The Magic Switch
by Harald Birkl with explanations by Günter Feuerstein
The roll cast and the switch cast belong to the most important casts for the nymph fisherman, but also when you are fishing with a good floating dry fly or a streamer. Especially on large rivers with over grown banks you just cannot beat the switch cast for reaching the hot spots. The advantages of these "roll casts" are obvious. Enormously versatile even with very limited space combined with the fact that the rods cannot be hit by the heavy nymphs which could damage them.
Nevertheless the switch cast with its uncountable possibilities has only been mastered by a few. Günter Feuerstein, EFFA Master Flycasting Instructors is one of the most highly regarded fly fishers and instructors of the present day. He gives us the following contribution with many helpful tips, how to effectively and almost effortlessly cast the Switch by using his outstanding switch cast technique - the Magic Switch.
Starting point - The Gebetsroither style
The roll cast and the switch cast are actually nothing more than half of a Gebetsroither Cast. The technique of the late master Hans Gebetsroither also known as the Austrian casting style or oval casting and incorrectly in America as the Belgian style, is based upon an elliptical movement of the casting hand during the cast. That means that during the back cast the line moves underneath the tip of the rod and on the forwards cast the line rolls out over the tip of the rod. This means that the principle of the line being kept under continual pressure with a relatively large loop is sustained.
For all forms of roll casts a large loop of line behind the caster is enormously important (exaggerated D). In fact it is not a D but a spiral if you look at is closely, but in this article the "D" is used for better understanding. THe D stores within itself lots of energy (mass). This is best achieved by using a low position of the elbow during the “back cast” and ensures that the line really passes underneath the rod tip and leaves enough room to sting up to the one o’clock position (opening the D) to initiate the forwards shooting cast, which actually is a normal straight over head cast (pull or push movement with an exact stop).
The abrupt stop combined with a very powerful flip rolls the line and nymph well out of the water and presents the leader in a straight manner. The flip accentuates the quick but still progressive pushing movement of the forefinger or thumb (according to the style you use) in the last phase of the casting stroke.
The angled wrist and forefinger is then brought back with the flip into a straight line with the under arm. The movement finishes with the butt section of the rod hitting against the under arm. This important movement which I use for all my casts I call the Dynamic Lock.
Roll Cast or Switch Cast?
During the first part of a roll cast the line drifts towards the fly caster with a continual water contact. During this phase the rod is hold close to the body and parallel to the body axis (close to the vertical), so that the biggest possible D loop behind the caster can be formed also setting you up for longest possible path of acceleration. If we want to roll cast to a target far away from us we will recognize, that even with excessive power we will reach a distance (depending on the taper of the line) when it is no longer possible to roll the line out of the water because the adhesion of a longer line is too much for the rod or because you are already to far into the thinner running line. So the cast collapses. For such situations you better use the Magic Switch.
The Magic Switch
There are many ways to perform a switch cast. The Forward Spey and Göran Andersson’s underhand cast are also variations on the same theme. My variation of the switch cast concentrates on a natural position of the hand while at the same time allowing an optimal movement freedom of the casting arm. It minimizes the power to be used and maximizes the result. If it is performed correctly the line enrols beautifully and without any power application to be recognized – like magic. That’s why I call my way of casting the switch the Magic Switch.
When performing a Magic Switch you start with the “back cast” by carefully lifting the line off the water first to reduce the adhesion. To optimize the lifting and kissing phase I use a movement which I call the Wave-Pick-Up. This movement reduces the adhesion and helps to better control the anchor point. When Switch Casting I hold my rod in a 45° angle (sideways position) in relation to the body axis allowing an optimal movement freedom of the casting arm (optimized D). If you lift the rod tip into the horizontal(upper arm and forearm build a 90° angle) and move your elbow backwards on this horizontal line in a continuing speeding up movement you will recognize a wave running all the way through the line from the rod tip to the leader(wave pick-up: pictures 1-4). This wave lifts piece after piece of fly line from the water very easily. So the power you have to use for the lifting off is reduced to a minimum and gives you better control of the second part.
