Casting Essentials

I wonder if Master Casting Instructor Bill Gammel and his father had any idea the magnitude of the contribution of their work would have on the study of the basics of fly casting. It is regarded by many experts in the field as the model for teaching basic fly casting. While Bill is a personal friend of mine, I can say without prejudice that the work is one of the most complete and informative on the matter. Their video is a must for anyone who is serious about learning the casting essentials which govern good loop formation.

Essential Number One

When discussing the fundamentals involved in proper loop formation, the inclusion of slack is a key component and is to be avoided. From the very beginning of the cast, it comes into play. Newcomers to fly casting inherently and almost universally begin the initial pick-up of the fly line from the 10:00 o'clock position. This move robs the caster of needed stroke length and arc, but, also, causes the fly line to travel rearward and sag below the tip introducing slack immediately before the cast has a chance to begin properly. Consequently, every cast should be begun with the tip inches from the ground and all slack removed from the layout prior to the start of the cast. This is so vital yet overlooked by beginners and advanced casters alike. Another way to remove the slack is to perform a roll cast. This will allow you to either get the line airborne or allow you to get a straight layout of the line without slack for the subsequent pick-up.

Picking the line off the water by using too much force or by lifting it with a lot of slack in the layout causes the line to rise with resultant shock waves throughout the rod leg of the back cast loop. These shock waves are slack which must then be removed by increasing the stroke length, arc or hauling-wasted effort that could have been conserved or for producing a longer cast.

Slack introduced while false casting with incorrect timing of a haul has ruined the timing and robbed casters of accuracy and distance.

On occasion, the sound of a cracking tippet penetrates the air waves like a child ‘s bull whip. An indication that the forward cast was begun too soon. The loop had not yet fully extended. The initial potion of the forward cast was used to simply straighten out that still unrolling loop-resulting in a reduction of stroke length and arc needed for proper loop formation of the forward cast. Instructors seldom see that happen on the forward cast because you can see as your forward loop is unrolling and time your back cast appropriately. Lesson here- WATCH your back cast until your timing is improved and your are no longer “cracking the whip”.

In summary, don't begin the pick-up until all the slack has been removed from the layout. Now don't forget to begin the forward cast until … well you get the idea.

Essential Number Two: Stroke Length and Arc
Before we proceed with any discussion on the matter, let's take a moment to define these two terms. The Federation of Fly Fishers does not include these terms in their glossary as of yet so we will operate under my definition for now. Stroke Length has had multiple definitions in the past. Some experts say it is the total distance the tip travels during a particular casting stroke. While this is a perfectly credible definition, I prefer to use the following. Stroke length is the linear distance traveled by the rod hand during a cast excluding any repositioning move on the part of the caster and ending with the Stop.

Arc should be defined as the angle created by the rod butt as it is rotated during the cast with the rod butt as the pivotal point. The first ray of the angle is the position of the rod at the start of the power stroke and the second ray of the angle is the rod's position at RSP.

Let me reiterate that the above are my working definitions until we get definitive explanations from the FFF.

Essential number Two, simply stated is no more than this: The longer the line being cast, the wider the arc and the longer the stroke length needed. Conversely, the shorter the line being cast, the narrower the arc and the shorter the stroke length needed to produce narrow, efficient loops.

Those of us suffering from the “tailing loop” affliction would be wise to open their arc wider or lengthen their stroke length. Can we widen the arc too wide or lengthen the stroke length too long? Well, take your rod in hand and go outside and check it out. It may surprise you as to the results. Drop me an e-mail and let me know what you find out.

Essential Number Three: Straight Line Path of the Rod Tip

What do we mean when we say “Straight Line Path” (SLP) and what is its' significance?

There is much “to do” about the acronym of SLP. Many instructors use it in virtually every clinic they teach. “The rod tip needs to travel as close to the straight line path as possible”. Or some deviation of that can be quoted from the casting sessions.

