Hopefully everyone is familiar with the casting “plane” which is probably more often referred to as “tracking” by casting instructors. If you can imagine a plexiglass sheet next to your casting arm and during each cast your arm and hand all line up exactly and maintain contact during the stroke. The wall prevents any twisting or rolling of the wrist as well. One can pantomime it by standing next to the wall and having your arm touch the wall as you make a faux cast. The wall will keep your faux stroke in plane, but what happens when there is no wall there? Well, it should be the same but without a physical wall, we all too often take advantage of the freedom and “wave” that rod around. Any travel of the rod that is not straight is, no bueno because it will put “waves” in the fly line which relates to slack, ruins the lines momentum or combined mass of the line and of course, affects accuracy.
Its hard to observe your adherence to the casting plane and often it’s even difficult for bystanders to observe it. But the line, in the air and on the ground will tell you how well you’re doing. My first realization about the plane came from an instructor that demonstrated how the “thumb-over” grip contributes to casters rotating their wrist. If someone is a “thumb-over” caster and they consistently get hinging in their cast, it may be due to rotation of the wrist. At the time it was something I was experiencing, a hinge at the end of the cast. I made some casts being very conscientious to not turn my wrist and the hinge went away. Then, taking a suggestion, I changed to a V grip and the problem largely went away, as long as I remained vigilant to keep my wrist from turning. The tendency is not as bad with a V-grip but you can still do it. Then I realized that by holding the rod loosely in a V-grip and letting the rod fall back in my hand rather than holding it tightly, the rod was able to move own its own rather than under my control and the line started laying nice and straight on the ground. An” aha!” moment for sure.
Another benefit of a V-grip is that, in my opinion, the thumb-over grip is one of the main causes of tailing loops. It’s just too easy to apply power from the thumb and when it’s most tempting to use it is when it is too early in the stroke. In my opinion.
The V-grip doesn’t solve all the problems with staying in plane, but it does make it easier. How many times, either in golf, tennis, baseball, racquetball, shooting a bow, have you been told that you should hold the handle loosely? Well the same advice holds here, grip the handle loosely and let the haul do most of the acceleration. The rod will be more independent and inertia alone will keep it on the same plane both in the back cast and the forward cast. To insure I don’t grip the rod too tight, before beginning my casting session, I loosen my grip and let gravity swing the reel to its natural down position. I check myself intermittently as I’m casting. If I’m holding the rod tightly, the reel will be canted.
I know a certain famous saltwater caster that would probably not agree with me concerning gripping the rod as he holds the handle so that his reel is deliberately tilted out to the side at a 90 degree to the casting stroke. His stated reason is so that the line only makes contact with the guides and not the rod. That’s fine, but to keep that reel turned out I can only assume that he’s gripping the handle much tighter than me. This caster casts with trailing ( not tailing) loops too which is an OK saltwater thing but your accuracy has to be instinctive i.e. takes practice. Admittedly, you must in fact be able to do both, aim at a target as well as cast to a target instinctively. When you have a guide behind you with a 22 foot long graphite pole, you can’t always cast straight up and down, you may have to tilt the rod to avoid all that graphite and human flesh behind you. With big saltwater flies some prefer to always use a tilted rod, for their own safety as coastal winds and big flies can get tricky. But then there are plenty of times when you can cast straight up and down and aim with the rod, which is your best accuracy.
Once I started paying attention and trying to keep everything in plane, other little subtle variations kept popping up. Working on my accuracy made me realize that to cast accurately you should point the rod at the target before the back cast because the backcast is when you establish the casting plane. Trying to point the rod to the target in the forward cast from a backcast that’s out of plane with the target will create problems. If a caster points the rod at the target before beginning the back cast and doesn’t grip the rod tightly, there shouldn’t be any major out-of-plane movements. Accuracy improves.
Another thing I notice in videos is that many casters are hauling with their hauling hand not in-plane with the rod. Depending on the rod this can really have an effect on accuracy and on distance. Of course one should be following the line with the hauling hand to begin with to eliminate any slack developing between the first stripping guide and the hauling hand. But a hard haul with the hauling hand to the side rather than in-plane with rod can impart a side-to-side motion of the rod tip which will show up in the cast, both accuracy and distance. Different rods demonstrate the effect differently but my TFO Mangrove will demonstrably show the effect. I love my TFO Mangrove, as long as I make sure to haul in-plane, my line and rod play nice.
My own personal acronym I use to remember Bill Gammel’s Five Essentials has been up until this point SNAPP, for Straight line path, No slack, Arc, Power and Pause. No casting clinic should be without the “Five Essentials” and an acronym helps everyone to remember. SNAPP has always been my acronym but I have include an additional “P” for Plane, SNAPPP. I know that’s six essentials, I don’t mean to take anything away from Bill, but keeping the casting stroke in plane is just that important, in my opinion.