As fly fishers we’re always going on about this or that piece of kit, the best rod, line, reel or whatever new goodie and how they’re going to increase our fishing performance, but you’ll notice that the most important element is always left out: The Caster
Ok I’ll agree, it would indeed be a little strange to go to a pub and start telling your mates all about your wrists, biceps, thighs and heaven forbid, butt cheeks… but if we step away from that silly image a bit and consider that fly casting is about putting a fly rod in motion while applying forces to it through body movement, we’ll realize that not much good can happen if we don’t move the rod correctly and as far as we are concerned ‘correctly’ is directly related to the all important smoothness that makes or breaks fly casting.
Poetry, grace and fluidity are often used to describe fly casting but I’m sure that if you take the time to look at other anglers while they’re casting you might think twice before using those lovely words to describe what they’re doing.
So, what might be the number one cause to this less than gracefulness? My observations and experience says it’s tension. Body tension. Tension that was in the system before the cast even began.
Tension has many forms. Life and work stress, competing with your friends for the biggest fish, the excitement of finally getting away for the trip that took so much hard work and saving to get to. You name it, there can be a multitude of reasons and it’s quite certain that they’ll combine at one point or another but the one I want to focus on today is the tension related to stance and more specifically, stiffness through improper stance. By stance I don’t mean it in the usual casting terminology of right foot or left foot forward or both feet square to the intended casting direction but rather the dictionary’s definition: ‘The way a person stands, especially when deliberately adopted’ or alternatively, posture.
Let’s see what stiffness does and how a few simple suggestions can greatly reduce these negative effects.
Stiff bodies just don’t move well. We will one part to go in one direction, and another wants to pull it back.
Stiffness constrains. Being constrained yields complete opposite results than those lovely three words we cherish so much. Stiffness also promotes pain, fatigue and hinders recovery.
The idea is if we relax some of our muscle groups instead of tightening them up, we’re more fluid, comfortable and in better control of all our movements.
We’ll be able to disperse the work force and use more muscle groups instead of just a few. We’ll let the bigger muscle groups do most of the work and use the smaller ones to refine those movements. We’ll bend, twist and straighten better, all the while being smoother and more precise in the way we move our whole body.
This leads to not only performing better but this also reduces the possibility of cramping up and injuries from over-exertion and repetitive motions, ailments that are not exclusive to but are quite common amongst those of us who aren’t so young anymore or who have some impairment such as back problems or arthritis.
Now for the good part. It’s easy and we can all do it. It’s not very high tech but it has worked to great effect on just about every student I’ve suggested it to,
It’s called the S.R.B. (State of Relaxed Butt) so let’s start relaxing those cheeks !
Ok, hopefully you’ll have stopped giggling by now so we may resume !
The SRB thing is quite simply combining a slight flexion of the knees and relaxing the butt muscles or Gluteus Maximus, our biggest muscle group who’s main function is to help hold our torsos erect. This last information should give a clue to its importance for our purpose and why this area is the core of this method. Of course we want to stay upright but we want to do this without ‘pushing’ up. Because of their size and role, we tend to gather a lot of tension in this muscle group through unconscious pushing-up resulting in spine and leg stiffness. Take that tension away and we become swaying, dancing springs. Springs ready to smoothly and precisely jump into action!
Another aspect of this relaxed position is that it also leaves our bodies in a ‘ready’ position. Ready to move and ready to react, something once again, a stiff body has a hard time doing.
A slight flexion of the knees helps maintain the torso in a more upright position further increasing our stability and flexibility, not only in vertical and back and forth movements but also in torsion as when looking at our back cast when casting between branches, going for distance or when doing Spey casts.
If we take the examples of skiing, golf and tennis, sports whose flexion movements are often assimilated with fly casting, we’ll note that none of these are performed with locked knees or backs. If they did they’d either fall over or break a bone or two !
Luckily enough, as fly fishers the negative results of being stiff won’t be so extreme but I was just trying to emphasize how these two relaxation movements are very common and that assimilating them to our technique is just, well… common sense.
All of those sports include swinging and swaying, balance, power application, precision, maintaining control and a constant realignment of the body, all the things an effecient fly caster does.
Doing these two things loosens up the whole spinal column and legs and it really helps most people stay consistent with all the aspects of their casting whether it be accuracy, special line layouts or distance. As a side bonus, this leads to greater comfort, tends to relax the shoulders, neck and somehow the mind as well. If you feel a certain tensing-up while you’re out practicing your casts or fishing, take a little break, do some stretching and conscious controlled breathing and you’ll be good to go in peak condition in minutes.
Get up and try these two simple things right now, there’s no need for a fly rod. First, stand straight as a pole and pantomime the casting motions, try to turn around and watch you back cast, then try all this in the relaxed form. I’m sure you’ll feel the difference and just might have a ‘wow’ moment. Be sure to take this with you next time you’re out fishing and remember to relax !
To finalize this introduction to the S.R.B. method here is a very Zen-like “Be one with the rod” type quote from Jim Williams that describes this all perfectly:
“Perhaps we bend and move as the rod does, become flexible as it becomes flexible…
we don’t cast with a broomstick so don’t be like one !”