Fly casting (and mending) is the physical skill of fly fishing. If you canÕt cast, you canÕt truly fish effectively. Unfortunately, many fly anglers practice their casting only when fishing, which is rather like practicing driving and putting during the middle of a golf tournament. And after a winter of fly-fishing inactivity, casting is often at less-than-optimal levels, which can make for some frustrating early-season days.
Although I advocate continual casting practice, there are some things you can do to help bring your skills quickly up to speed. The first is to pantomime. That is, cast without the rod and line. This allows you to concentrate solely on your wrist, arm, and body motions, without the sensory distractions of the rod and line. Such a pantomimed manner of learning/honing is how I learned to fly cast and is what I use to stay at peak when I canÕt spend time outside.
Of course, you do need something to pantomime, and that something should be your foundation stroke -- the casting stroke that is at your core of skills. In order for your casting to be at peak performance, you must have your foundation firmly built. This is the time to fix bad habits and/or form new good habits. Keep the practice sessions short, 5-15 minutes, but work on your casting motions carefully. Go slowly, visualize the line in the air, and make every motion count -- you are training yourself.
Optimum Line Strength
Once youÕve gotten your "muscle memory" back from practicing without a rod and line, itÕs time to get the real deal in your hands. But only in a controlled way -- using your Optimum Line Length. The idea of the Optimum Line Length came from my father, Gary, and is based on selecting a length of line that works well for every caster and every rod. The Length is obtained by a very simple experiment: Begin with about two rod lengths of line (excluding leader) and make a standard overhead cast
(no hauls, etc.). Then lengthen the line two feet and cast again.
Repeat the process until you have to begin to work beyond your basic energy level in order to cast the line (you'll feel it). Then shorten the line by a foot each cast until you're comfortable again. That's your Optimum Line Length; mark it. The Length will vary for every rod and every caster, but for the majority of casters and rods it's usually somewhere between 27 and 33 feet. Practicing with the Optimum Line Length will ensure that you're not modifying your foundation casting stroke (with extra energy and motion) as you also try to learn or hone a skill.
Once you feel truly confident that your foundation is ready to go, then add other elements like mends, side-arm casts, and other skills that you use during the season. Practice each in a careful, precise manner (pantomime if you need to), concentrating only on that skill. YouÕll soon find that any rusty casting skills will quickly become well-oiled.