The fly line follows the rod tip movement (steering phase). But as the garvity pulls the line down it anchors besides you but in a horizontal manner, too. This is what you want - a parallel anchor! As a result the anchor point is not a product of pure coincidence but of exact planning. If the rod tip would move downwards and would be stopped abruptly in this position all the line would land on a pile. To avoid that you pull your elbow back horizontally. This second part of the wave-pick-up is done speedier and the rod tip and at the end the rod tip has to perform a wide and round movement ending with the rod tip stinging up into the 1 o’clock position (opening phase of D). The lifting is done by a lever movement in the grip. Please don't forget the low elbow position(just let it hang down naturally) I have mentioned in the beginning and the elliptical movement during your “back cast” to form a nice, wide D!
Shaping the “D”
By doing that the loop opens in the back of the fly caster forming a big wide D below the rod tip and so only the last part of the line(ideal: leader only) “kisses” the water 2-3 m aside of the caster(picture 5 - anchoring). This whole movement has to be performed fluently (progressive speeding up) and not jerky to avoid that the end of the fly line overtakes (!) the other part during the anchoring phase instead of hitting the surface in a parallel manner.
- If you recognize this overtaking, just speed up a little bit during the shaping phase or slightly alter the angle of the rod tip movement towards the anchor point.
- By altering the height of the position of the rod tip a little bit you can correct little mistakes made during the lifting-off phase (e.g. make a larger D, …). Of course you should never straighten the elbow during this phase. Otherwise it is not possible for the rod tip to travel on a straight path during the following forward stroke.
"Waiting" in the 1 o’clock position
Now you can “wait” with the rod tip in the one o’clock position for the leader kissing the water. Please recognize that your elbow is now not aside or in front of your body but behind it to make the D as wide as possible. Exactly in the moment when the line hits the water the forward stroke starts (pressure phase).You should not recognize a splashing water line of more than 1 m of length when you anchor the fly aside of you! This bit of water contact is enough to load the rod and it helps you to dramatically reduce the power needed for the forward cast. Because of the fact that the casting plane of the Magic Switch is about 2-3 m aside of us and not close to our body the casting stroke should only be very short(picture 5 – stroke). Otherwise the rod tip would leave the casting plane. To stop the rod either in a position in front of you (horizontal opening of the loop) or too low(vertical opening of the loop) are the two major reasons for energy loss. Opening the loop always means wasting casting energy. Sometimes this can be wanted but for an efficient cast it is a must to reduce this loss of energy.
This means for the Magic Switch you need a straight path of the rod tip and a high positive stop(11 o’clock) going together with a strong flip(GF dynamic lock). My forward stroke is very short. I only move my casting arm a bit forward and speed up and stop it by using my dynamic lock. This means my rod tip stops very high. The flip has to be progressive and in harmony with the speed and action of the rod. Only by doing this it is possible to load the rod very deep(in the strong, thicker bottom part of the rod) and to cast a tight loop which makes a nearly power less cast possible even on long distances. (picture 7 – loop formation)
Depending on the length of the fly line that has to be lifted from the water and the intended casting angle of the forward cast the expert caster can change the amplitude and/or the size of the wave movement (wave-pick-up) during the lifting-off-phase. So he can control his cast exactly.
Some switch casters start their forward stroke too early. This is usually because they use long belly lines and want to prevent the line from sticking too much to the surface(long anchor point). By doing this they have the straighten the forearm in order to compensate the loss of stroke length caused by the too early forward movement. This straighted forearm at the end of the stroke means in any case that they cannot manipulate the line any more after the stop. So this way of switch casting might serve the needs of a straight distance cast but it is definitely no good for flexible casting in all situations(angulated casts). If it is performed in the wrong way it also causes tailing loops.
The role of the line hand
During a roll cast inexperienced fly casters should not use their line hand at all(better just jam the line between rod handle and your middle finger) or should try to keep it passive by having always the same amount of line between line hand and the first guide(just stay with your line hand always close to your reel). In any case the distance between line hand and first guide should never extend during the back “cast” because otherwise a large part of the loading path(of the forward cast) is lost because the line pulled through the guides during the back ”cast” slips through the guides during the forward cast and by doing that make the rod unload. So the road starts bending too late. As a consequence the loading is not sufficient for a proper cast and so the cast collapses.
