Fly Casting Practice: My Bag of Tricks

As many of you know by now I practice regularly to maintain and improve my casting technique. Some of what I learn finds its way into this blog and I’ve written extensively on how I structure practice sessions to optimise my sensory motor learning.

This post is not so much about the things I’m trying to improve as about the exercises I often use to make improvements. I make no claim to originality for any of them. How I use them individually or in series suits me and might be useful to others.  When using them I often morph back and forth from one to another once the groove or “feel” of the cast elements get established fairly well.

This variation provides a test of how solid the gains are because it forces me to adapt the learned movement change or “feel” from one movement sequence to another and, often, back again. When fishing, things like gear setups and weather conditions mean one size very rarely fits all.  We have to adapt technique to meet the requirements of the casting task – standard, non-standard or even unique requirements to make the desired presentation.

Good casters adapt easily and readily, meaning they can maintain control, composure and task focus. If we want to “see the shot, make the shot” there’s not much room for conscious thinking or dry runs.  We need to size up the situation, pick our target and make the desired presentation, adapting our technique as required.  Practice can help with that but only if we practice adaptation intentionally.

Here are some of the exercises and some of the things I use them for and neither list exhausts all the possibilities. 

Triangle Method

Lee Cummings developed this method and you can watch his video of it here. The genius of this exercise is that you have a full view of every movement you, the rod and the line make. Secondly, the reference lines create a defined path and maximum stroke length. It’s the first part that I use extensively because sight is our dominant sense and so the ability to see everything expedites sensory motor learning.

I don’t bother with the ropes and markers and just switch to side casting. In that mode I can take in all the sight cues from my body bits, the rod and loop shapes. 

  • It tells me about tracking and power application. 
  • It’s good for examining stroke and haul timing and making tweaks to them.
  • You can add or subtract hauls and shoots.
  • You can use it with Pick Up And Lay Down (PUALD) casting.
  • You can tidy things up and then graduate from sideways to canted to overhead and back again if you think the feel or groove needs to be re-established or simply to exercise your ability to vary and adapt the stroke.

It may have been developed to get beginners going but I’d suggest it is very useful at whatever level of casting ability you have attained.

Dynamic Rolls

Making tidy dynamic roll casts with tight loops, fly leg nearly vertical to the rod leg and complete turnover gets harder as we cast longer, not least because it is inherently less mechanically efficient than a standard overhead cast.  A medium overhead distance quickly becomes a medium-long or long dynamic roll cast. 

The principal answer to the “problem” is to rotate late in the cast. As ever, we also need smooth acceleration and a full finish. For this cast the full finish can be combined with a high finish to optimise line tension. Simply put, in longer dynamic roll casts there is less margin for efficiency error.

I use dynamic rolls as a means of testing and improving my general casting efficiency. For example, if my overhead loops on longer casts aren’t tight enough for my liking I may switch to dynamic rolls. When they are going out nicely I might switch back to overhead casting and then switch back and forth. Pick up into a dynamic roll, turning that into a false forward overhead cast. If I can get both types of cast travelling sweetly at will, individually or as a mixture, I expect the feel to be similar in both – similar, but not exactly the same.

During accuracy practice I will often aim for the same target(s) but switch back and forth between overhead and dynamic roll casts.

Simple Overhead Casts

By “simple” I mean standard overhead casting stripped back to the essentials – no hauling and, often, no shooting. What’s left will be the bare bones of rod hand technique for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness or in health. We are thus confronted by technical weakness and given the chance to turn them into strengths. 

By starting with a short to medium distance and extending it as far as we can rod hand essentials can all be tested – tracking, timing, smoothness of power application, minimisation of slack and the straight line path.  The quality of our five essentials is now there in plain sight. 

We can add to the bare bones by feeding line into the forward or back casts and by shooting line into the delivery to examine the strength of our technique.  It’s very satisfying when a decent carry can be turned into a surprisingly long delivery.

Pick Up And Lay Downs

PUALDs are another very useful testing, diagnostic and treatment exercise. I start with a medium length cast and extend as far as my technique will permit. I pick up from a forward delivery and make a back cast delivery or a single false cast to the rear and then a forward delivery or any combination of pick up, single false cast and delivery.

Pick ups naturally lengthen and therefore slow down the ensuing casting stroke in whatever direction we choose. Slowing down helps smooth out acceleration. Laying down provides an instant check of our tracking – in both directions. The loop shape and completeness of the turnover tell the story of casting efficiency.

I often throw PUALDs into the mix with simple overheads and triangle method. A dynamic roll is essentially a PUALD cast unless the delivery is turned into a false forward cast. I make them with and without hauls and shoots and I often keep extending the line out until my technique falters. As with simple overheads it is both surprising and satisfying to see just how far we can cast when we cast with optimal efficiency.

One Thing at a Time

Probably the most obvious aid to improving technique but it needs to be said and observed. We have a finite capacity to learn and improve our movements via the “thinking about it” channel, especially when the movements being altered are deeply ingrained. That’s why it helps to slow things down as we can do, for example, with PUALDS. 

It also helps to avoid gumming up the cognitive (slow channel) attention buffer by trying to work on multiple “problems” simultaneously. It’s why, for example, my practice regime provides for attention to back casts and forward casts separately.  Likewise doing the fine tuning/improvement work is easier when we operate at medium distance where mostly our movements are controlled unconsciously (fast channel).

Recently I was working on even smoother power application essentially by starting slower. You will find the story in my previous blog post. I also wanted to experiment with snappier hauling because my line shot to line carried ratio was less than gold standard (c.50%).  What I quickly discovered was that speeding up the line hand movement and slowing down the rod hand movement was a marriage made in hell. Work on one or the other was fine. Both at the same time was a mess. Two different rhythm/cadence changes by two different sides of my body was too much for the slow lane of the sensory motor system to handle. It was fun to try though.