Practice Makes What?

Bought a new rod. Not my usual. It’s six inches longer than nine feet and it is about finesse rather than power. Have to adjust my casting accordingly which means being even smoother and more efficient. This rod will not be driven hard but caress it with a gentle sensibility and it surprises with both distance and accuracy. That, is my kind of rod because what it teaches me is exactly what I want to learn. I bought it for several reasons but none more important than that one.

Been down to the park with it a few times and today it taught me something I wasn’t expecting. It showed me a way of optimising my practice because it revealed how I can tell how good (or bad) the practice session was. It was a good session because I learned something new, a couple of things actually, that I wasn’t expecting to learn.

Why does that matter? Mostly obviously it matters because it makes practice a more attractive proposition. Big tick. It matters because it puts practice in a different light. Let’s talk about that one a bit more.

I’m guessing that most people think of practice as a simple means to a general end. You need to practice in order to cast better so you can fish better. Sigh. Typically, it will mean banging out a whole series of casts to targets or making hero casts into the next time zone. On my personal ten point scale where zero is no practice at all, practicing somewhat reluctantly, mindlessly and robotically is a one or a two. At the other end, practicing mindfully, purposefully and with a sound structure is up there around eight or nine. I’ve posted about The Practice of Practice before so no need to go over the details again. It gets up to a ten when I learn something surprising and meaningful.

So, the new longer rod is very nifty and accomplished for single hand spey stuff, an area I decided to explore more deeply a couple of years back. I find myself using these skills more and more to reposition and to present quickly and accurately without the false casting ado that can waste time and spook fish. The centrepiece, of course, is the dynamic roll and for that the standard instructions are to lift, sweep back and then up to the ready position before making the forward cast. Nothing wrong with any of that, as far as it goes.

Let’s assume the positioning and maintenance of the anchor have been sorted out, what I have been exploring lately is how, when and how much force to put into the sweep and upward movement into the ready position. Why bother? Because I want the optimal amount of line in the D-loop/V-loop positioned optimally before the delivery. Why? So that I can cast accurately to a distant target with the most efficient delivery stroke. Same deal as for an overhead presentation. I know the line is not perfectly straight but the more of it there is in the top section of the V – loop and the straighter it is, in both planes, relative to the forward cast the less effort will be required to complete the delivery. Straight Lines Rule – Ok? In short, what I am looking for is to make the dynamic roll as dynamic as possible. As ever it is the back cast that sets you up for the forward cast.

By the way I make no pretence to being a spey casting whizz but I do know the difference between an efficient easy delivery and one that is strained, struggling and a bit overpowered. So today, with the new rod, I played around until I got the “back cast” sequence nicely in order. In my case that meant a little less emphasis on sweeping back and a little more emphasis on moving up into the ready position. A more dynamic back cast makes it easier to throw a narrower loop and a straighter forward cast that drops the fly on target. (The size of the loop is an indicator of how efficiently Force was applied. Narrow good, wide bad unless intended.)

The second thing I learned, or rather perhaps confirmed, is that pull back might help turnover but it doesn’t do much for accuracy. So I have been dropping pull back in favour of a slight thrust finish. The latter adds to the Work done on the line, effectively increasing the stroke length instead of increasing the stroke effort. Pull back, which is a little lift or rearward tweak of the rod after loop formation, increases tension in the rod leg of the line which promotes turnover of the fly leg. It also helps narrow the loop.

For practice to help you cast better so you can fish better the practice ideally needs to be mindful, purposeful and intentional. Structure helps too. Doing this with some rigour provides the opportunity for refinement which is simultaneously both a small thing and a big break through. Trust me, when that happens  practice is anything but boring and routine. This is how I know when I’ve had a good session – when it creates a new (level of) understanding. I always want more of that. Practice doesn’t make perfect. It enables constant improvement. Perfect is an absolute. We live in a relative universe.