“Avoid Shoulder Injury: Keep Your Elbow Close.”
Good movement equals good results.
That’s our basic premise for this series.
This week we focus on “Casting Longevity”: using good movement (proper form) to reduce the risk of shoulder injury from fly casting. Yes! It’s a real thing. “Casting Elbow” and rotator cuff injuries are fairly common among those who cast a fly rod for hours.
The good news is you can help avoid injury through the practice of good movement. You could say that “good movement equals safe movement.”
We’ve talked about keeping the elbow low—not raising it too high during the cast. Let’s build on that concept and also keep the elbow INSIDE of our hand as we make our casting stroke. Keeping your elbow close is basically external rotation, which is proper form for any “pushing” motion, whether it be a pushup, a bench press, or a fly cast!
Work on keeping your elbow close as you cast and your hand OUTSIDE of your elbow. To borrow from Lefty Kreh, KEEP THE ELBOW ON THE SHELF. This makes it easy to go straight back, and straight forward, which is the most efficient way of casting.
Next week we talk about special issues for casting from a skiff. Stay tuned!
I saw 3 or 4 swimming straight at me. It was almost surreal. I did exactly as you had described in the book and without a hitch dropped the tan Crazy Charlie about 2 feet in front of the lead fish. I watched astonished as he just kept coming with intent and then tipped…
Loved this story over on diybonefishing.com. It realistically depicts the challenge (and rewards) of catching the Grey Ghost of the flats on fly by yourself. It also demonstrates why some instruction—in this case Rod’s very useful book—is better than trying to figure the whole thing out from scratch.
Bonefish are pretty much 180 degrees from the species most anglers target on fly. Everything, from the presentation to the hook-set is wildly different from what we’re used to. I see it every day I guide. If you cast past the fish and pull the fly towards them: game over. If you “trout set”: game over. If you roll-cast and rip the water: game over. If you use tippet with the letter X anywhere in it: game over. Walk the flats and blind cast: game over.
Rod’s book contains the fundamentals of targeting bonefish on the fly and helps clarify all these issues. After that, it’s just up to you get out there and do it!
If you haven’t already subscribed to Rod Hamilton’s blog on that site, you should. Weekly stories, fishing reports and tips to get you fired up (and more prepared) for that next flats fishing venture.
My good buddy 345onthefly posts these vids occasionally to chronicle his ongoing pursuit of the the flats species around the Cayman Islands. Yours Truly makes a guest appearance channeling some kind of skinny island version of The Anchorman.
Day II November 30, 2013 In Transit, Bahamas
Dawn is a grey and drizzly affair, but calm. Perhaps our luck is turning.
Aside from the typical incompetence by the local airline (SOP), the transfer goes smoothly. Even though my companions have been to Acklins before their excitement is palpable. Watching the panorama of the Exuma keys extending to the horizon a few thousand feet below our fuselage does little to alleviate that. After nearly two solid days of traveling, there is only one thing on our mind: bonefish.
Strangely, my own emotions are subdued, even calm. Traveling does that to me, no matter how exciting the destination. I think travel is a kind of mobile meditation—removed from the quiet room and the silent garden—an opportunity to practice awarenessing.
I have plenty of time to practice. After touch-down and collecting our bags, we head for the lodge, which I’m now informed has excellent flats out the back door. But, instead of squealing tired to get there—rigging our fly rods en route—we stop for fuel, to grab a few cold beers (which I slug guiltily in the back of the rental car) and just to pass the time of day with a few of the locals. The upshot is we’re on the water about an hour later than feels reasonable. But never mind; we’re here and safe and there are indeed bonefish. The tide low and starting to rise, ideal to find bones pushing past into the creek system behind us.
My first shots are bold, aggressive. I’m using a fairly heavy crab pattern, because it’s the Bahamas and the fish here are idiots. Plus, I’m me; I got this. But, staggeringly, in the quiet of the slack tide my fly lands heavily enough to spook the few fish I see. Perplexing. I switch patterns for something lighter—a Gotha-like thing with bead-chain eyes—and connect with the next fish I see. The take is gentle, nervous even and I respond by hammering home the fly and attempting to horse the fish in. This results in a pulled hook and lost fish. Brilliant.
The clouds of the past few days still haven’t fully clear out, so visibility comes and goes. The westering sun doesn’t help. I finally land a couple, but all the fish I’ve seen have been smallish—1½-2 pounds—so I wade deeper, looking for their bigger cousins. Behind me the newbie Bob is working the shoreline, and I can’t help but notice that every time I turn around he’s casting at something. Schools of baby bones in shallow water? Must be. Right?
