by Nial Logan
Many of the species in the saltwater are not static in their habits and move constantly in their environment to seek food or to avoid predators. Consequently, having the ability to make quick long presentations is a must learn skill to take maximum advantage of the sometimes fleeting opportunities.
One of the most crucial parts of this ability to make a one cast presentation, or any cast for that matter, is the pickup action
The first consideration is understanding what happens at the tip of the rod during the casting stroke. After the stop is executed with the rod butt, the inertia of the rod tip causes it to go past the rod straight position, further flexing the rod tip briefly in the direction it was moving before the stop. After this counterflex, it rebounds to the rod straighten position again. All this happens in a fraction of a second. (See Figure 2)
Studies have shown that the rod tip is actually moving fastest after the rod straight position for a split second during the start of counterflex.
This is one of the reasons why many find that it’s harder to form a tight loop with a soft rod where there is a greater amount of counterflex. On the other hand, stiffer rods have less counterflex and are not as prone to this effect.
How does this effect the casting stroke?
At some stage during the initial pickup, many casters tend to rotate the hand and forearm from the elbow. This action causes a slight semi-circular motion that might not seem so great at the hand level however, at the rod tip nine feet away, the effect is magnified. The result is usually a large loop because the fly line will follow the path traced by the rod tip.
This larger loop generated by the semi-circular hand action is then exaggerated by the counterflex that projects the flyline downward rather than back. The typical indication is the flyline dipping down immediately after the rod tip (Figure 3). The effect of this is to cause an even larger loop that lacks power to penetrate wind and the end of the flyline will, on many occasions, hit the water or be caught on the vegetation.
In this situation, apart from the loop lacking power to act against wind and in some cases even to straighten out completely, it also causes problems with the forward cast.
To maximize the rod loading (bending), the fly line must be straight behind the rod tip. When there is slack caused by virtue of the large loop, a portion of the forward casting stroke movement is wasted taking up the slack before
the rod tip will load. (Figure 4)
The shortened casting stroke means that not as much effective power is applied therefore the cast distance will not be optimized. The application of power over a shortened casting stroke may also lead to tailing loops
How can the pickup be improved?
The trick to improving this aspect is to learn how to use the counterflex to your advantage.
Move your hand in a straight line from the pickup position to the stop position. This means that rod movement tends to be upward so that after the stop, the counterflex throws the line upwards rather than down (Figure 6). Combining a short haul just before the stop with the action as described will result in a small loop that will easily punch into the wind and unroll in the air to fully extend with little or no slack to cause wasted movement during the forward cast motion.
Learning the Sequence
The main prerequisite for making a one cast presentation is having the ability to shoot line on the backcast. This ability does a couple of things.
Firstly – Combined with perfect timing at the start of the forward stroke, it yields an additional early load on the rod. This is sometimes referred to as “pre-load”. Put simply, the weight of the fly line pulls the rod tip slightly to the rear as the loop straightens and this provides extra resistance as the forward cast begins and this contributes to more effective loading of the rod.
Secondly – It delays the turnover of the head. This combined with line/loop speed allows more line to be carried behind the caster which in turn facilitates the previous.
To effectively shoot line on the backcast, you must first establish:-
- that the casting loop on the initial backcast has the power to shoot line.
- what length of line can be comfortably picked up off the water; and
- how much line to shoot. This will vary depending on a number of factors:
1. The distance sought,
2. The casting conditions. (wind, etc.)
3. Type of line (long head floating line, shooting head etc.)
4. Type of fly (large or small has an effect on wind resistance) and
5. The ability of the caster.
Easy Steps to Learning the Skill
- Develop smaller more powerful loops. Firstly, before you can progress any further, you must be able to produce a tight loop on the pickup back cast that is capable of allowing you to shoot line (about 10 to 15 feet) easily.
- Establish the amount of line that can be comfortably picked up off the water. Mark the line at the optimum length with a waterproof marker. The longer length you can pickup off the water means less you have to shoot on the backcast. If you can pick up 20 feet, then you will need to shoot a minimum of about 10 to 15 feet of line to get the head of the line clear of the tip
- Determine the length of line that you can shoot. Hold the line at the pick-up mark point, make the backcast (at this stage don’t shoot any line), make the forward cast and present the fly. Take note of the distance achieved.
- Now repeat the process and this time shoot a few feet on the backcast to see if that helps increase the cast distance. If it does, next time shoot a few more feet. So long as the addition of more shot line helps, continue.
- Once you get to the point of diminishing returns, back off a little at a time until the your performance and sense of “feel right” is reached. So that you can easily recognize this point while casting, nail knot a piece of 4-6lb test monofilament onto the fly line.
- Once you have mastered the basics, introduce a haul. You can either perform a single haul just before the stop on the forward cast or use a haul on both the back cast and the forward cast.
From this point on it is just a matter of practice. If you have difficulties, it has been found that it is best to break up the sequence and practice each increment individually rather than the whole action. With experience, further refinements to make adjustments for wind conditions and other variables such as fly size, type of line, etc. will become automatic.
The development of this skill, apart from allowing you to make quicker casts, will also help you to make more effective casts off your backhand. An essential for saltwater applications when casting from boats and overcoming the problems caused by wind on the casting arm side.
During your practice sessions, momentarily turn your head to watch the backcast. This allows you to quickly identify if there is a problem. An added benefit is that it will also help you to develop a sense of timing to judge the length of pause to avoid the ‘whip crack’ as well as the slack caused by not pausing long enough to allow the line to straighten.
Over 90% of the people who have attended coaching to correct the problem of a poor backcast, do not watch their backcast. In many instances, they easily identify and correct this type of casting problem when they turn their head to watch what is happening on the backcast.