Getting a smooth backcast - the 'line-up'
An overhead backcast is really nothing more than a pulling of line over the shoulder to get it straight away from the target so that you can reverse all that energy to get it out to the fish. Yet there are so many subtleties that make or break a good cast as each tailing loop or blown pod on the flats teaches us over again.
After watching hundreds of people casting at several fly shows recently, I noticed that there was a wide variation in the shapes and smoothnesses of people's backcasts and the impact on forward casts and overall power. At the pinnacle, the upper echalon - was Lefty Kreh's backcast, a thing of beauty. Effortless, efficient and suited perfectly to it's complement the forward cast, which again was a thing of beauty as well.
As a saltwater angler myself, I say reluctantly that the average SW caster yanks the backcast with turbulent force and plows their forward cast ahead often pulling the rod downward to tension the loop. Wind, weighted flies, surf, and fish that often bring our adrenaline to new heights by busting right in front of us contribute to this. A lack of efficiency in the cast can tire the angler, tangle the tippet, even scare fish while it limits distance. Been there, done that myself.
And back when I had felt I became a proficient stream trout angler I discovered I was not much of a caster when put onto a big lake or pond with a little wind and a streamer. Often this is from subsisting on a partial understanding of the potential of a fly rod and line while casting short lines on streams.
Now I am still a student of casting, but these things are starting to become clear. Good casting mechanics yields high returns and is without a doubt a worthwhile pursuit to any serious angler.
Recently, I have been focusing on refining my backcast in terms of smoothness, shape and efficiency. Specifically, I am referring to an appropriate amount of power (vs. too much or too little), straightness and flatness of the top half of the loop, and straightness and parrallel tracking of the bottom to the top. All that is without mentioning size of loop, the wedge itself and tracking 180 degrees, etc.
Try this simple trick to clean up your overhead backcast: the 'line-up' on the lift
Start with a tight line as always, rod pointing low and to the fly. Slowly pull the line back in the direction of the backcast (slope up toward the side of the cast) keeping the speed and power of your pull such that the line forms a straight vector in the direction of the backcast, as if it were a rigid rod instead of a supple flyline.
It's as if you were picking up a 30ft rod by one end to inspect it's straightness, the other end still on the ground (water). Most materials will sag, but a flyline will come straight if pulled just right. Instead of lining it up with the eye line-up with the casting direction to bring it over the shoulder. Once this line-up is made, blend this line-up continuously into your familiar backcast stroke while trying to keep this established line-up intact through it's course. Why waste it, keep it straight as it unfurls behind you. Gorgeous.
The straighter (and smoother) you make this initial move, and the more successfully you maintain that line-up through the backcast, the more beautiful the backcast will be provided the acceleration and flick to follow the line-up move are also smooth and not too aggressive.
Do this with the absolute minimum force you can until you find the threshold, then add power as you see fit. It will not be much.
Can it be aggressive? Of course it's going to work out much better to really drive the backcast with a haul if the line tension has been properly aligned, there is nothing to lose in terms of powering a backcast into a wind for instance by doing this. However there is a lot to gain by "lining-up" first, and when there is no tailwind you'll find that the energy you need to put into the stroke is radically less with a good line-up, minimal in fact.
- with a good line-up even a very light stroke will straighten the line behind you
- the closer you stop the rod to the path of the line-up the tighter the loop will be
- the more you subdue the flick, the smaller the wedge will be
- let the line up provide momentum to make the backcast, don't rely on the flick
- lining-up does not take away from your ability to haul and drive a power backcast (in fact it helps)
tight lines as they say
IFFF Certified THCI @ 2005
Capeflyfisher Guide Service
Island Hopper, Guitarist, Incurable Dreamer
and Founder, Worldwide Flyfishing Forum
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