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.
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’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.
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.
The most important tool yet developed for learning and teaching fly casting was not invented by a fly angler. Video analysis software is going to revolutionize the way fly casting is taught and learned. I’m so convinced of this that I’ve assembled this ebook-in-the-form-of-a-blog-post on the subject.
The purpose of this post is to get you, the student of fly casting, up and running with video fly casting analysis using the Hudl Technique app. In this post I’ll explain how this technology will improve your casting, and I’ll show you how to get started quickly and inexpensively. Next, we’ll review Hudl’s basic analytical features and functions and how you might use them. After that, we’ll cover how to use the app to get instant visual feedback during a lesson, as well as how to create permanent voiced-over video reviews you can use to direct your practice sessions until your next lesson. Perhaps the best part is that you’ll be able to do all of this even if your casting coach doesn’t know a thing about the technology.
If you’re not particularly tech-savvy, don’t worry about it. Neither am I, but I was able to figure it out pretty quickly, and I’m confident this post will help you do the same.
Just to be clear, I have no connection with Hudl other than as a customer (I’m sure they don’t know I exist). I’m simply providing this information to you in the interest of your becoming a better fly caster. Even if you happen to choose a sports analysis software package other than Hudl Technique, I’m sure there’s still plenty in this post that you’ll find helpful.
1. Why Video Analysis?
There are a number of challenges with trying to learn any physical skill. For starters, what’s actually happening in the skill in question is often very different than what it looks like is happening. So it is with fly casting. The typical beginner looks at a fly cast and believes the caster is using the rod to throw line back and forth in the air, and this misunderstanding is reflected in his technique when he attempts to cast the line. Add to this that what we think we’re doing when we cast is often very different from what we’re actually doing (this is true of casters of all levels). One of the biggest problems with overcoming these obstacles is your inability to see yourself cast.
In order to become better casters, some fly anglers take lessons with casting instructors. The instructor educates you on proper technique, observes and analyzes your performance, and provides you with feedback. Ideally you use this feedback to direct regular practice sessions, thereby leading to your becoming a better fly caster. In subsequent lessons the instructor or coach provides you with further instruction, observes and analyzes your performance, provides you with more feedback that directs further practice sessions, and so on in a continuous cycle in which you progress to a level of proficiency where you no longer need a coach (perhaps you become good enough that you become a casting instructor yourself).
Your coach’s success depends, among other things, on the quality of his observations and analysis. Given this, it’s important that his observations are as accurate, objective, and comprehensive as possible. Challenges arise here as well. Although the technique of a beginning fly caster may be glaringly obvious and easy to assess, the same is not true of the more advanced student. The better the fly caster, the less obvious his errors, and the more difficult it will be to accurately observe and analyze his technique. This is particularly true when we can observe the cast only in real time and we have no permanent record of the performance to which we can refer, and so must rely on memory. Add to this that all coaches bring to the process their own perceptions, biases, assumptions, and previous experiences.
Video recording 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—my iPhone and iPad both shoot at 120 frames per second—allows us to view aspects of the cast that are difficult, if not impossible, to see in real time.
Depending upon what studies you read, as much as 65 percent of the population are visual learners, while only about 30 percent are auditory learners. What this means to you is that you probably aren’t maximizing your learning simply by listening to your coach’s verbal critique. Feedback likely will be of much more value to you if you can see it for yourself.
Using video analysis to help you to learn how to fly cast gives you the ability to track your progress. By recording a baseline cast and building a library of content over time, you can see exactly where you have made improvements. Such feedback will contribute greatly to your motivation, as you are able to gauge the progress you have made.
A handful of fly casting instructors have been shooting video of students for years (I remember being video taped at Joan Wulff’s Instructors’ School back in the late 1990s). However, back then a camera that would shoot quality video was cost-prohibitive to the average person. And until fairly recently, the technology necessary to use video analysis was available only to well-funded professional and college athletic teams. Today, if you own a smartphone you have all the equipment you need to get started.
The bottom line is, to become an exceptional fly caster–and particularly if you wish to become a fly casting instructor–you will have to learn how to analyze the fly cast, one way or another. Video analysis software is a tool you can use to facilitate this.
If this technology had been available when I was learning to fly cast, I’m convinced it would’ve taken years off my learning. If you learn to utilize it, I’m equally convinced it can take years off yours.
2. Hudl Technique at a Glance
Formerly Ubersense, Hudl Technique is among the most popular apps (along with Dartfish and Coach’s Eye) that can be used to record and analyze video in a wide variety of sports. Features and functions of most interest to students of fly casting include:
Recording and Managing
- Record video up to 240 frames per second (if supported by device).
- Import video from camera roll, email, or apps such as Google Drive or Dropbox.
- Organize videos by athlete (you, your fellow fly casters, or your coach).
- Mark Favorite videos for quick reference.
- Slow-motion playback in multiple speeds and frame-by-frame.
- Zoom and pan videos to view detail.
- Use drawing tools to measure or highlight form.
- Compare two videos—stacked, side-by-side, or overlay.
- Synchronize comparison videos.
- Use during instruction to get instant feedback.
- Create voice-over reviews on single or comparison videos (reviews available only for iOS devices).
- Add drawings to voice-overs.
- Track and compare your progress over time.
- Create and manage a team (this might consist of you, your fellow fly casters, and your coach).
- Import contacts from your address book or enter manually.
- Organize your videos and reviews by team member.
- Share videos with anyone directly from the app—friends, coach, or anyone else.
- Post to social media.
- Export to camera roll and third-party apps such as Google Drive.
For a more thorough overview of how the app works, visit the Hudl Technique Support Page.
3. Getting Started
Getting started with video fly casting analysis using Hudl Technique is quick, easy, and perhaps best of all, inexpensive. If you have a smartphone you have just about everything you need to begin. Simply go to the App Store—iTunes for Mac, Google Play for Android—and download the free Hudl Technique app. (Presently there is no version of Hudl Technique for Mac Desktop or PC, nor any plans to create one.)
