Corkscrew Curve

The Corkscrew is one of my core curves. It not only makes fly rods do a bit of aerial gymnastics, but it also allows for right-angle curves to be made to the left or to the right regardless of which hand you use to cast. That’s cool, but can you actually catch fish with it? Of course you can! Because of the right-angle nature of the cast (technically a “cast/mend,” for the detail-oriented anglers out there), and because it presents in a very active way, it is truly useful for real fishing conditions.

A particularly memorable presentation recently came for the use of a Corkscrew: A little Wisconsin spring creek, a shallow feeding lie overhung with tall grass, and a dun-sipping brownie. Several passes with a Puddle Cast (a/k/a Pile Cast) got me nowhere (wrong drift, and I was casting from a drag-inducing riffle just below the fish). But a Corkscrew to the right did the trick on the first pass. It certainly wasn’t the biggest fish of the season, but it was one of the most satisfying!

Originated by Bob Pelzl, and then further developed jointly by Bob and my father, Gary, the Corkscrew Curve is admittedly at the “doctorate” level of fly casting. This cast/mend was developed in the late 1970s, and it was originally published in “Fly Fisherman” magazine in 1980 (in an article co-authored by Bob and my father). I have included an excerpt of the original text here along with a few additional notes and an illustration.

…Several methods of making curves are commonly used, but each method has its limitations. Turning the wrist over at the end of the power stroke produces a wide, open curve, when instead a sharp, tight curve may be called for. A sharper curve can be made by using a sidearm stroke and overpowering the cast; however, there is often not room on the stream to tip the rod to one side and make the cast. The under-powered curve cast requires accurate timing and controlled energy application to achieve anything better than a sloppy delivery, and even then it is at the mercy of the slightest breeze. It is also very difficult to shoot line with any of these casts and still control the curve in the line. A method which removes these limitations, and which we have come to call the Corkscrew Curve Cast, was developed as a result of a casual discussion we had about curve casting. One of us (Bob) began working on a tactic that had been mentioned only in an offhand way. The brevity of the original discussion led him to experiment extensively in an attempt to duplicate what he thought had been described. After numerous practice sessions, the tip of the line began to fall in a sharp, right-angled curve. But the method he used was like no other we had ever seen. With mounting enthusiasm we analyzed this new cast. One exciting feature was that the curve remained intact while shooting line, even when the double haul was used. The ability to add energy with the double haul also helped make the cast manageable in the wind. In fact, control emerged as a major advantage of this cast over other curve casts—the cast was easy to control even with weighted flies or micro shot on the leader. Finally, the cast was performed with the rod held in the normal vertical plane, the line traveling straight behind and straight forward, then hooking around. Before describing how to make the cast, we want to emphasize that the Corkscrew Curve is not a variation on the under-powered curve cast, nor is it a variation on the overpowered curve cast. It is, rather, the result of two traveling waves, or loops: a simple pulse loop followed by a corkscrew-shaped loop. As we proceed, keep in mind that these traveling loops form the curve. To make a normal forward cast, the rod is accelerated smoothly and stopped positively. The extra hand motions used to execute the Corkscrew Curve Cast are made at the end of the forward power stroke and completed just as the rod is stopped. In other words, they come during the period of fastest acceleration. For a curve to the left, the rod is brought forward; then, as full power is applied to the stroke, the casting hand moves sharply to the left a short ways, sharply back to the right, and finishes with a tight, clockwise, semicircular movement that ends with a positive stop [I like to "push" the rod forward a bit during the semicircle, versus trying to keep it closer to my body — JB]. These motions are made rapidly and with the same amount of energy as would be applied to a normal cast. The wrist is not rotated during any of these movements; rather, it is kept stiff while the forearm is moved to make the rod trace the required path [the "stiff-wrist" aspect is a key to this technique. A sloppy wrist tends to create a mess, not a controlled curve — JB]. The left and right motions start the line around in a wide curve to the left. Moving the rod further left and right will cause more line to hook around in the final curve. The semicircular motion generates a corkscrew in the line. If the hand traces less than a semicircle, a complete corkscrew will not develop and the line will form a wide curve beginning at the tip of the rod. If a full circle is made, two corkscrews develop and the line will end up a tangled mess. When the cast is made correctly, the single corkscrew travels forward, following the pulse set up by the left and right movements. The net result is a sharp hook to the left at the very end of the line. A mirror image of the motions used for the left hand curve will produce a right hand curve [the mirror image aspect is not too difficult to work out once you have the basic Corkscrew, and it allows a right-handed caster to make some serious right-hand curves — JB]. Practice the basic pattern without the rod, moving your hand through the correct path slowly, repeating the motions again and again until they blend together and feel comfortable. Then practice for speed. If the motions seem too confusing when you pick up the rod, revert to the dry-run sessions. Don’t be discouraged if your first attempts fail to yield the desired result. It takes practice to add the extra movements at the proper time, but the satisfaction of watching your Corkscrew Curve shoot forward and drop to the water, angling sharply to a rising trout, will make the practice worthwhile [Yes, indeed! — JB].

Corkscrew excerpt text copyright © Gary Borger and Bob Pelzl.

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The Corkscrew Curve. General movements (left), and the end result (right). This cast/mend allows for a right-angle to made in the end of the line, but can also be “de-tuned” to produce much slacker angles.

This is not an easy cast for most anglers to learn, but through practice it is possible to build the skill into something very useful. While I learned the basic Corkscrew as a kid (I was nine or ten at the time), I never felt that I really had it mastered in the way that I wanted until I was in my twenties. Now, it serves as a key cast in my curving quiver, ready to fly when the time is right.

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Here are two videos showing the arm motions required to create a Corkscrew Curve (videos one and two) and an Inverse (or Reversed) Corkscrew Curve (video two). This is quick-and-dirty stuff, but it shows what needs to be done. (FYI—in the second video, there is a wind quartering from my front-right, so the right-directed (Inverse) curve uses a bit more energy input than I would normally employ at this distance.)

(If you want to see a serious Corkscrew, check out this post.)

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