On Thursday, April 4th, I conducted a casting clinic and gave a presentation on video fly casting analysis using the Hudl Technique to the Cape Cod Fly Rodders in Chatham, Massachusetts. You can read about it at the Tail Fly Fishing Blog.
Here’s the short instructional video that supplements the article on shooting heads I wrote for the July/August 2018 issue of Tail Fly Fishing Magazine. I shot the video on my iPhone and edited it on my Mac desktop using iMovie. I hope you find something in the video and article that will help you up your game.
For best effect, enable the HD quality and watch the video in full-screen mode.
I recently spent two days in the Scottish Borders fishing the River Tweed with Stewart Collingswood of Alba Game Fishing. I’m saving the details of the trip for a magazine article, but I wanted to share this clip with you.
I’ve fished with a few guides over the past 30 years—which is to say I’ve fished with a bunch of guides—for everything from trout to tarpon to tuna. Of all the guides I’ve fished with, Stewart Collingsworth is, without question, the finest caster.
Stewart asked to try my outfit, a Thomas & Thomas Avantt lined with a Wulff Ambush, which I had rigged specifically to swing streamers and wet flies. I got up on the bank and captured this footage with my iPhone. The snake roll is my favorite Spey cast—elegant, efficient, and eminently practical. To watch Stewart execute it was truly a pleasure.
For best effect, enable the HD feature and watch in full-screen mode.
In a few days, Lori and I will be leaving for 11 days in Scotland, where I’m lucky enough to have arranged four days of fishing with two great ghillies–two days on the River Tweed with Stewart Collingswood and two days on the Isle of Skye with Mitchell Partridge.
One of my favorite things is to swing streamer flies for trout (and if I can do it with a snake roll, so much the better). Streamer flies are not traditionally used to fish for trout in Scotland, but I’m not quite a traditionalist. I can think of no reason why a Scottish brown trout wouldn’t take a well-presented streamer, but I figured if I wanted to find out for sure I’d better take a few with me.
As a fly dresser, I’m no Davie McPhail, but I can tie a functional streamer pattern. I don’t know much about what minnows might be available as forage in Scottish rivers and lochs, but anywhere that wild trout live holds trout fry and fingerlings. And trout, after all, are cannibals.
The Little Brown Trout is one of a series of streamer patterns originated by Samuel Slaymaker, and which I first read about as a child in Joseph Bates’ Streamer Fly Tying and Fishing (other flies in Slaymaker’s series include the Little Brook Trout and the Little Rainbow Trout).
Slaymaker’s original dressing calls for a tail of pheasant breast feather and a wing that’s a combination of various colors of bucktail and also squirrel tail. I chose to use Arctic fox for the tail and wing. Arctic fox has much more inherent action than bucktail and is extremely durable. I think the Arctic fox makes a nice Little Brown Trout, but it’ll be interesting to see what the fish think.
Below I’ve listed the dressing for my Arctic fox version. For Slaymaker’s original dressing, refer to Bates’ excellent book (long out-of-print but still available used on Amazon). Also, there’s a good blog post on Slaymaker’s flies here.
Little Brown Trout (Arctic Fox Version)
Thread: UTC Ultra Thread, 210 denier, black.
Tail: Arctic fox dyed cinnamon.
Body: White acrylic yarn.
Ribbing: Medium copper wire.
Wing: Arctic fox dyed yellow, over which is Arctic fox dyed orange, over which is Arctic fox dyed brown. The wing should extend only slightly beyond the bend of the hook to help prevent fouling.
Below is the instructional video I created to supplement my article in the January/February 2018 issue of Tail Fly Fishing Magazine. The video details the technique of shooting line on the final back cast to load the rod deeper for a longer, more powerful delivery with no more effort from your rod arm.
I shot the footage with my iPad Air 2, created the reviews with the Hudl Technique app, and edited them on my Mac desktop computer using iMovie. Although the technique has been written about before, I believe this new technology allows for a more comprehensive visual treatment of the subject.
For best effect, enable the High Definition quality and watch in Full-Screen mode.
