Tailing loops are responsible for as many swear words in fly fishing as anything else, particularly when you can’t work out why they are happening. Explaining the cause of tailing loops can be quite complicated, so the simplest explanation I can come up with is that they are caused by the rod tip bending too much during the cast.
Imagine your rod tip while casting, traveling in a straight line in the air that is parallel to the ground, just like it was attached to an imaginary curtain rail. This is known as a straight line path of the rod tip (SLP) and is what you are aiming to produce. If your rod tip bends too much during the cast and drops below the SLP and then back up again, it is called a concave rod tip path, and this is ultimately what causes a tailing loop. This is because where the rod tip goes - the line follows.
There are quite a few causes of a concave rod tip path, and I’ll explain some of the most common here:
Incorrect power application
Power applied too early in the casting stroke causes the rod tip to collapse and drop down below the SLP during the stroke, and then back up again, resulting in a concave rod tip path and a tailing loop. To fix, think start slow/finish fast. Also think smooth.
With the casting stroke, you are simply loading (bending) the rod so it can use that energy to cast the line. Brute strength is not the answer, good technique is.
Here is one of many good youtube vids out there. I think the paint brush technique shown is a fantastic concept for correct power application:
Too small a casting arc
The more line you have out, the wider the casting arc you need. Think short line small arc/long line wide arc. This is called a variable casting arc. (there is more to it than this, but I'm trying to keep it simple here)
Breaking 180 degree rule
You should cast with the rod tip traveling in a straight line - also known as the 180 degree rule. If you break it, things also go pearshape.......
No, I’m not talking about the dodgy looking bloke from up the road, creep in fly casting is an involuntary forward movement of the rod tip before the forward cast. Creep works against you in a couple of substantial ways.
1. If your rod tip prematurely travels forwards as your line is still travelling backwards (the backcast is still straightening), the lines momentum pulls the rod tip down, creating a concave rod tip path………
2. By creeping, you have also moved the rod tip forward and shortened the casting stroke. A shorter stroke means you apply power too early (see incorrect power application above) magnifying the already existing concave rod tip path, resulting in a tailing loop.
One fix for creep is to watch your backcast unfold before you move the rod forward to begin your forward cast. This will improve your timing, and also your casting in general. Another fix is to introduce "Drift" into your cast.
The Big Fix - Drift
Drift is a repositioning of the rod tip towards the direction you have just cast (during the pause between casts). One great tip I have heard for learning drift is to “push an imaginary button in the air” along the SLP behind you with your rod tip after you have made your backcast. Another is to “feel” the loop unrolling on the backcast with your rod tip.
Even though drift is subtle, there are quite a few positive things it adds to your cast that I won’t go into here. The big thing about drift is that it fixes our creep problem.
This is by no means a definitive work on tailing loops, as I have tried to make it as simple as possible. Yes there are other reasons for tailing loops, but I have tried to cover most of the issues I see on the water.
Hopefully it helps you say $#@!% tailing loop less often when you are casting :) - I'd love to hear about it if it has!