It’s Like Fly Casting, Man!

(With apologies to the BOOK OF THE BLACK BASS.)

By Dr. J. A. Henshall, published by the Bass Angler’s Sportsman Society, 1881

Article by Ray Strischek

Several times over the years while teaching people how to cast a dart with the atlatl, when I have for the fourth of fifth time advised a beginner to not drop his/her elbow but to extend his/her arm straight out, forward, keeping the elbow shoulder high, all the way through the throw, someone will say, “It’s like Fly casting, man!

My response, not being much of a fishing enthusiast, has always been, “Well, if you say so.”  Privately, I tell myself, “I got to find out about this.”

Well, just the other day I found the Book Of The Black Bass in the throw away bin at the local laundry and way back on page 390, in the chapter “Casting The Fly”, I found this bit of wisdom:

“Casting the artificial fly is performed by two principal motions, a backward and a forward one. The former is to throw the flies behind the angler, and the latter is to project them forward and beyond.

The style and manner of making these two motions are all-important; for upon the correct, skillful, and I might say, scientific performance of them, depends the success of the angler.”

The backward and forward movements are each made in about the same length of time, but while the former is a single movement, the latter is a double one; that is, it is divided into two motions, or parts.

The Backward Motion

The prospective fly-fisher having his rod, reel, and cast in readiness, stands near the bank of the stream, with a clear space of fifteen or twenty feet behind him. Having the line about the length of his rod, to begin with, he takes the hook of the tail-fly between his left thumb and forefinger and stretches the line taut; then, by waving the rod slightly backward over the left shoulder, and at the same time releasing his hold of the tail-fly, the line straightens out behind him, the right elbow meantime being held close to the body, as the backward movement is made with the wrist and forearm entirely. The position of the right hand during this portion of the cast is with said hand grasping the rod just above the reel (the reel being at the extreme butt, and on the underside of the rod), and with the reel and palm of the hand toward the angler, the thumb looking toward his right shoulder. (See Figure 1.)

The Forward Motion, Part I

When the line and leader are on a straight line behind him (the beginner must learn to judge and time exactly), he brings the rod forward with a gradually increasing rate of speed, until the rod is slightly in advance of him (say at an angle of fifteen degrees off the perpendicular). Then, for the first time, the rod is turned in the hand in the opposite direction that is with the back of the hand toward the angler.

The Forward Motion, Part II

At the end of the cast, the reel is below the rod while the back of the hand is upward.  Without stopping the motion of the rod, the right arm is projected to its full extent, and on a line with the shoulder. This is the second part or motion of the forward movement, and consists in merely following the direction of the flies with the tip of the rod, so as to ease their rapid flight, and allow them to descend without confusion, and to settle upon the water noiselessly, and without a splash.

Sometimes these movements are made straight backward and forward over either shoulder, or over the head; but the best way is to make the backward movement over the left shoulder, and forward over the right shoulder, the line thus describing and oval or parabola.

Various ways of casting come into play at certain times for the novice must remember that there are trees and bushes, and rocks and winds, to contend with in fly fishing, as particular circumstances or emergencies demand. As the novice becomes proficient, he will choose his own style of casting, for no two anglers cast the fly exactly the same.”

Fly Casting and Atlatl Casting

In the above text I have underlined the three instances where I can honestly say there is a clear and distinct comparison between casting the fly and casting the dart with the atlatl.

See Figure 3 above. Notice how the arm is straight out on level with the shoulder.

he brings the rod forward with a gradually increasing rate of speed, without stopping the motion of the rod, the right arm is projected to its full extend, and on a line with the shoulder.

As the novice becomes proficient, he will choose his own style of casting, for no two anglers cast the fly exactly the same.

When I teach someone to cast a dart with an atlatl, I tell them to bring the atlatl and dart forward at an ever increasing rate of speed “like a train leaving the station”, and to throw the arm straight out to its maximum extent without letting the elbow drop below the shoulder, until after the dart has separated from the atlatl. “Don’t drop your elbow”.

The Differences

In Figures 1, 2, and 3 above, please note as they might relate to casting a dart with the atlatl:

1. The fly caster is standing with the wrong foot forward.

2. One does not bring the atlatl and dart from the left side of the head to the right side of the head during the casting motion.

3. One does not aim the dart backwards, flipping it around to forward, during the casting motion.

4. Fashion aside, it might be helpful to lose the coat.

5. One does not ease up at the end of the cast in order to have the dart land lightly enough to not make a splash. At the end of the throw, when the arm is fully extended, and as the final act of steadily increasing the force of throw, the atlatlist briskly snaps his wrist downward to achieve maximum torque, in order to have the dart impact the target with the force of 40 caliber magnum.

Please note that I edited out some aspects of the fly casting instructions which pertained to comparing the backward and forward movements of fly casting to a military march music formula of one open note representing the backward movement and two half notes representing the two forward movements, mostly because I thought it was really pushing the comprehension envelope.

All and all, there certainly are some comparisons between fly casting an casting a dart with the atlatl. So next time when I am telling a beginner not to drop his elbow and somebody says “It’s like fly casting, man!”, I’ll know what they’re talking about, and so will you. That said, people have also told me: “It’s like throwing a base ball, man!” and “It’s like throwing a 30 yard pass with a football, man!” and as Billie Bob Thornton said in one of his better roles, “I prefer the swing blade, myself.”

I’ll leave it to others to analyze those comparisons.

Ray Strischek