August 10, 2014
Understanding and applying the essentials of fly casting is the foundation of a good cast, but when it comes to effortless, graceful casting a little rhythm can go a long way. Of course, it’s more than just about looking good– using a casting rhythm will help you to maintain a consistent and efficient casting stroke, reduce your frustration with environmental and equipment issues and allow you to cast with less fatigue and more enjoyment.
Have you ever noticed how some people cast very fluidly and seemingly with little or no effort, no matter what they’re throwing or the conditions? I believe many great casters are in tune with the rhythm of their cast. They stay in touch with the rod and line and make adjustments to their stroke as needed. In fact, you’ve probably experienced this phenomenon with your own casting. Some days you can hit every target and your efforts are minimal (I call this good casting mojo), and other days you feel like you’re fighting to get half the distance with twice the effort. In many cases, I believe this is largely a component of rhythm. Some days your rhythm is good and everything flows nicely, and then suddenly something gets out of synch and you lose connection with the rod, line, and fly and you struggle with every cast. This is common even when you feel you are doing everything mechanically right. What I mean is you are applying textbook fundamentals, like accelerating to a stop and allowing your line to unfurl before you start the next cast, but something is definitely amiss and you know you’re working harder than you should be. Developing the rhythm of your cast will help create a more consistent stroke with much less effort, helping you get the most out of your time on the water.
Like other physical activities such as running, biking or dancing, fly casting can also have a rhythm. Developing a rhythm for most physical activity is a natural process used by our bodies to minimize muscle impact and to pace our efforts of exertion. Rhythm can be applied to fly casting because it involves ordered alternations of contrasting elements. Meaning that for a single cast you have the motion of your body, arm and hand for the loading move, and then the pause which allows time for the line to straighten. I think of the casting rhythm as a one-two set. Load and pause (forward cast), load and pause (back cast). This one/two motion-and-pause action on each cast creates a predictable amount of force and time, which gives us the ability to cast with a rhythm. Using your body’s natural rhythmical ability to cast is like setting your cast on auto pilot.
Get your mojo working firstly with a short line and an eye on good mechanics. I always start each cast short, which is easy to control and manipulate. I focus on the fore and back casts separately, making sure my mechanics are solid, I’m connected to the rod, and I’m not using more energy than required to throw the line and fly. Once I have this down, which is typically two to three false casts, I focus on the rhythm. It’s a feely type thing with the pause being your separation of back and foreword casts. Load-pause one, load pause two, etc. Once you get the feel of the rhythm and your bodies rhythm auto-pilot takes over, you’ll be able to efficiently cast with minimum false cast and effort.
When you slip line during false casting to increase the distance, the rhythm of the load-and-pause and tempo of the cast has a crescendo type effect, in which the power and timing of the stroke increase predictably. Of course, all this sounds much harder than it actually is, because remember you’re doing something that comes naturally to most of us.
A casting rhythm is a great tool to get the most out of your everyday normal cast, but it also has advantages to help combat the many equipment and environmental challenges we all face. Your casting stroke is constantly changing to accommodate a myriad of variables. This can be frustrating. It seems like just when you get used to something, like the wind direction or a big fly, its time to change things up. This can really screw up your cast and cause a disconnection between you and your rod. Heavy flies, long leaders, and windy conditions are typically the culprits that cause the most grief, but other factors that can affect this are changes in your equipment like a rod or line, to changing your natural casting stroke to clear an obstruction. A casting rhythm will help minimize frustration and maximize efficiency for any given equipment or environmental situation.
Let’s take a head wind as an example of how I would modify my regular rhythm to accommodate the environmental conditions. Assuming my fly and leader are normal, my forward cast will be longer and faster to put a deeper load in the rod, and the stop will be very crisp to most efficiently transfer the energy from the rod into the line to give me added help in punching it through the wind. I’ll make the back cast maybe a little softer than normal since the wind will be helping me. My one-two rhythm will be an aggressive load-pause for the forward cast and light load-pause for the back cast. This is a variation on my normal one/two motion, but I’m able to modify a new rhythm to cast more efficiently into the wind.
Don’t get so caught up in the rhythm that you forget about good mechanics. Think of rhythm as the oil that lubes the gears of good mechanics. For best results, you need equal parts rhythm and mechanics. When you apply a little mojo to a mechanically solid cast, it’s like a perfect marriage of art and science.