"Now drop it in there again, but this time a quarter-inch to the left.” I had just placed my fly in a small opening in the mangroves at 75 feet, and that was as close to an “attaboy” as I was going to get from Capt. Kevin Merritt. I didn’t receive a strike on that particular cast, but a feisty 22-inch redfish nailed the fly on the next one. Those two casts were not luck (maybe a little), but rather the result of hours of focused practice on the grass.
Accuracy skills are probably the least practiced, but ironically, these are the most important to have. The most common statement I hear from my students is, “I want to work on my distance.” But the best way to increase distance is to start with accuracy.
Do a 180
The first important element in accuracy casting is the backcast. The most efficient and dead-on casts feature a backcast that is 180 degrees from the target. Energy is stored in the line during the pickup and backcast and simply redirected with the forward cast. By the same token, the trajectory of the line should follow that same 180-degree rule, with a shorter cast having a steeper downward angle than a longer cast.
With all fly-casting, a variety of styles work. The one that works best for me is to square off to the target. Point your eyes, shoulders and toes at the target. Use a closed stance, placing your right foot (or left if you’re left-handed) slightly forward. This helps to keep the rod tip traveling in a straight line. Try engaging your body by imagining gently gliding back and forth, but don’t actually rock. This will allow you to move the rod in a very straight path and decrease the movement in your arm.
While it is usually best to keep false-casting to a minimum, hovering over a stationary target is the best way to hit it dead-on. It’s not a great idea on a clearwater bonefish flat, but it’s very beneficial in the shaded backcountry or when placing a fly under a dock. It is common to see a caster make a couple of beautiful false casts and, on the final presentation, overshoot the target by as much as three or four feet by extending his arm too far forward. Make sure that the stop on the final stroke is precisely the same as on the previous ones. Remember also to make the stops on the backcast cookie-cutter, as the tendency is to drop a little farther back with each false cast.
A Few Drills
Always practice your drills with an outstretched high-visibility cord, or better yet, a tape measure. Flying discs, soccer cones and tennis balls make great targets. There is an adage among flintlock shooters: “Aim small, miss small.” Casting to a target the size of a teacup will definitely improve your average. Keep your practice sessions brief, and do them often. You may also want to mark the lines with a permanent marker at significant distances. Always practice with a yarn fly of some sort. A 5-inch length of brightly colored surveyors’ twine doubled and nail-knotted works nicely when tied to the end of an 8-foot tapered leader.
Place targets at 10-foot intervals along the tape, and toss a few to the outsides to change things up. Pay particular attention to making sure that on the forward cast, the entire length of the fly line and leader you are throwing lands parallel to the tape. If the line lands in a serpentine formation, make a few casts and watch your hand throughout to be sure that it is moving along the straightest path possible. When casting to the outlying targets, take time to square off toward them.
As you practice, try to make your loops tighter and tighter. Strip off another 10 feet and do it again. You will find that as your accuracy improves, added distance will naturally follow.
The Eyes Have It
Serious cyclists know that when you are in danger of crashing, you should look not where you are heading but rather where it is you would like to go. The same holds true in fly-casting. While there is some benefit in watching your backcast, especially with long-distance casting, I tell students to keep their eyes on the target. If you are sight-fishing and turn to watch the backcast, you will likely not be able to find the target when you turn your head back around. Even when blind-casting, pick a flicker of light on the water or a piece of floating grass, and focus on it.
Keeping your rod hand in line with your line of sight will also add accuracy.
1) If the rod tip is traveling far from the line of sight, a triangular problem involving the target, your eyes and the rod tip is created. When you keep the rod in line with your eyes, the only consideration is how far to cast. If the rod-tip path is placed farther out of line with your eyes, you will still have to gauge distance, but you will also need to factor in an additional angle coming from the side.
2) One mistake I often see, particularly in long-distance casts, is the caster tilting his head in the direction opposite the rod. This may give the caster a feeling of added power, but doing the opposite and tilting your head slightly inward will help keep the stroke in alignment and the rod closer to your line of sight.