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Fly Fishing & Fly Casting - Tailing Loops And How To Cure Them

October 13, 2021 3 min read

Fly Fishing fly casting Tailing Loops and how to fix them fly casting

Fly Casting - Tailing Loops

There's been a lot said about tailing loops in the past (and more to come I'm sure) Much of it is just wrong and postulated by casters that simply don’t know any better.  The topic can be an incredibly complex one.
Having seen a few tails and created more than my fair share - most entirely involuntarily - I think it best to keep things simple. After-all, we're all about fly fishing rather than any in-depth analysis of casting physics.
Fly fishing and fly casting are most certainly the sport of exceptions and in order to attempt to explain anything in fly casting you tend to have to generalise  - and that’s what i’m about to do.
There are all sorts of potential, “Yeah but’s" - “What about when’s” and “sometimes” that can be thrown into the mix - but most often, and for most of us fly anglers this is the go….
Fly Fishing Fly Casting tailing loop swift fly fishing

What is a tailing Loop?

The FFI definition of a tailing loop and that which seems to be agreed upon by most qualified fly casting instructors is that a tailing loop sees the line crossing over itself AND back again. i.e twice.
A crossed line is not a tailing loop by definition. It's all sorts of other things. An under slung loop, a tight loop cast out of plane, a loop commonly seen on spey casters  - all sorts  - but it's not a tailing loop. See below. THIS IS NOT A TAILING LOOP
Not a tailing Loop swift fly fishing

What makes tailing loops.

Simple - it's always the path the rod tip makes. It can't be anything else. And if you doubt that think about the point of control between the fly line, rod and caster - it's the tip of the rod. End of story.
Most diagrams you’ll see of tip paths depicting the cause of tails are very much exaggerated - including mine here. The effect is subtle, while you’ll certainly see the resultant tail, you'll most likely not actually see the cause in the tip path.

What does the rod tip do to cause a tailing loop?

Simply, the rod tip dips down and then rises back up again. And it needs to do both those things during the casting stroke. Dipping down isn’t the issue, the dip then rise is what does the damage. Most often this variance can be extremely subtle and almost impossible to see and can be most anywhere in the casting stoke. In my experience most often either very early - or very late in the stroke.

What causes the rod tip to drop and rise up again?

Potentially many many things, common teaching dogma cites the following as the most common causes:
  • Poor power application / abrupt power - shocking the rod at the start of the stroke. Or horsing the rod at the very end (throwing)
  • Too narrow a casting arc for the amount of line past rod tip
  • Breaking the 180 degree rule (high back cast + high forward cast)
  • Creep (too narrow a casting arc and often abrupt power application)
  • Finishing the haul too soon
... and just about anything else you can come up with.
In short, most tailing loops are caused by problems with power application. e.g, too narrow a casting arc simply means you need to pack all the power and acceleration required to keep the line aerialized into a very short stroke, which would usually result in a tail. Apply the same power over a longer stroke and your tail will disappear.

The Fix?

Be smooth. If you see tails, smooth out how you apply power. Often, simply buttoning off the power will effect a fix. And / or make a longer stoke. 
Much if this stuff is explained in our fly casing video 'Casts that Catch Fish' - although if I did it again i'd probably explain things a little differently ;-)

12 Responses

Paul Brown
Paul Brown

November 23, 2021

Clear, concise and knowledgeable explanation from one of the masters of the craft.

Mark Forster
Mark Forster

November 23, 2021

Slack when starting the cast off the water is a pretty common culprit in my classes. I also notice that new casters have difficulty timing the back cast into a tail wind (slower unfurling than the front cast) which generally results in coach whipping (another way to apply power unevenly to the rod).

clif
clif

May 25, 2021

Good read Carl. Always good to revisit this stuff. :-)

John Widdifield
John Widdifield

April 03, 2019

Worth the read just to for the sentence… “With many (explanations) disappearing down the tailing loop rabbit hole only to emerge out their own butt.” Obviously one of those “look around” moments when your tangled backcast flutters down at your feet, or hear the sickening sound of fly and line colliding with each other.

Troy
Troy

April 03, 2019

All correct, Carl. To carry it a bit further (yes, I am an engineer, but I promise no heavy physics), the culprit is momentum. Momentum has a direction associated with it. So when the rod tip moves downward, pulling on the flyline, then the line gains momentum toward the ground. Further on in the stroke, if the rod tip climbs, then the line near the rod tip will gain some momentum toward the sky. Upon stopping/unloading the flyrod, the loop forms with upward momentum. A great portion of the flyline (particularly the section closest to the leader) is remembering the earlier downward momentum, while the portion where the loop was created wants to follow the upward momentum.

The tip gives instructions to the flyline which is following it. Early on, it says “go down, go down!” Later in the stroke, it says “go up, go up!” And we get the resultant shape that Carl drew. Normally what we are striving for is a straight-line path of the rod tip — which leads to all of the momentum telling the line to travel directly toward our target.

Andrew Nightingale
Andrew Nightingale

February 19, 2019

Beautifully distilled piece of advice. Nicely put.

Bob Wyatt
Bob Wyatt

February 13, 2019

Gjorde Andjemovic has done a superb job on these flies. Unquestionably the best I’ve ever seen from a professional tier, and there have been several unsuccessful attempts that just don’t achieve the ‘look’ I like for these designs. Djorde has the proportions spot-on. Almost indestructible ties on great hooks. I seriously couldn’t tie them better. In fact I’ve odered a couple of boxes for myself.

Gary Ness
Gary Ness

February 13, 2019

Well and clearly stated Carl. Are you hinting at an update of Casts That Catch Fish?!

Shaun Ash
Shaun Ash

February 13, 2019

Number 2 has always puzzled me
I believe no one shortens their arc on the presentation cast.
Instead they have a well learned and fairly fixed casting arc. On the last backcast slip some line and then tail the forward cast,

john
john

February 13, 2019

Great explanation.. especially like the graphics!
thanks!

Mark
Mark

February 13, 2019

Another cause I have heard described is when my back cast is not equal to my forward cast. So if my back cast is to 10 and my forward cast goes beyond 2 then I tend to get a wide arc which causes a tailing loop. What are your thoughts on this?

Joe
Joe

February 13, 2019

Always the best in casting instruction. Carl is a true casting guru and has been a constant light in slaying the darkness in all things fly.

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