It’s often said that the key to good fly casting is practice, practice, and more practice. Well, you really don’t have to feel that you must become as proficient as the casters in "A River Runs Through It", but to develop control and accuracy you do need to practice. During the workshops, clinics, or classes we discussed in my previous column, your instructor probably will have suggested a practice routine for you to use on your own. Here’s mine.
In my classes and schools I recommend that students begin by selecting a wall on the outside of their house, or garage, or the building where they work that is free of obstructions. Now imagine that there is a clock hanging on that wall about shoulder level. Next put masking tape markers at the 11:00 o’clock and 1:00 o’clock positions (on the imaginary clock). Then spend about fifteen minutes every couple of days practicing your casting range there. Position yourself so that your casting arm shoulder is pointing toward the tape markers. That way as you cast, you can look over your shoulder to see if your cast is stopping at each marker. (And remember, keeping your wrist straight is essential to good fly casting).
Next I recommend students measure off different distance markers, either at home or at the park where you’ll practice. Begin with twenty feet away from where you’ll be standing. Place a garbage can lid, a hoola hoop, or some other large "target" at that point and then practice casting until you can hit it consistently (while still stopping at your 11:00 and 1:00 positions). Then move the target to twenty-five feet and so on until you are good at placing your fly on target. As you practice your distances, try using all three of the basic casts, the overhead cast, the roll cast and the side-arm cast (that we mentioned last time). As your accuracy improves, start shrinking the target to a pizza pan size and finally to a salad plate size. When you can hit a salad plate most of the time at thirty or forty feet, you can fish almost anywhere.
Common Casting Problems:
Almost everyone experiences several common problems when learning to cast a fly rod. Nearly all of these problems result from the caster bending her wrist when casting, losing her casting rhythm or timing, or failing to stop (or power the cast at the 11:00 o’clock or 1:00 o’clock positions). If you have access to a video camera tape yourself casting and then critique yourself. You can spot your casting mistakes.
Here are three problems and some tips about how to correct them:
- Problem: the fly line or the fly hits the water behind the flyfisher during casting. Cause: the caster is bending her wrist during the cast. Solution: try keeping your thumb pointed straight to the sky as you cast and relax your shoulder so that you can get your arm fully back to the 1:00 position. Or, loosely tie a soft scarf or a piece of yarn around your wrist and the reel seat of the rod to help remind you to keep your wrist straight.
- Problem: the leader wraps around the rod when casting. Cause: the caster is whipping the rod instead of maintaining the casting rhythm to let the line and the leader fly out. (Remember when the boy’s father in "A River Runs Through It" goes in the house and gets the metronome to help the boy’s establish their casting rhythm?) Solution: "talk to yourself" during casting to get your rhythm. Many people use the phrase "11:00 o’clock stop, 1:00 o’clock stop" to accomplish two goals, getting their rhythm and maintaining their power stops. Of, if you have a metronome, use it.
- Problem: the line and the leader pile up on the water instead of flying out. Cause: the caster is not stopping at the 11:0’clock position before lowering the rod toward the water. Many of you will have been a spin caster before taking up fly fishing and there it’s common to "wind up and pitch" the lure to get distance. In fly casting, that technique has just the opposite effect because there is no heavy lure to carry the line out. Solution: go back to the set-up for practicing with the tape markers at 11:00 o’clock and 1:00 o’clock and re-establish your power stop at 11:00 o’clock. In my classes we practice the "stop, drop, drop" method for laying the fly on the water. The phrase stands for stopping the rod hand at 11:00 o’clock, letting the line begin to drop, and only then dropping the rod tip. You all know this as "follow through".