It's time to stop teaching '10 o'clock and 2 o'clock' fly casting

There is no one-size-fits-all casting stroke
south fork madison river
Photo: John Juracek

While visiting the shop recently, I learned that one of my young colleagues, recently back from college, would be teaching an even younger group of students how to cast a fly. I’ve always found my friend’s enthusiasm for fishing contagious, his willingness to help others admirable. Since I’d worked with him in prior years on the principles of casting, I thought perhaps the moment was right for a brief refresher.

I grabbed the shop’s indoor practice rod and made several casts—casts where the line rolled out in a wide, sloppy loop, with line tip and leader fluttering down and collapsing in a messy pile. I asked my friend to analyze and solve this problem, so that my ensuing casts would straighten out. (The inability to cast a straight line, on demand, is one of the most common problems in flycasting, afflicting not only beginners but often those with many years of experience. How to cast a straight line is one of the first things we should all be taught.)

After thinking it through, my friend concluded that my casting stroke was too long. He said I was taking the rod too far behind me on the backcast. “What should I do?”, I asked. Boldly, he replied, “Stop your backcast at 12:00 o’clock”. So I did. And my next cast finished with the line tip and leader piling up again, but in a different way. This time they piled up because they were driven into the floor before the cast had time to straighten out. I repeated the cast. Same result—my line drove hard into the floor without straightening out. I looked at my friend. Not expecting this, he seemed unsure exactly how to proceed.

I stopped the exercise. I told him that his analysis was correct—my initial strokes were too long, I was indeed taking the rod too far back on the backcast. But even as he had correctly diagnosed the problem, his proffered solution—”stop the rod at 12:00 o’clock”—condemned my ensuing casts to failure. Now, my stroke was too short—I wasn’t taking the rod far enough back on the backcast.

Here’s how this works. The length of the casting stroke is a function of the length of the line being cast. The relationship works like this: Short line, short stroke. Longer line, longer stroke. So every time we change the length of our line we also change the length of our stroke. Consequently, there can be no fixed backcast position. The correct backcast position varies depending on the distance being cast. Could be 10:00 a.m., high noon, 3:00 p.m., or any time in between. In my case, it turned out the right position was about 1:00 o’clock. That resulted in my line turning over perfectly, straightening out just before settling gently to the floor.
 
My friend ultimately came to realize that he had offered up a stock answer to a problem with infinitely variable answers. When faced with this same situation myself when teaching, I said that I find it more productive to simply ask my students to not take the rod so far back. By not verbally specifying a particular “time”, but instead watching the line itself and adjusting to its behavior—lengthening or shortening the stroke, as required—students find the correct backcast position simply by feel, ingraining that position in their muscles as well as their mind. Good flycasting instruction requires concise, thoughtful communication. Knowledge alone, while necessary, is never enough.

In time, my friend is going to make an excellent teacher.  I respectfully suggested to him that he continue to refine his delivery, learning how to say exactly what he means, and learning to recognize when he isn’t. That’s not easy, but it’s one of the things the best instructors always think about, one of the ways in which they stand apart.

Comments

When I taught skiing, one of our instructors skied to the group through a mogul field. He stopped and asked "what did you see?" People chimed in "too far back." And he said, "No, that is a judgement. What was the observation?" The observation was "I'm back. Clearly that worked for me. Do know know why?" Head shaking all around. "Because I can," he said, and skied off.
I learned more about teaching in those moments than in all of the drills I ever did.

I break down a casting stroke into a combination of translation and rotation. Translation lengthens the stoke. Rotation also happens during the stroke BUT most of it happens at the end just before the hard rod stop since this is the wrist flick that speeds up the rod tip and gets its out of the way of the trailing fly line and forms the loop.

You also can use the comment of the ski instructor using one student to evaluate another. Obviously, a student when casting CANNOT see himself cast or see his faults. But we instructors can use tell a student to watch a student who has the same casting fault so they can observe what they are doing wrong.

I think 10 and 2 is a great way to visualize it for beginners. However, past that point it is less a matter of changing your stroke and instead adding more snap/power to it. The more line you have out, the more weight you have to control because the weight is in the line. It takes more force to move the extra weight, not necessarily a different angle. You can add force by "hauling" the line if you are at a high enough casting level to control it

Why take a longer backcast? With more line out simply wait longer to start the forward casts. Long backcasts cause the fly to be low and create presentation issues.

Gary is right. It’s not about the length of the back cast it’s about the delay at the top. More line out, more time at the top (12 or 1 at the most) to load up and get the loop tight. Timing gives you that perfect presentation no matter how much line you have out.

Exactly.

I find telling beginners to stop at noon actually has them stopping closer to 2.

I heard the great Lefty say it best, though simplified and a bit tongue and cheek. "I don't care what time it is, 10 o'clock, two o'clock, twelve-thirty, 4:15; I still gotta make a cast!

Yes! I so agree with having beginners stop at 12. Everyone has some angle in their wrist and in order to load the rod, the rod angle can’t go beyond 2,, even if the forearm stops at 12.

I think Kyle, Mack, & Gary have it pretty much nailed. 10 to 2 has been the standard place to start down through history. Think River runs through it dad McLean used the metronome to stress 10 to 2. Start with that and let the student know about the line length and the need to allow the line to straighten out before bringing the rod forward. That will help the student to understand the concept of power to the amount of line being cast.
Aside from this, the article is really saying there are many variables and ways to teach. Tried and true 10 to 2 has worked for years. It is a great place to start. From there, adjust as you see necessary.

Try the Gary Borger three-point grip; it prevents excessive wrist bending on the back cast and resulting loop problem. A rod grip that works like magic!

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