For iOS, click here.
For Android, click here.
The basic Hudl app is free, and you should try the free version for a week or two to see if you like it. If you do like the app, you should consider signing up for Hudl’s Elite version (at this writing a monthly subscription costs about $6 US; a yearly subscription is about $40), which provides you with unlimited cloud storage. Video takes up a lot of space, and if you record only a few videos a month you’ll quickly use up the storage on your phone or tablet.
The newer iPhone cameras are very powerful. The camera of the newest iPhones are actually more powerful than the camera of my iPad. Although I created my first video reviews using the iPhone 6–I suggest you consider investing in a tablet. (I use the iPad Air 2, which I prefer over the Android system simply because of the latter’s inability to create reviews). A tablet will provide you with a much larger work space than a phone, which makes the drawing tools easier to work with, and the larger screen will make it easier to see any instant feedback your casting coach provides. Whether you use a phone or a tablet, a touchscreen stylus is a more precise drawing instrument than your finger.
I also suggest you eventually obtain a tripod. Tripods designed specifically to hold a phone or tablet are too numerous to cover here, but you can purchase a serviceable model for less than $40 US (this tripod is very similar to the one I use). A tripod will allow you work alone and to video your coach (or anyone else) hands-free from a fixed point and a consistent distance. Also, using a tripod will eliminate any movement that comes with shooting video with a hand-held camera.
A 100-foot tape measure is a good tool for any fly angler to own (I use one to mark my fly lines for length). In videoing the fly cast you can use a tape measure to determine how far from the camera the caster needs to be to see whatever it is that needs to be seen. When working with a casting coach remotely, you can instruct him that the video clip you shared with him is precisely X number of feet from the camera. This is particularly helpful if the coach is willing to provide you with videos of himself you can compare to your own.
To access your Settings, tap your Profile icon at the left of the screen, then tap the Gear icon at the top left of the screen. This will call up a dialog box allowing you to adjust various settings (Figure 4-1).
Elite Settings allows you to choose your Subscription (monthly or yearly) and also allows you to decide how long your videos will remain on your device before uploading them to the cloud—between 5 hours and “Keep videos forever.”
Unless you intend to shoot only a very few videos, you’re not going to want to keep them on your device forever, as video takes up a lot of space. I keep videos on my iPad for 3 days. This gives me enough time to work with them before sending them to the cloud. Should I not get to a video within 3 days, I simply download it from the cloud whenever I decide to work with it. This takes only a couple of minutes.
Edit My Profile lets you enter your name, upload your photo, declare your primary sport, connect with social networks, etc.
Edit Email Template allows you to customize the email you send out when you share videos.
Autoshare When Tagging lets you select whether or not you automatically share video with a particular athlete when you tag the video as that athlete. This is only a consideration if you put a team together and shoot video of them. (I turn this function off, as I do not want my team members—that is, my students—seeing all the video I shoot of them.)
FAQ and Support takes you to a set of tutorials that provide general information on using the Hudl app.
How-to Videos provide you with a set of general video tutorials.
Contact Support lets you email the Hudl Support team. (You can also reach them by phone.)
5. Shooting Video
Before you begin, first decide what you want to see in the video. It’s not always important to see the fly line, but if it is, choose a brightly colored line that contrasts highly with the background against which it is shot. The sky makes perhaps the poorest background (and a blue fly line shot against the sky becomes invisible). Orange fly line shot against the green background of a dense forest shows up well, as does a yellow fly line. (Much of the video on this site was shot using a Wulff Triangle Taper fly line in orange.) It helps to enhance contrast if the background is somewhat shaded while the fly line is lighted from above.
My ideal area would be an athletic field or park surrounded on as many sides as possible by dense green forest (I frequently use my town’s youth soccer fields—after all, I’m paying for them). This will allow you to position yourself as advantageously as possible to any wind while still being able to shoot useable video.
A fly rod built on a light-colored blank shows up much better on video than does a rod built using a black or gray blank. At this writing, two companies I know of–Temple Fork Outfitters and Echo–are producing “instructor rods” that are built on yellow or white blanks. It might be worth your while to invest in one of these rods. If you don’t wish to invest in an instructor’s rod, several pieces of white plumber’s tape (available in any hardware store) placed along the blank will help to highlight the rod and will not affect the cast.
If you have a tripod–again, I strongly suggest you get one–jump in and start shooting your own cast. By the time you actually start working with an instructor or coach, your final product should be polished enough that they find it clear and useful.
As a general rule, I find placing my iPad 35 feet from the caster to be a good distance to view both body mechanics and loop formation (Figure 5-1). If you wish to focus on body mechanics and don’t need to see the loop, simply move the camera closer.
Placing the caster at the center of the screen will allow you to capture equal amounts of the loop on both the back cast and forward cast. If you wish to focus on either the back cast or the forward cast, adjust the camera so that the caster is positioned in the right or left of the screen, as the case may be. When I’m videoing myself and working alone, I carry a reflective driveway marker and position it where I intend to stand, so I can adjust the camera accordingly.
I find it most useful to shoot video from the caster’s rod-arm side. If you wish to view something from your line-hand side (such as the forward-cast haul) simply shoot from that side. There may be instances, however, where you need to shoot head-on (vertical casting from the closed stance, for example).
To shoot a video through the Hudl app, tap the Record icon, the round red button at the left of the screen. This will open the camera. The Camera Settings icon, a Gear at the right of the screen, will let you set a 10-second delay, in case you’re shooting video of yourself alone. (Frankly, I never bother with this, and simply trim all the superfluous video from the clips as I go along.) The setting below this allows you to adjust for camera speed and image quality. I keep my camera set on “Slo Mo”—that is, 120 frames per second. Beneath this, the Record icon will start the camera rolling. The Pause feature will pause the camera and the Resume feature will resume the filming. When the camera begins shooting, the Record icon transforms into a square red button. To end the shooting, simply tap this button.