Right. I keep wading down the main channel, scanning for grey shapes in the failing light. Even if I don’t spot them in time, spooking a few would at least tell me they’re there, but no, nothing. Not a needlefish.
Bob is still casting and the light is failing fast so I wade toward shore. Maybe I’ll pick up a tailer on the way. I’m still fixated on spotting bigger fish in the channels when a disturbance near shore catches my eye: tails! Big ones. I wade into position and realize this fly won’t do; it’s much too heavy. I retie and also lengthen the leader a bit. It’s probably unnecessary but I’m running out of chances and want to actually land a decent fish. With the new fly on I wade in close, searching for signs of life in the glare. Suddenly I see a swirl and a push headed my way. My cast snakes out to intercept, but drops to far ahead. I let the fly sit rather than recast. Dusk has come and the glassy water belies the slightest movement on my part. There! I see a movement toward my fly, I think. I begin a halting, gentle retrieve, feeling for the take and then there’s that moment, that almost imperceptible feeling that something is going to happen.
A few hours later I hold a sweating drink as the crew discusses plans for tomorrow. I listen smugly with half an ear and no opinion. Wherever we go will be fine, I’m sure—interesting anyways. Besides, I’ve already got a 5-pounder under my belt, dinner smells good and tomorrow is the first full day in a full week of fishing. It’s a good day to be alive.
Smile, breath, and go slowly.
– Thich Nhat Hanh
It was early, too early to be wading thigh-deep in cold water. I could clearly see the tails of bonefish on the shallow flat rising in front of me, but with the wind in my face I had better odds of being beaned by a coconut than actually getting one of them to see my fly. Still, I’d come here to try. My first few casts were tentative, feeling out the situation. Not good: the line piled up about halfway to the fish, which fed on oblivious of my presence. I tried harder, keeping my cast low and really muscling it into the rising morning breeze. Suddenly a small gust caught my cast and in an instant I was draped in fly line.
I raged at the wind, pulling lengths of line off my clothing, and false-cast hard against the breeze. Bad to worse. The bonefish continued to feed on into the tide, easing farther away with each futile false-cast. My leader looked liked I’d used it for knot tying practice and my fly was fouled in a loop of monofilament which had wrapped around one eye, dragging the fly sideways through the water. Humiliated, I retreated to shore and left the flat in peace.
The cast is the heart and soul of fly fishing. It’s what separates us from those who are merely fishing. It is the source of our joy, and considerable frustration. Many years have passed since my early morning jaunts to the local bonefish flats, but I can clearly remember the sense of futility when anything but a downwind cast was called for. It seemed like no matter how hard I tried Mother Nature got the better of me.
Of course, I now realize that it was exactly my own effort that defeated me. Casting is about finesse and control, not strength, and certainly not anger.
There is probably a lesson here somewhere, but I’ll work it out after I finish practicing my cast.
July 24, 2001
So pass the days. I hope I shall always remember summers here like this. The flats, though small, seem to stretch for an eternity, and I am always there with the sun at my back, searching. For what, I cannot say, but at the very least I have found memories. To really know such places requires time, and memory is built slowly, in layers. It is accreted, like the new sand of a high tide or the detritus of a storm. There is meaning there somewhere.
Stories, too, are found… or made. It was not a month ago now that I was stalking the mangrove fringe at dusk. The sun had set and I came there to see if the snook I knew lived there fed easier at night. Apparently they did, for a few minutes before full dark I heard a flounce under the mangroves. Their foliage is impenetrable, but I recalled a space between the main growth and a small outcropping that had held snook during the day. Getting a fly in there would not be easy, especially in the dark with the mangroves looking like a solid black wall against the charcoal sky. Still, my second cast somehow made it in and two short strips later I set up on what could only be a snook or a mangrove root… but mangrove roots don’t jump.
I proceeded, with building glee, to hand-line this snook out of the tangle of roots, through the small forest of young shoots, not giving an inch until the fish was onto the generally open water of the flat where it promptly snapped my ten-pound tippet. I stood cursing at the empty flat.
The stars spun overhead, dancing their celestial solea as a satellite glided across the night, its electronic eye mercifully occupied with greater matters.
Beneath heaven a small creature danced on the edge of a rock in the Caribbean. There, on a ragged corner of nowhere, I had stalked the crafty snook—a creature of the wild, lonely places—and touched it but briefly. I had seen its jumps, its outline distinct against the pewter water, but had lost him to my own shortcomings. Why? I gazed up at heaven with my question, but only received the usual answer. Heaven was as quiet as a conch.
The stars danced on.