Today is our fifth and final post of our tip series on better backcast presentations.
So far we’ve touched on techniques for increasing strength and power to the backstroke, the importance of staying square to track straight towards your target, how exaggerating your haul can help bend the rod the necessary amount on the backcast, as well as how proper trajectory is critical to an effective presentation.
While those are the most common faults/fixes we see at our lodges, sometimes the culprit of a poor backcast presentation is nothing more than the lack of one of the five fundamentals of fly casting, often times exhibited only when attempting to deliver the fly on the backcast, and that’s the topic of today’s post!
Better Backcast Presentations – Part 5: Forgotten Fundamentals
When discussing the fundamentals of fly casting on a theoretical level, its important to note that the principles of the forward cast are virtually the same as the backcast. That is to say, if casting in a vacuum the principles that make a cast tick (casting arc, stroke length, pause timing, power application, etc) are the same on both the forward and accompanying backcast, assuming the length of line remains the same. Therefore, the principles that produce an effective presentation on the forward cast are no different than those to produce an effective presentation on the backcast.. But sometimes it doesn’t happen that way.
When presenting the fly on the backcast, we find many anglers change their stroke entirely. The reason? Because most people tend to feel weaker on the backstroke compared to the forward stroke, the tendency is to overcompensate to provide more ‘power’ than is necessary, often breaking many of the fundamentals that produce an efficient cast. Turn that same angler around to watch their forward cast and more often than not their backcast immediately improves.
Therefore, when having trouble presenting the fly on the backcast, we find its often helpful to revisit the fundamentals of fly casting that most anglers learn when learning to forward cast. After all, the forward cast is the same as the backcast, remember?
For any overhead fly cast, there are five principles (published as the Five Essentials of Fly Casting by Fly Fisher’s International) that govern an efficient cast. Those principles (and how they are often broken when presenting on the backcast) are summarized as follows:
- The casting stroke must end with a pause which varies in duration with the amount of line outside the rod tip. As any experienced fly casters knows, the pause at the end of the casting stroke is what allows a bent rod to unload and the loop to form. Without a pause, the rod tip is left to draw a wide arc causing a wide inefficient loop to form that is easily knocked down by the wind. This is the number one principle we see broken when presenting the fly on the backcast; the rod is whipped all the way down to the surface of the water without any pause. Thus, the rod fails to unload fully and a wide loop of fly line falls into a heap on the water. Remember, accelerate to an abrupt stop, and your presentations will improve.
- The casting arc must also vary in duration with the amount of line outside the rod tip. For those who struggle with lengthening line on the backcast to a target, this is often the principle that is being broken. The casting arc (or sometimes better visualized as the casting stroke) must increase as the amount of line increases. Simply put, a short cast requires a short stroke, and a long cast requires a long stroke.
- Power must occur in the proper amount at the proper place in the stroke. Proper application of power is often the most difficult principle for new casters to learn as it is the most associated with ‘feel.’ When presenting the fly on the backcast (something not usually practiced as often), many anglers find it difficult to determine how much ‘power’ to apply to the rod and when to form a tight loop. However, there is a simple formula that can help determine when proper power is being applied and when it is not. Simply put; If you’re creating a tight loop, you’re providing enough power over the correct distance of stoke. If you’re creating a wide loop, odds are you’re providing too little power over too long of a stroke (i.e. provide more power or shorten up your stroke). If you’re creating a tailing loop (the line/leader crosses over itself), odds are you’re providing too much power over too short of a stroke (i.e. provide less power and lengthen out your stroke).
- No slack line can occur during the casting stroke. As with any fly cast, slack is the enemy, and the backcast is no exception. A common way we see this principle broken when presenting the fly on the backcast is when picking the line up off of the water. When picking up line off the water to begin the cast, it is critical that the cast starts with the rod tip low to the water after all the slack outside of the rod tip has been stripped in. A common mistake is to start the cast with the rod tip at a 45 degree angle. This creates slack between the rod tip and the surface of the water which makes for a poor forward stroke which can carry over into a poor backcast presentation.
- During the casting stroke, the rod tip must travel in a straight-line path. Out of all of the principles listed above, the straight line path of the rod tip is the most governing. In order for a tight efficient loop to form, the rod tip must track in a straight line path. Period. When put together, the four principles above produce a straight line path of the rod tip, which in turn produces a tight loop, which, you got it, produces effective presentations on either the forward or back cast.
What’s the message here? The five essentials are critical to an efficient cast on both the forward and backcast. Thus, they’re pivotal to an effective presentation as well. If you’re struggling with presenting the fly on the backcast, go back to the basics.. They won’t steer you wrong!