Some examination questions and suggested answers - single-handed rod

The American Federation of Fly Fishers (and GAIA) uses what is referred to as the Five essentials / five principles of Fly-Casting. These originated with the analysis of Bill and Jay Gammel.

1. There is a pause at the end of each stroke, which varies in duration with the amount of line beyond the rod tip

This means that on a standard pick up and lay down cast, (one back casting stroke and one forward casting stroke, at the end of the back casting stroke the angler must pause briefly to allow the fly line to unroll out behind before making the forward casting stroke.

The pause will vary in duration with the length of line being cast, the longer the line the longer the pause. When aerialising line, at the end of each back casting stoke and at the end of each forward casting stroke, the caster must pause long enough to allow the line to unroll out behind or in front before making the next casting stroke.

Note: The pause is not until the line unrolls out fully and stops but until it is just about to unroll fully, in effect so that the forward stroke starts moving against a still taut but just straight line and not a stopped and dropping, or rebounding line.

2. Slack line should be kept to a minimum

Ideally there should be no slack line. The elimination of slack line is the most efficient manner in which to cast a fly line. Start with the rod tip low and the line straight.

If there is a little slack take it up with relaxed rod tip movement before making the actual accelerating casting stroke.

If there is a lot of slack line, then it can be removed by making a roll cast, normally a roll cast is used to remove too much slack before making another cast.

3. The rod tip must follow a straight line path

In order to form the most efficient, least air resistant loops. In order not to waste energy and to direct the cast properly, the caster must move the rod tip generally in a straight line path (in both vertical and horizontal planes). This rule is however mainly about the vertical plane and making an acceleration. The desired path is achieved through making an acceleration over the correct stroke length and occurs as the rod bends down while loading against the resistance of the weight and inertia of the fly line outside of the rod tip. The rod tip does move down out of the way and out of the straight line path (vertical plane) at the end of the stroke, (due to the angle change from controlled wrist movement on a single handed rod).

The other straight line path is keeping in plane, referred to mainly as tracking or the 180 degree principle. This means the rod tip does not curve off to the side as it moves forward or backwards through the casting stroke when overhead casting, or on the forward stroke when roll or Spey casting.

If one imagines that ones wrist was attached to a ring that could slide along a curtain rail, then that is what correct tracking will be, a straight stroke movement, it may be and usually is made along an incline. The longer the stroke the harder it is to stay in plane.

4. Casting arc is increased with the length of line being cast.

The arc is the angle the rod tip travels from its starting position to its stopping position during a casting stroke. Stroke and arc may get confused. Stroke is the distance the hand moves.

Arc does not include counter flex of the rod tip but the stopped position of the rod back to straightened after its counter flex.

5. Power must be applied in the proper amount and in the proper place during the stroke.

Power is applied smoothly and progressively. It is applied in an increasing amount with most of it happening during the controlled wrist movement at the end of the stroke. Essentially this is about making a slow to fast movement, an acceleration.

Those five essentials / principles of the FFF (from Bill and Jay Gammel) and how they all inter relate in fly casting is the main aspect or the basis of teaching fly-casting for the Americans, the IFFF. Also now for GAIA.

These essentials or definitions of casting mechanics, and how they will affect things and interact in a cast should always be on the tip of your tongue, as you will definitely be asked about them in an examination. Also as they are usually relevant to any other question you are asked during an exam any relevant ones should be mentioned.

A good way to remember them all is the word SNAPP with two P's. Straight line path, No slack line, Arc, Pause, Power. It is important to always understand and mention anything to do with the Straight line path, No slack line, Arc, Pause, and Power application (Acceleration), if their adjustment or use is particularly important in the technique or issue described, or in correction to a fault being described.

Closely related topics should always be to the fore in your thinking and explanations also such as, Stroke, Acceleration, trajectory, the tilting of the Arc to determine trajectory, creep, drift, tailing loops, parallel loops, open loops, non loop, tracking, controlled wrist break, convex / concave rod tip paths, pre load, RSP to RSP – (rod starting position to rod stopping position), e.t.c.

Another word used in casting examination explanations and teaching is
Laps which means the longer the line the longer the Arc, Pause and Stroke. The shorter the line the shorter the Arc Pause and Stroke.