Beneath the Record button you’ll find the Import icon. Use this to import a video that was not shot through the Hudl app.
6. Basic Analytical Features
The Hudl Technique app contains a number of features that can be used to analyze the fly cast to provide instant feedback as well as to create permanent voice-over reviews. As this app was developed to analyze mainstream athletic sports—fly casting was not even a consideration—some features will be more useful to us than others. Let’s take a look at the basic features and how we might use them in analyzing the cast. (I have not included illustrations of all of the drawing tools in use, but only the ones I use most frequently and consider most important.)
Rate of Play
Your cannot overestimate the value of being able to see yourself cast—even in real time. Your ability to see your cast in slow motion is even more valuable. This is particularly true if you are a more advanced caster. The errors of beginning fly casters are glaringly obvious. As a student progresses, however, errors become more subtle. The coach may not see them in real time. Slow motion video allows you and your coach to more clearly and objectively view the subtleties of your technique.
Tap the Play button, the small arrow at the bottom left of the screen (Figure 6-1), and the clip will play in real time. Tap the Slow Mo text above the button and you’ll be presented with four options, from 1/1 (real time) to 1/8. Frankly, I don’t bother much with the 1/2 or 1/4 rates of play. When I want to view a clip in slow motion I prefer the slowest rate possible.
Stop-Action and Scrubbing
You can halt a video clip at any point simply by tapping the Stop Play button. You can move through the clip frame by frame, forward or backward, by dragging your stylus or finger along the Scrubber, which is the series of vertical lines that spans the bottom of the screen (Figure 6-1).
To move through the clip more quickly, drag the tiny white button or Time Box forward or backward along the red line above the scrubber (Figure 6-1). This Time Box, which measures in 1/100 second increments, is particularly useful for locating precise moments in the cast. Whenever you are viewing video clips or creating reviews, I suggest you always have a pen and paper handy to jot down times for reference.
The zoom function allows you to zoom in on a particular section of the clip (Figure 6-2). Simply touch the screen on the area of the frame you wish to enlarge using your thumb and index finger and spread them as you would to enlarge a photo using any touch-screen device. You can further pan the clip by dragging your finger across the screen.
The Hudl Technique app comes with a number of drawing tools you can use either to receive instant feedback or help create feedback in the form of a permanent review. Some of these tools you’ll find more valuable than others. Some you may never use.
To access the drawing tools, tap the Pencil icon at the top right of the screen (Figure 6-2). Your drawing tools will drop down. Tapping any of the tools will give you instant access to that tool. Simply start drawing on the screen. A small arrow to the left of the tool indicates the selected tool. Tap on a selected tool and it will present you with all tools and color options (Figure 6-3). In this way you can customize your pallet. Despite the color options, I tend to keep all of my tools yellow. The reason I do this is simply because one of my present students is colorblind and has difficulty seeing drawings done in red. This may not be a consideration for you as you share clips and reviews with others.
Once you create a drawing, two options will appear in the upper left of the screen. The bottommost option is labeled Undo and the topmost option is labeled Clear (Figure 6-4). If you make multiple drawings on the screen, tapping Undo will erase the drawings one at a time, beginning with the most recent. Tapping Clear erases everything at once.
If you create a drawing while you are zoomed in on a section of the screen, and then zoom out, the drawing will also reduce in size proportionally.
Use the straight line tool whenever you need to illustrate a perfectly straight line or path. I use it to highlight the rod to show casting arc (as in Figure 6-4), to illustrate drift (Figure 6-6), etc.
Straight Line with Arrow
Use this tool to illustrate straight line with direction, such as the straight-line path of the rod tip during the forward (or back cast) stroke (Figure 6-4).
The freehand line tool is good for highlighting lines that are not straight, such as the bend in the rod or the loop of line (Figure 6-5). It’s also good for quick, simple doodles.
Freehand Line with Arrow
Use this tool to highlight any curved path that requires the suggestion of direction, such as the curved-line path of the rod tip that produces an open loop or a non-loop.
I use the circle most often simply as an indicator. For example, to point out the repositioning of the rod hand during drift, I’ll draw a circle around the rod hand at the point at which the rod unloads on the back cast, and then draw another circle around the hand after it has repositioned (Figure 6-6).
Square or Rectangle
The square or rectangle—you can adjust the particulars by dragging the stylus before lifting it from the screen—can also be used as an indicator. You may find some other uses for it.
The obvious uses of the angle tool would include illustrating the angle of the butt of the rod to the underside of the forearm (too wide an angle would indicate a broken wrist on the back cast) or the angle between the body and the upper arm (of the rod arm) or the angle between the upper arm and forearm. However, to illustrate these well, the caster would have to be perfectly positioned to the camera. Also, the tool is a bit tricky to use. For these reasons, I don’t find the tool that useful and prefer to suggest any angles I wish to illustrate simply by using a series of straight lines.
The text tool allows you to insert text into reviews in the form of captions or notes (Figure 6-6). It has no real application for providing instant feedback. Once you select the text tool and tap the screen, your keyboard will appear. The text will begin wherever you tapped the screen.
You can insert a stopwatch (1/100 second increments) at any point in the clip. You could use this to determine, for example, how long a particular cast actually took to deliver. I imagine you could also use it to calculate the speed of a cast, should you wish to do that. Beyond this, I don’t see any use for it, but drop me a note and let me know if you do.
7. Instant Feedback
You can use the Hudl app during a casting lesson to get instant feedback from your coach. If there’s something in your technique your coach wishes to point out to you and you can capture it on camera, you can take a quick break to review the clip. Here you’ll have all of the playback features and drawing tools at your disposal. Be aware that the screen of a phone or tablet is difficult to view in bright daylight. Try to conduct your casting lessons in areas that will offer some shade in which you can review video (for example, my town common has a large gazebo). If nothing else, lifting the tailgate or trunk lid of a car can provide some shade, as well as the inside of the car.
