Improve Your Catching!

July 8th, 2002

Target and Distance Casting Practice Seminar
Lesson Seven
Conducted By Jim C. Chapralis

In order to enjoy better fishing results, it is necessary for most anglers to practice casting on a continuing basis. Admittedly, practice is b-o-r-i-n-g, so it's my job to make casting practice so much fun that you'll almost like it as much as fishing! And down the road you might even want to enter a casting tournament! And Win!

LESSON SEVEN: The Single-handed Distance Fly Event

To review: Last week we featured the Angler's Fly Distance Event, which the West Coasters often referred to as the "Steelhead Distance Event." But as we discussed, the Angler's Fly Distance has wide salt and fresh water applications: it's a great practice event for just about any type of fishing that requires longer-than-normal casting distance.

The Single-handed Fly Distance is really an extension of the Angler's Distance Fly. Both events employ shooting heads and running monofilament lines and rely on the double-haul casting technique.

The Single-handed Distance Fly is a "controversial" event. Its detractors claim that it requires tremendous strength, stamina, and specialized equipment and has only a vague connection to fishing. Its disciples counter that Rene Gillibert, who is not a big guy, has cast a fly more than 200 feet in this event. Rene is strong for his size, but relies on split-second timing and wonderful coordination. Think if it: That's two-thirds of football field! They also can claim that Ed Lanser and Zack Willson, who compete in the Senior's Division (competitors must be over 60 years old), have cast 180 feet in Nationals. Furthermore, Joan Wulff, who is about 5'5" tall threw a fly 161 feet in a registered tournament years ago. Again timing and coordination were obviously more important than brute strength.

The big difference between the Angler's Distance Fly (which we covered in Lesson Six) and the Single-handed is that the latter employs a heavy, longer line which requires a much heavier fly rod than you're going to find in fly shops. The American Casting Association (ACA) states that the shooting head "shall not be less than 49 feet, 3 inches in length." Another rule is that the shooting head can't weigh more than 650 grains.

Now false casting a high-density 50-foot shooting head plus leader is not easy. You'll huff and puff and use all your stamina to get that blasted line moving to and fro. You also need to increase the line speed and execute a perfect double-haul on that final cast. And if it's done right? Zoom that line will sail and sail.

Why present the controversial Single-handed Distance Fly Event here? Several reasons: (1) It teaches us important timing lessons that can reflect positively on certain fly-fishing applications; (2) once you get the hang of it, it's fun; (3) it's a tremendous exercise that burns up calories and, if practiced regularly, will keep you fit (I find that ten minutes of this event is more tiring than an hour of moderate exercise at the health club); and, (4) because it's my favorite event (hey, I get some perks, you know).

The Single-handed Distance Fly Event is frustrating, but challenging. It's exhausting but soothing. Dumb in one way, but compelling in another. Degrading (such as when oodles of line drape around your ears) and ego inflating when you unleash a cast of over 150 feet. There will be times when you'll seriously consider selling this specialized equipment in a garage sale and going back to your 4-weight rod forever, but, on other days, when you succeed, you wonder, why isn't this wonderful event in the Olympics?

What the Single-handed Distance Fly event teaches you is the importance of a flawless casting stroke, timing and the precise execution of the double haul. By learning this on a heavy outfit, where every motion and action is exaggerated, you'll be able to handle any "normal" fly rod with ease. You've seen the home-run hitters swing a heavy iron bar or two bats together prior to stepping up to the plate, right? Same principle.

In distance casting, Steve Rajeff turns his head back to observe the back cast. He adjusts his stroke, overhang, double-haul timing and trajectory accordingly. Even subtle weather changes must be accounted for with computer precision.

HOW THE EVENT IS PLAYED: Please refer to the previous article (Lesson Six) for making a simple measuring tape and general comments. The rules are basically simple: You cast this event on grass and make as many casts as you want to within a five-minute period and the longest casts are marked. It helps if you have at least one competitor, not only to take turns in casting and measuring, but because a competitor can observe your casting technique and make suggestions. In effect, you and your competitor are really partners. You help each other.

"What if I can't find anyone crazy enough to practice this event?" No problem. You can do it by yourself. You place markers at various intervals (e.g., 100, 125 and 150 feet) so that you can gauge the distances and record your best casts in your scorecard. As you continue to practice, you will observe periodic progress.

TIP: Don't even think of trying to cast this event unless you have mastered the double haul. (Go back to Lesson Six and study the James Castwell double-haul animation).

Steve Rajeff executes a perfect forward cast. Note position of the rod. His longest cast to date was 248 feet.

TIP: Because of the longer shooting head in this event, it's important to turn your head to observe your back cast. A smooth well-executed back cast is equally if not more important than your forward cast. Phenom caster Steve Rajeff does this all the time. He wants to know exactly what his back cast is doing and is constantly adjusting his stroke, overhang and timing based on what he sees.

