- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Allen Campbell’s laboratory is the great outdoors. An avid fly-fisher and owner of Shenandoah Streamers School of Fly Casting in Luray, Va., he has been experimenting with the physics and biology of the sport for about 20 years.

“As the old saying goes, ‘Trout don’t live in ugly places,’” Mr. Campbell says. “Wherever I go fishing is usually a beautiful place. If the water is yucky, the trout will die because they are really sensitive.”

The science of fly-fishing can be seen along many bodies of water. Not only does physics affect the cast of the fisher, but biology plays an important role in reeling in the fish.

Advancements in technology continue to make the equipment better suited for the sport.

One of the distinguishing factors of fly-fishing is that the weight of the line is used to create energy, instead of the weight of the bait, Mr. Campbell says.

He is a Federation of Fly Fishers casting instructor. The group is an international service organization dedicated to the betterment of the sport of fly-fishing through conservation and education. He charges $120 a day for a private lesson.

The sport’s casting mechanics are governed by scientific principles such as Newtonian physics and the principle of energy conservation, says Frank LoPresti, instructor with Angler’s Lie Fly Casting School in Arlington. He is a Federation of Fly Fishers master instructor. He gives two-hour lessons for $100.

“Fly casting is based on physics,” Mr. LoPresti says. “It’s the foundation of everyone’s casting stroke, regardless of who you are.”

According to the principle of the conservation of energy, energy can be converted from one form to another, but it cannot be created or destroyed, he says. When casters move the fly lines behind their bodies, potential energy is stored in the rod, which is being used as a third-class lever, where the effort is found between the resistance and fulcrum, he says. The effort is the rod, the resistance is the fly line, and the fulcrum is the hand.

When the rod is moved forward, the potential energy transfers from the rod to the line, Mr. LoPresti says. A moving fly line represents kinetic energy, the energy of motion.

When the potential energy becomes kinetic energy, a U-shaped loop is formed in the line. The loop is the vehicle that delivers the fly to the fish. The loop has two parts, a top leg and a bottom leg, and energy is stored in the top leg during the acceleration phase of the stroke.

Ideally, the energy directs the fly to the target, he says. The most efficient way to accomplish that goal is through a straight line path of the rod tip.

If the rod tip doesn’t travel in a straight line path during the cast, it either becomes convex or concave. A convex path of the rod tip creates a wide, inefficient loop. The energy will dissipate, most likely causing the fly to miss the target. A concave path of the rod tip creates a closed loop, where the energy overpowers the rod tip.

Apart from the physics of the sport, fly-fishers may learn to tie flies, which imitate everything from small aquatic insects to 12-inch bait fish, says Newell B. Steele, owner of Angler’s Lie in Arlington.

Good trout fishers are familiar with their local aquatic insects and when they hatch on the waters, he says. The aquatic insects that hatch on the water are mostly mayflies, however, there are hundreds of kinds of mayflies throughout the country.

Caddisflies and stoneflies are also aquatic insects that are imitated by fishers’ flies. Sometimes, even fake terrestrials, such as crickets, grasshoppers, ants or beetles can be used for fishing.

Anglers always should investigate the body of water where they are fishing, Mr. Steele says. After researching the type of bugs that are present on the body of water and at what stage the fish in the river are feeding on the insects, fly-fishers make imitations of the insects on hooks using bits of thread, fur and feathers.

The fly-fishers can make generic imitations that represent a broad range of insects, or they can make extremely realistic copies of an insect. Most importantly, the finished product needs to be convincing both dry and wet, he says.

Salt water and bass fishermen will learn to copy bait fish and crustaceans.

“It depends how scientific you want to be with the sport,” Mr. Steele says. “There are Latin names for everything, or you can just call it a little brown bug.”

Fishers place the finished imitations in boxes or fly fishing jackets to take with them to the water.

“The jackets have millions of pockets,” Mr. Steele says. “You resemble a special forces guy in Iraq doing combat.”

While fishing, it also is important that the fisher know how to read the water. For instance, if a tree has fallen into the water, the fish will be there because they can hide out of the sun from overhead predators. They typically like to swim near ledges and rocks for the same reason.

In addition to understanding biology, the tapered design of the rod enhances fishers’ ability to catch their prey, says Bruce Richards, product development engineer at 3M/Scientific Anglers in Midland, Mich.

“How the lines are tapered determines how they fly through the air,” Mr. Richards says. “We make many different tapers, if they are not tapered, they don’t cast well.”

The chemistry of the lines’ coating also affects whether it will float. Most fly lines should float and have low friction when going through the air, he says.

The company makes lines for a wide variety of applications, depending on the size of the fly being cast and the climate where the line will be used.

For instance, lines with tungsten coatings sink in the water, allowing the angler to fish up to 60 feet below the surface of the water.

“When you just take a line out of the box and look at it, it looks fairly simple,” Mr. Richards says. “It may look simple, but the amount of variable involved in making the lines make it more complicated.”

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