The reason is the longer the line being cast, and therefore the longer the amount of line outside of the rod tip, and therefore the more weight placed outside of the rod tip, the deeper the rod will flex, which then takes a longer space and movement in the loading movement (as it is deflecting into a deeper curve), the longer the stroke necessary (rod hand movement). It also takes a longer line a longer time to unroll out after the stop of a casting stroke.

What I was taught and teach as the first fundamental principle of fly rod use in the style I use.

The first fundamental principle of fly rod use is to move the rod in the direction of the casting stroke with mainly a position change (arm movement), and then to finish with mainly an angle change (wrist movement). The arm is slower than the wrist and the greatest movement of the rod tip forward or backward will be with the controlled wrist movement. This sequence is automatically in keeping with making an acceleration. Most importantly it creates tight loops from pre load (arm movement) and then rod tip turnover speed (wrist movement). The wrist movement is restricted to what is correct, which is normally a small movement.

Americans call it translation and rotation, translation meaning a position change with no angle change, rotation then the angle change at the end of the stroke.

I was taught mainly position change or lead with the arm, to a mainly angle change, via a small and controlled wrist movement. The rod pivoting at about the ring finger position on a standard handshake grip with thumb on top during the small wrist movement.

The controlled wrist pivot also known as micro wrist or micro second wrist, and sometimes a power snap in single handed rod casting. The purpose of the wrist movement is to work the tip of the rod and it is executed and fine tuned with that purpose in mind, flipping over the tip of the rod at speed. It is a small angle change. It is sometimes called a fulcrum point pivot, and sometimes micro wrist or micro second wrist.

Side to side tip casting exercises are used to learn this basic tip casting technique which will be the basis of fly casting with a single handed rod, all else is built on that foundation. The reason it is learned from side to side (by turning the forearm to a suitable plane), is so that the back cast can be viewed easily. Once proficiency with this foundational exercise is achieved, then a normal casting plane back and forward along a straight line incline is used.

The exercise is invaluable, and as it is learned with a short line there can be a tendency to use the wrist only, however the arm movement must be there and using the wrist only is a mistake, to counteract this it is sometimes useful to cast with the arm only a few times, bracing the rod butt against the arm with the other hand. Then when some arm movement is feeling normal, the wrist is used again for the finish, after the initial arm movement.

Some Terminology as I use and understand it, others may use it differently, or use different terms. Its a big world out there.

Stroke: The stroke is the length the rod hand, or the top hand on a double-handed rod, travels either backwards from the start of a back cast to the end of the back cast. Or forwards from the start of the forward cast to the finish of the forward cast, including drift or lead / loading move. Stroke length is related to the amount of line out, longer lines need a longer stroke length. Upper body rotation or weight shift also contribute to stroke length, it is not just hand movement in relation to the casters arm movement but often overall hand movement influenced and aided by the entire movement of the body.

Arc: The arc is the angle the rod tip travels from the start of a back cast or a forward cast to the finish of the acceleration and stop, including drift and loading move / lead from rod starting point to the rod stopping point. However, not the counter flex, or the relaxed lowering of the rod in front as the loop unrolls and sets down.

An acceleration: A casting stroke is made as an acceleration to a stop. An acceleration means that the rod hand is always increasing in speed through the stroke and power application made until the stop at the end of the stroke, preferably steadily and smoothly. At the end of the stroke the fastest part of the acceleration will occur in the main angle change wrist movement .

It is easy to say to make an acceleration, it is a different story to consistently practice it faithfully on the forward cast, as a tailing loop shows from an incorrect movement.

Note: The flexible nature of a rod means it requires a progressively increased loading or acceleration. The rod cannot start off from nothing to a full speed power snap instantly, nor should it be suddenly pushed ahead of possible line momentum build up from inertia. This simply shocks the rod blank and it does not work. The rod blank can attain great speed very quickly, but not instantly. An acceleration into full speed is required and this is also why an acceleration, and a progressive movement with some lead into the forward cast to create some pre load is so important.

