Learn about Loop Control, Morphing and Shapes Created in Fly Casting

Learn about Loop Control, Morphing and Shapes Created in Fly Casting

In the Spring of 2014, I published an article entitled “Morphing Loops” and what the changing loop shapes tell us about the cast in The Loop. Learn about loop control, morphing and shapes created in fly casting below. The link entitled morphing loops will take you to the entire PDF file. Click the link and you may now read The Loop publication as a PDF from the Fly Fishers International. The Loop became available finally after many years last Fall for the general public at the International Conclave in Livingston, Montana. This article is a reproduction of what I had compiled for that article. My friend Leslie Holmes is the cover shot feature for the issue with many other great articles so be sure to check out The Loop.

Morphing Loops & What the Changing Loop Shapes Tell Us About The Cast

A casting instructor can tell much about a student’s cast by looking only at his or her loop shape. Loop shapes, specifically morphing or changing loop shapes like the perfect symmetry shape, dolphin shape, and leading-edge-on-fly-leg of a loop, are shapes we see often while teaching and fly casting. Loop shape has interested me for decades. I’ve analyzed them, performed loop-drop experiments from rooftops, and read the early and current casting literature.

A few years back, Sexyloops (Internet site) started a discussion on how loop shape morphs through the cast; it prompted me to look further into the subject. When I did, I found a huge discrepancy among instructors’ understanding of loop shape and how they are formed. The common party-line belief seemed to be: How you stop the rod influences these various shapes! But the answer is not that simple. If it were, all casters could cast these morphing shapes at will…and they could explain what causes them.

All loops morph throughout the cast, from when the loop first begins to bud until it turns over and straightens. My experiments showed this changing shape is influenced by line speed and rod tip-path. The shapes of the loop face are a byproduct of various aerodynamic drag forces. The loop shape at creation will morph during flight and change shape before the turnover. The two areas of greatest tension are the unrolling loop face and the rod-leg attachment.

Bruce Richard’s Six Step Method

As skilled and serious casting instructors, we must understand that a caster influences the fly-leg of the loop during the loading phase of all casts. The rod-leg part of the loop will mimic what we do after the stop-sequence or the deceleration phase. If we don’t understand this, it makes it very difficult to apply Bruce Richard’s Six Step Method for diagnosing and improving a cast. I use this knowledge when improvising on various fly casts on the water — and specifically for casts which make use of line waves (a.k.a., transverse waves) during and/or after the rod loading phase.

Written simply, all fly line reactions are the summation of momentums that the caster imparts during and after the cast. In recent years, a new understanding of loop-shape and morphing has come to be. Caroline Gatti-Bono and Noel Perkins studied the problem, working with the Richard’s/Perkin’s Casting Analyzer. Read Perkin’s/Gatti-Bono’s paper (PDF) from the Journal of Applied Mechanics. It addresses the mathematics and dynamics of various shapes and what loop face shapes imply. (Ed Note: Other articles from that website also address loop shape issues.)

Dolphin Shape Morphing Loops


The first loop shape is the dolphin-shaped loop. (Figure 1.) It has a leading edge that protrudes on the rod-leg in the loop face. It comes from low acceleration during the loading phase, attempting too narrow a loop (another way to say too much SLP), and finally, poor rod-leg and fly-leg tension acting on the loop face. If I were coaching someone to cast Figure 1, I might say: ‘Throw as narrow and slow as possible.’

In April of 2012, I joined with other Master Fly Casting Instructors in Atlanta, Georgia to film morphing loop shapes with a high-resolution camera. We wanted to document changing shapes of loops during a cast. Additionally, we wanted to see if we could quickly teach a proficient caster to intentionally throw these morphing shapes. Our experimental subject was MCI Rex Gudgel. We instructed Rex what shapes we wanted him to cast. With a few hints on technique, he could cast them in minutes.

Dolphin shapes are easiest to create from snap casts that are formed very narrowly with a low acceleration phase. Low acceleration yields lower tension on both fly and rod legs (low Reynold’s numbers, for the scientists out there). We often see this shape creating the ‘wiggles,’ especially when the line taper feeds into the loop face toward the end of line turnover. It is an erratic wiggle of the line and leader as they enter into the loop face. The fly-leg speeds up into a loop face that is moving too slowly, and aerodynamic drag causes this shape. Since we do not cast in a vacuum, drag components of atmosphere act on the line to create this chaos at turnover.

