Warning: this is a semi-detailed post on correcting a common fly casting fault. If you’re not into the detailed mechanics of fly casting, click here for some big fish photos instead!
Fly casting is an art that will never be perfected, only improved upon. It’s part of what makes the sport great! Nonetheless, there are a few common casting faults that we see on a day to day basis that, if corrected, can help take your casting to the next level. Here’s an in depth post on one of the most common casting faults we see from both beginners and experienced casters alike (called creep) and how to best correct it (a technique called drift).
A Few Fundamentals
First things first, it’s important to introduce a couple of the fundamental principles that govern all forms of fly casting. By far the most fundamental principle to a good fly cast is that the tip of the rod travels in a straight line.
The fly line does whatever the tip of the rod does. So, if the rod tip draws a big wide arc, then the result will be big wide open loops. If the rod tip travels in a straight line, the fly line will follow suit and the result will be nice tight narrow loops. On the other hand, if the rod tip dips below a straight line path (in a convex motion), the result will be tailing loops (more on this later). The fly line always follows the path of the rod tip, simple as that.
Another fundamental principle that is worth mentioning is the effect that slack in the fly line has on the cast. In nearly all avenues of fly casting, slack is the enemy. Whether on the pickup, back cast, forward cast, or any other part of the cast it is important that slack is kept to an absolute minimum. Any time slack is introduced into the system we have no choice but to waste part of our casting stroke to take up slack before the line can provide enough tension to bend the rod. Makes sense, right?
Now that we have a few fundamentals out of the way, let’s look at the fault at hand, creep.
What is creep?
Also known as rod creep, creep is one of the most common casting faults we see on a day to day basis, even from extremely experienced anglers. Creep is nothing more than starting the forward cast too early, before the line is able straighten on the back cast. Often times, rod creep on the forward cast is very subtle. After making the back cast, most casters unconsciously creep forward in anticipation of the forward cast before the line has time to straighten behind them, especially when casting to a big fish!
Why is creep bad?
By creeping forward before the line has straightened behind us, we introduce slack (the enemy!) into the system. Thus, the only way to compensate for this slack is to increase power to the cast. This increase in power causes the rod to bend (or load) more than desired, causing the rod tip to dip below a straight line path, thus causing the dreaded tailing loop! Although there are many causes of tailing loops, if you find yourself consistently throwing tailing loops (especially when attempting long casts), tangling up, or picking out ‘wind’ knots, there’s a good chance that you’re creeping on the forward cast.
How do I correct creep?
At first thought, the obvious fix is to simply wait longer on the back cast (to allow the line to straighten) before continuing with the forward cast. Although this sounds simple enough, often times it is a very difficult habit to break! A much better solution involves a distance casting technique called drift, which we’ll explain below.
What is drift?
Drift, often confused with creep, is a casting technique used by most great fly casters and competition casters alike to achieve maximum distances.
As the length of line increases, it is critical that the casting stroke (the distance the hand moves back and forth during the cast) must also increase. Drift allows us to increase the length of our casting stroke to the length needed to make those 80, 90, or even 100 foot casts!
To execute drift, after coming to an abrupt stop on the back cast, allow your rod hand to slide (or drift) back and up as the line proceeds to straighten behind you. Once the line has straightened behind you, then proceed with the forward cast as you would normally.
Why is drift good?
By allowing your rod hand to drift back after making your stop on the back cast, you are able to greatly increase the length of your casting stroke for the next forward cast. Think of it this way – if you were to throw a rock at a sea gull only 10 feet away, you might only reach back as far as your ear before sending it on its way. However, if attempting to hit a sea gull at 100 feet away, you would reach waaaay back before giving it a toss (Note: No sea gulls were harmed in the writing of this post). So it is with drift and casting stroke. By drifting we are able to increase our available casting stroke, granting us more distance to bend the rod, and ultimately allowing us to cast further!
So, what’s drift have to do with creep?
Now we put it all together. Rather than correcting our nasty ‘creeping’ habits by simply telling ourselves ‘wait longer,’ we can use drift to correct our forward creep, while at the same time increasing the casting stroke. It’s a win win! By drifting back after making the abrupt stop on the back cast, we are forced to wait just a fraction longer before starting the next forward cast. Now, with a little practice, we are able to cure the creep, while at the same time increasing the casting stroke needed for those long casts.