This past Saturday we held the 2015 Casting Tune Up in MIlesburg Pennsylvania. This event allows participants to hone their casting skills under watchful eyes of trained casting instructors. It is also a chance for competitors to hone their casting abilities for the upcoming Mid-Atlantic Fly Casting 5 weight Championship held on the banks of the Yellow Breeches at the Allenbury Resort in Boiling Springs Pennsylvania.
The tune up consisted of a mock up of the casting course that will be featured at the championship. The course includes an accuracy section which places targets at varying distances. A target consists of two hoops, an inner 30″ hoop and outer 54″ hoop. The targets are placed at distances of 20-25′ / 35′-40′ / 45′-50′ / 60′-65′ relative to a 4′ X 4′ casting box.
To make these casts consistently the caster must learn to control the line by practicing good casting technique. Accuracy requires attention to the straight line path of the rod that results in the straight line path of the line and subsequently the fly. It also demands the caster learn to judge distance and the proper application of power to smoothly deliver a fly to the target. All of these are skills of the elite fly angler.
The second component of the casting course includes a distance section. The distance section is a 10′ wide lane with a tape measure down the middle. The lane is roughly 100′ long, though there are few casters who are capable of blasting past the 100′ mark. Although the distance course is more about distance there is still an accuracy component to it. All scoring casts (casts that count) must land within the 10′ lane. This is harder than it may sound when you get past 60′ with a 5wt.
Distance casting immediately exposes casting errors and flaws because it naturally amplifies mistakes in technique. Control of tracking, timing and application of power all become critical to making a distance cast that scores. Just as in fishing, distance doesn’t matter if the cast is poorly placed, likewise an “on track” cast that falls short of the target is equally as useless.
Many anglers do not appear as inclined to improve their casting skill as they do to purchasing a new rod. The problem with this attitude is that no matter what rod you buy, all rods require proper technique to fully recognize the potential. Proper technique is the target that opens up all other targets. This is the goal of casting competitions and our tune-ups, convert the pretentious into the accomplished.
“You can’t cast to nothing” – Joan Wulff
Fly casting requires a target, or a goal. The end goal of any casting event is that the participants at the very least have a better understanding of what they need to cast better. No matter what skill level, we can always improve. At the very best, we will have helped each participant make tangible improvements to their cast while gaining the understanding they need to be able to recognize and self-correct casting issues.
This past Saturday I worked with the talented casting instructor Dave Rothrock. Dave has been a great inspiration and encouragement over the last few years as I have pursued my casting instructor certification (CI) through the International Federation of Fly Fishers. Dave is a CI and a natural born teacher, he can also cast a country mile. The last fact is a point which is made even more impressive given his physical stature. Dave is in his 60’s and is about 5’6″ and maybe 140lbs.
The reason this matters is because its NOT the gear or your physical prowess that matter as much in casting as it IS your understanding of the technique. Dave constantly reminds me of this every time we meet not just verbally but visually when he effortlessly delivers a 100 ft cast right down the center of the lane. Both of us possess the gear and the power to cast that far, only one of us has the understanding of how to apply that power properly, for now.
The key to the distance cast for me was dialing back the application of power over the entire cast. Read that as: BACK OFF BIG GUY! I was putting too much power into the entire cast. Once I backed off the power I could feel the line speed increase and I was casting the same distance with less effort. This may seem counter-intuitive but I have found it is almost always the case in casting. We have a tendency to think more is better when really, less is more.
Next, Dave helped me to time the application of the necessary power. This adjustment to my timing led to consistently longer casts with 75% less effort. Yes, I was way over powering this cast. I was now consistently striking 85′ – 90′. Still well short of Dave’s cast but I was very happy with my improvement. Best of all it did not require me to add anything, in fact, it required me to back off!
So there you have it. It’s not the tools, it’s the carpenter. Learn how to use the tools and you will be a master. Spend time on the water or practicing whenever you can. Once casting issues are identified and a correction is made practice makes perfect. So during this time of increasing stream temps take the time to set up some targets in your yard or at the local park. Give yourself some easy targets and some hard targets to hit at a challenging distance , I use hula-hoops for targets.
You cannot judge the quality of your casting ability without a target, as Joan Wulff would say “This is a target sport.” That applies to your practicing and setting goals for your future fishing adventures. Reaching your short range targets is a good indicator to reaching longer range targets and the greater goal of becoming a great caster. Set a target, arrive at your target and move on to the next. That is one of the most beautiful elements of this sport, there is always something more to learn and gain.
A special thank you to The Orvis Company who provided some loaner rods for our day. It is worth mentioning many of us were impressed with the new Recon 9′ 5wt which proved itself a very capable rod in close and at distance. Thank You!