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LESSON SEVEN: The Single-Handed Distance Fly Casting Event

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To review: In our previous issue 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, 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 of 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 allows a heavy, longer line which, in turn, requires a much heavier fly rod than what 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 (most of the top casters use a 600-grain line).

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 tournament event (hey, I get some perks, you know).

The Single-Handed Distance Fly Event is frustrating, but challenging. It's exhausting but soothing. It's dumb in one sense, but compelling in another. The event can be degrading (such as when oodles of line drape around your ears on a tangled cast) or ego inflating, when you unleash a cast of over 150 feet. They'll 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?"

The Single-Handed Distance Fly event will teach you 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 home run hitters swing a heavy iron bar or two bats together prior to stepping up to the plate, right? Same principle.

HOW THE EVENT IS PLAYED: Please refer to the previous event (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.

When practicing this event, it helps if you have at least one other participant, not only to take turns in casting and measuring, but because your partner can observe your casting technique and make suggestions. You and your partner can compete but mostly 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 and150 feet) so that you can gauge the distances. Don't forget to record your best casts in your scorecard. As you continue to practice, you will observe periodic progress.

Here are some tips that will help you:

  1. Don't even think of trying to cast this event unless you have mastered the double haul.

  2. Because of the longer shooting head in this event, it's important to turn your head around to observe your back cast. A smooth well-executed back cast is just as important as your forward cast. Champion 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 his observations.

  3. 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 stroke in both slow motion and normal modes. Even if you have only a moderate knowledge of fly casting, you will probably notice your flaws and correct them next casting session.

  4. 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 I'll add some suggestions:

The Fly 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.
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 shorted 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 be sure to wear glasses whenever you are casting).

Immediately you will discover that you 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 allowed, 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 its 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 I like to provide benchmarks in these lessons, 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! I doubt that there are more than a dozen anglers in North America who can cast this distance 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!

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