Power Arc / Power Snap / Main angle change / Fulcrum Point Pivot: The angle the rod tip moves during the final fastest part of the casting stroke when a mainly angle change movement is made. There may still be some position change occurring but the main angle change happens then. The angle change will be small usually on normal line lengths.
The sayings are various ways of defining the last and fastest part of the casting stroke up to the stop when most speed and power is applied. The power arc / power snap made after some prior acceleration, rod loading and line momentum smoothly leading up to this position with arm and body movement. Its the final wrist break / wrist cocking motion on a single handed rod, which is the power snap (Joan Wulff) fulcrum point pivot (Peter Anderson) or micro wrist, sometimes micro second wrist (Doug Swisher).

A simple definition of an overhead cast: An overhead cast may normally be described in simple terms as - An acceleration to a stop moving backwards. A pause to allow the line to unroll out behind. Then an acceleration to a stop moving forward.

In the continuous motion casting style I use, the normal pause space is taken up by continued relaxed movement as a drift up along the casting incline, or higher than it, for control of line height management behind.

A Loop: A loop describes the shape of the line when it is unrolling properly in front or behind. A loop has a top leg and a bottom leg and a rounded bend or a more pointed V where it is unrolling joining the top and bottom leg.

Note: Narrow loops are desirable and more efficient as they have less air resistance. The loop should also unroll over itself without tangling in what is termed a parallel loop. The line should not run into itself or cross over itself, (the top leg does not run into the bottom leg). It should not go askew; the top leg also does not skew off to one side or the other.

A Parallel loop: – when the top leg of a loop is unrolling out over the bottom leg without touching, crossing over, tangling / tailing, threatening to tail or collapsing in a pile of squiggles or skewing off to the left or right.

Ideally the bottom leg should not have an angle or wedge shape but should be straight. It looks like two straight parallel lines joined in front by the curve or half circle of the leading edge. The distance between the top leg and the bottom leg is the width of the parallel loop.

A Tailing Loop: When the top leg of the loop of line, or the leader, crosses over and touches or catches on the bottom leg of the loop of line or leader. A cause of wind knots in the leader, or the fly sticking in the fly line.

The line effectively runs into itself. A tailing loop is mainly caused by not making a true slow to fast movement on the casting stroke and so creating a concave motion of the rod tip by pushing the rod ahead of line momentum causing the tip to dip down and then spring up again, the rod is then unloading before the stop.

Convex: A domed shape, or an angle greater than 180 degrees. When overhead casting, if a convex path of the rod tip is made during the forward cast, it will create more open loops.

When Spey casting a convex path of the rod tip on the back sweep is a mistake and will dump an excessive amount of line on the water behind.

Concave: A dished shape, or an angle of less than 180 degrees. When overhead casting if a concave path of the rod tip is made during the forward cast, it will cause tailing loops. This will usually a problem of too much power applied too abruptly and too early in the forward stroke.

An overall concave rod tip tracking path during the back sweep is necessary for forming a D loop when Spey casting where the line is brought back under the rod tip.

A Straight Line Path: A straight line path is referred to in relation to the path taken during a casting stroke of the rod tip, or top eye of the rod. As casting is three dimensional, there are two planes in which the straight line path of the rod tip should occur. When the rod tip maintains a straight line path during a casting stroke in both the vertical and horizontal planes this makes the most efficient fly-casting stroke possible.

Note: Some people get confused between the straight line paths (S.L.P. for short) in the vertical and in the horizontal planes. Put very simply, any upwards or downwards movement of the rod tip as it travels along during a casting stroke is vertical movement, and any sideward movement of the rod tip out of plane to the left or right as it travels along during a casting stroke is horizontal movement. Explained further below.

As the rod is flexible and tapered, it allows the rod tip to deflect downwards as the rod loads from the weight and resistance of the fly line, if loading is applied smoothly and progressively as an acceleration the rod tip will then travel in a fairly straight line backward or forward as rod loading and line momentum occurs. The more weight of the line outside the rod tip, the deeper the rod will load and the lower the rod tip will deflect, the lower the straight line path of the rod tip in the vertical plane will be formed.

The angler also ensures that 180 degree rod tracking occurs as the rod moves back and forth along the chosen plane used, and that it does not curve or cut in behind or in front. It is as if ones wrist was attached to a ring of a curtain rail and thus sliding back and forth along the curtain rail in the plane used. This is the horizontal straight line path or most commonly referred to as tracking, or rod tracking.

