A Few Words on Accuracy
When you attempt to improve your accuracy when fly casting at any distance, you first have to come to grips and identify what in your casting isn’t working. Perhaps it’s something you aren’t aware of in the first place. This is probably one of the most common problems. Of course, in that case you should have some outsider who can help analyze your cast. But how do you know you need help if you don’t know what is wrong with your casting? You need help if you aren’t as good as you want to be! If this is the case, Welcome to the club. Read on if you want to help yourself self-diagnose your casting maladies which are affecting you hitting your target.
There are so many scenarios that present themselves, it would be impossible for me to cover them all; however, this should get you started in the right direction.
First, analyze the lay out of your final forward cast (what we casting geeks call the presentation cast). If it lies straight on the lawn or water, you are on the right track. If it kicks to the left (and you are casting vertically and right-handed), then you are possibly twisting your wrist at the end of the cast (near the position when you stop the forward motion of the cast). That is often the case when you try to over -power your final cast. Soften the presentation cast and that left hook should then disappear.
Now that we have a straight lay out, let’s look at another issue. If the cast is too short or too long, you could benefit from learning to “hover” the fly. You are attempting to get the fly to hang a few feet over and/or short of the intended target. The fly hangs just long enough for you to see where it is in reference to the target. The purpose of hovering is to get an idea of where your lure is in relation to your target. To begin learning the skill, I would suggest a large fluffy yarn and approximate leader length of 8 ft. with a tippet size of approx. 8 lb. test and 2 feet long. This will allow the loop to turn over without a dramatic kick and hang in mid air a foot or so above and/or in front of the target for the micro second it takes to see where it is in relation to the target prior to the next back cast. Start off by casting to a target approx. 30ft. away. Casting relatively slow with loops about 2 ft. wide, making your forward stop at approx. 10 o’clock, pause just long enough to see your loop turn over and the fly hang for that micro second prior to the back cast. Be sure to use a fly color you can easily see for the lighting conditions you are casting in. As you improve, trim the fly to a smaller size until you can barely see it. BTW chartreuse or white work well in low light and orange is a great all around color. You may, also, consider casting to the side of the fish so as not to spook it when false casting. Once you Master the skill, begin practicing with lures you fish with and leader designs you fish with as well. One other point is that when fishing you will want to make as few casts as possible, obviously, before the presentation cast. When making the presentation cast, if you make the STOP and hold the rod at the position of the stop when hovering, the lure should land at or very near the spot below where you were hovering. If however, it lands past the target, you probably laid the rod tip down low after the stop allowing the fly to go a few feet past the target. Adjust your hovering or rod tip position accordingly. Consider watching my video on “Hovering” on my website, thecampflyfishingschool.com.
Accuracy on the water is different than accuracy on the practice lawn. We are generally more relaxed and casting is more fluid when practicing. When we are casting to a fish our knees get weak and perhaps our whole body gets to shaking. If this is you, then, again, Welcome to the club. I will say that the more common cause is the failure to practice with the lures you plan to fish with. Cut off the bend of the hook and spend time casting with it. Chance are your loops will need to be wider and casting more fluid or smoother (that is casting a bit slower or softer with just a little less speed). Belgium casts help with heavier lures.
Often times the cause of bad casting accuracy is changing the way we cast when fishing compared to when we practice. When facing windy conditions, moving fish, or a guide behind us barking orders, we change from casting with good form to perhaps casting to targets too far for our potential, or perhaps, Belgium casting. While helping us contend with the obstacle in the rear of the boat or the wind, it is not the most efficient and accurate of cast. It is, however, widely used and can be very effective if you practice it. Once more practice to see for yourself what your loop shapes are and personal limitation of the Belgium cast.
Something I think which is widely overlooked, is practicing the cast you KNOW you routinely use when fishing. Too often we practice cast not normally used when fishing. Practicing the basics is one thing, but they are just stepping stones to what you need to be burning up the turf with.
