At the Suncoast Club’s casting clinic there was a caster (right-handed) who asked – “Why does my fly line hook to the left at the end of my casts, instead of laying out straight?” A kindred southpaw will hook right of course.
This one is a recurrent error. I have suffered from the same malaise. But this one is also rather easy to cure. For any successful cure though the diagnosis must be spot on.
Why? This error happens if the tracking isn’t straight.
How? On the backcast – the caster doesn’t throw the line straight behind, but well to the left of the caster, as you can see in the diagram.
That happens when the caster opens the wrist way too much in the horizontal plane and sends the line in a great big curve back, thus violating the 180-degree rule. On the forward cast even if the line is reasonably straight it will hook to the left.
The cure – pick your target on the backcast. Aim for something (a tree – an island – anything) that is behind you and cast straight back. One way to practice this is to lay out a rope (any line will do) on the ground in the position of the A-B line on the drawing. Deliver some backcasts and see where the line lands. If left off the line – adjustment is needed. In the picture, A-B is the straight track casting line, so never let your line cross that line. On the forward cast, you don’t cross the A-B line, if you do the line will hook left. On the back-cast look at your reel, if the side plates aren’t vertical, you are not tracking straight. So, the cure is – to pick your targets and be sure that the rod tip is traveling straight. When you do – voila – the line lays out straight.
If I can only give one piece of advice – here goes – WATCH YOUR BACKCASTS. If I go Yogi Berra on you – “You can learn a lot by just watching.”
However, there are situations when you want the line to curve at presentation. And you are right – those are the curve casts!”
Picture above. Sibbi is here casting – the wind is considerable blowing down the river. The wind is hampering his backcast and his line looks like an ECG. Sibbi is an elite caster and gets away with it, but he is at the edge of his carry limit with the wind in his back i.e., it is difficult to straighten the line on the backcast.
The Suncoast Club (https://suncoastflyfishers.com) hosted a casting clinic Jan. 8th. I helped out and noticed one particular error that several intermediate casters there made. They were making nice false casts and then suddenly they lost control just before their delivery. I have suffered from the same malaise. All casters have a certain length of line they can comfortably carry in the air false casting. Beginners can’t carry much line but little by little they are able to carry more. We refer to that length as their carry. Distance casters can and must carry say 100’ of line to be able to reach 120’. So, the carry length is highly individual. As we practice, we can carry more line.
Back to our intermediate casters – it turned out they were slipping line (releasing a bit of line on the back cast and/or front cast). Thus, they were increasing their carry, and some didn’t even realize it, and in the end, they had moved past their carry limit. What happens then is that the line can’t be kept straight neither in front nor in the back and control over the line is thus lost. Consequently, they were introducing slack into their cast with the known outcome. The remedy is to teach a caster where his/her carry limit is. That task turns out to be very easy. Carry more and more until control is lost, that length is a bit too long. Mark the line with a marker at that point. So, now we have established the individual’s carry limit. Then we just have some line at the ready to be shot on delivery. When our casters observed their carry limit and then shot the line, they suddenly were able to get more distance than previously.
Most lines are designed so, that when you add a correct leader and a fly, the outfit will turn over beautifully and we are happy. In other words, the fly lines are designed to turn over a certain mass i.e., the mass of the leader and the corresponding fly. As I have repeatedly mentioned in these technical blogs, a fly line without the leader will kick when cast. All fly lines are designed to have a leader added to the end of the fly line.
Design of fly lines
A fly line is designed to work with a certain mass that you add with your leader and your fly. If no mass is added to a fly line – it will kick when cast. Correct leader and fly (correct mass) added can be cast as intended. If we add a lot more mass for instance with a heavy fly the casting becomes problematic again. So, all lines have an optimal mass that needs to be added for that line to work well. Of course, this optimal mass is always caster dependent.
(In the two-handed world, the lines are designed the same way, but the exception is the Skagit line where you always must add a tip plus a leader for the system to work. That is outside the scope of this piece.)
Lots of tips available
All the line makers produce tips that you can add to a line if you wish to do so. There are a plethora of various density and length tips available. They are marketed as Vesileaders – Polyleaders – etc. An add-on tip is a tip made of PVC or polyurethane meant to be added to the end of a fly line. Those tips can either be tapering or level. However, the mass of the tip is usually not to be found on the packing.
