Making the Cast

This post serves as an idea-piece for some structured, sight-fishing casting practice—no water needed. If you have access to a big enough lawn, you have a built-in casting field at your disposal. And if you are of age, you might wish to add micro-brews, single-malts, or other libations to the practice process to better simulate typical fly-fishing conditions make things more tolerable after 1000 casts to imaginary fish. And remember to cast responsibly.

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When flats fishing, “making the cast” often means “right there, right now!” While there are a number of skills that one can practice for flats fishing, this post will focus on casting to a series of lawn targets. These exercises are based on American Casting Association (ACA) competition games and the games presented in the late Jim Chapralis’ book, Master your Fly Casting! Practiced with focus, these exercises can help you be faster and more accurate when you need a cast to be “right there, right now!”.

You will need a few things first: The casting gear you plan on using, five hula hoops or plastic cones, and a 25-foot (or longer) measuring tape (I use a 100-foot reel-type tape myself). If you don’t want to be bothered with hoops or cones, get five paper plates and five objects heavy enough to hold them down. I also recommend the sacrifice of a leader and at least one of the flies that you expect to be using. Break the hook bend completely off your practice fly (to avoid an accidental impaling), and you’ll have an accurate mass that you can tie to the end of your leader. The hoops (or cones or plates) will serve as the targets, and the measuring tape will allow you to place the targets accurately, as well as providing a reality check.

The purpose of these exercises is to practice rapid casting to targets at varying distances and angles relative to your position. At the most-basic level, the targets can be laid out in a line—as if casting to a cruising fish. The line of targets can be horizontal or angled, relative to your position. For an added challenge, you can try arranging the targets in a chevron, or even a “W” shape. Use your measuring tape to make sure that your targets are at set distances.

Once you have the targets at the desired distances and layout, it’s time to get down to the business of casting. This is where you have to get really honest with yourself, and cast in a way that provides real and challenging practice, not just plain old repetition. Start with more than enough line to reach the farthest target, and then strip back so that you start with no more than half the line required to reach the closest target. From there pick the targets in sequence (and randomly to mix things up), and try to get the fly to the first target within two full false casts, three at the most. Then strip the line back and go the next target and so on. Then try running through the targets one right after the other with only minimal retrieving in between (retrieve only enough to simulate actual fishing). Try doing this with no more than one false cast between targets. The idea here is two-fold: build your distance estimation skills and build your time-to-target skills.

Next, practice using a “clock face” target layout. This will train you to know what “10-o’clock at 50-feet” looks like, for example. Lay out the targets in a clock-face arrangement from 10 to 2 in front of your position (one target at 10, then another at 11 and so on). Put the targets all at the same distance, but change the distance after each round (start at say, 40 feet, the go to 50, and so on). To make things more realistic, start with the fly “in-hand,” as if you are actually wading or standing on the deck of a flats boat. Then pick a target and try to get to it in only two or three false casts. This is where any weaknesses in your casting, hauling, or shooting line skills will become more apparent. If there is an issue, at least you’ll know about it on the lawn and have time to practice before the real trip.

If you expect to be casting from the deck of a flats boat, you may wish to employ a picnic table or sturdy chair (be safe!) and elevate yourself as you cast. This will give you a better sense of what the actual fishing view will really be like.

With all of this, I also recommend that you take the time to practice line control. Make sure that the line is not underfoot or otherwise hung-up when you have to make a cast “right there, right now!” Such practice may at first seem excessive, but it can make a real difference in your fly-fishing success.

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