The experienced fly caster can enhance the efficiency of his roll cast using a single haul during the forward cast: This helps to load the rod deeper. This principle also applies to the Magic Switch and both efficiency and casting distance can be increased significantly. When performing a Magic Switch the single haul should not be too long because the forward stroke of the Magic Switch is short, too and they should be in harmony with each other. (picture 7 – nice loop)
Double haul and Switch Cast
The casting distance for a SC can be increased when using a double haul as you do when overhead casting. The double haul only brings advantages when using long belly lines which need more way of acceleration and drift (more personal power input) and of course also more back-space. When double hauling you have to keep in mind that the line hand has to follow the rod hand when it stings into the 1 o’ clock position so that the rod can be loaded well when hauling again during your forward cast. As a result the loop behind the fly caster changes. It gets v-shaped now (more line between rod tip and anchor point) and the lower line can easily catch too much water. This means a lot more power is needed to get it out of the water again. Many fly fishermen fail to handle such situations. The double haul for the Switch Cast is very difficult even for professionals. This requires a different technique which is based on the use of much more speed and power and is contrary to the philosophy my elegant and obviously effortless Magic Switch is based on. Switch Cast techniques combined with double-hauling are not suitable at all for spooky fish and situations where only limited back-space is available.
The Magic Switch was designed for minimal power input and maximal efficiency and elegancy. Its movements are optimized to avoid any loss of energy and to make your fishing more pleasant. With no other switch you can cast nicer loops. For the modern fly fisher, who uses the Magic Switch instead of the overhead cast as his basic cast(even for dry fly fishing) long belly lines are not necessary at all. Even without using overhead casts he will be able to fish maybe more than 95 -98% of all fishing situations.
The Magic Switch is absolutely great for WF lines and shooting heads with tapers of up to 12 m. With the Magic Switch distances of up to 25 m can be reached without any really visible power application and with short a single haul only… if one knows how to perform it correctly.
Range of use according to personal preferences
“At what distance do you change from roll cast to switch cast?” This is a question I have been asked quite often. There is no directive existing. Everybody has his own preference. That’s ok. Fly casting should be as comfortable as possible. In my courses my clients exercise at the beginning with about 10 m fly line pulled from the reel plus leader to automatize the proper anchoring. When fishing I usually start switching at a distance of about 12 m depending on the line and the length of the rod I am using.
I like to use Wulff TT lines or equivalent lines like the LOOP Opti stillwater. They work really well for those long roll casts. For very long distances and only for rivers which are wide and where it is possible to wade in quite a bit I occasionally use longer tapers. Of course the use of lines is very individual and is connected with personal feelings and preferences and the waters that are going to be fished. Everyone should use the tackle he gets along with best. But with regard to all situations in my opinion the target should always be to minimize the personal efforts.
The rod is very important for a good SC. Rods with tip action are no good at all for „water casts” as I call them. As the name says only the tip bends when using such a rod. For water casts we need to load the strong lower part of the rod to generate a lot of energy for the cast. Parabolic rods(should not be too soft) - or even better - progressive rods do a good job. Even beginners recognize this at once. The length of a rod is an important factor, too. Do not use rods shorter than 8 ft.! Of course you can switch with them, too but roll and switch casting as well as the line mending is much more difficult with shorter rods. For nymph fishing I usually use 9ft. rods.
As a last advice before you start your training please keep in mind to check the ferules (especially if you use traveller rods with 3 or more parts) from time to time. After performing a lot of switch casts they can get loose and break later. Be sure that they are tight! Have fun with your training and enjoy the ease of the Magic Switch!
Find more information on water casts on www.g-feuerstein.com
Günter Feuerstein performs his brilliant version of the Switch Cast. It is a hybrid technique based on the underhand principle of loading the rod from bottom to the top. It minimalizes the power loss in the cast, so the line enrols in the air like magic.