Why use them?
You can of course add those tips to fly your lines. But what is the rationale for doing so?
You are fishing with a floater and your friend who is using a sink tip is catching them right and left but you are not. You can add an intermediate or a sink tip to your floating line to get the fly down.
However, adding tips to floating lines not designed to take that mass is just a quick, simple way to turn a floating line into a sinking tip line, but at a price. These tips will weigh several times more than a conventional leader (16lb leader I have weighs 11.2 grain). The weight of the tips is not disclosed but rest assured it is much more than the leaders. That mass of the tip will have to be added plus a little bit of tippet and the fly. They will cast terribly, predictably. When you look up these tips you will find marketing blurbs – “Casts well and turns your floating line into a sink tip” – those are written by some good casters, and they can undoubtedly deal with the extra mass, but average casters will suffer.
The mass again
Since the drawback to tips is their extra mass, the relationship of the added tip mass to the line’s head mass is the important one. Therefore, of course, adding a relatively light tip to a heavy line works much better than adding any tip to a light line.
Any line can be made to cast these tips if the angler shortens their fly lines front taper. Thus, more mass is at the tip and allows a line to cast a heavier tip. When the mass of the tip of the fly line matches the mass of the butt of the leader all is well. In many cases, though that will mean sacrificing the entire front taper, to get a reasonable match between the fly line’s end and the tip.
Generally, sinking lines are more difficult to cast than floating lines. That’s not a big surprise now when we know they must be heavy upfront to sink, and they can kick like a mule.
Why are the Sinking lines difficult to cast?
Remember they are not designed to be cast easily – they are designed to sink and cast big heavy flies – to catch fish floating lines can’t reach.
These lines kick because the leader can’t bleed away the surplus energy in the fly line’s end see this blog.
So, the real issue is the transition from the line tip to the leader. It is difficult to impossible to match the mass of the leader’s butt to the mass of the line tip. The line tip may be very small but quite heavy due to its density – remember it’s designed to sink. To match the masses the leader´s butt would have to be considerably thicker than the fly line’s end.
Correctly designed lines will have a mass profile that doesn’t change when going from the floating to the fast-sinking sections of a sink tip line. The floating part is huge, the sinking part is small, but the mass/inch is the same. Badly designed sinking tips lines will in addition have the clunky uneven mass transition.
Usually, fly slingers make two errors when they cast and rig sinking lines.
The line. The first error relates to the cast. Understandably, casters try to cast the sinking line as they would cast a floating line, and that does not work very well. Cast a line like that straight back it will stop and bounce and create slack. Because of the kick, with each cast, control of the line is lost, and it compounds (remedy below). Remember the big and heavy fly usually used in tandem with a sinker is waiting for its opportunity to strike the back of the caster’s skull – ears are a good target too. So, false casting should be minimized and can be downright dangerous.
The leader. The second error relates to the leader. The butt of the leader anglers use is frequently way too thin, so the transfer of energy will not be optimal creating more bounce. To use a suboptimal leader is an unforced error. Sometimes your casting abilities are evolving but the effort of tying on a suboptimal leader is the same as tying on an optimal one. So, pay attention to your damn leader’s butt.
Since the issue with sinking lines is at the transition to the leaders only, there isn’t a need for long leaders, at least not to cure casting ills. The leaders need to be long enough to temper the kick somewhat, but no longer. When the line kicks so does the leader, of course. The part of the leader’s butt forward from the fly line, helps to temper that kick, usually 2-3 ft. of butt is enough. There are diminishing returns going longer than that. Then add a taper and tippet and a total leader length of 4-6 ft. works well for casting, and the short leader also gets the fly down quicker than a longer leader would do.
The solution. Forget nice sharp loops these lines can’t be controlled casting that way. Open your loop to minimize the kick. Make one back cast and then briefly lay the line down in front of you. Pick that line up and make another back cast, shooting line to get the line’s head out of the tip-top, then shoot the front cast. No false casting is required. Lay down every fore-cast once the head is out of the tip-top and shoot the next fore-cast. This is much safer and easier to do than trying to false cast a with a dense head and a big heavy fly. A Belgian or an oval cast works very well, especially with an on-shoulder wind. As you retrieve your line and get ready for the next cast, the line is now in the water, not on the water as the floater is. It is not possible to go into a backcast with the line sunken like that. You might even break your rod if you tried. The solution is to make a roll cast or two and get the line to the surface. Once there we can make our usual pick-up. Remember to pinch down the barb for your own sake if not for the fish’s, just in case.
