IWFF Blog: Why Practice Fly Casting

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by MaryAnn Dozer

When you fly cast – does the entire fly line, leader and fly fall in a straight line with no coils? Can you cast greater than 40 feet of line and have it lay out straight in front of you? Do you know: What a reach cast is? What is a wiggle cast is? What a curve cast is?

If you answered yes to all of these questions – Fantastic! If you answered no to two or more – then I’d say investing some time in your cast will increase your pleasure in fishing and increase the number of fish you hook.

If you are like me – your first and only fly casting lesson was the 15 minute session you received when you purchased the rod or your first fishing experience. Well for years – it was that one 15 minute fly casting lesson I fished with. Oh yes! For me it was flies in trees, lost flies on the back cast, cast missing a feeding fish by 5 ft or worse yet the line landing on the fish only for the fish to scurry upstream out of sight.

Now let me shift to golf for a moment. Are any of you a serious golfer or know a serious golfer? Have you ever noticed that a serious golfer will practice their swing before stepping on the course and in some cases in between golf outings? Do you take this same approach with your casting?

As a past golfer I did practice my swing before and between golf outings. Why? Well, because I knew that I needed to have the fundamental mechanics in my swing to deliver the ball to where I wanted it to land – whether that was 15 feet or 200 plus yards.

Unlike golf, where on primetime TV someone is analyzing the golfers swing, we don’t see that happening on TV for fly fishers. On TV we see golfers win big money because they put together a string of perfect swings. We don’t see that for fly fishers. We just really don’t have a mechanism to know what a good cast looks like or feels like. I would venture to say if fly fishing received as much TV time as golf, we all would be out there practicing our fly cast.

When I started fly fishing why didn’t I take this same approach? Probably because:

In 2002 I volunteered at a Casting for Recovery Event in Washington. At that event I watched Marilyn Vitale and Liz Watson teach fly casting to the CFR participants. Both of them are Federation of Fly Fishers Master Casting Instructor. My chin hit the ground – I was amazed with the grace and ease these two lady fly casters could make the fly line form a loop and the fly line, leader and fly land straight in front of them. I was amazed that there were fundamental mechanics all casters should be doing. In that one hour I quickly learned there was a lot to more do with casting than what my husband or the local fly shop owner shared with me. I don’t think it was that they neglected to tell me. I think it was “they just didn’t know themselves”.

I can now tell you that after many hours of practice, coaching, and reading, that that I know what a good cast is and where the fly is supposed to be – I can honestly say that casting mechanics are just as important as golf swing mechanics.

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The basic mechanics of a good cast

So how do you tell if it is a good cast? The ultimate test is does the fly land where you want it to and is the fly line where you want it? A good cast is one where the loop size is about 2 to 3 feet and is shaped like a sideways V or a sideways U. This clearly is the results of a well executed cast. Yes, this is the equivalent of the golfer hitting the ball down the centre of the fairway.

What are the key fundamental mechanics of any cast? Do you do any of these?

1. Start the fly cast with the rod tip low to the water to minimize slack – lose line.

2. Use the full arm in your cast, keep a firm wrist, and stop at the appropriate point to ensure the rod tip travels in a straight line path. The place to stop is a function of the amount of line past your rod tip.

3. Have a pause long enough for the line to unroll before the next cast is made.

4. Starting the cast from a dead stop and smoothly speeding up to a quick abrupt stop.

What are some common errors that get in the way? Do you do any of these?

  • I didn’t know what a good cast versus bad cast was? I had no way to measure the quality of my cast. Yeah, I knew some casts looked better and felt better – but I didn’t know what it was that I was doing to make the difference. I just assumed luck. In reality, back then a good cast was shear luck for me!
  • I just didn’t realize that in fly fishing I needed to have fundamental mechanics in my cast to deliver the fly to where I wanted it – just like that golf swing I used to have.
  • I didn’t realize there were different casts to make dependent on the fishing situation.

1. Starting with the rod tip at our eye level above the water versus at the water level.

2. Casting with only our wrist and or forearm and keeping the upper arm stationary. Flipping of the wrist is great for those casting a hardware rod – for fly fishing the firmer the wrist the straighter the rod tip path — the tighter the loop—the straighter the line and fly lands in front of you

3. Not pausing for the line to unroll before you make you next cast. This results in the line being whipped around – just like a lion tamer would work a whip. Do you cast or whip your rod?

Unfortunately working on your cast is not a one time visit to the casting doctor. Rather like golf it is multiple visits to a casting range – whether that is your yard or the local pond. Why does it take time? Because our body predominantly works from muscle memory, so when we put that rod in our hand – our arm remembers how we used to always cast –versus how we just learned to do it. Muscle memory is erased and re-learned with practice.

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Improving your cast

So how do you go about improving your cast?

  1. Make a commitment to do so? Be ready to cast 15 to 30 minutes 1 to 3 times a week for one to two months.
  2. Pay for a casting lesson from a Federation of Fly Fishers Certified Casting Instructor. They have proven through a rigorous certification process that they do know how to cast and do know what they are talking about.
  3. Buy a DVD and watch it multiple times. My two favourites are: Joan Wulff’s Fly Casting Dynamics and Mel Krieger’s The Essence of Fly Casting. I do suggest buying both DVDs as both Joan and Mel teach the basic casting mechanics with different styles.

     4. Get to a fly fishing show or multiple shows and watch the demonstration casters – all of them.

I talked about what a good cast looks like and what the mechanics are? Let me close with a definition of a good caster:

A good caster is: Someone who knows where the tip of the rod is at all times during the cast and knows how to manipulate the rod tip to send the fly in the direction they want it to go.

Mary Ann Dozer
Federation of Fly Fishers Certified Casting Instructor

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