The first, and most obvious 'error' made by the inexperienced competition entrant is the position they take up on the casting platform itself. From my observations you get two types of casters in game fair daily competitions (as opposed to championship contenders); absolute beginners and half decent fly casters. Ignoring the first group, the half decent majority tend to be people who can cast a trout outfit 25 to 30 metres, maybe a little bit more. This range of distances can get very crowded on the leader-board, where half a metre is often the difference between getting a prize and missing out. As such, standing 2 metres back from the edge of the platform puts any caster at an immediate disadvantage.
On floating platforms it is obvious human nature not to go too close to the edge, and perhaps it's understandable that someone would plonk themselves in the most stable position, i.e. bang in the middle. On the game fair platforms it is the case that the closer to the edge you get, the more unstable the footing becomes – often rocking like a boat with the weight transfer. As such, there's a definite trade off between losing distance (standing back from the tape) and being stable to be made, however most inexperienced casters tend to strongly bias towards the latter. The other extreme, I guess, would risk falling in the water. I've never actually seen this happen, but when I do I will applaud the caster for pushing to get every last inch from their cast – after I've stopped laughing of course.
The next mistake casters make happens before the clock starts for their competition time – how they strip the line off the reel. There are a number of errors that I often see here. The most common is that the caster strips all the line off the reel and a length of backing, all into the same pile. They then signal to the timer that they are good to go. Obviously when the first cast is made they realise the pile of line is essentially upside-down for going out through the rod – if they're lucky the tangle won't be too bad, if they're not, they often find themselves losing a big chunk of their casting time getting things straight. When the markers see someone first strip the line into the water and then re-strip it back on to the platform, there is often a nod of appreciation that this person knows what they're doing and often a few steps are taken down the measuring rope in anticipation of a better than average cast. Line management extends to the casting session itself also; someone who routinely just stacks the line in one place is asking for trouble at some point, whereas the person who spreads the line carefully will generally be trouble free (although shit happens at times).
The next error is one that is seen quite often – not stripping enough line off for the distance cast. They'll send out a beautiful first cast only to see it ping back towards them as all the free line is taken up. This then often results in a hurried strip of more line. Sometimes, depending on the state of anxiety in the caster, this strip can be quite violent in nature – I saw a number of people over-run the reel, jamming it solidly, because they've thrashed the strip against a light drag setting. When this happens time will be lost trying to sort out the now loose coils of line that are jamming on the frame of the reel.
The next mistake is perhaps the most common; retrieving the fly almost to their feet as if they are fishing. Although not as bad as getting into a tangle, this wastes time in terms of additional false casting to get the line back out to the length that they could have picked up from in the first place. As an aside, I never make a practice cast in any competition these days – I've seen my first cast, before the clock has started, be my longest far too many times in the past to risk it. I will however perform some PUaLDs to determine where my pick-up point will be – generally around 20 metres when casting over water.
The final common mistake, and a cardinal sin as far as the markers go, is not allowing the cast to be marked. I suspect very few of the entrants into the daily have ever been asked to adjudicate in a competition, so that won't know that the distance judges need a moment or so to spot the fluff and line its position up, perpendicularly, against the measuring rope. Depending on the level of adrenalin flowing in the competitor it's not unusual to see the first few casts ripped back as soon as they have landed. It doesn't matter how much floatant is on the fluff at this point as it invariably sinks, prompting frantic calls of 'give us some time to mark it' from the markers and 'no cast' recorded for what might have been their best distance.
Tracy and I have two casting competitions coming up in quick succession – the BFCC meeting in Derbyshire (combined with a fishing trip on the river Wye) and then the final game fair of the year in North Wales. We'll do our best to avoid the issues highlighted above in both.
Have a great week,