Casting Mechanics

Casting Mechanics

Instruction By Dusty Sprague

Laws of physics govern the process of casting and I refer to them as the principles and variable of casting mechanics.

Principle 1

Tension against the rod tip. Before you can load the rod, you must have line tension against the tip, so that when you move the rod, the weight of the line, aided by water and air resistance, will hold back the tip, causing the rod to load (bend). You can’t load the rod in either direction unless the rod tip is pulling against the weight of the line.

Principle 2

Load and unload the rod. With tension against the tip, the rod is best loaded by a smooth, even acceleration of the hand, producing a constant increase in speed throughout the stroke. The rod unloads when the rod is stopped. An uneven acceleration produces less desirable loops, taken to extreme, tailing loops result. A firm, solid stop unloads the rod just below the oncoming line, producing a tight, narrow loop. A soft stop, moving the rod tip over a longer distance during the stop, results in a wider loop. The more abrupt the stop, the tighter the loop.

Principle 3

The line goes where the rod tip goes — the line can go only in the direction the tip is traveling. If you want the line to go straight ahead, the tip must finish going straight ahead. If you want the line to go farther, the angle of trajectory should be elevated slightly. When casting closer, the finishing point should be lower than the starting point of the cast. In each cast, your target, hence the direction and angle of elevation, may vary.

The 5 Variables in Casting

Hand speed (power), stroke length, casting arc, timing and trajectory are variables casters adjust to achieve a straight-line movement of the rod tip. A short line requires little hand speed, a short casting stroke, narrow casting arc, a short pause (timing) and a forward-tilted trajectory between strokes. A longer line requires more hand speed, longer stroke, wider arc, longer pause and more level-with-the-surface trajectory.

1.Hand Speed – force – rod bend. Adequate hand speed and rod bend is demonstrated when the line has enough energy to straighten at the desired distance, or, the fly reaches its target with the desired shape in the line as in a curve, pile, or ‘S’ cast. With a constant length of line, generally, the amount of power applied on both the back cast and forward cast should be the same. However, shooting line which adds more line (weight) to be cast, and/or differences in wind velocity and direction will ultimately dictate the amount of hand speed needed for each casting stroke.

2.Stroke length. The length of the casting stroke is the distance the hand moves throughout the casting stroke. Generally, this distance varies with the amount of line outside the rod tip – short line, short stroke; longer line, longer stroke.

3.Casting Arc. The V-shaped arc between the rod butt in the start position and the rod butt in the stop position is called the casting arc. This is also described as the angular rotation of the rod through the casting stroke. The caster must adjust the size of the casting arc to fit the amount of bend in the rod to produce a relatively straight-line path of the rod tip to produce a narrow loop. The amount of bend in the rod is determined by: 
      1) the weight being cast – fly line, leader and fly, 
      2) the amount of hand speed -force – applied, and 
      3) the stiffness of the fly rod.

Matching the casting arc size, by bending the wrist or arm more or less, to the amount of hand speed applied (which determines rod bend) is one of the keys to good fly casting. That translates into a narrow arc for short casts and a wider arc for longer casts.

4.Timing. Good timing is demonstrated when the pause between strokes is long enough to allow the line to straighten fully without losing its tension and falling dramatically in the process. Generally we use a short pause for short lines and a longer pause for longer lines.

5.Trajectory. For short lines and close targets the casting arc should be tilted down in front and up in back to maintain a 180 degree rod tip path and a tight, narrow loop that unrolls close to the surface. When casting to more distant targets using longer lines a more upright casting arc is needed. Ideally the fly will unroll just above the target.

The path of the rod tip is a key element of the casting stroke.

If the path of the rod tip is relatively straight throughout the stroke — close to 180 degrees from starting point to stopping point, and you smoothly accelerate the rod to a firm stop, with the rod tip firmly stopping just below the oncoming line, the result will be a tight, narrow loop of line. If the rod tip path is more convex (a doming path – higher in the middle than at each end), a wider loop is the result. If the rod tip path is concave (lower in the middle than each end), a tailing loop will result.

