Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a little casting skills challenge hosted by Jesse Brown’s Outdoors and RIO Products with Simon Gawesworth. Various tasks were arranged in a course, and you went from one task to the next in a mini circuit. Scores were tabulated, prizes given, and I wasn’t too shabby. The winner was butter smooth.
It was all in fun and designed to teach some fundamentals along the way. Although I really feel I could have performed better on all the tasks. On the ride home, I wondered what I could have done to improve, and aside from a few little technique details, my lack of planning was what struck me most. I walked up to each task, absorbed the directions, and started firing away. Being near first “through the chute” on two of the tasks, some obvious improvements came to mind when watching others perform the same tasks.
How does this story relate to fishing or casting specifically? The error was blundering up to the task and popping off some casts, which many of us do regularly. In most fishing or casting situations the goal is to hit the target or catch the fish. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the end goal, we forget to plan our approach. I was guilty of this on the casting field and can remember times on the trout stream where I was just casting away.
You need to plan your approach to the task at hand or suffer the consequences. On the practice field, it can be obvious when you don’t have a plan. For example, if you are casting to targets at 50’ and don’t plan an adjustment for the wind, you are off target, or worse you get fly line to the back of your head. Think through what’s happening around you, and what modifications will make the best cast possible. It’s not just technique, it’s identifying challenges and planning your approach to them.
On stream it can be a little more subtle. As the day wears on, you may find yourself randomly casting to fishy looking spots with little success. That’s a sign you aren’t planning. Stop, and think about what you are doing. Slow down. Eat a sandwich, take a break.
Now re-focus on what’s in front of you. What might the fish be eating? Do I see fish feeding? Where would the fish be? Where does my fly need to be for the fish to eat it? Where does my line and leader need to go so the fly is drifting appropriately at the spot the fish want it? How do I manufacture a cast to get the fly to that position? Where do I need to be to enable that cast and what casting impediments do I need to counter? Answer those questions and you have a plan. Execute that plan, and your fishing will improve.
Planning takes vigilance, but the more you practice planning, the more it becomes second nature. Execution goes from chuck-and-chance to a Chess match. You’ll be more aware of your surroundings and generally be more successful.
Practice can seem silly to many anglers. I know my neighbors think I’m a little nuts after the practice onslaught I unleashed on the local green space last summer. What my neighbors and many anglers don’t know is that practice makes your days on the water more enjoyable and casting is fun. Practice develops confidence in making “that cast,” and develops skills that become second nature on the water. In the absence of wild weather, casting is one of the few things we can really control in fishing.
Casting is a fundamental skill in fly-fishing, as fundamental as tying knots, wading*, hooking, fighting and landing a fish. You learn and improve these skills with practice. Because skills are perishable, you also maintain them with practice.
Here are six tips to improve your casting and practice sessions:
Plan – What am I practicing? If you don’t know what you are working on, you’ll make little improvement or develop new skills. Randomly casting is fun, but it doesn’t improve your skill set. I like to warm-up with a few pick-up and lay down casts out to 30’ and ensure I have good loops forward and back. Then I begin practicing the cast(s) I want to work on. Could be a session of reach casts or slack line casts, accuracy casts or a simple overhead cast tune-up, but have a plan.
Setup – Having a ready-to-go practice kit containing rod/reel/leader, yarn or fly with clipped point, and the tools you need makes setup more efficient. I like enough room to cast 50 feet of line and leader, over a relatively flat surface. Most of my casting is inside this distance, but it gives you a little space. If I’m working on distance the course gets bigger. Bring a measuring tape, and some soccer cones. Mark off a course and use the cones for distance and accuracy targets. Do it the same way every time and adjust for wind direction. Practice in tough weather, we don’t always get wind-free days.
Pick A Target – For accuracy casting this is obvious, but in all casts you perform, pick a target for your “presentation cast” – the cast that would land on the water.
Keep a Log – Especially if you are working on a new skill or trying to add distance. Record what’s working and not working. For distance casting, record the length of cast you can execute without issue. A log will help you see progress and enable you to pick up where you left off.
Repeat Success – We learn by repetition. Unfortunately, repeating a bad cast locks in bad performance just a solidly as repeating good casts improve performance. Repeating mistakes, trains yourself to repeat them. Some excellent friends taught me this technique for when you make a bad cast:
Frequency & Duration – Don’t overdo this. Unless you are really working on a new skill, you need in a hurry, 2-4 days per week, of no more than 30-45 minutes per session is plenty. Focus on quality, not quantity. Otherwise you will tire yourself, make bad casts and begin repeating mistakes.
Casting is fun, and the more you learn, the more fun it becomes. Some excellent casting resources can be found at Fly Fishers International.
*For those of you who don’t think wading is a skill, consider the times you’ve busted fish, or your butt, and know stealth or better balance was your failing.
On a blustery day several years ago, I learned a lesson about wind. Casting a large heavily weighted streamer, with the wind on my casting shoulder, the line drifted in the wind, enabling the fly to wrap itself painfully around my ear. I thought I had earned myself some jewelry, but luckily the hook point missed my ear.
Fishing in the wind can be dangerous and frustrating. Your line is moving off course, blowing back in your face, making that rising fish unreachable, and casting potentially unsafe. So, what do we do?
The following tips will help you avoid a piercing and reduce the frustration of casting in the wind:
3. Understand the effect of wind direction on the line and adjust.
4. Casts and Variations
Bonus Tip: On gusty days, time your casts between gusts. I’ve fished in several situations where the wind had a rhythm, blowing for a few minutes and then dying long enough for a few casts. Recognizing this pattern, and fishing the lulls in the wind, can be very fruitful and limit the frustration.
MidCurrent has a great succinct discussion and nice video from On the Fly productions that provide great visualizations of the casts above and really drive home most of these tips.
As a leader in RRTU and a member of Fly Fishers International, Brian believes fishing is a gateway to conservation and knows that