Pat McCabe is an extremely skilled fly caster and angler, as well as a teaching colleague of mine at School of Trout. I’ve known Pat for decades, going back to his days of guiding on the Henry’s Fork river in Idaho in the 1980s. Let’s examine his stroke as he begins casting at about 25 feet and works his way out to roughly 50 feet.
Like all great casters, Pat’s stroke originates in the shoulder—the primary pivot point in a fundamentally sound stroke. That you can see his elbow moving up and down through the stroke confirms this. Casting a short line in the beginning, he uses a short stroke. As his line lengthens, so too does his stroke. Very sound work.
The starting position of Pat’s wrist is somewhat cocked (note the space between his reel seat and forearm at the start of the stroke). In this regard he’s very similar to Dan Daufel, another superb caster that I discuss here. Note that a textbook starting position has the reel seat and forearm close to parallel with each other, for a couple reasons. First, such a position preserves the full use of the wrist for accelerating the line on the backcast. For Pat, Dan, and most other casters, this is a moot point, because casting common fishing distances never requires the full use of the wrist anyway. But if Pat were to dive deeply into competitive distance casting, a textbook starting position would allow more room for him to build line speed on the backcast, facilitating a longer carry and a longer overall cast.
Second, if casting a long line does become necessary, starting with a cocked wrist often leads to a very low backcast. This is a consequence of the need for a longer backcast stroke, which can result in the rod ending up low over the shoulder, taking the line with it. As it stands, Pat has an extremely quick, powerful wrist, and he can effectively cast a long way without any problem. But most folks would be well served by adopting a neutral starting position for each cast.
Pat meters out the use of his wrist throughout the backcast stroke. Now, I’ve written any number of times (see here and here, for instance) about when best to bring the wrist to bear, so I won’t rehash that. But I do want to offer a hypothesis on why many excellent casters rotate through the stroke, when perfect mechanics would dictate saving the wrist until the latter half of the stroke.
The finest casters I know are not just casters—they are serious anglers. Trout mostly, but any fish that swims is fair game. In river fishing, much time is spent casting and dealing with slack in the line. Minimizing slack, maximizing it, manipulating it, and otherwise controlling it in whatever way the situation demands. At the end of any given presentation, it’s often common for some amount of slack to be present in the system. Good casters know this can be a problem when picking up for a new cast. The quickest, easiest way to eliminate this slack is not to strip it in, but to use the wrist to slowly raise the rod tip until it’s gone, then proceed with the backcast as per good fundamentals. Also, particularly delicate situations often require picking the line off the water with no disturbance. Doing so necessitates smooth, slow acceleration, easily achieved by using the wrist early in the stroke. So spend enough time fishing and, next thing you know, you may find you’re rotating through your backcast.
On the forward cast, Pat demonstrates excellent use of the wrist, saving it until the end of the stroke. He has a beautiful tempo to his stroke too, and a very relaxed demeanor throughout. All traits worth emulating.