Line management of a sinker. Fishing in water the stripped sinking line will sink if not managed. Obviously, the line does not come as easily from the water as a floating line comes off the water. The stripped line can be coiled and held in the stripping hand, or a stripping basket can be used.
Rod. Casting sinking lines isn’t about short distance and accuracy, it’s all about distance and covering a lot of water. Therefore, soft rods (noodles) aren’t appropriate. In the right hands they can work, of course, but why fight a slow rod when a faster one would work better? Beginners and intermediate casters would be well advised to use fast rods for casting sinkers.
This picture has nothing to do with sinkers but just begged to be posted.
All fly casters have experienced a fly line “kick.” So, what is this kick? The fly line kicks when the tip part suddenly accelerates at the end of a cast and careens about (like a whip does). The reason behind the kick is that there is undissipated energy left in the loop when it straightens. That energy must go somewhere and the end of the fly line kicks thus dissipating energy. When casting floating lines, the kick is mostly a casting error (too much power), but it can also be used to the caster’s advantage (more later). Lines, where the mass of its head is pushed forward, are prone to kicking whether it is a sinking tip or a floating tip. The mass upfront is the issue, not the line’s density per se. When casting a line with a heavy sinking tip it will kick to a varying degree. Let’s break it down into various components.
Any line, cast without a leader, will kick no matter how gentle the cast. Just go ahead and try for yourself. There should be, by necessity, a little bit of energy left in the fly line to turn over the leader and the fly. (Now it is also obvious why you need more force to turn over a fly as it gets heavier). The leader is designed to dissipate the rest of the energy and still have enough to turn over the fly. Now you immediately realize that the leader must be constructed in such a way as to be able to do this. Imagine a scenario where you put a 6X 3.7lbs tippet on a 15# flyline (Diameter 0.005’’, 0.13mm). You intuitively realize that’s never going to work. Mass moves mass is the mantra (see blogs below). And the reason is that the mass of the leader’s butt is just too small to accept the excess energy. The mass of the leader’s butt is predicated by the diameter of the butt (not the break strength).
When I cast a floating line, I like to spend just enough energy to turn the ensemble over and lay it out straight in front of me. However, I can make any line kick by just using more force. Now, this is a casting flaw unless you want the line to curve at the cast’s end. There are two named casts where we use excessive force to curve the line. First, we have the Tuck cast where we cast in the vertical plane and overpower the cast, and the line and leader tuck down, and we can make the fly land first on the surface. This is used for instance when you want the fly to sink fast as in nymphing.
The other is the Curve cast where we cast in the horizontal plane and curve the line around an obstacle for instance a stone in the water. This is possible to do when casting in the horizontal plane. The trick is to overpower the cast and the line curves either to the right with a horizontal left-sided cast or left using a horizontal right-sided cast.
It is the same principle and the same cast. The tuck cast is in the vertical plane and the curve cast is in the horizontal plane.
The line’s design
Now undissipated energy can be there because of the line’s construction. All lines where the mass is pushed forward will certainly kick more than most other line designs. Sinking tips will kick more because of their mass (not density), but floating lines like the one above will also kick. But that’s OK, these lines are designed to cast bigger flies AND for the sinkers, the tip must sink fast so there is lots of mass in the front. But we don’t care, we’re not throwing dry flies. Good for big/heavy flies. If the tip casts smoothly it does not sink well and thus fishes badly. If the tip sinks well and fishes well it is harder to cast. You must pick your poison!
Sinking lines and sink tips are made by incorporating small pieces of tungsten (from Swedish – literally heavy stone) into the PVC coating. This increases the density of that part of the line. The tips are furthermore thinner than the floating head part and that fact is responsible for the decreased drag and the speed-up of a line thus constructed.
The line kick can be much more subtle. One of my friends when rigging a new 2-3 wt. line cuts off the factory welded loop and attaches the leader with a 2-turn needle knot. He feels the welded loop “kick” just a bit and doesn’t like that. Line/leader attachments often result in a little lump of mass right where we don’t want it. But with the right leader butt and attachment method, the transition from line to leader can be made very smooth.