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Practice – Change of Objective, Better Than a Holiday

For a several years I have been practicing with clear purpose by adopting an objective and, as the military say, maintaining it. It started way back when I decided to expand the zone within which I could comfortably and reliably cast to a target, be that a covering cast or simply putting the fly on the water exactly where I wanted it. The idea was to expand that comfort zone from a radius of 60’/18m to one with a radius of  80’/24m.

To do that I reasoned it would be necessary to be able to cast 100’/30m, more or less at will, so that a target at <80% of the maximum distance would be relatively easy to hit. The implication of this approach was that going longer while staying accurate was the best strategy for of achieving my objective. So I did all that and banged endless casts out there with my 5wt combo with a lot of them going a fair bit further than 100’/30m. My accuracy out to 80’/24m certainly improved but still I wasn’t happy.

Now, call me a perfectionist or an idiot or both, but the source of my unhappiness was not just obsession with greater length but rather dissatisfaction with a lack of repeatability. It became obvious that the further I cast the smaller was the margin for error. A few degrees of tracking error at say 45’/14m doesn’t matter too much but it matters a hell of a lot more at twice that distance. In fact any compromise of casting efficiency matters more and more as distance increases. Distance makes increasing demands on technique, exponentially so in my experience and I’m not Robinson Crusoe.

Gradually it dawned on me that better technique probably wouldn’t be acquired by constantly casting at or beyond the limits of that technique. So I sort of reversed the strategy and started spending more time casting to comfortably reachable targets and progressively extending the range. I could do this easily because I used a tape measure and marked distances along it with golf balls painted in fluoro colours and attached to 4” nails as spikes. Yeah, you’re right. I practice in the park and not over water. The tape means an end to delusions of grandeur because it tells no lies. It also forms a straight reference line which is both an aiming guide and a measure of deviation from the target in both range and bearing. I know when I’ve made a good cast not just because the practice fly is near the target but also because the fly line will be laid out along the tape.

Let’s leave out a fair bit of the full story and cut to the chase. As I started thinking about and researching the biomechanics of casting and then the sensory motor system it became clear that there was a conceptual line joining the dots from physics to biomechanics to sensory motor learning. The origin of that line was efficiency. What I was discovering experientially fitted very nicely with what I was discovering with my research and doubtless each was informing the other.

What emerged from all this is the delight of capturing the feel of the efficient cast and what it takes to produce it. The next step was preserving that efficiency and how it feels as I try to progressively extend the distance to target without losing too much accuracy. I have settled on 3 or 4 increments of 10’/3m each for this process. I go back and forward in the sequence repeatedly trying at all times to keep the feeling. I get accurate, objective/external feedback on the results. I extend and reduce the starting distance from the series of increments. Wind direction no longer determines location.

The implication of this approach is that my notion of what is strategically correct has changed. My objective is now to improve accuracy by improving efficiency – to be smoother so I can cast better and more accurately. What I have learned is that distance is relative, accuracy is priceless and smoothness is essential to both. Makes a nice change. Easier on my casting shoulder which is now carrying a bit of osteoarthritis. (Nah, not caused by fly casting; consequence of too many falls from horses, motorbikes and such.)

There is a lot more of the story coming as I am nearing completion of the followups of the Einstein Series Stay tuned.

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