If you’re using a tripod—again, I recommend it—the coach can assume your position, take the rod, and you can shoot a clip of him demonstrating correct technique. This will give you a video clip shot from the same distance, angle, etc., as your video clip. If you wish, you can use the Compare function (more on this later) to view the two clips simultaneously—side-by-side, stacked, or as an overlay. You likely will find this extremely valuable.
You can also use instant feedback to conclude a lesson. For example, you can take the last fifteen minutes or so of a lesson to review with the coach the clips you shot during the lesson. He can give you feedback regarding the areas of your cast that need to be addressed in the practice sessions leading up to the next lesson.
8. Video Reviews
While you’ll no doubt find instant feedback extremely helpful, you’ll likely forget at least some of what your coach has gone over shortly after the lesson ends. A permanent voiced-over video Review solves this. (Please note, at this writing the Review function is available only on iOS devices and is not available on Android.) You can create this together even if your coach doesn’t know how to use the technology.
To begin creating a video Review, simply tap the Microphone icon at the top center of the screen. The bar that runs across the top of the screen will turn red, and the Microphone icon will transform into a square button. At this point, everything is being recorded, including everything that is said, all playback options, and whatever drawings you make. The Pause feature (upper right of the screen) allows you to pause a review in progress, and the Resume feature allows you to continue.
The simplest Review you could make would be to scrub through the clip frame by frame while your coach critiques your cast—what issues he sees and what you need to do to fix them. If you wish, you can use the drawing tools here to highlight certain aspects of your cast as he speaks. There really is no wrong way to create a Review. The point is to create Reviews that are clear to you and that you can use to direct your practice sessions to refine your technique.
When you’ve finished the Review, simply tap the square button at the top center of the screen. You’ve now created permanent feedback that you can use yourself or share with others. The Elite version of Hudl will upload both clips and reviews to its cloud after a period of time that you specify in the Settings. You can then download these to your device and watch them as you wish. Clips and Reviews will remain on the cloud until you decide to delete them. Until such time, anyone with whom you’ve shared the clips can access them as well.
The ability to create and share video clips and Reviews allows you to receive coaching remotely—either as followup to personal instruction, or even from a coach you have never met. This alone, I’m convinced, is going significantly impact the way fly casting is taught and learned in the future.
To view the capabilities of what you can do in a Review, take a look at the series of posts titled The Essentials of Distance Fly Casting, as many of the illustrations were created with the Hudl app.
Nobody learns to fly cast in a vacuum. At least, I’ve never seen someone who I thought was a truly good caster who was completely unschooled. Similarly, it would be impossible to analyze your cast in a vacuum, as you need a guiding set of principles and concepts on which to base your analysis. If you’re serious about becoming a better fly caster, you must build a library of instructional articles, books, and DVDs, to educate yourself, and against which you can compare your own technique.
It’s no secret I’m partial to the works of Joan Wulff, as these had the greatest influence on my development as a fly caster. When I was learning to cast, I had read and watched everything I could find on the subject—at the time, there wasn’t that much—and I’m sure I took away something from every work.
I think it’s important to find references that resonate with you—whether it’s Joan Wulff’s work, or someone else’s. The language of fly casting is simply a learning tool, and I don’t think it’s particularly important whose language you use as long as it helps you to learn the physical skill. I’m not convinced a fly casting language that sounds more scientific will necessarily produce better fly casters, any more than a degree in engineering will make someone a better race car driver. Learning the physical skill of fly casting is much more art than science, and the ultimate goal is for your technique to transcend all language.
Hudl Technique makes it possible for you to create a library of videos and Reviews you can use as references. Shoot videos of yourself, your coach, your fellow fly casters. If you attend a casting seminar, ask the instructor if he or she would allow you to video them (they’ll probably love it). There are also ways to download video clips from the internet and YouTube (I’ll let you Google how to do that yourself).
10. Sharing Videos and Reviews
The Hudl Technique app offers you several options for sharing videos and Reviews with members of your team (more about creating teams later), other individuals, other apps and devices, or even with social media. Simply tap the Share icon and a dialog box will appear, presenting you with options. Please use some common sense and courtesy here. Get permission before sharing someone’s video with anyone but him or her—particularly if you intend to post it in a public area such as YouTube.
Once you share a video with someone through the Hudl app or website, that person will be able to view the video until you delete it. If the person downloads the video onto his personal computer, he will have the video permanently.
Your ability to share clips through the Hudl app and website allows you to receive coaching remotely (provided the coach has the app himself and knows how to use it).
11. Other Features and Functions
Hudl contains a number of non-analytical features and functions that you can access through the Menu icon at the top right of the screen, including the Trim and Flip functions.
Some part of virtually every video clip will belong on the cutting room floor. Hudl gives you the ability to do this quickly. Simply tap the Menu icon at the top right of the screen and you’ll be presented with a number of options (Figure 11-1).
The Trim icon is a Pair of Scissors. When you tap this icon, a yellow bar will appear along the top of the screen that will allow you to trim from both the front and back of the clip (Figure 11-2). When you tap Save, you’ll be asked whether you want to trim the original clip or save the trimmed version as a new video. This will allow you to get rid of “dead air” at the beginning or end of a clip, but it will also allow you to grab select segments from within a longer clip and save them as separate videos.
Access the Flip function by tapping the Menu icon at the top right of the screen. Tapping the Flip icon (shown in Figure 11-1) will allow you to create a mirror image of a video clip (Figure 11-3). This is useful to share a video with someone whose dominant hand is different from that of the caster in the video. A left-handed caster likely will get more from watching a left-handed caster than he will a right-handed caster.