As I consider this to be one of the most important points in fly-casting there is a little further explanation -

The straight line path used (in the vertical plane) will also create the trajectory of cast.

If the rod tip is maintaining the same level along the chosen line of trajectory on the way forward or backward then it is not deviating up or down vertically it is therefore maintaining a straight line path. This is the straight line path in the vertical plane.

To keep the rod tip traveling in a straight line path in the vertical plane, (not moving up or down when looking from the side at the rod tip path), a smooth acceleration is required. An overall acceleration is important and power must be applied smoothly over the stroke using an increasing amount to the stop. Power is applied progressively and smoothly and there are no sudden or erratic bursts or snatches.

The rod tip travels in a straight line due to the flex of the rod and loading from the weight or inertia of the fly line deflecting the rod into a curve. More power and speed is applied at the end of the stroke during the controlled wrist break movement or on a double handed rod the fulcrum pivot. Despite the theory, in reality usually a slightly convex path is formed, and at the very end of the stroke the rod tip does dip out of the vertical straight line path slightly as the main angle change is made to the stop, this then allows the fly line to pass over the rod tip and form a narrow loop. How far the rod tip deflects down out of the straight line path in the vertical plane determines loop width.

Rod tracking must also be kept to the 180 degree principle and the rod tip not allowed to deviate off the chosen plane horizontally, (curving to the left or right looking down on the cast from above or looking from directly in front in line with the chosen plane). If it was moving to the left or right looking from directly in front then it is deviating out of the straight line path in the horizontal plane. A perfect straight line with the back cast 180 degrees opposite the forward cast in the plane the caster is using is desirable when overhead casting. As the angler’s arm is flexible, when using a long stroke and upper body rotation he can still keep his hand moving back and forth in a straight line, (as if it was sliding along a curtain rail).

This straight line path delivery is also necessary on the forward cast of a Spey cast and the rod should not curve in to the left or out to the right in front. As the angler extends a casting stroke with longer lengths of line it is harder to keep to the straight line path in the horizontal plane but extremely important to do so for maximum efficiency.

Power application: How the power is applied and how much. Power should be applied very smoothly and steadily, not erratically or hesitatingly. Power application should be very controlled and most usually coincides with the acceleration. Overkill from excessive and unnecessary use of power is a big problem with some on both single and double-handed rods. It is best to ease off to find the point in power application where the cast fails, and also where just enough has been used to make the cast work. This is educational, and a little more than just enough to barely make the cast work is used, not a lot more. In overhead casting most power is applied over the second half of the stroke after the initial loading move has been made.

In the Five Essentials, the use of the term power really means making an acceleration, however the wording may be a little confusing.

The Stop / Sudden stop / Abrupt Stop / Sharp Stop: For efficient casting it is necessary to bring the rod to a sharp or sudden stop at the end of the stroke / angle change. This allows the rod to unload. The last angle change of the rod ends with a sudden stop, and is made to the stop.

Stance: Stance is the position the feet are placed in. A closed stance usually has the feet close together often with the right foot just slightly forward, perhaps a half step or so. An open stance usually has the feet further apart with the right foot slightly further back than the left foot. An open stance allows for more weight shift or weight transfer and upper body rotation and is used for longer stroke casts and usually for double hauling.

Grip: The grip used most in fly-casting is called a handshake grip with thumb on top. The wrist stays in line with the forearm. Other grips are used, most notably in Europe the forefinger up style of Hans Gebetsroither. Also a V grip for some distance casters.

Overhead casting: A cast that is made by unrolling a loop of line backward and forward over the rod tip, in which the line unrolls and extends out fully in the air, both behind and in front of the angler.
Sometimes referred to as overhand casting in Scandinavian countries.

Other casts such as Jump roll and Spey casts use loops of line placed under the rod tip rather than over the rod tip, they will also rely on water resistance from the end of the line having contact with the water surface to provide the necessary resistance to load the rod whereas in overhead casting the rod is loaded against the extended and aerialised line.

The Casting cycle: A completed backward casting stroke and forward casting stroke is one casting cycle. There are two casting strokes in a casting cycle, a back casting stroke, and a forward casting stroke. They are usually separated by a pause.