I consider Chris this country’s foremost authority on tenkara and other forms of Japanese angling. I was a customer of Chris’s TenkaraBum website before I was his friend. He’s come to visit me twice at my home–the last time to try his hand at striped bass with a fixed-line rod (but you can read all about that in his post).
If you’re interested in tenkara, keiryu, micro fishing, Japanese ultralight spin fishing–or anything else related to Japanese angling–Chris is the man. As a customer of Chris’s, I can tell you his customer service is second to none. Enjoy!
I’m honored to contribute to Tail Fly Fishing Magazine’s fifth year anniversary issue. You can purchase a hard copy at your local fly shop, at Barnes and Noble, or you can subscribe to it by clicking the link above.
I’ve found that many experienced fly anglers have a knowledge deficit regarding fly lines. My article for this issue, “A Fly Line Primer,” is an attempt at a concise but useful overview of choosing, using, and tweaking a saltwater fly line for enhanced performance. The publishers have posted the article on the magazine’s blog in three installments. You can begin reading Part One by clicking the corresponding link.
To supplement the article I’ve created this short video (using iMovie and the Hudl Technique app) on marking the head of the fly line. I hope you find it helpful.
This post first appeared, in slightly different form, as a feature article in the Fall 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler Magazine. As spring 2017 has arrived and our thoughts turn to the season ahead, I thought you might like to read it, if you haven’t already. My thanks to Mike Agneta, webmaster of Troutrageous! and editor of Tenkara Angler, for allowing me to publish it.
Photos: Brad Clark
My first tenkara rod was a 13-footer, which I used on the trout streams of North Georgia—the Chattahoochee and the Tallulah River among them. This purchase was quickly followed by that of an 11-foot rod. The 2-foot subtraction helped me stay out of the rhododendrons, but if a shorter rod had been available then, I would have bought that as well. Unfortunately, there wasn’t.
When I moved back to Massachusetts a couple of years later, I knew these rods would be unworkable on many of the small streams in northern New England that are home to wild native brook trout. These waters, heavily canopied, often unnamed, faint blue lines on the Gazetteer, do not allow for 9-foot rods, let alone 13-footers.
When my friend Chris Stewart, the Tenkara Bum, began touting the Daiwa Soyokaze as a micro rod that could be fished tenkara-style, some tenkara traditionalists (who’d been at the game for all of three years) balked. For those of us who fish for brookies in New England, however, the short sticks seemed tailor-made for the game. For me, whose initial attraction to tenkara was its minimalism, the Soyokaze further simplified things. Here was a fly rod stripped to its essence: a carbon stick and little else. The Soyokaze cast both furled and level lines well—and it caught fish. When Daiwa ceased production, I regretted not having bought a few more of them.
If you’re interested in playing the small-stream tenkara game, the rod is your primary consideration. There are several seiryu and micro rods on the market of less than 9 feet that will fit the bill, including the Nissin Air Stage 190 (which comes in several flex profiles) and the Shimotsuke Kiyotaki 24, 21, and 18 (just under 8 feet, 7 feet, and 6 feet, respectively). Although the Kiyotaki 18 has become my go-to rod for small-stream brookies (simply due to its length), it’s a bit stiffer than I would like.
Fast-forward 7 or 8 years after tenkara first hit the U.S. and we now have several homegrown companies producing rods for the American market, 3 of which offer a dedicated tenkara rod of less than 9 feet.
At 8’6” extended and 18 inches collapsed, Badger Tenkara’s U.N.C. (which stands for “unnamed creek”) is spartan, a matte drab olive blank (presumably for stealth). Writes Matt Sment: “We founded Badger with the goal of making tenkara accessible to the broadest possible audience … focusing on the angler’s preferred experience rather than trying to clone Japanese products and culture. The vast majority of our customers are Americans fishing American water and terrain, and our products are shaped by our experiences on the same.”
The company describes the rod as a 6:4 action with a medium flex. Frankly, I don’t pay too much attention to technical specifications. I fished the rod and it cast well and hooked fish. And at $90 retail you really can’t argue with the price. (I didn’t get a chance to take the U.N.C. down to the pond, but I’m sure it’s an awesome little bluegill rod.)
