FOCUS ON SUSTAINED ANCHOR CASTING
PART TWO: FORCE VS TRACTION
This is Greg’s second article in the Focus on Sustained Anchor Casting Series. You can see Part One: Taking up the slack here.
The sustained anchor cast can be thought of as a gentle tug of war between opposing sides. One team features the caster and his equipment, while on the other team are the realities in the physical world that unfailingly resist the caster’s will, but when they can be made to play well together, good things happen. Let’s see if we can better identify these participants and their respective roles in this little drama…
Points to be considered:
1) What exactly is force in our model? Let’s agree for our purposes that force is the effort required to create tension (and ultimately movement) in the line by virtue of a series of movements of the body and fly rod.
2) Why is force necessary? Force is necessary in sustained anchor casting to first overcome the friction between the line and the water on or in which it lies, and ultimately to create the energy necessary to propel any portion of the line forward successfully while overcoming inertia (the tendency of a stationary body to stay where it is). (There are other frictions such as air drag and rod guide friction, but they are minor enough to ignore here).
3) How much force is necessary? Attempting to answer this question gives rise to many more, but they must be raised in a meaningful discussion. For instance, “How far are you intending to cast?”, “How resistive is the anchor (the combination of sink-tip, leader, and fly)”? “What is the design and length of the line?”, “What is the length and flex profile of the rod?”, “Which particular cast am I using?”, and “How can any human possibly integrate all this information and execute a successful cast in less than 3 seconds?”
There is a simple answer to the question of how much force is necessary though, and it leads to answers to all of the other questions: Use enough force to slightly overcome the grip of the water on whatever is remaining on it during the sweep and formation of the D loop, then an additional amount beyond that during the final stages of delivery to release the line from the water’s grip and launch it into the air. So we’re done here now, right? Not quite…
4) When should this force be applied? Certainly, force should precede the movement of the line in any phase of the cast, but that advice alone isn’t very helpful to someone attempting to learn to cast a sustained anchor. A better answer might be to begin by applying force firmly and in a sustained fashion while observing the behavior of the line. If no loss of tension (the lower threshold of useful force) or slippage (the upper threshold of useful force) is seen or felt, that amount of tension can be maintained until the forward stroke, when an additional amount of force frees the line from the water as described above. The feedback mechanisms of feeling and seeing mentioned in an earlier segment of this series of articles will help in determining when this force should be applied.
Mastering this process is akin to reading a book about swimming, then jumping into the pool—expect some mistakes, some corrections, some setbacks, some frustrations, and thankfully some learning and success. There is no other way I am aware of to progress from a theoretical (head) knowledge of something to knowing it in your muscles than to physically practice it (not to diminish being able to “see it” in the mind’s eye). This brings to mind the old wisdom “the path is made by walking”.
…expect some mistakes, some corrections, some setbacks, some frustrations, and thankfully some learning and success. There is no other way I am aware of to progress from a theoretical (head) knowledge of something to knowing it in your muscles than to physically practice it…
5) What exactly is traction in our model? Traction is a term I use here to describe the friction that occurs between the line and the water in any cast that touches the water, but is especially important in a sustained anchor cast. You have also heard it referred to as “stick”, as well as other terms depending on who is describing it. Traction exists when any part of the line and/or sink-tip (if used), leader, and fly are lying on or immersed in water. It increases from the moment of first water contact, but plateaus when line movement relative to water movement ceases. As it applies to casting, this brief interval of time is often seen as a minimum before beginning a sweep.
I’ll just say that you have to teach yourself through experience how much of this “soak time” is beneficial without being excessive and detrimental (the unintended consequence of excessive soak time in non-laminar flows is allowing turbulent currents to re-create the slack you worked so hard to avoid in your previous re-position movement).
