The progressive nature of rod loading is the axiom upon which all fly casting technique must be built - Peter Anderson
Spey, Shooting head, Skagit.
Forming a handshake grip
Forearm determines plane with both single and double handed rods.
Exercises for control and understanding
A fresh Spring Salmon, the ultimate prize for the fly angler. Fish like the one above are stunning to behold.
Double hand rod fulcrum exercises
I am 56 years old, and a GAIA APGAI qualified Game Angling Instructor in both 'Trout and Sea Trout' and 'Salmon' disciplines. The qualifications covering advanced level single and double-handed fly rod use.
I'm also currently resident Instructor seasonally at Delphi Lodge in Connemara, (pictured below under a glorious rainbow), and also run fly casting clinics for individuals or groups in the Moy Valley, near Limerick on the Shannon, or will travel anywhere in Ireland or Worldwide. Clinics and courses are available in single and double handed casting or fishing technique, including everything from total beginner to advanced examination preparation. Instructor qualifications are useful for reference purposes, but some have become diluted in standard over time. Most simply do not, and could not compare to the lifetime of experience I have working as a Ghillie and Instructor on a large Fishery. Nor also to the long term practice of the formal training exercises in casting styles I received long ago from traveling to some renowned fly casters, those that truly knew their subject intimately from long experience. Also in more modern times from some competition casters. I was practicing and teaching Scottish (fulcrum) style techniques in single and double hand fly casting for 18 years before taking any examination anywhere. A lifetime so far spent in Game Angling, and the thirty odd years spent both Instructing and importing knowledge on fly casting with both single and double handed rods in all disciplines, on rivers, loughs, lakes and estuaries is why I can teach you how to cast, and to fish. I also hold the official ISCF judged Irish record for single hand distance casting.
I am especially pleased to recently have become a member of E.F.F.A.
For me, as fly casting is the practical means through which we present the fly or flies, and a fly rod and line are the tools and in effect the vehicle used to deliver the fly, then it really is absolutely of the most significant importance in Game Angling and fly fishing to be able to use the rod and line effectively and efficiently, and to be able to fly cast well.
Apart from the necessity and the practical fishing benefits, there's also really a great deal of satisfaction to be had from achieving fine tuned control of fly casting.
I have often said to people very seriously that in fact ... "the casting is the fishing."...Having Ghillied part or full time for thirty years I have a fairly qualified opinion on that statement. I'm unconcerned too with what some others say about casting ability not being important for fishing. Long practical experience has made it very, very clear to me just how important it is.
I've seen casting ability, or indeed a lack of it, make all the difference many, many times. Its an indisputable asset to be able to cast well in wild fish Game angling. I've often witnessed good, and indeed on occasion truly great, wild fishing opportunities occurring due to natural events and conditions combining to produce very special circumstances, circumstances then quite unable to be capitalised upon properly by some due to poor casting ability, and due to the serious problems it created for achieving an effective presentation. At such times also I've seen a few people really able to shine and enjoy the full benefit of the opportunity offered by nature due to their fine tuned casting skills.
In the beginning its most important to be able to function with a fly rod on the river, Lough / Loch, lake, pond, estuary or sea no matter the bank we are on, the wind direction or strength, the current, or if wading deep, from a boat, single or double-handed rod, whatever. We must first learn how to function consistently and effectively for practical fishing purposes. Its a process, once one gets started correctly with a proper basic technique, through practice and experience skill will develop.
Exercise Repetition, a Philosophy and Methodology of teaching fly casting. Exercise repetition
One of the real benefits of using a practical repedative exercise system is that there is less time until the technique has to be used again than on real casts, therefore re practice of the technique and any adjustment for correction is very immediate as multiple uses of a technique are made in a shorter time. Therefore for a given practice period more repetitions of the particular element focussed upon by the exercise occur.
The style of casting I learned at various courses is mainly taught through an exercise system. It is also an old school, long term learning, system, no quick fix outside of exercise repetition over time was on offer, or indeed expected.
