Fly Casting Practice 3.0 – Movement Variation

Almost by happenstance I have updated my practice regime for a third time. If you read through my page on Practice, created several years back,  you will notice that is has been updated as my changes in casting needs and practice objectives required a different practice regime. I have changed how I practice more than what I practice and the principles of structured, purposeful and mindful practice are unchanged. The latest changes in the regime are not in any way a case of out with old and in with new. They are just variations on established themes. 

I still practice accuracy and efficient effort and I still do it using the same basic bag of tricks including the triangle method, minimal effort drills, PUALDs, attention to back casts and attention to forward casts together with shortening up and lengthening out. Two things have been changed. 

First, practice sessions have gotten shorter and I stop when I am satisfied that my objective(s) for the session were achieved. I don’t keep banging way with repetition to test the extent to which changes are grooved. That’s simply because my grooves have been defined and deepened to the point where I know when I am in and when I am not in one of them. It’s now more about reinforcement and refinement than about reconstruction. There is also a point in any practice session where more becomes less and we begin to do more harm than good. We begin to lose form because of mental and/or physical fatigue and fatigue has a way of messing up our grooves. Importantly, we want to finish on a positive note which leaves our recollection connected with the affirmation of success.

Secondly, in keeping with the first point I am able to mix things up more and more quickly. For example, a few dynamic rolls casts might be followed by PUALDs at the same distance, followed by a series overheads in various planes between side casts and vertical overhead casts. Some are made with more false casting and attention to things like carry and haul execution and timing.

Accuracy drills are no longer performed at measured distances. They are now to chosen targets like a leaf or clump of grass at significantly different distances. Once I get within a chosen proximity of the target it’s time to choose another target.  Two or three attempts are usually enough. I treat each target more as a fishing shot than as a known accuracy/distance drill to be repeated until consistency is demonstrated. 

Instead of a line of golf ball targets set at 10′ intervals between 50’ and 90’ I now use a single target reference point of 80’.  I can cast at that target to check both accuracy and efficiency. I can cast in front or beyond it by five, ten or even twenty feet.

Without the reference line of the spaced golf balls I can still check my tracking by watching the loops in both directions for curvature of the fly leg and by casting between two fixed and distant points like tree trunks in a park and light poles or goal posts at sports grounds. Stopping a few back casts lets me see how they land and check for straightness and extension. Also I can walk around and cast with the wind at different angles – behind me, to the side, or head on. 

In changing targets and target distances frequently I have to reposition and draw in line to shorten up or let it out to lengthen the cast. This provides opportunities to play with snaps and snake rolls, speys and dynamic rolls with shoots.

Sometimes I switch to right hand casting instead of my dominant left hand casting. Switching back and forth from one to the other shows  the right hand what to do and helps define the nature of the skill difference and the feel difference between the two sides. This helps both sides.

I find all this variation more interesting and enjoyable than learning by block or serial repetition in a fixed orientation to the wind. My technique is (mostly) up to it so I don’t get lost and have to find my way again. And guess what? This kind of practice is much more like actual fly fishing where targets appear at different distances and bearings. Presenting a fly to them often requires speedy adaptation.

In the last few months I have made a slight gear change in that all I use is a 5wt DT floater with my 9’ 5wt rod. I know that whatever distance I max out at (with efficient effort!) will be longer when I use my WF fishing lines (typically 5-10’ longer). Carry is slightly easier to maintain with a DT but it doesn’t shoot as far. It hurts less to wear out cheapy DTs than more expensive WFs.

Now, I have recently been reading more on motor learning and it so happens that a newer line of inquiry suggests that motor variability – exploring different ways of performing a specific movement is very much part of how we humans are set up to learn movement. Consistent with that, varying the ways we move in general (what we do and how we do it) sounds like it might help with learning more specific movement patterns like fly casting. Will leave the detail for another time but it’s an interesting thought in many ways.

None of this changes the inescapable reality that if you want to get good at something you have to do the work. Practice is work but there is no reason why it can’t be both productive and enjoyable at the same time – a mix of work and play if you like. Finally, I would repeat that changes I’ve made don’t invalidate the original regime and if you are about to embark on more rigorous practice I would still suggest that you shape what you do with the 80/20 split as a guide. Spend 80% of your time on the 20% of things that are most important for your casting.