The Straight Line Path, SLP, is that imaginary line drawn from point “A” to point “B''. Point “A” is that exact location of the rod tip's position at the initiation of the power stroke . The power stroke begins when the application of power to the cast is initiated. For example, if you are lifting fly line off the water, you gently but without pause or hesitation, lift the line off the water up to the point that only the leader remains on the water. At that instant you begin the power stroke gradually accelerating the speed/power of the cast. Point “B” is that exact location of the rod tip position at the counter flex, which occurs after the “Stop”. As a result of our moves and application of power in the manner described above, the rod tip travel and flex of the rod (or lack thereof) can be summarized in this manner. At the beginning of the cast the rod is straight. As the caster begins to slowly lift the line off the water, the rod will flex slightly. When the caster has lifted the line off the water up to the connection of the fly line and the leader butt, (Point A), the rod tip is slightly flexed (mostly a result of the weight of the fly line, it's resistance to the rearward movement and speed/power of the back cast) but will now continue to flex more deeply now that the power stroke will begin. The resultant flexing of the rod tip will be determined largely by the resistance created by the fly line from it's weight and drag, wind resistance on the rod, and speed at which we perform the stroke. The rod tip will cease to flex and begin to straighten once the force applied to the cast has been reduced. As the caster performs his/her abrupt stop, the rod tip straightens to “rod straight position” (RSP) with some counter flex past the RSP. As a result the tip of the rod has traveled in a slightly upward direction,(initiation of the power stroke) then relatively straight,(continuation of the power stroke) then back downward(at the time the power/speed of the cast is reduced). Not exactly a straight line path but relatively straight. If the path were perfectly straight, the fly line would collide with the rod tip. The path taken will determine the size and shape of the loop. The less upward and downward travel of the rod tip, the narrower the loop. And visa versa.

Now pick up your rod and practice performing wide and narrow loops at will. What maneuver do you perform to make them wide and then narrow? Can you see the tip travel change as well? See which loops result in the fly line traveling the greatest distance with the least amount of power applied. Let me know what you find by e-mailing me at

Essential No. Four “Application of Power”

Keeping in mind that the end result of the mechanics of the cast is to have the tip of the rod travel in such a manner as to get the line to perform a particular action with a preferred layout. That is to say, the line does what the tip of the rod tells it to do. If we desire a wider loop to cast a heavy lure, we make our body move the rod tip so that it travels in a more convex path, similar to that of our windshield wipers. Should we desire to tighten the loop size, having the rod tip travel closer to a straight line path will do the trick. The closer we get to the tip traveling to that straight line path, the narrower our loops become. This is all covered in Essential Three but bears repeating here for this reason. One of the ways we get the rod tip to travel in a particular direction and configuration is with our application of the power/speed of the cast. How much power/speed and when we apply it is important.

Simply put, “The caster should gradually increase the power applied and then come to an abrupt stop”. Any deviation in that application will alter the tip travel in such a way that will change the shape of the tip travel and alter the loop formation.

Not applying enough power to the cast may simply not get the fly line airborne. If it does get airborne, it will likely drupe and sag with resultant slack throughout and distance and accuracy will suffer.

Interjecting burst of power into the cast will result in the tip dipping below the SLP causing Tailing loops. If the burst is applied late in the cast, the tail will appear at the end of the fly line as the loop unrolls near the intended target.

Now go outside with you rod and practice controlled loop shapes. See what happens when you add sudden surges of speed into your stroke. Watch what happens to your loop shapes as the loops travel down the fly line.

Essential No. Five: Pause

Once a caster performs a back cast or forward cast, he or she should allow the fly line time to unroll to a point which will allow it to have a straight layout when he/or she begins the second phase of the casting cycle (see definitions for casting cycle). For example, if you perform a back cast and WATCH your back cast unroll, when the loop gets to the intersection of the fly line and the leader butt, In my opinion, that is a good time to begin the forward cast. By the time you react to seeing the loop at that point and start the forward cast, the line has straightened and should not have had time to significantly start falling to the ground.

If you start the forward cast too soon, the loop will not have had time to unroll completely and a “crack” may be heard as the fly line travels around the loop faster than the speed of sound .

Should you wait too long, the fly line may straighten and begin falling to the ground “ticking” the water behind you and affecting the distance and accuracy of the cast.

The speed of the cast and length of the cast will have their affect on the length of time it takes for the line to unroll so your pause/timing way vary with the above example. Pick up a rod and practice your pause with 25ft. of line out of the rod tip. Once you are false casting with well controlled loops, add a foot at a time. Vary the speed of the cast and see how it affects the timing of the pause as well. If you don't wait long enough, do you hear that crack of the line?


Check back with us from time to time for more practice tips. Consider attending on of our casting clinics or scheduling a private lesson. The date of the upcoming clinics can be found in the section called “Annual Casting Clinic” along with the contact information.