The only and best short cut is practice of the exercises, and of course learning them and the casting from someone who already knows them, and this style well. The targeted exercises are repeated until perfection of form and fluency with them refines the basic foundational techniques.
For Instance once a technically correct D loop forming move is learned, it is a common element on the set up phase of all Spey casts. The improvement from correctly using micro wrist in the tip casting exercise for single handed overhead casting is invaluable and will be carried over to and incorporated into all your overhead casting afterwards.
Even when experienced, the exercises are still often practiced to maintain absolute fluency with the foundations, upon which the rest of fly casting technique is built.
The discipline required in performing the counter intuitive exercises ultimately creates personal control of ones compound movements in applying leverage and stroke, and importantly the freedom in choice in determining ones compound movements to maintain control over things like making and directing a smooth acceleration. They ensure one is no longer a slave to any motor function or a habit, both of which are changed. They help create the ability to execute important counter intuitive actions.
As Aristotle once correctly stated, "through discipline comes freedom."
The formal training methodology might sound a bit harsh, but in fact it is interesting and very rewarding. Interesting because one discovers the fundamental principles of how a fly rod works and correctly using it's inherent properties. Rewarding because it is a revelation how beneficial it is to apply those techniques and the properties of the rod in practical fishing casting for economy of effort.
Even some of the exercises are such a joy to master themselves and to practice, particularly the incline exercise progression for Spey casting techniques, and also tip casting with a single hand rod. They are addictive exercises to practice once a feel for them is gained. Theres such a buzz and an invaluable improvement from practicing and mastering exercises for their own sake too.
The incline exercises really ensure the ability of the person to become bottom hand dominant in double handed rod power application, and also to attain mastery of off side casting (rather than reverse or 'cack handed' casting).
One often does hear the really very mistaken generalisation made by some Scandinavian style casters who perhaps don't also long line Spey cast, that traditional Scottish Spey casting is a top hand dominant technique. It gets a bit tiresome hearing that unqualified generalisation repeated. It is not so with most competent Spey casters I have met. I learned from more than one notable in Scotland, none of them were top hand dominant in power application when they used a long stroke. One can easily combine a long stroke with bottom hand dominant power application, due to applying first class leverage. That is exactly what I was taught there from the beginning.
Exercises are not casts, but when the fluency of technique attained form them is incorporated into casting technique later they make a profound difference.
Learning this way focuses not only on being able to function well in real world practical fly casting situations, which is of course of primary importance, (thus line height management behind is always an issue), but also on continuing to develop further on a solid foundation built in correct technique. The foundation is placed in order to function first, but with the ultimate aim of achieving the efficiency, economy of effort and understanding that enables advanced fly casting. After first learning how to function with a degree of consistency, there may then also appear onto some another step to be taken. One entailing gaining fine control over loop shape and loop morphology. Truly efficient fly casting technique may indeed become a most graceful art form, just as Norman Maclean's Father noted and understood. A step further again than functional fly casting may be taken, a step further from a deeper understanding through experience and practice, primarily from realising how not to interfere with the excellence of the rod. How to allow the rod and line to release their own inherent properties and attributes for you.
When the clear, simplicity and logic of precise technique and its benefits really becomes perceived, appreciated and used it is a most beautiful thing indeed, both to see and to practice. Most especially how relaxed precision in applying and carefully directing, smooth compound movements for leverage, the effects of doing that and just how interconnected and interdependent everything is really perceived, felt and understood. How one thing leads on to another and compliments another.
Ultimately it is not just about getting a line out but actually just exactly how you do that in utilising the properties of the rod efficiently, ergonomically, and in regard to loop morphology (loop formation and shape). All these aspects becoming supremely important and controlled from experience and understanding.
Long stroke Fulcrum style final delivery in a casting Competition, Ukraine. Combined left and right Single Spey casts, 45 degree angle change.
......."The progressive nature of rod loading is the axiom upon which all fly casting technique must be built."....... Peter Anderson.
......."Lead before speed"....... Peter Anderson.
In terms of control I consider Goran Andersson's original Underhand casting style an absolute art form as he practiced it, and something well worth learning, and learning well.
