If we go back, quite a long way back, flycasting instruction was very rigid, arguably quite difficult and very much based around cloning. Cloning gets a bad rap by the way, but it’s a very effective way of passing on information. So long as you pass on good information, because being highly effective, it passes on everything.
There was a big move away from this starting around 20 years ago. Sort of “everything goes” and we inspire the student to try everything and see what works for him/her. And this is good too because the caster will evolve and discover his/her own technique, exploring different grips, use of the body and so on.
I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. My approach in this is to clone separate casting techniques – in Overhead Casting that means Closed Stance Accuracy, Open Stance Distance, and the 170/stopless technique – before heading off into the land of self-discovery using these techniques as a baseline.
Why, you may well ask? There are several reasons. The first is that through experience I know that it works. When I first started teaching we pretty much were only cloning and I know it worked because I used it too and saw results. But as instructors, we too are on an exploration of our own and every student for us is a new opportunity to – dare I say it – experiment! And while the voyage of self-discovery could create a Frankenstein casting monster, what it normally does is give the student a very wide and flexible skills base, which is very excellent news.
So we became quite loose and free and hippyish, as instructors, about 20 years ago. I’m not saying we had flowers in our hair although I’m sure there was a lot of weed smoked back then, as we were dancing barefoot through the chalkstreams. Instead of the old fashioned and outdated sergeant major drills, using a copy of The Compleat Angler under our elbow, we were now free to explore and be happy.
One minor problem I had with this, was that when students came to a lesson asking to learn to the cast the correct way, we would say “there is no correct way, man, here have some Seal’s Fur”.
What changed for me was when I got into Competition Casting. In particular, what is now, 5WT distance. I had a technique which I had used for years and thought was wonderful. Kind of a vertical pulling technique that was both sexy and went quite a long way. I gave a lesson on this to arguably one of the best distance casters in the UK at the time, who then comprehensively beat me at the end of the lesson with his old technique.
“Ah-ha!”, though I, “that’s an eye-opener!” So my technique of many years which I had refined, was 10’ less than Jon Allen just threw past me. I knew it wasn’t physique, it wasn’t practise, it could only be technique. So I invited Jon back the following weekend and spent the best part of 50 hours training to cast like him. The next weekend I beat him – ha ha – and for the next two years we were neck and neck, each of us winning on alternate meets.
Then the same thing happened again. I now had this pretty exciting technique that was going a decent distance, was definitely competitive for that time, then I stood next to Rick Hartman and he put it past me by 10 feet. So I learned that technique too. Rick is the grandfather - ha ha - of the 170.
It was out of that process that I learned undoubtedly that certain techniques excel in specific situations. And there is no question that because of this I started to look at all casts, all movement, all things even, in terms of both efficiency and performance.
But that wasn’t the end of my personal enlightenment travels. For many years I had dismissed Accuracy Technique as dull and I may even have mentioned a few times that it was “for the girls”. In the first World Fly Casting Championships in Norway, for the first time I got to watch Steve Rajeff compete in accuracy…
5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 3 (arrgh!), 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5.
What etched itself into my mind was not the score, that is still the highest ever set in this competition; it was his loops - like high-speed chisels, with purpose – with the fly not only going into target but dead centre. Honestly it was truly f'king amazing. I have no other words for it. Those loops to me were as impressive as Rick’s loops were to me when we cast and fished in Telluride.
That sort of stuff always inspires me. When I see someone doing something that I didn’t know was even possible, to a level way above what I can do, in my field… man I want to learn it, that’s all there is to it. I want those loops!
Anyway there is a point to this, which I’m clearly coming to. I started practising Accuracy – I’m nowhere near Steve’s level yet but I have made huge improvements. And this is the point now; what I have learned from developing my Accuracy Technique has had a huge impact on my general fishing casting. No question. I am a far far better caster for this process of the last 12 or 14 years and I attribute my improvement directly to this. That improvement has not come from thinking about targets, its come from changing my core body movements; only doing the bits that matter, making them straight and efficient, eliminating the bits that don’t matter – which can lead to inconsistency – and by building a really good, strong, short-mid range casting technique.
This in turn, has led me to teaching it as one of the core skills, to advanced level students. As I’ve written many times, I see four cornerstones in single-handed flycasting; Accuracy, Distance, Speys and Presentation Casts. They are all important, however I now see Accuracy Form as transcending them all.
Within the comp world, I find casting coaching to be differently focussed to what I find in the fishing casting instructor world. I’ve done a fair bit of comp coaching myself over the years. Way back at the beginning of this journey I spent a lot of time casting with my good friend Jon Allen (Jon is the one who beat me in our first “shootout” if you remember). Jon has a real eye for casting form. Perhaps it came from his archery background. This “coach’s eye”, basically means taking the silhouette of the “perfect cast”, using it as a filter and then moulding the student someway towards it using prompts and exercises.
At a very basic level, Accuracy is like throwing a dart, Open Stance Distance like throwing a rock, and 170 like throwing a frisbee backwards and a javelin forwards.
Flycasting coaching is already a niche activity. And undoubtedly I’m niche within a niche! But what I like about this approach, is that it creates a clear tangible direction. I love the exploration stuff and I believe it’s very important. However the development of core casting techniques, these formal “right foot forward, eye over foot, sight through the V-of-the-hand” structured exercises, helps everyone to know where we are going. As we say here in the jungle, “it’s often better to follow an old trail than cut a new trail, unless there is an elephant”.
Of course not everyone is interested in becoming a expert all-round flycaster. In fact, let’s be honest, very few people are. But for those who are interested, then I would certainly recommend this approach. And if you are to take just one thing out of all of this then I would suggest Accuracy. I recommend it to all my students on my Zoom courses: get the accuracy rings out, make it part of every training session and score yourself.
With this game I often see scores in single digits (out of a possible 80) for average ability casters trying it first time. Don’t be disheartened. You have the greatest scope for improvement! Instructors sometimes throw under 20 but 30ish is more normal. 40-50 is a reasonable club-level caster. 60-70 is pushing well into elite level. Anything over 70 is God-status.
I was asked a few weeks ago about the differences in Closed stepping 170 and Open Stance 170 and a recent discussion on the Board mentioned that there were many distance styles at the World Championships. So let me briefly talk about that.
The development of distance in the 5WT event has been fascinating. Open Stance Distance technique is still used but is now uncommon. The first major change was to go to Stopless 170 with Closed Stance and half a step about 20 years ago. The advantage of Closed is partly tracking but also an improved haul on the delivery. A few people cast this way eg Lasse.
Open Stance 170 has advantages especially if there is danger of stepping off a platform when taking a half step – something you don’t want to do in competition and indeed just worrying that this may happen can hold you back. Open 170 is now a very common technique, probably the most common.
There is one more technique and that is stepping from open to closed, which is really taking 1.5 steps during the Casting Stroke, as being originally used by some of the Swedes. The tip travel with this method is certainly superior – in fact it’s vast! – and following some of Bernt’s impressive records I can see a number of people moving to this technique. Hopefully we will see some new records and some swimming this year.
What is best? That’s a good question. I have absolutely no idea!! But I know there is only one way to find out :)))
This week I’m finishing fitting out the Battleship and swimming with Snakehead. I had kept all of April clear for filming the final two episodes of the flyfishing show that we’re making here. It’s a bit of a pain in the arse actually because I should be guiding but the show comes first! However it’s been raining raining raining and the river we want to fish is in spate and milky coffee-coloured. So I am free next week for guiding/hosting – how’s that for short notice? Otherwise I’m going fishing myself!
Have a fantastic week.