You’ll find the Compare option at the top of the screen next to the Microphone or Review icon (Figure 11-3). Tap this and it will give you the option of comparing the present video to other videos in your collection—either side-by-side, stacked (depending on whether you hold the phone or tablet landscape or portrait), or as an Overlay. (Hudl offers videos of pro athletes to purchase for comparison, but at this writing, there are no pro athlete fly casting videos in the Hudl collection.) You either can compare two videos of yourself—for example, proper technique with improper technique—or you can compare one of your videos against a video of another caster (your coach, for example). The Lock icon at the bottom right of the screen allows you to lock the two clips in synch. Simply use the individual Scrubbers to locate the beginning of each cast (or anyplace else you wish to lock them), then tap the Lock. When you tap the Play button the clips will play in synch.
The Overlay option—the Overlay icon is two rectangles, one atop another at the top right of the screen—allows you to meld both clips into one. A tool at the center of the screen allows you to adjust for image dominance. Frankly, I haven’t found this option very useful for what I want to do, but perhaps you will.
The Compare function of Hudl allows you to save comparisons as new videos, or to even create video Reviews of the comparisons (Figure 11-4).
The Star icon allows you to label a video as a Favorite. This feature is helpful when looking through a lot of video clips and deciding what clips to keep or delete. You can also search videos by Favorites.
As soon as you record a video, the Hudl app will ask you to Tag it by asking you what technique it is. The Hudl Technique app comes preloaded with a number of techniques from a number of sports—none of which is fly casting. The major drawback to this is that you cannot post a video to the Hudl Community (more on this later) until it is tagged, and there presently is no option for creating a custom tag. The videos I’ve posted on the Hudl Community I’ve had to tag with techniques from archery. I’m hopeful that in the future Hudl will expand their roster of sports to include fly casting, or at least give the user the ability to create a custom tag.
When you pull up the Tag dialog box you will be asked who the athlete is. You can either leave this blank (the clip will then be tagged “Unknown Athlete”) or you can identify the athlete as yourself or another team member. Tagging videos by athlete helps you to keep them organized.
Tap the Comments icon, which you can access from several areas of the app, to add comments to any video or Review. You and your teammates can exchange comments on any mutually-shared video. When you pull up your roster of videos, you’ll be able to see the first comment written. Therefore, I’ll often write a comment simply as a reference to what’s going on in the video or Review to help me find it quickly and to organize. For example, my comment might read, “Baseline distance cast,” or “Back cast exercise, 40 feet of line outside the rod tip.”
Videos will accumulate quickly. During a typical casting lesson I may shoot as many as 20 clips. Not all of these will be useful. I make it a habit to go through my videos from each lesson and delete all videos I’m not going to use–which is most of them. Be careful about doing this too hastily, or doing it when you’re tired, for once you delete a video you won’t be able to retrieve it. Again, this is where the Favorites feature comes in handy.
Creating Your Team
To create your team, tap your Team icon at the left of your screen. To add a team member, tap the Plus Sign at the top right of the screen. It will bring up a dialogue box giving you several options for entering the team member. At first, it’s probably easiest to enter the team member manually. Select that option and you can enter her name and email address. She’ll presently receive an email from you asking her to accept your invitation to join your team on Hudl. Once she accepts, you’ll receive notification and her name will appear in your team roster. Should she not want to join your team, you can still share videos with her by entering her email after you tap the Share icon. She’ll be able to view the video through the Hudl website.
Creating and Editing Your Profile
You’ll create and edit your profile and account through the Hudl website. This will allow you to upload your photo as well as include a link to your website, if you have one. You can edit your profile through the Hudl Technique app. Simply tap the Profile icon at the left of the screen, then hit the Settings icon, the Gear above your profile photo. To take a look at my page on Hudl, click here.
12. The Hudl Community
I’m a customer of Hudl, not an ambassador. In my opinion, the Hudl Community is the app’s weakest feature–at least at this writing. Hudl gives you the ability to post your videos to the Community for all members to see. Other members, including coaches, can then view your videos and comment on them.
As I mentioned earlier, you cannot post a video to the Community until you tag it, and there presently is no way to tag a video as “fly casting.” This would make it difficult for other fly casters or coaches to even locate your videos. Overall, the Community feature of Hudl is not very user-friendly and is difficult even to locate on their website.
Even if this feature of Hudl did work correctly, I’m not sure I could recommend it. That is, I would not recommend having your technique critiqued by someone who may or may not know what he’s talking about.
These minor criticisms aside, I’m convinced this technology is destined to make great improvements in the way fly casting is taught and learned.
This post should get you started using video analysis to improve your fly casting. If you find the post was helpful, I’m going to ask you to do two things. First, drop me a note and tell me about your experiences. Second, please share it with other fly casters you think might find it helpful as well.
If your fly shop, club, or organization would be interested in hosting a seminar devoted to video fly casting analysis–either geared toward students or geared toward instructors–feel free to contact me.
Lengthening the Casting Stroke
The video clip illustrating this post was made with an app called Hudl Technique. For best effect, enable the HD quality and watch the clip in fullscreen mode, the controls to which are at the bottom right of the screen.
This post contains affiliate links.
In Part One of this series we said that the potential power of a cast depends on how deeply you bend or load the rod. A very short casting stroke might load the rod sufficiently to deliver a fly 30 or 40 feet, but to deliver a fly a longer distance you must pull the rod into a deeper bend. One of the major problems I see with fly anglers making the transition from fresh to salt water is that they try to do all of their casting with a single stroke length. That is, their rod hand moves the same distance during the stroke regardless of whether they’re making a 40-foot cast, or they’re trying to make a 70-foot cast.
When we try to load the rod deeper using a very short casting stroke, troubles arise. A forceful load combined with a very short casting stroke often results in your shocking the rod and destroying the cast. Remember that a good casting stroke is a smooth, gradual acceleration. Shock the rod and you’ll destroy the cast every time. Often a short, jerky casting stroke produces what’s known as a tailing loop (also known as a cross loop). A tailing loop forms when the rod unloads above, rather than below, the path of the following fly line; the loop is crossed rather than open-ended. Tailing loops can tie knots in your leader (fly anglers refer to these as “wind knots,” although they have nothing to do with the wind), and in severe instances tailing loops can even tie knots in your fly line. Tailing loops may also be caused by using too short of a stroke for the amount of bend in the rod, or by using too short of a stroke for the amount of line you have outside the rod tip.
