Distance & Wind Musings
What follows is a brief exploration and discussion of a few of the skill factors that come into play when meeting the challenges of distance, as well as wind. These skill factors do have real-world relevance outside of extreme limits. You may never need to cast 100 feet, but the skills that would allow you to do it are still very useful at half that distance. Or as the late Jim Green said in his 1975 film, Secrets of Fly Casting, “If you can cast far, it’s sure easy to make a short cast.”
Distance & Wind & Training
If you become accustomed to casting/practicing under only one set of circumstances, you are going to have problems when those circumstances change. This all comes back to training. A caster trained to cast only short distances, or only in calm winds, or only with lightweight equipment, will likely encounter difficulties when the conditions change. As such, it pays to push yourself when you practice, setting up hypothetical angling situations of some difficulty and then working to overcome them. And do not discount techniques just because they are supposedly only for saltwater anglers or supposedly only for trout anglers. I say learn it all—you may be surprised at how much cross-pollination you can do.
Distance & Wind & Relaxing
The key word in all of fly casting is “control,” but you cannot be controlled if you do not relax. It may seem odd at first to relax as you try for distance (or try to deal with the wind), but relaxing can help you in a number of ways. Certainly, you need to have some muscles tense as you cast (you have to lift and pull, sometimes really hard), but flailing with all your might to heave that line out there is typically counterproductive. A calm, relaxed demeanor as you cast will allow you to concentrate on the motions, thinking through timing and the application of energy.
Then, by remaining relaxed, you can allow concentration to lead to sensation—a “tactile awareness” that interconnects hand, rod and line. This is important because distance (or beating the wind) is not found purely in how much energy you apply, rather it is found in how precisely you apply it. If you can focus even small amounts of energy correctly, you can cast surprising distances.
So how do you develop a relaxed way of casting? To start, practice your foundations until they become part of you. If your core skills are right on, it is a relatively easy matter to expand them. Many of the casters I see heaving madly (and often unsuccessfully) for distance have flaws in their foundations. In addition, careful pantomimed practice of distance techniques will allow you to become more comfortable with them before you put the rod and all that line in your hands.
Distance & Wind & Timing
One of the single most detrimental errors people make when trying for distance is rushing the cast, especially the backcast. If you have 70 feet of line in the air, that is a lot of line, and it takes a long time to unroll before it gets into a position where you can make the best forward cast. Observe how long it takes for a long forward cast to unroll in front of you. That is essentially how long a backcast of the same length takes to unroll behind you (other factors being equal).
Of course, timing involves more than just the unrolling loop of line during the pause between casts. Timing is also important during the casting stroke itself, and “hitting it” just right during the cast can make a significant difference in the final outcome.
Observe a distance casting competition sometime and you will see casters operating right at the knife’s edge of control with regards to stroke timing. Some casts may be right on and others may be improbably wild (including tailing and/or skewed loops). When trying for that one “big” cast it is quite possible for even an experienced caster to error just slightly in the few tenths of second during which energy is applied with conviction. But if it all does come together, it can be an amazing thing to see (and to experience for one’s self).
Timing, both between casting strokes and during casting strokes, is where tactile awareness can really make its presence positively felt, literally and figuratively. Indeed, I sometimes practice long-distance casting with my eyes closed, trying to further develop and understand subtle cues that the line and rod are passing on to me. During these times, I may employ visualization so that my mind has something to follow when my eyes are seeing only black. Understand that I don’t spend an entire practice session in the dark; I typically alternate between eyes-closed casting and carefully watching my cast. That way I can better cross-reference the visual with the tactile in terms of timing.
I strongly suggest that you take the time to practice casting, both for distance and in the wind. And the time to practice is not while you’re fishing. The time to practice is before you get on the water. “Before” does not mean the night before or the morning of, either. Cramming may work in school, but the fish are much harsher in their grading than any professor I ever had. Be proactive and get your skills honed ahead of time; your success in, and enjoyment of, fly fishing as a whole can only be made better.