Balancing Act of Tension

We see Dolphin shapes often in distance casts when they are close to the turnover. This aerodynamic phenomenon is a dynamic balancing act between line speed and drag components. When greater mass enters the loop face the rod-leg section of the loop must increase tension. This helps to delay turnover, in turn keeping the traveling loop aloft longer. When the mass is decreased in the loop face (as it tapers toward the end of the fly line), the rod-leg must decrease tension, causing a turnover to occur rapidly. This aids in understanding how various line configurations influence loop shapes. This loop shape has a negative angle of attack (from Gatti-Bono and Perkins study), which equates to more downward acceleration than more rounded loops (they refer to the shape as ‘a falling loop’).

Perfect Balance of Symmetry Loop Shapes (YIN/YANG)


The next loop shape appears with perfect symmetry (Figure 2). It is an efficient cast because the rod-leg and fly-leg are both in balance (Yin/Yang) with proper tension. This efficiency eliminates wasted effort.

To achieve this, adjust acceleration to match rod tip path for the desired distance. This practice produces medium-sized loops with parallel legs. If the loop becomes too wedge-shaped, then ease
casting power, or throw a larger loop. If casting power is decreased, do not back off so much that the loop takes on the dolphin shape. What produces the best results is around 2 or 3 feet of separation between the rod and fly legs. The most difficult thing about this cast is trying to achieve symmetry through turnover while minimizing the loop-shape change or morphing. This shape offers a positive angle of attack for the leading edge, which assists in keeping the line aloft longer.

Leading Edge of Fly Leg Protrusion Wedge Morphing Loop


When a cast is thrown where the fly-leg protrudes well ahead of the rod-leg of the loop (Figures 3 and 4), efficient tension is achieved on both the fly-leg and the rod leg. To exhibit this, increase rod-leg tension through hauling and use high acceleration followed by what casting legend Jim Green called the ‘positive stop,’ an abrupt, controlled stop.

These loop shapes are the likeliest of all to be a climbing loop, when thrown in a vertical cast. According to the Perkins/Gotti-Bono’s study, this cast claims a positive angle of attack of .924! This translates to a cast that has FOUR times the lift of a circular (perfect symmetry) shaped loop face. This leads to a fast traveling loop that is very efficient for distance, wind, or very low cast. The longer the angle from rod-leg to leading edge on fly-leg protrusion will yield the greatest lifting component referred to in Figure 4.

It typically has the smallest radius as well on the fly-leg protrusion. The shape implies a very tight loop with high line speed and high rod-leg tension. This loop shape has been called a ‘hairpin’ loop. It is what I have witnessed through observation during practices for record distances.

This cast requires a fast acceleration, an efficient haul, a positive stop, and creation of a budding loop large enough at first to handle the greater counter flex. The fly-leg-leading-edge loop is best for long casts and is also the most difficult to teach. This loop shape can be difficult for novice casters. Many extremely good casters have difficulty mastering the tension required to make this loop. It is also among the most difficult casts to teach students. Practice is the best way to learn to throw these morphing loop shapes, but beware, many factors contribute to an unintentional loop-shape deviation. Some of these include but are not limited to the stiffness, density, and diameter of the line. Factors such as mass distribution, humidity and temperature, fly profile and others also play into loop shape deviation.

Practice, Practice, & More Practice!

Intentionally creating various loop shapes is a good, even necessary, exercise in loop control for instructors who want to diagnose a student’s casts and/or improve their own. Learn to control the various shapes by attempting many of them with the specific objective of loop shape. By varying the acceleration rate with the loop size, one can learn loop morphing techniques quickly. Throw very narrow loops with a low acceleration and keep increasing the rate. What changes? By simply exercising this method, loop shapes will become apparent and these are useful when teaching students. Witnessing the loop morphing shapes will provide you with all the clues needed to know what the caster did without ever seeing the caster. Learn about loop control, morphing and shapes created in fly casting with plenty of fly casting practice. Tight Lines! Mac