Zen Fly Fishing Gear’s Suzume (“sparrow”) is one of the neatest tenkara rods I’ve fished with yet—a downsized triple-zoom (10’8”, 9’3”, and 7’7”) that Zen owner Karin Miller designed specifically for Rocky Mountain National Park. “Those are our home waters,” she writes, “and what we fish every day. It’s small streams, tight places, lots of trees and overhanging canopy, and pools and pockets. We wanted something that could handle these places without a lot of acrobatics and maneuvering and could also reach the other side of that wider pool or beaver dam when you finally get to that place where you can see sky and the water opens up for a bit. The range that the Suzume has is something we’re pretty proud of. You can cover a lot of situations with a single rod—and still feel pretty balanced and not tip heavy in any of its three positions (which is very hard to do on a zoom rod and especially a tri-zoom). It’s a sweet rod that offers some really nice options.”
Zen describes the rod as a medium-fast action with a 6:4 flex. I was afraid the rod would feel a bit stiff at its shortest length—but it didn’t. At $229, the Suzume is more than twice the price of the U.N.C., but if you think of it as buying three rods the price gets a lot nicer. As an added bonus, Zen includes an extra tip with each of its rods. Says Miller, “It just makes life that much sweeter if you should experience a break.”
Once you’ve procured your rod, your next consideration is line. Although most tenkara anglers today prefer to fish with level fluorocarbon lines, I still prefer furled lines, which feel and handle more like conventional fly lines. In the tightest spots, however, you’re bound to end up in the trees occasionally. Pulling on the line to break the tippet is almost sure to cause the line to tangle. Tangle a furled line and you could spend the next five minutes trying to untangle it. Furled lines for very short tenkara rods are not the norm. You may have to substitute a furled leader made for a Western-style fly line. Otherwise, Mike Moline at Streamside Furled Leaders is willing to do custom work at a small additional charge. Whatever line you choose, 3 or so feet of 5X or 6X tippet will suffice.
Life in the headwaters is a hardscrabble existence. Competition for food is keen, so the fish aren’t fussy. Forget about matching the hatch—just throw a few flies into a glass vial and go. I do most of my small-stream fishing with only two patterns—an Elk Hair Caddis and a Yellow Soft Hackle, size 14 or smaller. Plan to do a lot of walking when you play this game. If you don’t get a rise after a cast or two into the same water, move to the next likely-looking spot. If you rise a fish but don’t hook it, don’t spend a lot of time working over him, as it’s unlikely you’ll rise the same fish again.
As I said previously, the thing that attracted me to tenkara initially was its minimalism. I like to travel light. I can fit everything I need for a day of fishing into a small fanny pack. If I can get away with wet-wading in a pair of shorts and Vibram FiveFingers, I leave the waders at home (I find the Vibrams made for trail running offer better grip on wet stones).
To enjoy this game requires a shift in attitude that some will never manage—which may be why I rarely see another soul. You have to accept there will be no rods doubled over, no singing reels, no trophies as such—none of the usual rewards of the five-star experience. (The first time I showed my wife a wild brook trout she said, “We came all the way up here for that…?”) If you’re after those things you’ll be elsewhere—wading the ranch’s private water, or standing at the bow of a flats boat.
But if you’re here, bare ankles numb, dancing your CDC Caddis across a pool no larger than your bathtub, you’re after something else.
Streamside Furled Leaders
Chris Stewart stocks an impressive array of tenkara and other Japanese rods. For all of the specialty rods mentioned in this post, please refer to his Website.
Zen Fly Fishing Gear
JJ’s Wood Fired Pizza and Tavern
If you make the trip to Needle Shop Brook be sure to stop by JJ’s. Nice people, excellent food, and an impressive beer selection. Piscator non solum piscatur.
The following post appeared, in slightly different form, as a feature article in Tail Fly Fishing Magazine #27, January/February 2017. My intent was to spotlight current technologies that have the potential to positively impact the way fly casting is learned and taught—namely, high-speed digital photography, slow-motion video, and video sports analysis applications—technologies that were not available when I was learning to cast. I use the controversial technique of slide loading as an example of how we can use the technology to see what’s actually happening in the cast—as opposed to what we believe, or say, is happening.