6) Why is traction necessary? Without traction, there would be nothing to resist the force supplied by moving the rod tip, and the anchor would wander about or fail completely, leaving the sustained anchor cast unsuccessful. Once force is applied and sustained, it is the responsibility of the anchor through the mechanism of traction to maintain its grip on or in the water until it is finally overcome at launch by a greater applied force provided by the caster and the reflex of an un-bending rod. By now you may suspect that this article will include a reference to a Mr. Miyagi Karate Kid “Balance” scene (or a Yoda/Luke Skywalker Star Wars scene for our younger readers), right? It could work…Up Up and Away! The angry Dolphin nose slices through the wind. Steve Holt photo. Commentary: The Casting Sheriff.
7) How does the caster create various combinations of force and traction? Describing any dynamic process can be difficult, and this is no exception. We’ve already decided to begin the process by using enough force (during the sweep) to free the line from the water near the rod tip while keeping it properly tensioned without disrupting the anchor (however, it can and should begin a process of pivoting in order to assume it’s final position of parallel to and 180 degrees opposite intended cast direction). This force application begins after the re-position with movement from the ankles through the legs, hips and torso, the upper body, the arms, and the rod in that order. You could visualize this process as the unrolling of the body from the ankles up through the hands, continuing with the unrolling of the rod, and ending with the unrolling of the line. This is when you put to good use everything you know about avoiding slack and maintaining smoothness of motion (see previous article). So far so good. Now we turn our attention (literally) to the anchor. Look at it! Is it sliding along in a straight line? (not good) Pivoting while holding position?(ideal) Skipping along the surface? (yuck) Sinking deeper during the sweep (probably not good)? Watching it is the best way to learn whether or not you have used sufficient force at the right time to get into firing position with the anchor in the correct position and orientation with regards to the target, but not so much force as to have disrupted the integrity of the anchor. HELPFUL HINT: one visual sign of a disrupted (blown in this case) anchor is when the lower leg of the D loop moves to the rear as fast or faster than the upper leg moves towards the target during the forward power stroke!
When performed properly, the force and timing of the sweep will cause the fly (and nearby leader and line) to pivot around itself (270 degrees when viewed from overhead in a double spey) like a dog running in an arc while tethered to the top of a stake lightly driven into very soft ground. This is what I have referred to as a dynamic anchor—it is strong enough to initially resist the forces attempting to break it, but weak enough to be able to move in the direction and amount you want when casting force reaches a certain critical level. It is in effect a window of work-ability. If the anchor is too weak your anchor slides out of position or slips entirely. Too strong and the cast fails to launch. To be factually correct, the anchor has to fail quickly at the last instant in order for the cast to launch, but up to that moment it should be grudgingly resistant to movement. There are numerous books and videos that illustrate the fundamentals of this process better than my attempt here, I’m primarily concerned with the nuances above.
8) Towards the perfect balance of force and traction. Finally, we come to the point of being able to consider how understanding and employing all the above concepts and techniques can lead to a very good sustained anchor cast, if not a perfect one. Ben Hogan, a famous golf professional once said “There is only one perfect golf shot, but there are many perfectly workable shots”, and that applies here as well. If you can think of the relationship between force and traction like you would a powerful car with bald tires on a muddy field, you can also envision how much force you could apply from the engine to the wheels and when to apply it to be able to move ahead from a stop without losing control, without spinning the tires, and without throwing mud on all your friends while they watch you! Once you get your imaginary car moving by a steady application of moderate power, you can only apply additional power gradually and steadily if you want to maintain direction, build speed and go forward successfully. As you apply this visual to the movements of your cast, your senses of sight, hearing, and feel provide feedback as to how well this process is working, allowing you to initially make adjustments between casts, and eventually (as your muscle memory improves) adjustments within an individual cast. It is worth repeating that your practice is not a “one and done” straight-line progression ending in perfection–it is more like ascending a spiral staircase, where you continually return to near where you started, but a bit higher up each time around, adding knowledge, skills, and muscle memory as you go.
If this discussion raises some questions in your mind, that is probably a good thing. It either means you want to improve, or it means your author has more to learn (which is certainly true). I hope this article has proved helpful in some way, even if only by encouraging you to analyze your own casting in the process of creating of your own style. Greg Holt