Casting You gotta do the work

How we learn physical skills in fly fishing

How we learn physical skills in fly fishing

Perfect practice. That is how we learn physical skills.

Golfers do not learn how to drive the ball, by playing golf. Nope. You do not learn how to improve your swing, by playing golf. Nope. You learn about your swing, with an instructor, on the range. The game is not in your head therefore allowing physical learning. Playing golf, creates other pressures that do not include improvement of the swing.

Basketball players, good ones, isolate the shooting skill set…by, what? Shooting. Not playing ball. Shooting from the free throw line. Shooting from the 3 point perimeter. Shooting at differing spots, distances. Improving your stroke. Your feel. Your understanding of the specific movement patterns your body must achieve. Good ball players practice shooting, dribbling, passing…isolated from the actual game. Pros do this. Practice a lot. Amateurs do not practice. They play. 

Fly fishers need to isolate the specific movements of the cast. You do not get better at casting, distance, placement of casts while fishing. When fishing, your mind is set upon achieving a different outcome. You are focussed on the fishing portion. Casting needs to be practiced off the water, or while not fishing.

Really great article from the online mag Hatch here. 

Many anglers like to practice while moving between dry fly opportunities. Hey man, a real eye opener here…that does not help you get better. Flailing around while the rower is moving from place A to B is not practicing. Perfect practice makes perfect. Trying to fit in the practice round while fishing? Whoa, man. No thanks man. Not good, not efficient, not helping anyone. It will help to tangle those flies up though. And if that is how you roll, then get after it man! You clearly do not know how to separate fishing, and casting.

A common new to dry fly angling fisher person here on the Mo needs to practice outside of the dry fly fishing arena. Finicky rising trout do not stick around long when the angler is tomahawking the fly on, near, around, the shore, the rocks, the other rising fish friends. No. I want to be clear here that I am not criticizing those who try to do this. It is part of learning. But the concept that the angler will improve by repeatedly failing on, or near, or around rising trout is totally false. It will not lead to learning. The act of practicing your cast, on or near rising trout.

That skill set has to be learned on the lawn. Honest. Look at how we learn skills in sports. Do you remember your first baseball practice. Your first, and last soccer practice? Skills practice. Passing, dribbling, shooting? The first thing the coach called for was not a scrimmage. Playing is part of soccer practice, but isolating skill sets is the majority of every sports practice, generally finished with a scrimmage. Playing is important. Practicing the skill sets is way, way more important.

Coaches do not put in players that are not good at the skills needed. Even if you want it bad, have a big heart, promise that you will practice later, or think the cast will come to you through divine intervention…does not qualify you for excellence. No. Casting is a learned behavior. Big hearts do not supersede those who practice.

Playing soccer 3 days a year does not make you good. Fishing 3 days a year does not allow you to move the needle. 362 days of not fishing, with 3 days in a row, does not improve your casting skill set. That time, short duration, does not make you a better caster, or angler. Truth here to day on the HH blog. Again, this in regards to technical dry fly fishing.

Casting practice, time with the rod in your hand(s), focussed time away from the water will make you a better angler. And caster. Not the other way around. Fishing 3 days a year does not make you a better caster. This is a myth that many anglers are fooled by.

I believe that many anglers do believe that the length, the overall time that they have been fishing, puts them in a successful fishing category. And I am speaking about upper end, difficult dry fly situations where placement, accuracy, and drift are important. This article is directed at anglers who believe they should be good at dry fly fishing to finicky sipping dead fly trout feeders. Just because you have been fly fishing for 50 years, a few days a year, does not correlate to excellence in fly fishing. It does not. And if it does, does it make you better in other arenas? The duration of time, does not make you good, or better, or smarter than the angler who practices, understands the objectives of fly casting, and puts in the time with a fly rod in their hand, without a fly attached to the operative end.

When an angler steps into the boat with Squeeky, me, and states that he has been fishing for much longer than I have been alive, insinuating that he is an expert, I cringe. I of course ask how many days a year he fishes. Answer? “Oh a couple days here on the Mo, a day on my local waters, about 2-4 days annually. But I took a couple, or 5-15 years off at one point. I’ve been fishing since before you were born.” OK sir. Do you know what a reach cast is? Fella replies, “Never heard of it. Maybe I know it by a different name?”