A poor cast results from failure to properly satisfy a principle or execute a variable. On the other hand, the world’s best casters use motions that satisfy the principles and execute variables superbly to achieve a straight movement of the fly line.

Elite casters:

• Straighten line more completely on the back cast with less sag in the line.

• Smoothly accelerate the rod tip along a very straight path.

• Stop the rod abruptly at the end of the casting stroke.

Elite casters, while satisfying the principles and executing the variables superbly, use different styles to achieve the same desirable end results. 


Opportunistic Fly Fishing

Opportunistic Fly Fishing

Instruction By Thomas R. Dempsey, M.D. CCI

One of the great aspects of fly fishing is adaptability. By that I mean as fly anglers, we always have the opportunity of “matching the hatch.” Whether saltwater or freshwater, a box of flies offers us the ability to change our pursuit from one species to another if our target fish is not home or just will not eat.

How many times have we started out with a certain fish to catch only to find that it is not going to happen? After all they call it fishing, not catching fish. Instead of punking out and heading to the dock, think what else is swimming below just looking for a chance to pounce on your fly. This happens all of the time, but how often do we take advantage of it? I don’t know about you but I’m into the Zen of fly fishing. To me this means I love to cast always trying to improve on that last loop. Secondly, I like to catch, fish, any fish, any size, any type, anywhere, anything that will bite my fly is ok with me. That is what it is all about. The Zen is being in a special location, grooving with your casting stroke and fly rod and maybe as a reward catching a fish.

So what is this business called opportunistic fly fishing all about? Take for example when you are out to catch spotted sea trout, we call them speckled trout in Alabama, sometimes they have lock jaw other times you just can’t find one. I have salvaged many an off shore trip by running and gunning for bonita. These tuna cousins put an A+ bend in your rod. How about chasing shrimp boats and bouncing #7 poppers off the side waiting for a jack crevalle “poor man’s permit” to slam it and take you into your backing. There is nothing better. Fishing the offshore oil rigs for king mackerel is not a slam dunk, often the day turns into hitching up to the leg of the rig, setting out a chum bag and seeing who comes to dinner. Amberjack and red snapper will arrive from the dark and deep to check out the buffet line. Now all you have to do is “bait and switch.” Who told you you can’t catch these guys on a fly?

I learned how to catch spade fish by observing what specific part of the chum they went after. Turned out that a tan muddler minnow was a perfect imitation of what the spade fish wanted, a trout fly for a salt water fish? WHO cares?! All kinds of fish hang out around the legs of drilling rigs and with your flat boat you are able to scoot around and under the drilling platform raking in blue runners, hard tails and blue fish. Sure, these are not super stars, but didn’t we agree that we are attracted to the Zen of fly fishing? Alaska can serve up some suitable substitutes when the trout are not on. Graying hang out in trout waters and site casting for them, not too shabby. How about dollies and char mixed in with the sliverspinks and dogs? Who cares, we’re having fun?! But we want to catch some to take back home and throw on the grill. Everybody eats salmon eggs in Alaska and every fish taste like salmon. You are truly what you eat.

The opportunities go on and on. Bream and other panfish are always willing when the bass are not. Pound for pound or better ounce for ounce, these little guys can give you an adrenaline rush that keeps you coming back. Every farm pond, stream, every lake in front of the apartment complex has someone who wants your fly. I think the extra club in your golf bag should be a 6wt. rod. Don’t throw that whitefishor sucker on the bank for the eagle to eat. That fish that cut off the trophy rainbow and gobbled your nymph is only trying to survive. The Madison River is home to all these species. Be grateful for the bite and the fish. Those second class citizens fight just as well as the fish you spent $4000 a week to catch.

