An Introduction to the Theories of…
Like casting glances back up a trail we are hiking, an introduction to the theories of leading fly fishing instructors of the past will help us move forward with confidence, by reminding us where we’ve been.
As an apprentice hotel magnate in the 1950s, Charles Ritz would sneak away from his night manager post to build bamboo fly rods in the basement. How can anyone who has missed a meeting while fishing not like this guy?
In the next decades, Ritz would become a well-respected angler, rod designer, instructor, and casting theoretician. Keen to help people begin fly fishing in a positive way, he spent a good number of hours teaching the fly cast. In his memoir come instruction book, A Fly Fisher’s Life, and with some updates, in the Journal of the Flyfishers’ Club, Ritz laid out his theories.
He encouraged anglers to seek qualified instruction. In a passage of frustration Ritz said, “The beginner ought to realize once and for all, that as in golf, tennis, skiing, skating, riding, etc., he should begin by entrusting himself to an instructor.” Ritz also promoted quality instruction, even using the term “professor” to refer to casting instructors.
Perhaps Ritz’s premier contribution to angling was his casting technique. Adding to the glossary of fly fishing, Ritz named his style of casting “High Speed/High Line.” His goal for anglers was to improve distance and enjoyment by keeping the fly line farther off the ground/water. This was to be achieved with more power or vigor in the movement of the rod than beginner and bamboo rod anglers were using; “High Speed.” To achieve this power, he wanted anglers to squeeze the grip at the first movement of the back-cast. Then at the back-cast stop, he encouraged a drift of elbow and shoulder. By his estimation, “To make an absolute rule of keeping the elbow against the body, and only casting with the wrist, limits the caster’s opportunities by more than 50 per cent.” To improve line speed and loop shape, Ritz coached a specific and minimal use of the wrist; medial and lateral movement of the wrist outside of the sagittal plane. He explained, “The straightening of the wrist from a (pre-set) depressed position gives extra speed and helps obtain more rod flex.”
The other part of his style was to aim both the back-cast and the false forward-casts above the horizontal; “High Line.” Encouraging this concept, Ritz replaced the term back-cast with “Up-Cast.” In his writings, he used geometric graphics to encourage casting on positive angles of elevation to the ground/water.
Ritz’s ideas were based on advanced investigation. Using video of 1960s vintage, he conducted biomechanical analyses of his cast. Urging slow action rod anglers to move away from the figure 8 cast, he said that a “High Speed” forward cast required a pause after the back-cast, long enough to allow the fly line to lay out. To powerfully release the extra energy generated, Ritz encouraged a “sudden, perfect and total stop of the rod.” He also mentioned a version of haul, which he called, “Line Pull.”
Charles Ritz’s theories made an impact on his time and ours. A deeper study of his ideas will benefit our own angling, our sport, and better enable us to share our passion with others.
The author is very grateful to The Flyfishers’ Club of London, to Viviana Ortiz of Lake Region High School, to Tim Meyler of Coastal Carolina College, and to Tom Jindra, of tacklereport.com for their generous assistance with this article.