A common conversation on the porch, in the boat, and on the casting lawn. It’s OK on the lawn. If you claim you are a dry fly expert, and do not know about slack line presentations, or that the rod needs to stop at some point every cast, or travel in a straight line, or eliminate slack before the cast, or increase power throughout the stroke, or increase pause with increase in line length…or all of those movements it means you are not an expert. That those finicky sipping trout will be safe from your hook.

Do you ever say this to your doctor. “Well Doc, I’ve been alive much longer than you, therefore I know more about the body, than you do? I’m real good at living, so, I’m pretty good at it?” Does that sound like it will hold water. That statement? Logical? I don’t think it does.

Have you ever practiced at home? No, I’ve fished a lot over the years Mark. Longer than you’ve been alive son.

I have had several anglers over the years of guiding here on the Mo that have, that have practiced at home. I have several of them that still fish with me. I have had intermediate casters in the boat. I have had the same conversation with them about isolating the practice time away from the water. In your lawn, at the park, with a practice caster on the couch. Many have gone home, and practiced. Hired a casting coach, did the work and improved.

Recognizing that casting requires practice is something, a fact, that many anglers do not want to understand.

I had a client last year who wanted to cast off handed. With his off hand. Lefty in this case. He went homer and practiced with his left hand. He fished left handed. He cast left handed, a lot. HE did the work. e came back last year, a life long angler who puts in the outside work. The practice. He came back and caught numerous fish left handed. Numerous trout right handed. He did the work and dominated the PMD rising trout last year.

I had angler that I wrote an article about named Phil Morris. He is from the Bay Area. A bountiful resource of casting instructors, practice ponds, and historic casting mentors abound. Phil was having difficulty casting in our often strong winds here on the Missouri River. 3-5mph is the speed in which most fly casters have difficulties. Our daily average wind speed here? 12.4 mph. Yes, truth. Fact. And if you are bothered, upset about that speed, don’t come. Or come, with practice at home. Strong casting fundamentals will allow you to conquer these winds and succeed. Round, slack line, 3 day a year anglers will fail. Repeatedly. You cannot win against the wind with poor fundamentals. Never. Even if you got a big casting heart. Sorry. You will lose the battle.

Phil? Phil conquered. Phil came back the next year, an annual Mo River dry fly angler, and conquered the wind. Phil took casting lessons. He said he was angry with the way I spoke to him about his casting. He was bothered. And, he did something about it. He did the work. He practiced. He took lessons. He isolated the issues, the movements, and did the work. A lifetime angler, in his late 50’s, made the change. He did not give any more excuses. About the wind, about the angles of the situations, about the distances we encounter, about the drifts…he owned his sill set. He worked on it. He improved drastically. He caught way, way more trout. HE did something about his skill set. He improved. He did the work.

Coaches will say things to you that may get under your skin. Coaches push students. Those who are too nice, who are yes men, who are all happy about everything…do not produce winners. Reality is often harsh. Looking inward is an important part of success. Those who are bothered by constructive comments, do not move forward.

This is a reality check to those who want to improve.

And if you do not want to do the work, you will be at the same spot you were last year. And that is the truth. Divine intervention may help, but, but I have rarely seen it bestowed on dry fly anglers. Just because you want it, common in todays society and culture, does not lead to guaranteed success. Practice leads to success. Knowing what a rod can and cannot do, leads to success. Stopping the rod on the front and back casts lead to success. Eliminating slack line before you make the cast, leads to casting prowess. Spending time with rod in your hand once a week, for 10 minutes will show up when you step knee deep into the river.

And to those who state that they deserve a trout, that one should eat the badly presented fly, who believe in that kind of logic, because they have been fishing for a long time…you are right. You get a participation award. Hooray, you did not win, but here a a trophy anyway. Good for you.

Hoping, and wanting it badly, do not correlate with casting success. Practice gets you closer. Wanting it badly, without the practice, is one way to fool yourself. A pipe dream with only the wanting it badly, emotion.

You gotta do the work. There is no substitute for doing the work, the practice. There is not a short cut in improving movement patterns. You gotta do the work. Pros, those who want to improve, those who are not interested in staying at the current casting level, do the work.

You cannot get better by just fishing. Unless you fish 100 days a year. Then, you will get better. But those anglers are few and far between. You gotta follow up that 100 day year with another, and another. But, the fact is that anglers who fish less than 100 days a year, practice. No question. If you are that passionate about angling, you practice.

