Individual taste in books varies as much as the favorite rod or fly.  With that in mind, we hope to review books and videos from the ever-growing fly fishing world, and share them with you.  Books will be the best of all worlds, new and old.  Many of the old books are now available in reprint, and the wisdom contained is timely today.  Others can be found in second-hand book stores, or by mail order dealers. As we find videos we feel are outstanding they will be included. Be assured, reviews are based on what we have actually read, and due to that fact, may not appear weekly.

June 13th, 2005

Master the Cast,
Fly-casting in Seven Lessons
By George V. Roberts, Jr.

Reviewed by David (and Aubrey) Shumway

Master the Cast
Some of you may remember the post found in early May of 2005 on the 'Things Wanted' board titled, "Job opening, kinda". For those of you that don't, let me refresh your memory. In the post, J Castwell requested that those of us with little or no fly casting experience, reply and tell him why we should be selected to receive a free book on casting. The catch being that if you were selected for the project, you had to follow the book's instructions, and then write a review of the book and your experience. Aubrey (my nine-year-old daughter) and I were selected for the project, and what follows is our end of the bargain.

I spoke with JC regarding the project before receiving the book in the mail, and he was about as closed lip as he could be. No expectations, no deadlines. All he told me was "have fun" and "do with it what you would have done if your local fly shop gave it to you for being a good customer." I was then left to wait for the book, and ponder what I had gotten Aubrey and I into.

Master the Cast, Fly-casting in Seven Lessons, by George V. Roberts Jr., and published by Ragged Mountain Press arrived a few days later. I immediately scanned the table of contents, read the Acknowledgements and Introduction. In the Introduction the author has a sub-title concerning equipment, and recommends that "you use an 8 1/2- or 9-foot rod that is balanced with a 5- or 6-weight floating weight-forward or triangle taper fly line." He further states, "The fly line should be rigged with a 9-foot tapered monofilament leader, to the end of which is tied a small tuft of fluorescent package yarn. As you attempt the lawn-casting exercises in lesson 7, you may wish to use a bit heavier outfit, such as an 8- or 9- weight rod, which will allow you to handle a longer line a bit easier."

Upon reading this, my immediate thought was "Uh-oh". I was not about to go out and purchase new equipment. So all of our learning would have to take place with the equipment Aubrey and I already had, which is much lighter than that recommended by the author. As a matter of reference for all of you reading this, Aubrey has a 5'9" 4-weight rod, with a 4-weight floating weight-forward fly line. I have a 9'0" 3-weight rod, with a 3-weight floating double taper fly line. Aubrey used a leader that was about 7' in length, and I used the recommended leader length of 9 feet. We both had the recommended tuft of yarn. I don't know if any of that really matters, but at least you can decide for yourself if there were any handicaps or advantages we had in learning due to our equipment.

The book is separated into two parts. As you can probably guess they are: Part 1 and Part 2. Part 1 deals with the mechanics of casting and explains what is supposed to happen in the casting stroke and why. This section of the book provides information on loading and unloading a rod, loop formation, and types of loops. Arm mechanics are covered, and the author provides information on a proper grip and a proper closed-stance.

While the content of Part 1 is well above the level of understanding for Aubrey, I had no trouble in understanding the information presented there, even if I didn't find the writing to be particularly engaging. It's written in simple terms, and provides enough information to keep you somewhat interested. It is also brief enough that you can get through it before uncontrollably skipping ahead to Part 2, which is why you'd really buy the book in the first place. For me, Part 1 held a pearl of wisdom that made reading it worthwhile: "All good fly casts begin slowly." This may be painfully obvious to some of you, but for me it was like a revelation, and proved to be extremely valuable in our learning process. You'll have to read the book to fully understand the context and value of the statement. But it may be the most important concept I learned from the book to improve our casting.

Part 2 contains the seven lessons and an additional "Advanced Lesson" on hauling. The seven lessons presented in this section are titled: The Roll Cast; The Pick-Up-and-Lay-Down Cast; False-Casting; Shooting Line; Casting in All Planes; Drift and Follow-Through; and Off Vertical Casting from the Open Stance.

The author has a small introductory paragraph to Part 2, where-in he states, "In my ideal world, every student would be required to master each lesson completely before being allowed to move on to the next, and would be able to cast a long line without hauling before being allowed to haul. But that is simply unrealistic."

Unrealistic or not, I wanted Aubrey and I to try and adhere to that ideal as much as possible. Then I realized that we have no one to tell us whether any lesson is actually "mastered," and that we are allowed to move on. So we simply moved on when I felt like we could adequately perform the required task, even though I highly doubt you would have considered any of them mastered.

After reading the first lesson it became clear to me that lawn casting wasn't going to cut it. (The learning not the lawn.) So one bright morning Aubrey and I walked to a community pond about two blocks from our home, to see if George's first lesson was worth anything. Before I go any further, let me say, I have never executed a roll cast, (which is Lesson 1) and prior to this Aubrey had never been near water with a fly rod in her hand.

Part 2's narrative takes you step by step through the motion and mechanics of each lesson, and is probably about as clear as any author could make it. Again it is written in simple language, and the reader is able to follow the process in a linear, chronological order. In other words, the reader is told, first you do this, then you do this, and so on. Even Aubrey was able to understand much of the narrative's directions. But the addition of pictures and illustrations provided necessary visual information for us to truly understand what we were supposed to be able to do, how to do it, and the expected end result. We both found the pictures and illustrations to be invaluable to our understanding of the text.