My only wish was that the photos in the published piece had been a bit larger to show the differences in hand positions between the conventional double haul and slide loading. I’ve tried to rectify this here. Also, at the end of each photo sequence I’ve included a video review created with the Hudl Technique to highlight the differences in the two techniques, as well as to highlight the app’s potential as a learning and teaching tool for fly casting.
My thanks to former editor of Tail, Josh Wrigley, for helping me formulate this piece, and to Joe Ballarini for publishing it. Thanks also to Jamil Siddiqui and Amy Riechenbach for their high-speed, high-resolution digital photography. I couldn’t have done it without you.
For a more detailed treatment of the Hudl Technique app, please take a look at my blog post devoted to it.
If you’ve taken fly casting lessons, you know the drill: The fly casting coach instructs you on proper mechanics and technique, observes your cast, analyzes it, and then offers you feedback to refine your game. Ideally you’ll use this feedback to direct regular practice sessions, resulting in a higher level of performance. For a saltwater fly angler, this means a longer, more powerful, more accurate cast. In subsequent lessons your coach will offer further instruction, analysis, and feedback. Again you’ll take this feedback into your practice sessions—and so on. Like any physical skill, the fly cast is built over time with practice.
That’s how it’s supposed to work, anyway. In reality, rarely does anyone transition from novice to expert smoothly along a consistent timeline. For the coach’s part, success depends (among other things) on the quality of his or her observations and feedback. To analyze the fly cast in real time presents challenges. While the technique of a beginner is relatively easy to assess, the same is not true of the more advanced caster. The better a fly caster you are, the less obvious your errors, and the more difficult it will be for a coach to accurately observe and analyze your technique. This is particularly true when your coach can observe your cast only in real time—in person—and has no permanent record to which he can refer. Add to this that all coaches bring to the process their own perceptions, biases, and assumptions. And frankly, not all coaches agree on what constitutes proper fly casting mechanics or technique.
To further muddle things, coaches are not always clear on what’s happening in their own cast: What we think we’re doing is sometimes very different from what we’re actually doing, and our teaching reflects this skewed view.
Over the past few years, high-speed digital photography and slow-motion video have become affordable to the average person. Today, anyone with a smartphone can shoot high-quality video at 120 frames per second (with a GoPro camera you can double that). Until fairly recently the software used to analyze sports video was available only to well-funded professional and college teams. If you have a smartphone or tablet, you can download one of these apps for free and start using it today to analyze your fly cast. This technology provides a permanent resource for fly casting analysis that is accurate, objective, and free from bias. In a word, the camera doesn’t lie. And the ability to record and play back video in slow motion allows us to view aspects of the cast that are difficult, if not impossible, to see in real time. If you’re among the 60 percent of the population who are visual learners, your being able to see yourself cast on video likely will have a much greater impact on your progress than simply listening to your coach’s verbal critique.
In the following article we’re going to take a look at one of the more popular sports analysis apps and how you can use it to improve your own casting. We’ll then use the app, along with high-speed digital photography, to take a look at the little-understood, highly controversial adaptation of the double haul known as slide loading.
Formerly Ubersense, Hudl Technique is one of several popular apps that can be used to record and analyze video in a wide variety of sports. You can download the app onto an iOS or Android smartphone (the basic app is free), but using it on a tablet will allow you to better see the cast and give you a larger workspace. (I shoot all my video and create Hudl video reviews using an iPad Air 2.) Features and functions of most interest to fly casters include:
- Slow-motion video up to 240 frames per second (if supported by device) allows you to see things you could not see in real time
- Variable playback rate to 1/8 speed
- Stop-action and “scrubbing” allows you move through the clip frame by frame
- Clock measuring in 1/100 second increments allows you to pinpoint precise moments in the cast
- Zoom function lets you view details
- Drawing tools—various lines, arrows, circles, boxes, angles, text, all available in a variety of colors—allow you to highlight various aspects of the cast
- Voiced-over reviews, either single or comparison reviews
The app’s value as a learning tool is its ability to create a visual record of progress, provide instant feedback, and provide permanent feedback in the form of reviews.
