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.
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 that technique is a basic aspect of every teaching program. So this is just some byzantine discussion of interest only to some casting geek.
Well, not in my opinion, for the issue has much more implications than discovered 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.
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.
Practicing the back cast should be a priority for every fly fisher concerned about improving his casting technique. Accuracy placing the fly depends as much on the back as on the forward cast.
And for improving the back cast nothing better than training accuracy: being accurate is a sign of good loops and good tracking. That solves 50% (maybe more) of the problem of being accurate in presenting our fly to the fish.
I am talking about accuracy when tracking is usually related to distance casting. Well, I am not a distance caster, what I want is to develop skills that are practical for my fishing, and my fishing isn’t about distance but about avoiding drag with a dry fly.
Great distance casters recommend to practice tracking by means of picking a distant target for the backcast which is aligned with the forward cast. That assumes that, prior to starting the back cast, you turn your head backwards and focus on the target. Good for distance casting but not for fishing. When fishing a dry fly to medium distances we don’t watch our back cast.
So this is the key of the exercise shown on the following video: presenting the fly accurately with the back cast without watching the target during the casting stroke. Using only the rod hand (without hauling) will be even better.
The target is at a distance of 17 m from my feet.
We all employ much more effort than necessary to cast. Great casters stand out from the crowd due to its elegant, fluid style. We say that they make casting to look easy. Their effortless, graceful motion is something we should strive for.
For years the simple task I am presenting here has been an integral part of my practice. I encourage you to allocate it 15 minutes in all your training sessions.
The concept is easy: just cast with the goal of avoiding the tip of the line and leader to straighten. At first you’ll see that it sounds easier than it actually is, but when you get things going smoothly it results in a very enlightening exercise.
First, we are conscious of how little force we need to put the fly 10-12 meters away: if you use the elbow forward style it is enough to let the arm fall due to gravity and add a little flick of the wrist.
If when fishing you are using more force than that it’s sure that you are wasting energy somewhere.
Second, if we are using the energy needed to get the fly at 20 meters to put it just at 10 meters… how will we have the control to present the fly to a fish that is rising at 20 meters? Or when it rises at 15 meters and we are confronting a head wind? The more force we put into a motion the harder it is to make it straight, smooth and accurate.
Third, you are controlling a fantastic drag-free cast, one which puts slack in the only position that works for every tricky current configuration: tip of the line and leader.