Southcoast Flyfisher
SPARRoW : A Birds Eye View of Masterful Fly Casting

You might ask what defines a master caster. It may be the time he spends practicing his craft. Perhaps it is his knowledge of fly lines. Skagit versus Scandinavian versus Spey . Weight forward tapers versus shooting heads. It may be his knowledge of various rod types. Spey rods and switch rods. Single cast and Tenkara. It could also be his fluency with various casting styles. The Double haul. The Belgian cast. The Snap T.

However when examining his casting mechanics, several points become apparent. These attributes, either some or all, are present in many other sports. Golf, tennis, and skeet shooting are some examples. They are also found in the martial arts.

The combination of these spell the mnemonic SPARRoW: Stance, Posture, Arm, wRist, Rod , (“o”- I needed another vowel), and Waist. Let’s examine these individually.


Figure 1

STANCE.

In figure 1 the caster’s feet are placed shoulder width, both knees slightly bent. The foot that corresponds to the

 casting hand is a step back producing an open stance. This allows for greater balance, freer movement and a stable

 base – especially on a moving boat.

We can practice this with the following exercise: Stand with your feet together, shoulder width, knees slightly bent.

 Have another person stand at your side and gently push on your shoulder. Your opposite leg provides bracing and

 stability. Now have that person stand in front of you and slightly push on your chest. You fall backwards because

 there is no support in that direction. Repeat the same exercise with someone standing behind you and slightly push

 on your back. You now fall forwards for the same reason.

Now repeat the same exercise with your feet placed as shown in Figure 1. Any force from the front is absorbed by the back leg. The same pressure from the back is braced by the front leg. Any pressure placed upon the shoulders is absorbed by the opposite leg because the knee is bent, not straight and stiff.

Without much thought we do this on the water. If we are standing in a fast moving river, our back foot braces us from the force of the river coming towards us. Our front foot steadies us from the swiftness of the river coming from behind.

POSTURE

As seen in figure 1 the upper body can be straight or bent slightly forward at the waist. Not backwards. In martial arts this is explained as sending your intent forward or projecting your ki (energy). The knees are slightly bent, not straight and stiff. Even during the back cast this position is maintained.

We can develop this sense with the following practice: Stand with your feet positioned as shown in Figure 1. Have another person stand behind you, grab your collar and gently tug. While they are doing this think of them standing behind you, grabbing your shirt. You will find that you start to move in their direction. Now while maintaining this stance, take your casting hand and point forward into the distance at some fixed object. Repeat this same exercise as described. You will now find that you are not so easily pulled backwards because you are projecting your intent, or energy, forward.

When stalking our quarry we use this same principle. Whether it be a school of bonefish on the flats or a rise to an evening hatch on the river, we are following the fish with our eyes. We are looking forwards. We are aware of the final back cast. We feel the gentle tug on the line indicating the rod is fully loaded before we sent our final cast into eternal hope. Our intent is forward.

ARM:

The casting arm is positioned at the caster’s side in a relaxed manner, allowing greater freedom of movement. This is visible in Figures 2 and 3 below. It is not allowed to drift away from the body, To do so would produce the formation of an arc during the casting phase causing the formation of widened loops. This position also does not allow the casting hand to rise above head level. This would also produce imperfect loops.

If you have been practicing this Art for a while you probably remember being instructed to position your casting arm as if you are holding a book or dollar bill under the arm pit. Practicing in this manner causes muscle tension in the upper arm and shoulder girdle. This does not allow for free and relaxed range of motion of the arm and shoulder. Have you ever tried to swat a housefly in this manner? Your results are a very happy housefly.




Figure 2

(w)RIST:

As we see again represented in Figure 2 the wrist is stopped at approximately 11:00 during the back cast.

Figure 3

In Figure 3 with the forward cast the wrist is stopped - abruptly - about 1:00.


Allowing the wrist to bend further than this during both casting planes is called “breaking the wrist” and results in improperly formed loops. This type of wrist movement can be seen with using a hammer or painting with a brush.



Figure 4

ROD:

The stopping of the wrist is translated to the action of the rod causing the tip to travel along a straight path. This

 can be seen in Figure 4. This allows maximum energy transfer created by the loading of the rod during the back

 cast. If the rod tip moves in a linear formation, the line moves also along a straight plane.

This energy is transferred to the fly line and the formation of tighter loops during the forward cast as shown in Figure 5. However when the tip of the rod moves in an arc it produces wide loops, insufficient energy transfer and increased wind resistance during the forward cast.



Figure 5

At times it can be difficult to be both caster and observer of your fly line. An easy remedy is to use the roof line of your house as a guide. While casting, if the tip of your rod moves along the edge of the roof line without deviation, you are casting in a straight plane. So should be the movement of the fly line.

WAIST:

In all physical movement, there is movement of the waist. Walking, running, even when rowing a boat. Therein lies our center of gravity. It is our “one point” . In Japanese it’s called hara. In casting the initiation of movement is with the waist and the arms move accordingly. Contrary to popular belief the arms do not lead the movement.

Figure 6

This movement of the waist during the back cast (Figure 6) and forward cast (Figure 7) leads to a more relaxed motion. The arms are not stiff. One can also observe the unfolding of the fly line behind him. The rotation of the waist feeds more energy into the cast without the use of muscle.


We can see in this example several points. The waist is turned to the direction of the back cast. The caster is able to observe the line unfolding behind him. The upper body is not bent backwards. The knee is bent slightly. Most importantly the casting arm remains at the person’s side, more specifically the elbow.


Figure 7

In this demonstration the waist is turned in the direction of the forward cast. The upper body is bent slightly forward. The knee is slightly bent. The elbow remains at the casters side.

 

It may not be the intention of every fly caster to become a master of his art. Usually the interest is having fun while we stalk our elusive quarry. However by observing the above principles, this may result in more success on the water.



A lifelong fly angler, Mark White lives on the South Coast of Massachusetts, where he works as a physician assistant in the field of neurosurgery. He has also studied Aikido for the past 31 years and incorporates its body movements into fly casting mechanics. You can visit his website at southcoastflyfisher.com