Long stroke Spey casting with long belly lines is of course a different discipline and for me the highest and most demanding skill of all, most especially if done with the bottom hand and body dominant in power application. It is also the most rewarding.
I find the bell curve analogy a good test or measure of control. Can one go from one extreme to the other? Can one cast say a double-handed rod and medium to long belly Spey line well with, as far as possible, a top hand dominated power application during the stroke? then also cast the same outfit with as far as possible a bottom hand dominated power application during the stroke? Only then you will be able to have a qualified opinion about the differences, but really only then.
Sometimes I have said to people to cast in such and such a way and they have not been able to do it, yet they were expressing an opinion about what they in fact could not actually physically do themselves just beforehand. Such is life. In Karate an obvious belt designated your real level of ability, yellow belts didn't tell brown or black belts with stripes on them what they considered about the finer points of some advanced technique. They kept quiet until and unless they were able to do it well themselves. Can one isolate and separate things in the one arm? like separating making an acceleration from excessive power application? Maintain a fast, true acceleration but remove most of the power, or any sudden jar or thump?
A fly rod is so easy to mis use.
Owing to circumstances beyond my control, it became necessary for me to resign as a fully qualified member from two certifying organisations due to their, in my experience, disenfranchising modi operandi. The Apgai-Ireland organisation and the FFF / IFFF.
I understand what does not constitute proper or acceptable standards of stewardship for either myself or my students.
I have very strongly held views on the standards of how all others should, and indeed must, be treated. Most especially I believe these standards should be maintained by any group, body or organisation taking upon themselves any mantle of responsibility whatsoever concerning the stewardship and well-being of others.
Counter Intuitive To cast well or efficiently with a fly rod is generally counter intuitive as John Maclean well noted. It is very much an acquired skill. Its one that I consider needs to be built upon correct foundations.
Although we start to fly cast simply to fish, we may also find that to cast well, or to improve our casting ability, becomes somewhat of an interest in itself. We may find that achieving greater control, through better understanding of technique from experience, is a very rewarding and satisfying development. It also greatly enhances our fly fishing capability and the enjoyment of fly fishing. In fact the art of fly casting while fishing, or indeed for its own sake without fishing, becomes extremely enjoyable.
Gaining more control over fly casting technique is a little like building a jigsaw puzzle. Once some basic parts are in place and are fine tuned to the point that they do not have to be thought about any more, so we can concentrate on getting another aspect correct. It then is eventually fully controlled, then another aspect is concentrated upon, and so on. We find that with focused changes, things may become much better or more efficient for us. Greater and more relaxed control is acquired.
Sometimes new techniques or variations on the theme are tried and either incorporated or rejected depending on the outcome. A learning curve is followed, an interesting and rewarding learning curve which may often involve importing tips and information from others, or sharing tips and information with others.
Personally although I had fly cast from eight years old in Ireland, I travelled to become formally trained in fly casting at various courses in Scotland and England and to import knowledge from those that had recognised ability.
To the uninitiated fly casting looks easy, its only when a person picks up a fly rod, either a single or double handed rod and tries to use one that they will realise how counter intuitive it actually is. It is an acquired skill, just like Guinness is an acquired taste. Now I don't like Guinness personally but I do love fly casting.
Most people have seen the film “A River Runs Through It.” In the book by Norman Maclean, the Maclean boys' father, (John Norman Maclean), believed that anybody who did not know how to fish (fly cast), should not be allowed to disgrace a fish by catching it.
He also considered that someone picking up a fly rod who never used one before proved factually and theologically that man by nature was a damned mess, that he had fallen from a state of grace, and only by picking up God's rhythms were we able to regain power and beauty. That all good things come by grace, and grace comes by art, and art does not come easy.
Now personally I do admire that 'old school' thinking and approach to things. Game fishing for wild brown trout and Atlantic salmon with a fly rod practically demands this type of respect most of the time. That is in fact the attraction with Game fishing and fly casting. If it was easy it would lose a considerable part of its appeal. In fly casting especially for me there is the necessary requirement of self discipline for gaining control.