Photo from the book

On our first lesson, I wanted to see if Aubrey could accomplish the task before us, solely on the instruction contained in the book and not by mimicking me. My plan was to provide her with the information I had learned from the book, and then let her execute it. So when we got to the pond, my rod wasn't even lined up. Aubrey listened to the information I gave her, (much of which I read right out of the book) asked a few clarifying questions, peeked at a picture or two, and then gave it a try. It wasn't perfect. In fact, it wasn't even a cast. But after a small change here and a correction there...well, my rod couldn't get lined up quick enough. I had to see if I could do it too. We spent about half an hour or so then, and at least that much time each of the next few days practicing our newfound roll casting skill. If we spent more time than that in a single session, we seemed to digress, especially Aubrey. Her arm muscles just wouldn't last any longer. We found that repeated short practice sessions were much more productive than longer ones, both for her and I. They were also more fun. In our down time, I read the next lesson with great excitement and anticipation for what was still to come.

Author George V. Roberts Jr. Each successive lesson in the book builds to one extent or another on the preceding one, with the author pointing out that the first two lessons are the most important. He claims that "Anyone who has truly mastered the roll cast and the pick-up-and-lay-down cast can do virtually anything with a fly rod." So that is really what Aubrey and I set out to do, and we came back to these two lessons repeatedly. I don't know about being able to "do virtually anything with a fly rod," but they certainly provided a foundation for all of the other skills we learned.

The book is written and edited well, simple to follow, and has enough pictures and illustrations to clarify things that are easier seen than told. Each lesson is thorough enough to not leave the reader wondering, but brief enough to allow the reader to get out and apply what's been read, without losing interest in reading more or getting confused. The skills taught have a logical progression, and the reader can easily gauge their progress as they move through the book. The book is short enough to read in a single night or two. But like the author, I would recommend reading a lesson at a time, and really applying it before moving on to the next one. In our experience, review, especially of the first two lessons, was time well spent.

A glossary is included that explains the terms that appear as boldface text in the narrative, and it provides the page numbers for the first full description of the term in the text. This is extremely helpful to anyone just learning the lingo, and provides a clear way of identifying important terms to remember. A table for troubleshooting common casting problems is also included just prior to the index, and would be of value to even experienced fly-fishers. This table provides columns for the problem, cause(s) and solution for many casting errors, and includes the page numbers for the text dealing with the solution. There is also a list of recommended books and videos.

One other thing I noticed while reading the book is, while the author is quick to use a term or illustration coined by someone else (e.g. Joan Wulff's "power snap") he is also quick to give credit to the source of the term or illustration. Personally I found this refreshing. Often an author portrays that they "wrote the book" on the subject, and are simply unwilling to share the spotlight with others. Such is not the case here, and the reader is never under the impression that the author thinks more highly of himself than he should.

So what didn't I like about the book? Really nothing. I would have preferred color pictures, instead of black and white, and some of the pictures would have benefited from being larger. The writing isn't particularly engaging, so it really isn't a book that you won't be able to put down once you begin reading it. But then again, given the nature of the book and my preceding comments, it really should be put down. If for no other reason than to go and try what you just read. So really, these are very minor complaints, if you could even call them that.

Did we master the cast in seven lessons? Not yet. But I do believe that we are on our way. Aubrey and I can now roll cast accurately with up to 30 feet of fly-line on a consistent basis. We can pick-up-and-lay-down-cast, false cast, and cast in all planes. We can easily shoot 5-10 feet of line with 20 feet already in the air, and we can add some extra distance with our drift and follow through technique or by casting off vertical using an open stance. A cast of 40 feet or less, measured from our standing position to the tuft of yarn can be consistently and accurately delivered. These are the skills that both of us can do effectively, efficiently, and consistently. There are also a few skills that one of us may be more proficient in than the other. I'm not going to tell you which skills those are, or who is the more proficient. Call it a family secret. Some of our skills are already performed without mental effort on our part, while others still require some recall of the "steps" provided in the book. But give us some time...and remember, nine-year-old Aubrey is doing all of this using a rod less than 6 feet in length, and she started casting less than a month ago.

Like all book reviews, the question comes down to should you buy the book or not? Obviously, the book is designed for the beginning fly caster. If you fit into this category, forget trying to figure it out on your own and just go buy the book. You won't be sorry. Those of you that know many of the skills, but can't efficiently execute them on a consistent basis, I'd recommend you do the same. For all the rest of you, the book is probably not going to teach you anything new, but could certainly help you teach others, and may provide some insight for your own improvement. Being a beginner, I'm probably not the one to ascertain the true value of this book to someone that has mastered the cast. I also don't have a library of books on fly-casting, so I can't compare this book with others that deal with the same subject matter.

But to all of you reading this, regardless of your current casting ability, I have a warning. Because of this book, and with a little practice, there is a little nine-year-old girl that may just show you how it's done.

Oh, and one other thing. Thanks for the book JC! ~ DS

Master the Cast
Fly Casting in Seven Lessons

George V. Roberts Jr.
Ragged Mountain Press
Black and white illustrations and photos
142 pages
$12.95 USA
ISBN: 0-07-144900-0

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