There are always alternatives even in exotic locations. Barracuda, jacks and baby tarpon can save the day on a bone fishing trip and provide plenty of action and excitement. Fishing one of the Jimmy Buffet’s favorite spots, Anegado, I was in grave danger of being skunked on bones until I noticed there were several fish lazily following along behind our skiff. My guide said they were baby tarpon and if I wanted to catch one just flick a fly back there. I said, “Hmmm, I can handle that.” Well I needed to catch something and these baby silver kings were ripe for the harvest. My first tarpon on a fly! Fishing for the steelhead on the Suskeena can be frustrating. How many times have you heard, “should have been here last week” Grrrrrrrr!!! The bull trout we caught that day more than filled the gap until the steelies turned back on.

Atlantic salmon, the fish of a thousand casts, some anglers fish an entire week without even a strike. That is like sticking needles in your eyeballs. When I found out there were brook trout on the Cascapedia River I said, “bring ‘em on”, after all, a fish is a fish and a grilse? Well, no more than a baby atlantic salmon, but he is still an atlantic salmon. The first time I fished the Agua Boa for peacock bass my first four or five fish were all different species and not one a peacock. At the end of the day, besides the three types of peacock bass, we had a total of 17 different varieties of fish including jacunda, piranha (both white and black), paca, red tail cats, Oscars, triada, tambaqui and pescada and some of the guides scratched their heads over that they could not identify.

Golden Dorado are not the only game in town when you fish the Parana River in Argentina, been there and caught them. Besides the resident piranha there are over 300 species in this river and most, if not all, will take a fly. How many of you can notch your full wells grip with a saber tooth anchovy? One of the great things about fly fishing is what you reel in may not have been what you were seeking when you shoved off this morning. 
One day while fishing for cobia I dragged in this weird looking fish. He appeared to have the perfect imprint of the sole of a boot print right on top of his head. A remora had rooted out that cobia for first dibs on my streamer. And behold, I had another species to add to my portfolio of fly caught fish. 

My good friend, a hunting and fishing guide in Nashville, always presents his clients with a menu of bail-out fish if the rivers are blown out or they are not generating on the Caney Fork. Whoever thought you could catch an alligator with a hookless fly made from a piece of frayed polypropylene rope? This type of fishing will test one’s ability to “set the hook” or “set the rope” in those teeth before the gar realizes he’s been had. These boys put on an acrobatic show and if you want to see the second act, cut the hook off the popper and watch the fresh water lady fish, a.k.a. Tennessee tarpon go airborne and crash the popper from above. If that doesn’t get you pumping, go grab a spinning reel with a Bass Asassin and blind cast all day long out of the back of your jon boat with a six-pack of Miller Lite on the deck and a can of Skoal in your back pocket and pretend you are “fishing”.

The point of all this rambling is no matter where you fish or what you fish for, there is always another species waiting in the wings to step in and save the day if you are truly a fisherman. All of us have more flies than Carter has liver pills, so besides packing your go-to fly when you head to that fishing destination, do a little homework and research the internet to see who else is living down under besides your first choice. Now go back to your fly box and throw in some flies for Miss Congeniality and the first runner-up. Everyone comes back from the Biloxi Marsh with a grip-n-grin photo of a bull red but how about a 5-foot gar landed in the same waters.

Remember, opportunities always exist, and when opportunity meets preparation you call yourself lucky. Take advantage of your fishing opportunities. 

Thomas Dempsey certified casting instructor Mobile, Alabama.

Angler’s Elbow (Tennis Elbow)

Angler’s Elbow (Tennis Elbow)

Instruction By Thomas R. Dempsey, M.D. CCI

Anglers, like all other athletes, are subject to musculoskeletal injuries, and like athletes in certain sports, fishermen have specific aches and pains which are unique to his sport that can rear their head on a fishing trip and make him uncomfortable.  One of the most common problems seen in the fly fisherman occurs from using the elbow repetitively to swing a rod and line.