In continuous motion casting by the angler, they appear to be merged together into one movement. Merged by some relaxed lifting drift and then forward lead. In continuous motion Spey casting by circling up behind. However the pause is always still there when the rod tip stops pulling the line as it does during the power application phase of the stroke, and the rod unloads and the unrolling line passes the rod tip even though the angler makes a continued relaxed movement and re positioning of the rod.

The Clock Face: A clock face is so familiar to most people that it is often used as a reference point to describe rod movements during a casting cycle. Nine o’clock is directly in front of the caster and three o’clock directly behind. Twelve would be straight up. Most basic overhead casts with a single handed rod would start at 8.30 and rise smoothly to 11 when more speed and power is then applied through to a sudden stop at 12.30 or 1 and so on.

Sometimes it is changed on the left hand side for double handed casting, but not always, a low start in front would then be at 3.30.

Creep: Creep is a serious casting fault. Creep is moving the rod tip forward early as the line is still unrolling behind. This wastes potential rod arc and stroke length for the forward cast. Often resulting in no room to load the rod properly or as deeply as it should be and the use of an abrupt power application without any pre load due to the lack of room for a longer and smoother stroke.

Rod Loading: The deflection into a bend of the rod. Usually due to the resistance, inertia or mass of the fly line acting on the rod blank when we are changing the position and angle of the rod during a casting stroke. Also sometimes from the inertia of line momentum from the previous casting stroke.

Rod Unloading: The rod straightening / unflexing after the stop. It does not just straighten and stop but counter flexes and then returns to straight with a few oscillations / reverberations, Which are dampened by the immediate relaxing of the hand grip after the stop has been made.

Immediate Relax: Immediately after the sudden stop, the caster eases off pressure on the grip of the rod totally so that the rod is held only lightly in the hand(s). This is done to aid a quick recovery of the rod blank and dampen further rod oscillations / reverberations.

Drift: Drift is a relaxed re positioning of the rod after the power application and stop made as the line is unrolling. Drift occurs during the pause time to allow the line to unroll, drift takes up the pause time with a relaxed motion re positioning the rod. There is no power application during drift.

Drift is also always used automatically in this style after the back cast with all but the very shortest of lines, expressly for the purpose of line height management behind.

With longer lengths of line, drift is used to increase the stroke length of the following casting stroke. Relaxed drift is used as the longer line unrolls in order to provide a longer pre load movement to the following casting stroke.

After the back cast stop, when the grip is immediately relaxed, the rod may be drifted backwards or upwards, or both in a slow and steady relaxed fashion as the unrolling loop of line rolls out, or on the forward cast drifted forward fairly level after the stop when aerialising line.

Lead (not the metal): A rod loading move, the opposite to drift, when the rod is moved forward at the start of the forward casting stroke starting in a smooth manner which blends into an overall acceleration. Sometimes referred to as glide in or slide, i.e. to slide into the forward cast or to lead into the forward cast. Its an arm movement that takes up tension and creates pre load and a tautness of the line stiffening of the rod and deflecting of the rod tip before the deepest loading of the main angle change from more accelerating arm and wrist movement is made.

Wrist, elbow and shoulder pivots: There are three pivots possible with the human arm, a wrist pivot, an elbow pivot and a shoulder pivot. Wrist elbow and shoulder pivots may be used in both forward or sideways positions and any blend. When they are then used conjunction with upper body rotation they allow an efficient, well balanced casting stroke to be made while maintaining a straight line path, or a straight line incline.

Upper Body Rotation: Upper body rotation is where the casting side shoulder is moved smoothly back and forth to increase stroke length, and also to balance a longer stroke to a comfortable position for the angler. This is used for both overhead and Spey casts. It is an essential element of Spey casting with a longer belly line. It is also a fundamental aspect of long stroke style casting.

Not to be confused with the usual re alignment when Spey casting which also occurs. Upper body rotation will see the upper body go further past realignment with the original casting direction and stance, and then return to alignment with it again.

Realignment: Realignment is when the body plane automatically returns to the direction of the stance and of the initial cast direction during the sweep when single Spey casting, or during the line placing move when double Spey casting.

