to get a little deeper in the nuances of hauling. I for one have changed the way in which I teach the double haul.

Get some camera!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I think that the radical evolution in fly casting in the latest years has come, mainly, from two sources:

The availability of affordable high speed video equipment and the possibility of discussing technical issues with some casting geeks from all over the world… and in real-time.

The discussing part has been overdone. The learning experience that motion-freezing provides is still alive and kicking. The more I work with slo-mo the more I love it. Even a still camera with high speed capabilities can surprise you.

One of the milestones in the never ending road to casting improvement is when you discover that what you think you are doing is very different from what you are really doing.

Recently I spent two weeks of trout and grayling fishing with a good friend. Once in a while I like to put the rod aside and take the camera, specially when the fishing is as slow as in that particular afternoon. I shot a couple of series of stills at around 4 frames per second while he was fishing the water. Nothing related to casting technicalities, I just liked the light and the misty background.

When taking a look to the results I immediately remembered a statement from a recent conversation:

“I like to wait for the tug of the line in the backcast before starting the forward cast.”

So if some improvement could be derived from just getting a piece of new gear I think that, at this point in history, it is better to browse camera catalogs instead of fly rod ones.