ANOTHER TIP: You know that video camera that's used mostly for recording family barbecues and weddings? Set it up on a tripod and record your casting. Then play the video on your TV and analyze your casting in slow motion and normal modes. Even if you have only a moderate knowledge of fly casting, you will notice your flaws and correct them next casting session.

AND ANOTHER TIP: You absolutely don't want to cast this event for more than five minutes at a time because you will tire and develop bad casting habits.

THE TACKLE: I'm going to give you a simplified version of the ACA tackle requirements for this event and then some suggestions:

The Rod: Not to exceed 9 feet, 9 inches. Who'd want a longer one? Who could handle it? (Okay, maybe Shaq O'Neal.).

The Reel: Unrestricted.

Scientific Anglers makes high-density fly lines for distance tournament casters. Amnesia monofilament .015 is a good running line for novice distance fly casters when learning this event.

The Shooting Head: Shall not be less than 49 feet, three inches (49'3") in length, and shall not weigh more than 650 grains (again, who could handle a heavier line).

The Running Line: Unrestricted (nearly all competitors use monofilament).

The Leader: Single strand, not shorter than six feet, or longer than 12 feet.

The Fly: The hackle shall not be smaller than 5/8 inch in diameter. (Please, please remove the point and barb when practicing - or tie on a small piece of yarn. And wear glasses whenever you are casting).

This is all well and good, but the problem is that you would need a very powerful fly rod (No. 15 or heavier) to cast this line. Actually, if it weren't for the minimum shooting head length this line would be manageable. Since the standard line rating system is based on the weight (in grains) for the first 30 feet, it would be a No. 12, but because of the minimum length (almost 50 feet) it's equivalent to a No. 17 line. See why you need stamina to cast this event?

For most of us, this gear is not practical or readily available. We're going to assume that you are not going to compete in the ACA Single-handed Distance Fly Championship. At least, not right now. However, you'd like to learn this event and have some fun and perhaps wow your fishing friends when you unleash some very long casts at the next fly-fishing club picnic.

First of all, the rules state that the line cannot be more than 650 grains for the 50-foot length. It can be lighter. I think nearly all the top casters use somewhat lighter lines and these guys are terrific casters. You might have to experiment a little, because it depends on what type of heavy fly rods you have. If you have a No. 12- or 13-weight fly rod and some high density fly lines that you can cut up and splice, you can eventually put together an outfit that is usable for this event. Although you don't have to follow ACA's rules--unless you're competing in their tournaments--you want to come as close as possible to the length of the shooting head. Try a 40-ft. shooting head as a starter and use a .015 Amnesia mono (or similar) for a running line.

I like the Single-handed Fly Distance event for reasons I've mentioned above, despite the fact that one must obtain special equipment to compete in the ACA sanctioned tournaments. (Scientific Anglers makes a number of fly lines strictly for the tournament casters and several rod makers offer heavy sticks for this event.)

In my opinion I think the line length (30 feet) of the Angler's Distance Fly is too short, and the Single-handed Distance fly line (almost 50 feet) is too long. A 38- to 40-foot shooting head would have been ideal as an official ACA event because: (1) it's the easiest length head to handle for distance casting; (2) a number of manufacturers make these heads line and are readily available; (3) this event has excellent fishing applications; and, (4) you could use it with many fly-rod models.

WHAT ABOUT DISTANCES: Normally in these lessons I like to provide benchmarks, but because this event is heavily based on specialized equipment, not readily available, it's difficult. But assuming that you put together the right outfit based on ACA rules, and you've mastered the double-haul here are some numbers:

    100 to 125 feet: While this distance is not particularly impressive in tournaments, it indicates that you understand the basics and with some practice you will quickly ascend to the next level.

    126 to 140 feet: You're an excellent distance caster.

    141 to 160 feet: Wonderful! Feel proud! You have climbed a peak that very few anglers have reached. You're in the elite class.

    Over 161 feet: Surely you've done lots of tournament casting! Not more than a dozen anglers/casters in North America can cast this far under normal weather conditions

    THE LONGEST CAST: Steve Rajeff cast 248 feet at the world casting championship in Pretoria, South Africa. His longest cast at an ACA National was 236 feet!

NEXT WEEK: Our concluding remarks on this series. (We need some time to catch some trout and also attend the ACA 94th annual casting championships for a special report in a future issue.)

About Jim:

Jim Chapralis is a world traveler, a pioneer in the international fishing travel business, and author, most recently of Fishing Passion, reviewed in our Book Review section. He is an avid angler - and caster. Currently involved with the 94th Annual National Casting Tournament July 29 to August 3, 2002. You can reach Jim via his website

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