You can fish well, in difficult situations, if you can be accurate, and control the outcome of most of your presentations not he water. You can. The fishing part will come. You gotta do the casting work, to become a good, or even great dry fly angler. You can substitute real time on the water, with casting confidence. It will improve your fishing, your enjoyment, and your catch rate!!

The first part of improvement is accepting the challenge. Understanding that you are not godlike. Agreeing to put in the time. You gotta do the work. There are no shortcuts for these simple statements.

I have never seen anyone, beyond females and 25 and under males improve, just from fishing. Truth.

As males we have built in confidence. That is a great. Couple hat with perfect practice and you can improve. You gotta do the work, the practice, put in the time. Things you hear form those who succeed.

So a dose of reality today on the Headhunters blog. You gotta put in the time, do the work, practice outside of the fishing arena.

This verbose, lengthly blog simply states that practice outside fly fishing is important, imperative if you want to improve. It goes right along with the casting blogs we are presenting this winter.

Again, this is for those who want to improve at the highest level. If you are wanting to catch more of those often difficult fish in often intimidating and nearly impossible situations, the fly cast needs to be accurate. And practice is at the core of your success. You are gonna have to do the work. No shortcuts here in this lifelong path.

We encourage you to seek out a casting instructor. Someone to guide your learning. To enable your casting success. Go out there and succeed!

A good long rant from SOL today. Truth. Honesty. About reality of the casting stroke. It is how we learn physical skill sets. Doing the work. There is no substitute. None.



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  • Might I say…I have loved, played, and coached basketball at rather high-levels my entire life…and I love, passionately love Leonard and James Reams Bamboo Fly Rods, BWOs in April/October, and the solitude of stalking-waiting-watching for “A Rise”…I have lived a life of wonder and privilege the last 27 years and almost without exception have walked the banks of spring creeks; some small (clear creek and hat creek in Northern California; Flat Creek outside Jackson Hole; Big Spring and the Letort in Pennsylvania ), and some so large (we will always have the evening rise on the Ranch-The Fork-Beloved Henry’s Fork), and some large that fish like a giant spring creek- the place my mind returns to daily in anticipation of my next trip)…I have developed into a “fish rhythm” of casting only upon first seeing the “the ring of a rise” … and so despite intensely learning the game of 6x-7x game, of falling deeply for the gift of catching momentary glimpses of my desires, participating for countless hours “actively waiting”, of sitting, watching, walking, and stalking those jewels of my hopes and isle interest, that show themselves completely without concern for money, success, nor self importance…I have come to realize I wish so wish I could make my fly-line dance to the tune I observe when watching a caster who “put the time into the act”.. to watch such a person like James Reams on Hat Creek, Mark R playing ball on the Missouri, a Matt Supinski throwing darts on his home water; he’ll TGO and GW spitting right -lines and soft lazers up and below Craig… breathing otherworldly and… humbling for a man who put countless hours daily -weekly working on the state of Michigan’s most beautiful 3 ball stroke (ego ? Nah let me show you da proof lol), and who demanded from his son and AAU Player “ you gotta develope dem skills OFF-SEASON away from the team … practice .. I mean it’s only practice right ? … hell no Iverson not a clue snd would be relagated to the bait casting curcuit…. Where was I? Oh yea… dam Mark you spot on son… you are spot on … love your blogs brother you bring life and intensity to this easily motivated average wanna be good fly caster. Peace love for Craig

    • Thank you John. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.

      Still focussed on getting better. Casting more this winter than the past few. I hope to step it up with my left hand, more accuracy, distance, comfort. It truly is about being comfortable with the tool in your hand. I run mental movies too. Role playing in my head. Letting the moment sink in, becoming familiar with the task. I play those mental movies over and over and over.

      Fly casting is a life long pursuit. And I applaud you John for your persistence. It gives me motivation to improve reading your words.

      Thanks John, see you on the river soon.

  • Mark,
    I told you last summer when I called the shop and inquired about our August MT trip that your blogs are the best in the business. You speak the truth. Brutal transparency be it fishing conditions or skills. We all need to hear it. Those who set aside their egos and put in the work will be rewarded. They (we) will fish more confidently, too. It’s more fun to be better, more proficient, more efficient, more fishy. As soon as my elbows get better, I’ll be back after it – on the lawn. Thank you.

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