Modern Casting III—Arm Casting, part 1
Arm Casting evolved rather quickly in the late 1800s after the advent of fixed rings (guides), rod building techniques that allowed reproducible actions (6-strip cane rods), and high quality, braided silk fly lines. These three allowed the angler to shoot line, something that had been denied to the fly fisher for the first 2,000 years of fly fishing’s history.
The great advantages of arm casting are three: (1) there is a larger range of movement with the arm, allowing the angler to lift and cast longer lengths of line more easily, (2) the angler can apply more power to the rod/line system on both the backcast and forward cast, and (3) there is a much larger range of casting styles that can be utilized. Certainly Walter Mansfield did not heave the line 133 feet in 1899 using Wrist Casting or Arm Assisted Wrist Casting. It was most certainly Arm Casting.
Walter Mansfield was an extraordinary caster, and an obvious early experimenter with casting techniques. His record stood for 35 years, until broken by Marvin Hedge, who first introduced the Double Haul into tournament casting in 1934. His three best casts that year averaged 137 feet 10 inches, with the longest cast being 147 feet. Only 3 years later, the average winning cast had lengthened to 176 feet, 8 inches, with the longest cast being 183 feet. The Double Haul is most certainly a powerful adjunct to Arm Casting.
While it might seem that everything about Arm Casting has already been put into play, it is actually still evolving, as tournament casters strive for ever longer distances, and as tournaments now include distance casting with single hand rods and lines a light a 5-weights. The fundamentals of the stroke for fishing purposes have evolved right along with the development of tournament tactics, just as automobiles for highway use have evolved right along with those used in racing.
The casting strokes of three extraordinary casters form the foundational basis of Arm Casting, from which all angling and tournament casts can be derived. First is the technique employed by Frank Steel, the first person to cast a perfect score in the dry fly accuracy event at the time of the Second World War. Frank taught all his students to raise their casting hands to their foreheads. His idea was to line up the rod between the caster’s eyes, giving a better aim at the target. But the real contribution was that in getting the hand to the forehead, the caster had to swing the arm forward from the shoulder. This is the basis of all Arm Casting.
Charles Ritz, owner of the Ritz Hotel in Paris, was a life-long student of casting, and knew and studied all the very best casters in the world. He came up with a concept he called High Speed, High Line (HSHL). It is, without doubt, the best technique for lifting and backcasting the line
Jim Green was the first person to use monofilament for the running line on a Shooting Head, giving him the notable distinction of also being the first person to cast a fly line over 200 feet. His casting stroke was incredibly smooth, and as the National Director of the Fenwick Fly Fishing Schools, he set the standard for the teaching of thousands of new fly fishers.
The first step in developing a solid Arm Casting Stroke, is based on Frank Steel’s technique. You’ve got to learn to swing the casting hand up and touch your forehead. Then, simply allow gravity to drop your arm back down. Do not try to make a forward cast. Just practice swinging your casting hand up to your forehead and allowing gravity to drop it back down. Repeat to boredom.