When a person makes a Single Spey cast by facing 45 degrees across and downriver, and that is the target direction and the direction of his body plane, i.e. the upper body feet and hips were facing when the cast was made, as the line swings around with the current the persons upper body follows it, twisting from the ankles to do so. After the lift or in swing, as we make the sweep upriver realignment will occur automatically and the upper body will return to the direction of the cast that was made.

Weight Shift / Weight Transfer: When we use upper body rotation there is always a slight weight shift occurring. Upper body rotation may also be combined however with a more deliberate weight shift or weight transfer from a wider stance. This will involve some extra upper body movement with the caster leaning back and forth transferring the main burden of his weight from one leg to another.

The whole upper body moves back slightly on the back stroke and then forward on the forward stroke. This is weight shift or weight transfer and as the angler moves back and forth he changes his centre of gravity much more significantly from the front to the back leg and vice versa. The amount of weight shift used depends somewhat on the stance used, and how far apart the feet are. Usually the feet are not far apart and not too much is used but stance is often adjusted and therefore distance of weight transfer increased for longer casts. Small amounts are referred to as weight shift, larger amounts as weight transfer.

Weight shift / transfer is an essential element of distance casting with a single handed rod and Spey casting with a double handed rod. If the same leg is forward as the upper hand on a double handed rod it allows the angler to ‘walk into’ the cast of final delivery putting his full body weight into generating line momentum.

Plane: A plane is a flat or level surface. If any two points on the surface are taken the straight line joining them will lie entirely on the surface. A plane may be formed in any direction or tilt. Normally a single handed rod is tilted to one side slightly when casting rather than held in a vertical plane.

Rod plane: An imaginary flat or level surface tilted to the exact same angle as the rod along direction of the casting stroke. It is effectively the same as the horizontal straight line path. Staying in plane means keeping rod tracking to the 180 degree principle, where the back casting stroke is directly opposite to the forward casting stroke. Keeping all stroke movement in a straight line path as it travels back and forth, rather than curving.

There are many planes in which a line can be cast or the rod held, however staying in whichever plane you have chosen is essential for maximum efficiency. Making the forward cast 180 degrees opposite the back cast ensures the cast is made on the same plane.

Trajectory: Or aim (in terms of height). For casting purposes, to adjust the trajectory, we tilt the arc used. Trajectory is decided by direction of the straight line path used (in the vertical plane).

The actual trajectory is the path the line takes to reach the target. Trajectory is actually a curve as the fly line is dropping from gravity as it travels and unrolls. Trajectory is the curve created by the travel through the air to the target of (approximately) the leading edge of the unrolling loop.

We need the fly line to unroll fully just slightly above the target, or just as it hits the target.

On shorter distances the rod arc is normally tilted forward for a lower aim to ensure that the back cast is slightly higher than the front cast as the target is usually lower in front.

As well as the height, the direction used of the forward cast may also be altered sideways to allow for cross winds.

Mechanical leverage is a simple concept in elementary physics. It simply refers to the amplification of force. The name is derived from the simple machine known as lever. It can be in any form but in principle it is comprised of three elements, namely, a fulcrum, an input effort, and an output load or resistance. Depending on the relative locations of these elements, the lever has three categories – first class, second class, and third class.

In a first class lever, the fulcrum is located between the input effort and the output force or resistance.

In a second class lever, the output force or resistance is located between the input force and the fulcrum.

Finally, in a third class lever, the input force is located between the output force (resistance) and the fulcrum.

We are mainly using some first class leverage in reverse when using fulcrum fly-casting, and some third class leverage. The first class leverage in reverse is similar to the operating system of the medieval catapult - the trebechet. Leverage is one of the most important aspects of fly-casting as the rod has limited power. Most of the momentum is generated by leverage of the body and arms changing the position and angle of the rod, the initial loading with class three leverage and the deeper loading with the addition of class one leverage in reverse in conjunction with continuing class three leverage.

Simply put, first class leverage is the only type of leverage where the pivotal point is placed along the lever rather than at the end of the lever.

The rod travels in a straight line through the arc created as it is flexible and as the rod in moving position at the same time as the arc ot angle changes are made. The position change will determine the stroke length.