Your first videos should be your baseline cast in whatever areas or aspects you wish to improve. This could be your basic cast, your distance cast, loop formation, double haul, quick cast, etc.
Take the app with you to casting lessons—even if your coach doesn’t know how to use the technology. If there’s something your coach wishes to correct in your cast, video it, then take a short break to review the clip together. You can even video your coach demonstrating proper technique for comparison. You cannot overestimate the value of this sort of visual feedback to your learning.
Creating a video review will give you permanent feedback (at this writing, the review feature of Hudl is available only on iOS devices). When you tap the microphone icon at the top of the screen, the app will begin to record all playback features, drawings, and speech. A simple review could consist of you and your coach scrubbing through the video clip frame by frame with him talking about various aspects of your cast and how you might improve it. If you wish, you can use the drawing tools to highlight the things he points out. There’s really no wrong way to make a review as long as it helps you to progress.
The Hudl app offers you a number of ways to share videos with others. This would allow you to have your cast critiqued by a coach on the other side of the country or the other side of the world, provided they have the app.
I’m not particularly tech-savvy, but after spending ten minutes with this technology I was convinced it’s going to change the way fly casting is learned and taught.
Let’s use the app, along with high-speed digital photography, to take a close look at my double haul—and what might be “wrong” with it.
Haul as I Say, Not as I Do
A haul is simply a pull on the fly line during the casting stroke. Pulling fly line through the guides during the stroke enhances your cast in a number of ways, including a deeper load on the rod, higher line speed, and a tighter loop.
When I was learning to cast, the prevailing explanation of the double haul prescribed that you execute the haul in synch with the final stage of acceleration—that portion of the stroke in which the rod butt rotates toward the underside of the forearm on a forward cast (or away from the forearm on a back cast). Joan Wulff calls this part of the stroke the power snap, Lefty Kreh calls it the speed-up-and-stop—analogous to what the Federation of Fly Fishers has termed rotation. For example, during the back cast, your rod hand and line hand move in the same direction during the first stage of acceleration. Then, during the second stage of the stroke, your rod hand and line hand accelerate in opposite directions. After the rod unloads, and while the loop of line is unrolling behind you, your line hand moves toward the first stripping guide to give back line (at the same speed the unrolling cast wants to take it); the line hand finishes at a position near the reel as the fly line straightens. For the forward cast, the rod hand and line hand move forward together during the first stage of acceleration. Then, during the final stage of acceleration the rod hand continues forward to complete the casting stroke while the line hand accelerates opposite that to execute the haul. (The late Mel Krieger, who was among the most influential fly casting instructors of his era, created a very popular pantomime exercise to teach the double haul—he called the hauling movement “downup”—that is still widely used by casting coaches today.)
Figures 1 through 8—the conventional double haul. The caster hauls on the back cast stroke (Figures 1 and 2). As the back cast unrolls (Figure 3) the line hand moves toward the first stripping guide to give back line, finishing at a position near the reel as the line straightens (Figure 4). On the forward cast the rod hand and line hand move forward together during the first part of the stroke (Figure 5). During the second part of the stroke the hands accelerate in opposite directions, completing the forward stroke and haul (Figures 6 through 8).
I learned to haul according to the above description, and this is how I would teach hauling to students. However, at some point I realized my actual double haul was different than my explanation, the version I was teaching—but I couldn’t explain how. It felt to me that I was hauling throughout the entire stroke—but I knew that had to be wrong. This puzzled me for several years, until I was finally able to see myself double haul on slow-motion video. To my surprise, my double haul looked different from what it was supposed to. It wasn’t until I reread Joan Wulff’s Fly Casting Techniques and found the short passage on her adaptation of the double haul, and read it with new eyes, as if for the first time (in truth I’d probably read it a dozen or more times previously), that I realized I was slide loading.