In most cases, in order to cast accurately, we have to have a straight lay out of our cast. Some situations dictate otherwise, but these are the exceptions. They do need to be practiced as well. For example, if you want to cast around a clump of weeds, around a stump, in front of a fish facing away from you without lining it, you need to practice curve casts. Check out my videos on curve cast on the website thecampflyfishingschool.com.
Getting back to the norm, let’s review. We need a straight lay out. Proper tracking allows us to accomplish this. Appropriate tracking occurs when the fly leg is in the same plane as the rod leg and results in the desired layout of the fly line and leader. Check. We need to accurately estimate distance. Hovering helps us with that. Check. That’s fine for 45ft. + or – but how about 50ft. plus. We may not be able to hover a fly at that distance. Tight loops, high line speeds and the ability to accurately shoot line to the target is the game here.
Some additional thought: Other factors which may affect the final outcome of the cast include your grip, stance, leader design, looking at your back cast, fly line taper and trajectory of your back and forward casts.
Let’s first discuss your grip. Holding the rod in what we refer to as the “V” grip is recommended for cast greater than 50ft. This helps with the tracking of the rod helping to eliminate or minimize loops getting out of parallel at longer distances. “Thumb on top” is fine for distances less than that. It is a powerful grip which assists you in accuracy by actually pointing your thumb in the direction of the target. If your tracking is OK, your loop shapes satisfactory, the fly legs are in the same plane, don’t change anything. These and other grips used in casting are covered in videos on my website thecampflyfishingschool.com.
How you are standing on the bow of the boat may have an effect on accuracy. Square stance is fine for close in casting. As your distances increase, to allow for longer stroke lengths, a right handed caster should move the right foot back only so far as to allow for longer stroke lengths and to keep balance. This may, also, minimize your rocking of the boat and sending shock waves to the fish. Practice which proper body position is best for you.
It is true that some distance casters cast with a square stance. Generally speaking, however, when casting for a boat we most often encounter wind which we typically try to accommodate by casting more horizontally, “Lefty style”.
As to the leader design, I a guessing that you usually go with the leader the guide recommends, or perhaps, you tie you own design? Whatever the case, you typically want a leader which turns over with minimum kick. Add more tippet if it continues to kick. Heavy lures are difficult to tame, however, and you have to adjust the leader accordingly. Again, adjust the leader and or tippet length per the needs of the fly size and purpose of the cast. Want more info, check out my website thecampflyfishingschool.com.
Looking at your back cast can cause tracking issues affecting accuracy. While I recommend looking at them while practicing to analyze loop shapes, timing and tracking, you should not be watching them when fishing. You have the possibility of losing sight of the fish or having it move causing you to miss the target. Also, when looking back, should you twist your torso, you more than likely will alter your tracking and loop shapes.
Understanding fly line tapers is critical to casting accuracy, especially at distances past the length of the head of the fly line. You should know the length of the head of the line you are casting. Try to sense and feel the taper change as you shoot the head through the rod tip while false casting. Once the head leaves the rod tip, you risk hinging which rapidly destroys your control of the loop shapes. EXPERT casters may be able to false cast with over 10 ft. or so of overhang for one or two casts before the presentation cast.
Overhang, BTW, is the distance that the head of the fly line is out past the tip of the rod. If you keep this less than 3 ft. you should be fine. Experiment with different lengths of overhand and see where it starts to affect your control of the loops. Sometimes it is better to cast shorter lengths of line and shoot more during the presentation cast. Also, consider lines with longer heads such as Ballistic Pro Performance Lines.
One final word on accuracy: The direction of the back cast should be 180 degrees from the intended direction of the forward cast. Also, the closer the target is the higher the trajectory of the back cast should be. If this is not followed, accuracy will definitely suffer. Now join the club and get out and practice.Want to learn more: You guessed it. Ck out my website thecampflyfishingschool.com. It has over 65 videos covering most anything you need to know about fly casting and fishing. Best of all, it’s all free.
Keith Richard, MCI