Fly Casting - Plane and Stance
by Peter Hayes
Most beginner and intermediate casters do all of their casting with the rod tilted at an angle away from their body. I guess they're scared of being punctured by the fly and whipped by the line. They erroneously believe this angle will keep the fly and line away from them.
If you adopt this casting plane, and attitude, you will never cast with any consistent accuracy. You will often get wind knots. The fly and line will often collide into the rod. It will be nearly impossible to do any of the "tip over shoulder casts" and perform any of the aerial mends necessary for river and stream fishing. Of equal importance, you will be dangerous to have as a boat partner and your fishing mates will avoid you like the plague. Let me explain my ideas on this very important aspect of fly casting. Descriptions are all for right hand casters.
Firstly let me say that there is no set plane that you must move your fly rod through but rather there are a variety of planes that suit all sorts of different fishing and casting situations. To understand fully what I mean in the following article we must first reach a common understanding of a starting point, or datum.
For what it is worth, I think that this starting point, and the most commonly cast through plane, should be vertical.
Casting in the vertical plane is the easiest way to learn, and feel, good rod loading. This is paramount to your success in fly casting. Until you can really drive a fly rod well you should not deviate from the vertical path and your hand should always operate from the power and control position discussed. Only when you understand the differences between flipping loops from the tip of your rod for short accurate casts and belting into the mid and butt section of your rod for long powerful casts should you move onto variations of this theme.
Casting left and right of the datum
With a good casting stroke on short casts the line will always move back and forward above the rod tip. For longer distances it will sometimes track below the tip so it is important to learn casting strokes other than vertical.
Apart from this and some practical fishing situations the most important reason for deviating away from the vertical plane is to suit the wind. If the wind is across your body from left to right it is ok to cast, say, 20 degrees to the right of vertical. You will maintain good accuracy, and strength, the line and fly will be kept away from you by the wind. When the wind is in the opposite direction (blowing onto your casting shoulder) it is imperative that you "go with the flow" and tilt your rod tip down wind of your body. Say, 20 degrees left of vertical. Never fight against the wind - you will never win. In this case (tip over shoulder casting) it is important for your casting hand to continue to move through its normal position - I will discuss this shortly. Don't get trapped into casting backhand to achieve the tip over shoulder position. We will cover this very important cast in a further article.
Your hand should move mostly in a position not in front of, but adjacent to, your shoulder. This is where the most power and control comes from. Imagine trying to punch someone's lights out before they hit you. Your natural hand position for this action is ideally suited to fly casting. I bet it is not directly in front of, below or above your shoulder - it will be at shoulder height and slightly to the side.
Just like the casting plane, there is no set way to stand when fly casting. Your stance must be adjusted to suit what you are trying to do and of course what is physically practical given your fishing situation.
Short to Medium Distances
Ideally, for short to medium accurate work, your shoulders, and your feet, should be square to the casting direction. It's ok to drop your right foot back a little if this feels more natural but try to keep this to a minimum. This has the effect of tightening up your casting stroke. In other words it helps you track the rod tip in a straight line by reducing the amount of body and arm twist as you move the rod backwards and forwards. This is the primary concern when accuracy casting. In casting tournaments the better casters take this principal one step further by moving the right foot well forward of the left. Try it and see what I mean about the body rotation or twist. This is the stance that you would adopt if you were to throw screwed up casting articles into your wastepaper bin. It's remarkable how many similarities there are between good fly casting techniques and throwing strokes - remember throwing stones from the first article?
Some good casters can deliver the entire fly line from a vertical rod plane and a square stance. Sensational casters can deliver from a tip over shoulder position and a right foot forward. However, in general, it is more easily done with an open stance (the right foot dropped well behind the left), your shoulders more parallel to the casting direction and a slightly outward tilted rod position. Isn't this the stance you would adopt to throw a rock a long way?
This position allows for the long hand stroke and body movement that is so necessary to achieve long casts. Understand that there is more scope for you to swing or swipe the rod tip back and forward through an arc in this position. Beware of this, it is easy to lose control and power if that rod tip doesn't track in a dead straight line. This is why I didn't recommend learning this way from the start.