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Casting Tip of the Month - Substance Versus Style

courtesy Atlanta Fly Fishing School

Question: After attending the Shallow Water Expo I’m confused. I watched several great casters who made casting look effortless, but they cast so differently. After experimenting with different styles my casting is all screwed up. HELP! Is there one way that is better (or easier) to learn?


You’ve asked the age-old question of substance versus style. Well, it might not be ages old, but since the era of bamboo casting styles have been-a-changing. With the advent of graphite, rods are lighter, stiffer, stronger, and are capable of casting a greater length of line. This has resulted in a wide variety of casting styles with most designed to extend the length of the casting stroke for distance casting. Most of the great casters have similar styles when casting short distances for accuracy, but they vary significantly in how they cast long distances. I suggest you watch as many expert styles as you can, taking ideas from all of them, and put it together in a way that works for you. Your casting will only suffer temporarily while adjusting to a different style as long as you are keeping within the mechanical laws and principles that govern casting. These principles are the same for everyone (substance), but how you apply them is uniquely you (style). I have a pneumonic to help remind me of the mechanical laws when I am teaching casting schools. It is P.S. SAPS; The P.S. is like the reminder at the end of a letter and the SAPS is like sticky tree saps. Together it makes something you better remember to stick to.

 P. = Pause: There must be a pause at the end of each casting stroke The length of the pause varies in duration with the amount of line past the rod tip.

S. = Slack: Slack line must be kept to a minimum. Especially on the pick-up and the timing of the strokes so the loops have unrolled and are straight.

S = Straight: You must make the rod tip follow a straight-line path. This straight path is crucial in both the vertical and horizontal planes.

A = Arc: The size of the casting arc must vary with the amount of line past the rod tip. (This is where we see the vast array of styles to get the long-stroke, long-arc necessary for distance)

P = Power: Power must be applied in the proper amount at the proper time. Apply power slowly at first gradually increasing to a peak at the end of the stroke.

S = Stop: There must be a crisp stop at the end of each stroke. The stop allows the loaded fly rod to unload and deliver the line.

 No matter what the caster’s style is to achieve distance, whether it is elbow in or out, rod overhead or sidearm, jab the rod or speed up and stop, all great casters follow P.S. SAPS. They are the six mechanical rules of substance that cannot be violated. For some, emulating a famous caster can be a short cut to finding an effective style: For others it creates confusion. Try not to be intimidated or confused by the style variations of the great casters. They have each found a style that works best for their body type. As long as your loops are fairly tight and unroll in a straight line there is no reason to be self-conscious about your style. Keep trying and you will like the outcome at the other end of your trials. I have had my greatest casting break-throughs from experiments that had my casting all “screwed-up”.

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