The Elbow in the Fly Cast, 1
A Different Thought
By: Chris O’Byrne
“It’s in the wrist.” “Just like answering a phone.” “Hammer a nail.” And so on and so forth.
As a new fly angler, you will hear advice that is potentially confusing, and often focused on the hand. But you don’t have to look at your hand all the time. Try turning your thoughts to the simple movements of the elbow (of the arm which is casting the rod.) This will promote correct movements in the rest of your body.
You will come to realize that there is not one proper way to cast. Similarly, there is not one proper movement of the elbow for all casts. But at various stages of your development, including when you learn specialty casts, your elbow should move in specific directions. So, making the movement of the elbow a cast thought may help you learn.
One of the misconceptions you might have is that you must hold the fly line off the water. Without knowing it, many new casters lift their elbow as high as their shoulder. They often tell me that their shoulder is tired or sore. But, your fly rod has been engineered to keep the line in the air and cast it out, you don’t need to hold it up. So lower your elbow and relax. Maintaining this posture is a small leap of faith, I understand, but it will work. An old-time training activity is to false cast while you hold something like a hat or magazine between your upper arm and side. If you move your elbow up, it will fall. While this is an awkward activity, holding tight to the object will teach your muscles to keep the elbow in a good position.
As a beginner you might be struggling with another common habit, overuse of the wrist joint. But focusing attention on keeping your wrist straight might compound the problem. One way to move forward in developing a crisp stop and tight loop is to move your elbow backward and forward on a straight line. Lefty Kreh, a hero of fly fishing, regularly mentioned the elbow in his teaching. His phrase to encourage this movement was put your elbow “on a shelf.” While you are casting, imagine yourself near a familiar book shelf, then slide your elbow on that straight line. This will help to move the tip of the rod straight back and forth, a key to good loops.
Other new casters implement the normal athletic technique of a follow through. This power killing beginner’s habit shows in a posture with the elbow reaching out toward the target. If you have the feeling of a follow through after your forward cast, you might be reducing the power you’ve generated on the back cast. While moving your elbow forward on that shelf, stop it farther back, nearer the center line of your torso. The power you’ve generated in the bent rod will unload and flick the fly line toward your target.
Casting a fly rod is fun. And it will become a simple part of catching fish. There are many ways to improve your casting, consider putting your thoughts on your elbow.