To load a rod deeply without shocking it, you must accelerate the rod over a longer distance; that is, you need to use a longer casting stroke.
There’s a school of thought in fly casting that says if you need to make a longer forward stroke, simply make a longer back cast stroke. I’ve seen some excellent casters cast this way, but I don’t cast this way myself, nor do I teach this method, as I’m convinced it’s a less efficient set of mechanics (I detail the reasons for this in Lesson Seven of my book Master the Cast: Fly Casting in Seven Lesson).
To lengthen the stroke for my forward cast I use drift. Drift is a repositioning of the rod after the conclusion of the back cast stroke. After you stop the rod on the back cast and the loop of line is unrolling behind you, your elbow leaves your side and you reach upward and backward with your rod hand, allowing the tip of the rod to drift back a bit. This move sets you up to bring the rod through a longer forward stroke—that is, a wider casting arc. You are able to load the rod more deeply over a longer distance without shocking it and make a long delivery with a very modest effort. (Drift in the forward direction—that is, after the rod unloads on the forward cast—is called follow-through.)
Drift is virtually impossible to see until you understand the mechanics. To the untrained eye, drift is inseparable from the the casting stroke; the back cast stroke and the drift appear as if they’re a single motion. But they’re not—they’re two separate entities. First the rod hand stops to unload the rod on the back cast; then, while the back cast is unrolling, the rod hand reaches upward and backward. The drift move exists outside the back cast stroke and arc and is enacted without power. I think of drift and follow-through as a relaxing in the direction of the unrolling cast.
How long you need to make your drift in order to deliver the fly a given distance depends on a number of factors; there are no concrete answers. For example, the length of our arms is in direct proportion to our height. Therefore, at 6 feet tall, my arms are longer than those of a caster who is, say, 5 feet, 7 inches tall. With equal equipment, this caster would have to bring his rod hand through a longer distance, in proportion to his body, to achieve a stroke length equal to mine—so he’ll probably have to drift a bit farther back than I will to make the same cast. (For the purposes of instruction, I’ve made a very long drift in the above video review.) As you progress as a fly caster you’ll come to know, by feel and experience more than anything else, what will be required of you physically, in terms of stroke length and the application of power, in order to deliver a fly to a distant target. The more you refine the three fundamentals we’ve discussed—loading and unloading the rod, forming tight loops, and lengthening the casting stroke—the easier everything will become.
Forming Tight Loops
The video clips illustrating this post were made with an app called Hudl Technique. For best effect, enable the HD quality and watch the clips in fullscreen mode, the controls to which are at the bottom right of the screen.
Tight loops are critical to distance fly casting. The tighter the loop you can form, the farther and faster your cast will travel. Tight loops are critical to distance casting because they focus all of the energy from the cast into a very narrow area. Also, tight loops are less wind-resistant than wide loops and are a must for casting into a wind. (One aspect of hauling that many fly anglers overlook is that hauling allows you to form a tighter loop than you could form with the casting stroke alone. I’m convinced that at least some of the extra distance we get from hauling comes simply from forming a tighter loop.)
Imagine two casting strokes, identical in power, identical in every way, except that one of the strokes forms a large, open loop while the other forms a tight loop. All other things being equal, the cast with the tight loop will travel farther and faster. The tighter loop isn’t carrying more energy than the open loop; it’s simply transferring it more efficiently by focusing all of the energy within a very narrow area.
Imagine using the palm of your hand to push through the side of a watermelon. You’re probably not going to be able to do it. Now imagine trying to do this using an icepick. You’ll be able to penetrate the watermelon easily with the icepick, and not because you’re using more energy—you’re probably using much less—but because the icepick is concentrating all of your energy into a very small area. In fly casting, the difference in effect between an open loop and a tight loop is just as dramatic.
Virtually everyone reading this post has more than enough power to deliver a fly 70 or more feet without hauling. The only reason you’re not doing it is because you’re not using your power to your best advantage. Learning to cast distance is not a process of becoming physically stronger, as some fly angers believe. Learning to cast distance is learning to make full use of the power you already possess. Good distance casters are not necessarily the strongest people. Good distance casters are those who’ve learned to use their power most efficiently. Forming a tight loop is simply the most efficient way to transfer all of the power from the fly rod toward the target.
As I pointed out in the previous post in this series, a good casting stroke is a smooth, continuous acceleration that concludes with an abrupt stop. When the rod stops on the forward cast, the airborne fly line, which you’ve been pulling from behind you, continues to soar forward. The line is anchored at the rod tip, and when the following fly line passes over the rod tip, a loop forms. The bottom leg of the loop remains anchored at the rod tip (as long as you don’t release the line trapped in your line hand) while the top leg continues to unroll toward the target.
As I’ve said, the tighter the loop of line, the farther and faster the cast will travel. To ensure that you form a tight loop, there are two important things you need to keep in mind. First: Your cast will assume any shape that the path of the rod tip has traveled. And second: The path of the rod tip is determined by the path of your rod hand.
In our ideal fly cast, the rod tip follows a straight-line path throughout the casting stroke. The casting stroke concludes with the rod tip stopping just far enough beneath the path of the following fly line so that the line passes slightly above the rod tip (rather than crashing into it or passing beneath it, as it does when you form a tailing loop). The size and shape of the loop are determined by the position of the rod tip relative to the path of the following fly line at the conclusion of the casting stroke. If the distance between the rod tip and the path of following fly line is small, then the loop will be tight: It will look like a V or a U that has been tipped on its side. But if the distance between the rod tip and the path of the following fly line is great, then the loop will be large.
