The Practice of Practice

I’ve been considering whether to follow up my pieces on mechanics, biomechanics and sensory motor learning with an article on casting practice. At present I won’t be doing it. The reason is that my work seems to have moved steadily towards the pointy end of the audience cone – the deeper I go, the fewer people seem to be interested. Even though I have no commercial aspirations and thus restrictions on what I publish, there is a point where I have to ask if there is a point.

In corresponding with friends, including qualified casting instructors, it seems that relatively few casters practice regularly and even fewer do it with any kind of structure – some sort of regime based on defined objectives. A vox pop on a forum I inhabit confirmed this. In fact a majority of the follow up posts were concerned with whether practice was necessary or useful to experienced fly anglers. Err, ok then.

My casting practice, research and writing are all directly interconnected in the sense that I don’t preach what hasn’t been meaningfully practiced. After finishing the piece on Sensory Motor Learning  I got a recommendation to read Practice Perfect by Doug Lemov et al from Vince Brandon and Mark Surtees so I bought a copy and read it. Consequently, I decided to re-jig my practice regime.

Now, I won’t go into extreme detail but a key message from the authors is that the best coaches and elite sports people analyse the required skill set in two ways. First they determine the essential and fundamental skills and then they break those skills down into simple components and practice them intensively. This approach is a good fit with my other research (and the trend line of my own practice). It is focussed, rigorous and highly structured. To put it in two words – it is purposeful and mindful. Consequently, everything in a practice session becomes intentional. Time is not for wasting. This is the very opposite of heading down to the park and banging out a whole lot of casts, mostly at maximum distance. Yeah, I know, it sounds a bit anal but try it and see. My expectations were proven wrong.

If you have other structure in your practice then feel free to let me know via the contact link. We might be able to cook up a smorgasbord of practice regimes.

Determining the essential and fundamental skills is concerned with choosing the 20% of things that really matter (most) and concentrating on improving their performance.

Below you will find an outline of my new practice regime. (It might pay to bear in mind that it reflects my fishing bias toward fresh water impoundments and flats fishing in the salt. Somewhat different deal maybe if I mainly fished small streams.) It’s a WIP and I’m not saying I only practice with strict adherence and never do anything else. However, the signs are that it works well so I am sharing it with you fwiw. Like cooking, use the recipe for ideas and make the meal your own. The terminology is my shorthand so might not always make sense.

A few last things. I use my cell phone as a timer. I chose 45 mins to keep it tight. I might spend another 15 mins for less structured stuff but that time could also serve to expand or repeat any of the other sections. For each of first four drills I focus on the 20% incrementally instead of everything at once – it’s really a question of what needs fixing. Don’t overload the attention buffer. So far I haven’t been recording results for the accuracy casts as I have found it was enough to count the hit ratio out of 5 shots then move on or move back and then go forward again when the count is good enough – typically 80% which is 4 out of 5.

Practice Regime – 45 Minutes

The 20%

  • Be Straight (both planes ie tracking and SLP).
  • Start slow. Be smooth. Be full.
  • Optimise Line tension.
  • Optimise Loop Shape (size and form).
  • Optimise Haul timing, length and straightness.

Warm Up – 5 mins

String up, stretch (body), roll out line 50’- 60’. Overhead and roll casts mixed up – freestyle.

Back Cast Drill – 5 mins

Loop shape, tracking, hauling, no haul, line tension. 50′ carry slowly extended with good form.

Forward cast Drill – 5 mins

Loop shape, tracking, hauling, no haul, line tension. 50′ carry slowly extended with good form

Dynamic Roll Drill – 5 mins

40′ casts slowly extended with good form

Accuracy Drills – 20 mins

50, 60, 70, 80, 90 (feet)
Cast, puald, cast, puald moving on when 80% land within

  •  2′ radius for 50 – 70
  • 3′ radius for 80, 90

Go back and reset if 80% isn’t achieved then advance again. Repeat the back and forward cast drills as required to get back in the groove.

Odd spot – 5 mins

Choose spey, specialty or off shoulder casting.