In the 2012 revision to her original work, Joan Wulff writes: “This technique is contrary to most instructors’ teaching of double hauls, but I promise you that the best casters eventually do it naturally, whether they know it or not. I didn’t know it until I saw slow-motion film of one of my early casting compadres, Johnny Dieckman, slide loading while demonstrating a double haul. I then focused on my own line hand and found that I too was doing it—unconsciously!”
In slide loading, while the fly line is unrolling during the back cast, the rod hand starts forward through the stroke while the line hand is still giving back line. As strange as it seems, during the first part of the stroke the rod tip slides forward along the fly line with no actual load on the rod. When the rod hand and line hand meet and the back cast straightens, the weight of the line is felt suddenly. At this point, the rod hand is positioned to execute the second part of the stroke (power snap) and the line hand is positioned to execute the haul.
A number of casting instructors have opined that they do not consider slide loading a real event. Still others have equated it to a casting error—creep or drag. I can appreciate this: Slide loading breaks the rules. In particular, it violates the widely held principle that slack line should be kept to an absolute minimum (a principle with which I agree in virtually all instances). Slide loading also effectively shortens the length of the casting stroke—remember, during the first part of the stroke there is no line tension nor any load on the rod. This violates the tenet that a long casting stroke is required to make a long cast.
The camera doesn’t lie, however. High-speed digital photography and the Hudl Technique provide evidence that slide loading is indeed a real event, and when it’s done properly there is no negative impact on the cast. In particular, no tailing loop results from the shorter casting stroke.
Figures 9 through 16—slide loading. The back cast stroke and haul are executed as they are with the conventional double haul (Figures 9 and 10). However, as the back cast unrolls (Figure 11), the rod hand begins forward through the stroke while the line hand gives back line. The rod tip slides forward along the fly line with no load on the rod (Figures 12 and 13). When the hands come together and the fly line straightens, the weight of the line is felt suddenly (Figure 14). The caster is now in position to execute the haul (Figures 15 and 16).
Nobody taught me to slide load. My double haul simply developed this way without my knowledge—probably over a number of years. But why…? Having had a couple of decades to think about it since discovering it in my cast, I believe it has to do with the evolution of rhythm, timing, and efficiency in technique.
When I perform it now, the traditional double haul feels clunky to me—as does Mel Krieger’s pantomime exercise—like single casts strung together. It has no flow. Slide loading gives the casting sequence a feeling of wholeness. There’s a much nicer cadence. The casting strokes and hauls flow seamlessly. There’s never a question where in the stroke to place the haul. Slide loading automatically positions you to execute the haul, and the timing is determined by feel. You’ll feel the weight of the fly line suddenly—dramatically—and that’s your cue to haul. My timing is better with slide loading than with the conventional haul—and if your timing is better your cast will be better. With slide loading I don’t have to drift as far on my back cast to make a long delivery, making for a more efficient stroke.
I don’t believe slide loading by itself bends the rod any deeper than does the traditional double haul, but the camera suggests that it bends the rod as deeply—certainly enough to cast as far as you would need in any practical fishing situation.
Let me make it clear that I’m not suggesting slide loading is superior to the traditional double haul—or even something you should necessarily work toward. I believe your cast will either develop this way on its own—or it won’t. And if it doesn’t, I don’t think you should be concerned in the least. In fact, I think the double haul is the least important factor in a long cast; you’ll make much greater gains in distance and power by mastering the fundamentals—loading and unloading the rod, loop formation, etc.—the principles that are covered in every basic casting lesson.
When I became aware of slide loading, something strange happened: I began to see it in the fly casts of others—often in its embryonic phase (that is, just a hint), other times in its full-blown form. And a number of these slide loaders were instructors whose explanation of the double haul fell more in line with the traditional. Whether they were aware of what they were doing I can only speculate.
Whether you’re a fly angler looking to improve your cast, or you’re a fly casting coach who strives to stay on the cutting edge of instruction, the Hudl Technique will give you a new, very different set of eyes. I suggest you download the app and try it for yourself. What you see may enlighten you.
Okay, now Master the Cast has a YouTube Channel, God help us. (I’ll try to keep it clean.) You can access it by clicking here.