Generically this was referred to as “tennis elbow,”  an inflammation of the ligament insertion on the outside of the elbow producing pain on flexion and extension of the elbow,  i.e., during the casting stroke, and it is going to be exquisitely tender to the touch.

Anatomically the muscles that extend the wrist originate from the outside of the elbow (the lateral epicondyle).  When the junction where the muscles join the bone becomes inflamed, this results in pain. Typically gripping the rod and casting causes discomfort over the outside of the elbow along the bony prominence.

Now, if we could rest the elbow for several weeks or months, it might get well.  On the other hand, why not first identify what causes an “angler’s elbow” and try to prevent it?  If we are smitten with this demon, how can we treat it and keep fishing?

First, tennis elbow can occur at any time in the beginner or the advanced fisherman.  One of the causes of angler’s elbow is an overuse type of situation.

Some of the common causes are:

  1. —– Going from a lighter to heavier rod
  2. —– Going from a lighter weight line to a heavier weight line
  3. —– Prolonged casting
  4. —– Errors in casting, mechanics

Most cases of tennis elbow can be treated successfully by correcting the cause.  Making sure you have good casting mechanics is one way of preventing tennis elbow.  This means having nice smooth strokes and not trying to overpower the cast or casting distances that are not within your skill zone.  In addition, if you are planning a fishing trip and plan to do a considerable amount of casting, get your elbow in shape before going.  There are some simple exercises that we will talk about in the treatment section you can do that will not only help during the acute phase, but also can be preventive.

Using balanced tackle and making sure your rod is lined correctly can prevent one from overworking the elbow during the casting stroke (this includes removing slack before the casting stroke and not trying to cast large amounts of line that you are not used to or comfortable with).


Most cases of tennis elbow resolve by themselves with a little rest, but there are some things you can do to help speed up the healing process.

During the acute phase, if you begin having pain after a fishing trip use ice on the elbow for thirty minutes  every three to four hours for two or three days or until the pain is gone.

Use a tennis elbow brace or tennis elbow strap.  This is a belt-like fixture that fits right below the bump on the outside of the elbow and shifts the pull of the muscles to the tennis elbow brace instead of the bone.  This can be worn during the day and during the fishing trip.

Anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen, Naprosyn and aspirin can help with the discomfort, pain and swelling.  Once taken, they need to be taken on a regular basis until the pain resolves (usually a week to 10 days).

Steroid injections can be very beneficial in treating the acute phase of the inflammation and can be performed at regular intervals when the pain flares up.

Physical therapy using electrical stimulation and ultrasound can also speed up the healing process.

Once the pain is under control, performing an exercise program two or three times a day can prevent the tennis elbow from recurring.

Surgery – Very few patients who follow the above routine require surgical procedures, but there are operations that can successfully treat chronic epicondylitis.

As mentioned above, exercise programs can be very beneficial in preventing tennis elbow from reoccurring.  These exercises should be done when the elbow has cooled down and is comfortable enough to begin exercising.

The elbow exercises are designed to work the muscles that flex and extend the wrist.  Simple wrist curls, regular and reversed, done in three of eight repetitions two or three times a day are helpful.  Another exercise that I found to be very beneficial is gripping a tennis racquet or baseball bat and rotating it clockwise and counter clockwise with the elbow extended out in front of one back and forth repetitiously.  This seems to stretch the muscles that insert into the elbow and prevent the contracture that results from the healing process of damaged muscles being stretched out and pulled apart the next time you cast.  Keeping these muscles and tendons and the forearm muscles strong is the key to preventing chronic epicondylitis.

Most cases of epicondylitis are allowed to progress too far before they are treated so I would encourage anyone who has the signs and symptoms not to ignore them but to get immediate treatment which can prevent a fishing trip from being ruined.

Thomas R. Dempsey, certified casting instructor Mobile, Alabama.

