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Research View is published twice a year by the offices of the Vice President for Research and Development and University Relations at The University of Montana. Send questions, comments or suggestions to Rita Munzenrider, managing editor, 327 Brantly Hall, Missoula, MT 59812, or call (406) 243-4824. Production manager and designer is Cary Shimek. Contributing editors and writers are Patia Stephens, Shimek and Vince Devlin. The photographer is Todd Goodrich. For more information about UM research, call Judy Fredenberg in the Office of the Vice President for Research and Development at (406) 243-6670.
Tim McCue grew up fishing the Bighorn River near Billings, and he attended UM as an undergraduate to surround himself with world-class trout streams.
The 34-year-old doctor returned to UM three years ago to patch up Grizzly football players and other athletes as the head 4sports physician, but in his spare time his passion for angling already had led him to research the soreness and injuries associated with fly-fishing.
Now he’s likely the world’s leading expert on fly-casting injuries. McCue and his partners have started a research project using high-tech, 200-frame-per-second cameras to analyze how people fly-fish before and after injury. They also have done extensive surveys to discover how widespread fly-casting injuries actually are.
“I think it’s appropriate that this is all being done right here in ‘A River Runs Through It’ country,” he said. “We aren’t trying to help people find the perfect cast – because there is no perfect cast – but we might be looking for the healthiest cast.”
McCue became interested in fishing injuries five years ago when, after three days of marathon fishing for steelhead in Lake Michigan, his elbow grew sore. After a literature search, he discovered no one had ever researched or documented injuries related to fly-casting.
A subsequent survey of fly-fishing instructors found that 50 percent of them claim to have pain in their shoulders, and 30 percent have pain in their wrist and elbows. Five percent claimed to have pain all the time in their casting arms.
“Anecdotally, we are finding that people are getting hurt,” McCue said. “These look like overuse injuries. The question is, do these correlate to fly-casting? I think they probably do. Can I tell for sure there are injuries associated with fly-casting? Probably. Do I have any evidence for it? No, but that’s why we are setting up labs to look at these things.”
McCue’s main partners are Mike Hahn, a professor of biomechanics at Montana State University in Bozeman, and Jason Borger, an educator and world-class fly-fisherman who was an adviser and fly-casting double on the set of “A River Runs Through It.”
Hahn said they have conducted four fly-fishing labs in Montana university gymnasiums since their research began – three at MSU and one at UM. During these sessions, anglers equipped with a rod and 40-foot line cast within a circle of infrared cameras that take 200 frames per second.
Hahn said each of these MSU cameras costs about $8,000. Normally they are used to study human gaits and how people walk, but in this case they record the tiniest details of an individual’s fly-cast in three dimensions.
The infrared waves the cameras emit have to be reflected back for the equipment to work properly, so little balls covered with reflective material are taped to the rod and upper body of the caster. Borger said it’s essentially the same technology used to bring Gollum to life in the “Lord of the Rings” movies, but he adds that the tape affixing the reflective tags “is brutal. It rips your body hair off.”
The live-time infrared information from the cameras is pumped into a computer, where it can be displayed as a colorful, fly-casting skeleton.
During the most recent experimental day in UM’s Adams Center, the researchers studied a variety of casts used by anglers.
“Today we are going to study a local guy with a strong sidearm style,” Hahn said. “Jason (Borger’s) is very straight up and down, and there are real fundamental mechanical differences between throwing something up and over and going with a sidearm pitch.”
McCue hopes their work could lead to therapies for fly-fishing injuries, helping people get back on the river more quickly. They also want to learn whether certain types of casts are healthier than others over the long haul.
McCue said they fund the research themselves, and he does the labs on his days off. They do generate some revenue from the Fly Casting Institute (http://www.flycastinginstitute.com/), an organization formed two years ago to advance and integrate the science, medicine and art of fly-casting.
hosts a clinic each summer at Hubbard’s Yellowstone Lodge in
Paradise Valley. Clients pay for detailed fly-casting analysis and
education, as well as “first-of-its-kind biomechanical fly-casting
analysis in the 3-D Fly Casting Lab.” Clients don’t need
to have fly-fishing injuries to
“Last year we had a guy who had tennis elbow symptoms,” McCue said. “So to improve his cast we put him on the motion capture, and we found when he was forward casting he double-pumped his wrist, which was causing his problems. We also had a lady who had broken her arm, and it healed with 5 to 10 degrees of extra rotation, which we learned had messed her cast up.”
Pointing to computer graphics that involve two multicolored fly-fishing skeletons, McCue shows how they improved one of their client’s casts. The first skeleton was swinging the tip of his rod out too much on the cast. The second skeleton has a cast with a smooth arc. Paired together, the skeletons show before and after.
McCue said they use surveys to prepare a database of fishing injury patterns. The survey delves into the angler’s background and whether he or she has any symptoms or disabilities.
He suspects people fly-fishing in Rock Creek near Missoula will have different injury patterns than people in Florida working with huge rods and bigger fish. This work also has provided a bevy of fly-casting-injury stories — everything from rotator-cuff tendinitis nightmares to a man who tore the tendons off his elbow because the fish was so strong.
He hopes their research may help such fish tales become less common.
“Basically we are trying to keep people on the river and as healthy as possible,” McCue said, “so they can fish and fish and fish.”
— By Cary Shimek