Good fly casters have learned to accelerate the rod tip through a straight-line path and then drop the rod tip just far enough beneath the path of the following fly line at the end of the casting stroke so that the fly line passes just above it.
Good casters use a limited wrist movement to accomplish this. That is, during the second part of the forward stroke—what Joan Wulff refers to as the power snap and Lefty Kreh calls the speed-up-and-stop—the caster pushes forward with his thumb while pulling back with his lower fingers. This pushing-pulling motion tilts the rod a bit forward, dropping the tip slightly as the rod unloads—just far enough to allow the following fly line to pass above it.
The back cast is a mirror image of the forward cast. The caster uses a limited wrist movement on the back cast to help form the loop. During the back cast’s final acceleration, the wrist moves from bent-forward to straight. This movement positions the butt of the rod from parallel to the forearm to approximately 45 degrees to the forearm. This drops the the rod tip just slightly beneath the path of the following fly line, forming a tight loop on the back cast.
Casters who have trouble forming tight loops veer off the straight path and bring the rod through a curved path, concluding the casting stroke with the rod tip well beneath the path of the following fly line. Your ability to move your rod hand, and hence the rod tip, through a straight-line path throughout the casting stroke is so important to your becoming a good distance caster that you should think of what you’re doing as straight-line fly casting. (As I’m fond of saying, “All fly anglers know what a straight line is until you put a rod in their hand.”)
If you’re having trouble forming a tight loop on the forward cast, the clock-face analogy may help you. Imagine yourself at the center of a clock face. Twelve o’clock is directly above you, and nine o’clock is directly in front of you. Imagine also that the rod is the hour hand of the clock. If you’re forming an open loop on your forward cast, take note of where the shaft of the rod (just above the grip) is positioned when you stop the rod. If your rod is positioned at, say, 9:30 when you stop the rod, try to stop it higher—at 10:30 or maybe even 11:00 and see what effect this has on the loop.
The back cast is a mirror image of the forward cast. Therefore, the rod tip must move in a straight-line path throughout the back cast stroke as well. If your rod hand veers off the straight-line path, and you end the stroke with the rod tip significantly below the path of the following fly line, you will form an open loop on the back cast. Again, it may help you here, if you’re having trouble forming a tight loop on the back cast, to focus on stopping the rod higher—with the shaft pointed at, say, the 1:00 position.
Many fly casting instructors dislike the clock-face analogy—I believe it has limited application as well—but if you’re having trouble forming tight loops, you may find it of some value in helping to keep the rod tip on its straight-line path.
A major problem would-be distance casters have with forming tight loops is directly related to loading and unloading the rod. The typical caster, in an attempt to add power to his cast, swings right through the point where he should be stopping the rod. As we’ve seen, this causes the rod hand—and hence the rod tip—to veer off its straight path. In effect, the caster rips the loop open.
I can’t stress enough that distance fly casting has nothing to do with strength and has everything to do with developing good form, and that learning to form tight loops is a critical step toward developing that good form. Refine your ability to form tight loops and you’ll automatically add yards to your cast.
[To read Part Three of this series, click here.]
I’ve illustrated this series of posts with video clips made using Hudl Technique. This is an app that allows you to create video reviews of any athletic activity using slow-motion, stop-action, and drawing tools to highlight various aspects. Hudl is popular among amateur and professional sports coaches to critique player performance. I’ve found it a particularly useful tool to help teach fly casting. To get the full benefit from these clips, enable the HD quality and watch them in fullscreen mode, the controls to which are at the lower right of the screen.
Loading and Unloading the Rod
Without question, the most important aspect of distance fly casting is loading and unloading the rod. All the power you’re ever going to put into a cast is determined by how well you do this. Loading and unloading the rod properly is also the most difficult thing to learn in fly casting, so let’s take a close look at it.
In their simplest terms, loading the rod entails pulling the rod into a bend, and unloading the rod entails stopping the rod abruptly to force it out of a bend. Loading the rod is how we apply power to a cast: Pulling the rod into a bend stores potential energy along the length of the rod, just as an archer draws a bow into a bend to store potential energy along the length of the bow. Unloading the rod–that is, stopping it abruptly–is how we release all the power stored in the bent rod. Let’s get a clear idea of how we do this, because grasping it mentally is the first step toward being able to do it physically.
As I’ve said, the fly rod works similarly to a bow and arrow. A drawn bow has energy stored along its length. When you release the bowstring, the bow springs back into position and its energy is transferred into the arrow to propel it. To cast a fly line you pull the rod into a bend; i.e., loading the rod. To unload the rod you stop it abruptly. The energy stored in the bent rod is transferred into the fly line, propelling it either forward or backward. (In terms of fly rod mechanics, the forward cast and back cast are identical casts delivered in opposite directions.)
Unlike the archer, however, the fly caster has no fixed point to draw against to load the rod. You have to use the weight and inertia of the fly line to draw the rod into a bend. The way you do this is by accelerating the rod throughout the casting stroke.
Whether it’s lying on the ground or on the water, whether it’s in a straight line in the air behind you or in front of you, the fly line, for all intents and purposes, is at rest. Newton’s law of inertia states that objects at rest tend to remain at rest; that is, they resist our attempts to move them. When you use the rod to try to move the stationary fly line, the inertia of the fly line resists. This resistance pulls the rod into a slight bend. Now you’ve started the fly line moving toward the rod tip. To continue to pull the rod into a bend you have to continue to use the line’s inertia and move the rod tip faster than the speed of the following fly line. To continue to load the rod, you have to constantly move it faster–you have to accelerate the rod tip throughout the entire casting stroke.
If you move the rod tip through the casting stroke at a constant speed, the rod won’t bend. And if you hesitate even the slightest bit at any point in your stroke, the line will catch up with the rod and the rod will unload prematurely.