Take Advantage of Cold Weather and PRACTICE! pt 1

Take Advantage of Cold Weather and PRACTICE! pt 1

Instruction By Tom Dempsey

When the weather turns and you feel it’s too cold to get on the water, it’s time to work on your casting .The exercise will help warm you as you hone your casting skills for the bass spawn [that happens in lower Alabama in late January]

A few pointers will help you get the most out of your practice sessions.

First, always practice with the gear you intend to fish with. Use a “practice” fly made of a material you can easily see. I like fluorescent yellow nylon, used as a catfish line and available in sporting goods stores in a spool you will never use up.

Next, always practice with a purpose. This sounds idiotic but so many of us go out and flail about with our fly rods jumping from one task to another. Make out a a practice schedule like your work-out sheet so there is a “method to your madness. Start with the basics. Clean your line and dress it. Any good silicone will do. I like Whizz Lube, it makes the line shot like mad. A 7-1/2 foot tapered leader to 12 or 15 lbs. works nicely with your nylon practice fly.

Now for the routine. Ask yourself “What are my strengths and weaknesses ?” If you have trouble answering this question, get some help from a certified casting instructor who can observe, analyze, and help you work on your deficiencies. Money well spent prior to making that summer trip out west. Specifically with regards to practice routines, begin with the foundation of fly fishing, casting loops. Start with 30 ft. of line casting slowly watching your forward and back loops. Make sure you wait for the loops to unroll before preceding with the next stroke. Try and imagine your rod tip moving along a straight line during your casting stroke. It will ensure you cast a tighter and more efficient loop. In addition, make sure you smoothly accelerate your casts and end with a definitive stop.

By following the previous suggestions you have now formed the foundation of the casting essentials. Gradually add a foot or two to the line you are casting until you get to a point where your cast falls apart. Back down and work back up adding a bit more line each practice. Soon you will achieve the distance you want. Fifteen minutes 3 or 4 times a week will keep you sharp until your next trip. Other practice tips and drills will follow.

Tom Dempsey, certified casting instructor.

Practice with a Purpose


Practice with a Purpose

Instruction By Tom Dempsey CCI Gulf Coast Fly Fishing School , Mobile Al.

The first rule should be “Always practice with a purpose.” Most anglers practice very little and without a plan. A purpose forces you to:

1. Define a task or a problem

2. Develop an outline of how to deal with the issue. Which may be structured, I.E. use an instructor or unstructured, internet, videos etc.

How to overcome a task that consumes all practice time? First, determine WHY the task is consuming all the practice time. Often times we tend to “practice” mistakes. Get a qualified observer. They can save you a lot of pick and shovel work.

Practice on a regular basis — 15 to 30 min. daily will keep you from getting rusty. Always practice the things you do well in addition to working on the problems. I always start a practice session myself or with my student with a task that has been mastered, it gives you jump start.

Distractions and interruptions can be kept to a minimum by training on a large field away from everyone. I have the luxury of  access to a athletic field in the day time and at night ,a local neighborhood school has a synthetic play ground with security lights that illuminate a flyline giving a great silhouette on a black sky background. For a lay out I use a traffic cone with a yellow 50 ft. poly rope  marked at the precise distances corresponding to each task. Now all I have to do is stand on the spot marked with electrical shrink wrap for each task and cast. Roll it up afterwards and you have a portable layout.

The best way to promote interaction and feedback is to have a casting partner. I’m lucky. I cast with a master who lives 2 blocks away. In addition, I go to conclaves and pick the brains of other casters. I have picked up a number of pearls casting with the guys at the end of the day after the courses have adjourned and the official activities have ended at many of the conclaves.

Teaching tasks implies you can preform the task. Work with as many people as you can on the task. Everyone has a little different slant on how to do them and what is acceptable. By attrition, the “light”will come on and you will be in a position to proceed with teaching the task to students that often require you to be creative in order to get the idea across. This can only be achieved by experiencing the teaching techniques of many teachers.

Tom Dempsey CCI Gulf Coast Fly Fishing School , Mobile Al.