Some Food for Thought

The roll cast [uses] water tension to load the rod.

I have read statements like that so many times over the years that it doesn’t come as a surprise. However, finding it in a fly casting book recently published makes me wonder whether casting authors do actually study the abundant material already available on the subject, or just stick to the old doctrine just because “it has always been said…”

As a gentle prod to start thinking out of the box this slo-mo I shot years ago comes in handy. Take into account how the short and ultra slippery anchor starts sliding when the froward stroke is almost over.

If the moving rod doesn’t pull on the anchor how is it that the anchor does pull on the rod to load it? 😯 😏

Roll Cast vs. Overhead Cast

The latest articles have been about tailing loop issues; that still is an ongoing project and I have a lot of video editing and writing ahead.
While I put some order in those ideas I decided that it was time for some new slo-mo stuff, so yesterday I called my friend Haritz to shot an experiment that has been round my head for a long time.

The simple exercise of making a roll cast on water shows us that, although we like to say that its forward stroke is like that of an overhead cast, in practice a roll cast isn’t as effortless as expected (you know the anchor loads the rod for the forward stroke of a roll cast and all of that). Of course the water grip on the line plays a big role in this, but what happens if we make a roll cast on grass so line “stick” is removed from the equation?

I will describe the scenario:
One rod rigged with two lines: Royal Wulff TT #7 and Rio Tournament #6.
The TT one has the ideal taper for roll casting; the Rio one is designed for long casts overhead.

The Rio line is unrolled behind the caster; the TT set in a roll cast configuration with its leader anchored by means of a screwdriver stuck in the ground (is there a more solid anchor than planet Earth itself?).

So what we have is a roll cast and an overhead cast performed by the very same casting stroke.

The result? Just judge by yourself, but it seems evident that a roll cast asks for a higher rod tip speed to reach the same distance, even on grass.

If you understand why yo have the indispensable foundation to crack the code of spey casting mechanics. But this is just the rehearsal of a more complex project focused in the spey stuff.

Enjoy it… if there is somebody out there crazy enough for enjoying this geeky stuff. 😃

A Little Exercise

As an attachment to the previous articles on tailing loops (here and here) now an exercise on diagnosing a common casting fault. You are a casting instructor and your student is getting a recurrent tailing tendency. I shot this clip yesterday, playing as student and instructor at the same time. After dozens of plays I still can’t say what the origin of the problem is, even seeing when it is produced (watching carefully you can see the slight rise of the rod tip and the subsequent wave in the line).

What I know is that I was playing with the haul, trying to release the line just at loop formation (wherever that is). That could have resulted in a premature end of the acceleration of the hauling hand and the immediate tip rise. But, honestly, I don’t know and find incredibly difficult to diagnose and cure this kind of things.

P.S. After half an hour I give up trying to make the video embedding work. The great mystery now is whether there is anything more user unfriendly than WordPress.

Mysterious Creature Rides Again

Tailing loops. So frequent and still so puzzling.

As I wrote on the first post in this series we already have a pretty good idea of how tails are formed; getting rid of them is another matter entirely. I truly admire the insights of instructors from yesterday: reaching the conclusion that tailing loops come from a concave tip path of the rod tip wouldn’t come easily, specially if we take into account that there wasn’t high speed video available at the time. Today’s technology effortlessly shows that, in fact, it is a dip/rise of the rod tip what creates the dreaded tail. And this evidence renews my admiration for the amazing observation skills of those pioneers of casting studies, for although that dip/rise is somewhat a “concave path of the rod tip” it has nothing to do with those big bowl shaped tip paths so many drawings depict. For years those bowl shaped explanations were to me as perplexing as the tailing loops themselves: however much I looked whenever I saw a tail in someone’s casting I couldn’t see that big concave path everybody was writing about. Not even on the casting videos available. Reality is much much more subtle, so subtle that seeing with the naked eye the expected anomaly in the tip path -even knowing what to look for- is really hard. Here we have a tailing loop in full glory. It is played at a slower pace than real speed. The tail could be used to illustrate a casting handbook; can you see the “bowled rod tip” anywhere?: Tailing loop backcast a bit slower than real Better to use a gif at 100 frames per second, that is one third of the actual speed: Tailing loop backcast slow Observe how even at a pace three times slower than reality we just can catch a glimpse of some anomaly in the tip path. So let’s use a visual aid to see what is exactly happening with the rod tip: Tailing loop path This has cleared things up a little bit. Mainly two things come to my mind. First is that to get a tailing loop, even a huge one like that shown above, you only need to mess up a relatively short piece of the casting stroke. Second is a consequence of the previous observation and my main point so far: that this problem is so recurring due to the fact that a very small error, for just an instant, results in a surprinsingly big effect. It isn’t easy to feel, and then correct, things that happen in an instant, is it? It isn’t easy to detect for the caster himself nor for anyone else. The tailing loop depicted above is really huge. Let’s watch carefully another good one of more moderate size. Can you detect where in the stroke does the error happens even in slow motion? I can’t. The only way is playing the original video frame by frame to discover a veeery subtle dip and rise of the rod tip: Tailing loop backcast small tail Dip/Rise of the rod tip. It is worth to emphasize the “Rise” part since that motion is key in the formation of the transverse wave in the fly leg that we commonly call tailing loop. But that, together with some considerations about what is the ultimate cause of tails, is the stuff for a next article. P.S. The tailing loops shown here are real ones, nothing staged for the camera but involuntarily produced. The caster is a really fine one who drove from 400 km away for a course to improve his technique (I felt flattered and, at the same time, worried: would I deliver as expected?) His hauled casts were really nice. Then I took the camera and asked him to cast with the rod hand only. Removing the haul wreaks havoc with line control, but it is a fantastic exercise to educate our rod hand.

Distance casting? What for?

It is useless, most of the fish are caught within 12 meters. I have lost count of the number of times I have read and heard that kind of statement. Being a 99.9 % dry fly fisher myself I, almost, agree. There is a lot of truth in that reasoning. Anyway, if we don’t catch as many fish further than 12 meters away it could also be because we don’t cast to them, couldn’t it? Admittedly getting a dead drift with a long cast is some sort of mission impossible, although there are nymphing techniques for which distance isn’t a problem: if there is a fish lie out there… out there my nymph goes. There is another type of very special nymphing that asks for being able to cast as long as possible: nymphing for sea trout. Are you kidding? Sea trout on nymphs? Yes, big sea run brown brown trout on small nymphs. Only in Southern Patagonia I must add. For instance on Río Gallegos. Size #10 nymphs, like that in the following pic: Rubber legs

I will commit to training more specifically for distance with the double handed rod before traveling to Río Gallegos again. Not all the lies are very far away (although some of them ask for 30+ meters casts) the real problem is the relentless wind; if it wasn’t so cold one would say it comes directly from hell. Here is the result of a sideways breeze (an a mild one by the river standards) on a cast with a 500 grains skagit head (correction from César -the caster himself: isn’t a skagit but a Rage Compact, something like an embrutished Windcutter :-):Wind-1

Sometimes frustration is a word that falls short of explaining some feelings. I will never forget what Loro, our guide, told us the last day on the river: I have guided people who after a couple of hours fishing thrown the rod away and sat angrily on the bank. So I want to thank you for understanding how things are here. Fortunately great prizes await those who persevere:

Yes, definitely distance casting practice isn’t a strange proposition.

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   :-)