Perhaps the biggest problem I see among casters trying to gain more distance is that they apply too much speed and power to their casting stroke. Most casters I see use more than enough speed and power to deliver a fly 80 or more feet. The problem is that they apply it wildly or indiscriminately. In fact, I’ve never once had to tell a casting student to use more speed or power in their stroke–I’ve always had to tell them to use less. This is difficult to comprehend at first, but you need to understand that speed alone does virtually nothing to load a rod. Imagine a fly rod with 40 feet of line outside the tip. Imagine also that you could move this rod (through a vacuum) at a constant speed of 500 miles per hour. Because the rod and line are both traveling at the same speed, the rod will not bend. For the rod to bend, the rod tip must always be moving slightly faster than the speed of the following fly line. It’s not speed itself that loads a rod, it’s the gradual increase in speed: the acceleration.
Fly casters who equate a fast casting stroke with a powerful casting stroke usually begin their stroke much too quickly. Using too much speed at the beginning of the casting stroke will overpower the rod, sending shock waves into the line and destroying your cast. Instead, a good casting stroke begins slowly. What’s important is that it gradually, continually gains speed throughout the entire stroke. The most efficient casting stroke begins to pull the rod into a bend as soon as the rod tip moves, and it gradually continues to pull the rod deeper into that bend throughout the entire stroke. It’s a smooth, continuous acceleration. The rod tip travels relatively slowly during much of the casting stroke (though it’s actually moving a bit faster all the time) and moves quickly only during the final portion of the stroke, just before you stop the rod abruptly to unload it.
Think again of the bow and arrow. Imagine that you want to achieve maximum power and distance. I probably don’t have to tell you that how quickly you draw the bow is irrelevant; drawing the bow quickly doesn’t determine how much potential power you put into it. How much power you put into the bow is determined by how deeply you draw the bow. The same principle applies to fly casting. The potential power of a cast is determined not by how quickly you draw the rod into a bend, but by how deeply.
My most powerful fly casts don’t feel particularly fast–my most powerful casts feel as if I’ve loaded the rod deeply. Remember: The objective of the casting stroke is not to get the rod or line moving quickly. The only objective of any casting stroke is to pull the rod into a bend.
Feeling the rod bending under the fly line’s inertia is fairly subtle. One reason I try to get students to slow down their casting stroke is because if you swing too fast you won’t feel the rod loading. You can cast a good amount of line with a fairly slow rate of acceleration, provided you load the rod efficiently. And being able to feel the rod loading is critical to your developing a good casting stroke.
Some years ago I had the opportunity to watch a demonstration by Mark Sedotti, who is both an amazing distance caster as well as an amazing showman. He said something at that demonstration that I’ve been thinking about ever since. He said, “All of the exceptional casters I see load the rod more slowly than everyone else.”
Once you’ve loaded the rod, unloading it properly will ensure that you transfer all of the energy from the bent rod into the fly line. The proper way to unload the rod is to stop the rod abruptly.
Think once more of the bow and arrow. If you want to achieve maximum distance and power, you wouldn’t let the bowstring creep forward before releasing it. Rather, you’d release it at full draw, and all at once. The same holds true for the fly rod. For maximum power, you need to unload the rod when it’s fully bent, and you need to unload it all at once. The only way you can do this is by stopping the rod abruptly. If you bring the rod to a gradual stop, it’s going to start unloading while you’re slowing down. If you decelerate the rod tip before coming to a stop, you won’t get the full potential out of the rod. To get maximum potential out of the rod you have to stop it dead.
Many fly anglers have trouble with this concept because it goes against common sense. If you were trying to drive a golf ball 200 yards or if you were trying to throw a baseball a long distance, you wouldn’t stop the stroke. Rather, you’d follow through with maximum power. However, the fly casting stroke is different from almost every other sports stroke you can think of in that the fly casting stroke must stop abruptly. One of the main problems I see with fly anglers trying to cast distance is that they follow through with maximum power rather than stopping the rod. They’re trying to throw that fastball.
You’ll often hear fly anglers talk about the need to “hit” or “punch” a long, powerful cast. These terms create exactly the wrong impression, and I suggest you drop them from your vocabulary. A good fly cast is nothing like a punch. If you were throwing a punch at a punching bag, you wouldn’t start slowly and accelerate gradually. You’d apply as much speed and power as you could from the outset; your fist would bolt forward like a spring. Nor would you stop your fist at the bag: You’d reach beyond that and try to punch through the other side of the bag.
And this is exactly what I see most fly casters doing when they try to gain distance. Rather than stopping the rod abruptly, they reach through the point where they should be stopping and try to “punch” the cast. Regardless of how much power they may think they’re putting into the cast, they’re actually decelerating the rod. By failing to stop the rod abruptly you suck energy out of the cast.
To think about it another way, imagine a car traveling 50 miles per hour when the driver hits the brakes. The car comes to a stop over a number of yards, but everything inside the car remains intact. Now imagine this same car hitting a brick wall. The car stops dead. Every object inside the car that is not secured becomes a projectile. This is what happens during a good fly cast. The rod stops abruptly—as if hitting a wall—and the fly line becomes a projectile.
It was a huge revelation to me when I finally learned (after more years than I care to admit) that my job as a caster is simply to bend the rod and stop the rod—it’s the rod that fires the fly line. In a very real sense, my learning to fly cast was a process of learning to take myself out of the cast.
The casters you often see flailing away at the casting pool of the fly fishing shows, straining to heave the fly line into the backstop, have not really learned to load and unload the rod properly. Rather, they’re bypassing the rod and are simply hurling fly line back and forth with their rod arm. In truth, you can bypass the rod and throw a fair amount of fly line with your arm, but such a rug-beating act doesn’t hold together when any real pressure is put on it. In short, you will never be able to throw as much line with your arm, or do it as effectively or as powerfully or as easily, as you will by learning to cast it.
When you learn to load the rod smoothly and gradually and to unload it abruptly, when you learn to stop throwing line with your arm and let the rod sling it, I assure you that delivering a fly 70 or more feet will be as effortless as the top casters make it look.
[To read Part Two of this series click here.]