Good fly casting demands proper elbow position.
I have long been a Lefty Kreh casting disciple. Lefty set the traditional fly casting world on its ear in the 1970s with his then-controversial teachings. But there is nothing controversial about improvement, and Lefty’s casting philosophy and method has made many thousands of fly casters better.
Lefty has four major principles to follow, which deal with everything from the distance a rod travels during the cast to rodtip direction, the speed-up-and-stop to form tight loops and more, but I think his advice on elbow position during the fly cast is central.
When I started fly casting in salt water in the late ’70s, for long casts, I used long strokes, moving my rod through a long arc, as Lefty advises. However I routinely extended my arm high above my head, which meant my elbow was at shoulder level much of the time. I have old snapshots to prove it. And I recall the soreness in my shoulder after long days of casting, especially with big flies. I did not make the connection between my elbow position and the pain. Around that time, a few years before I had the chance to see Lefty Kreh casting in person, I watched Chico Fernandez give a demonstration at a South Florida fishing club gathering. What struck me, other than his effortless smooth stroke, was that he kept his arm low, elbow close to the body and hand no more than ear-high. That helped things click for me.
Lefty strongly suggests “keeping the elbow on the shelf,” meaning going through the entire casting sequence, from line pickup to forward cast, with the elbow low, on an imaginary shelf, at the height where your elbow would be with your arm hanging at your side. In Casting with Lefty Kreh, published in 2008 by Stackpole Books, Lefty is photographed casting with a wooden beam at his side to better illustrate the concept. This low elbow position prevents over-elevating the arm and hand which tends to open your loop. It also results in minimal rotation of the shoulder joint so you decrease the chance of rotator cuff injury. You can make both short and long casts; longer casts just call for you to swivel your body (as much as 90 degrees off the target) to aid in the cast and simply extend your arm farther to the rear on the back cast, all the while keeping the elbow on the shelf.
In my flyfishing guiding and in helping others cast nowadays, the elbow position is the most common correction I suggest. Just recently, I had a gentleman on my boat for a casting lesson. He hadn’t used his fly rod much in a few years, and claimed that he got tired quickly when he practiced. I asked him to cast a bit for me and he moved his entire arm like a metronome, his hand stayed above his ear, and his elbow pumped up and down like a piston. All the stress was on his shoulder joint. Once he kept his elbow low and on the shelf, his loops and line speed improved and he cast for a half-hour at a time with little fatigue.
The photos show the proper elbow position throughout the cast.