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Fly Casting Lessons - Are They Worth It?

posted April 21, 2021


Fly rod resting on fly-fishing book resting on wooden desktop

Previously I made a post about the progress of my "self-study" in fly casting. As of several weeks ago, I had not been out on the water in over three months; my residency was going to vest at the beginning of March and I thought it would be best to wait until I had access to more enticing prices before purchasing a 2021 fishing license. In the meantime I continued to do some research on 22lr bolt action rifles (which may be the topic of a different post) and I also investigated the possibility of scheduling some private fly casting lessons to get direct feedback from a professional on what adjustments I need to make to improve my casting results for this coming season. I sent some emails out to the fly shops and schools in my area, and for various reasons elected to schedule with Idaho Angler's "Fly Fishing University: Private Lesson" offering.

Practicing in my Living Room

The night before the private session I wanted to make sure I was well versed in the theory and had the anchor points and muscle memory down to the extent I knew to be proper. I reviewed my previous post and notes on fly casting practice, as well as some of the following resources:

1) The Orvis Fly Fishing Guide - Chapter 6: Fly Casting


ORVIS FLY-FISHING GUIDE REVISED EDITION

Breaking the Wrist

One of the things I picked up when re-reading the first part of this chapter was a comment in regard to "breaking the wrist". This was a topic I had glossed over the first reading, concerning a phenomenon I had been chastised for repeatedly acting out when first learning to cast in 2019. The clarification of starting a cast with the wrist bent at a slight angle below the horizontal (10-20 degrees) and then "snapping" into horizontal alignment at the height of the cast (all of this with respect to the forearm), helped me really anchor the idea of the "wrist pop" into a readily discernible pattern. The forward-cast inverse simply involves a follow-up wrist pop which returns the wrist to the initial acute angle with respect to the forearm, from the perfectly aligned position achieved during the back-cast.

Some of the other focal points help anchor what is going on with the line, the rod-tip and the elbow, but digesting this point helped me develop a more effective and precise sense of what to do with the wrist.

2) Mad River Outfitters: Fly Casting 101 (video)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jcgehADUUo
Mad River Outfitters

When I initially watched this video, I did not take the time to fully comprehend the 'right triangle' model, but on re-watching, I think this approach to visualizing the movement of the rod tip and the relationship between this and the service of the elbow as the fulcrum point is more intuitive than the 'painting the ceiling' analogy.

I also tried to internalize the recommended thumb placement towards the top of the rod handle, which is not something I had given much thought to previously.

3) Orvis - Fly Casting Lessons: The Basic Fly Cast

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDJJ6W23gHw
Orvis
Index vs Thumb as "Casting Rudder"

Although the Orvis Fly Fishing Guide makes a remark about the relative discomfort of the keeping the index finger pointed along the rod (the index-grip), rather than the thumb, up until recently I understood these grips to be relatively interchangeable. However, in the video titled Fly Casting Lessons: The Basic Fly Cast, Orvis casting guide Pete Kutzer (who is featured in a lot of content produced by Orvis pertaining to fly casting) suggests the index-finger grip is really only sufficient when working with rods 5wt and under. In conjunction with a comment made by Tom Rossenbauer in the Orvis Fly Fishing Guide regarding the rarity of the v-grip in the field, the deduced suggestion seemed to be a novice ought to focus on mastering the thumg-grip. Although I may get into "Euro-nymphing" with ultralight tackle down the road, I much sooner anticipate picking up heavier duty equipment for bass, steelhead, salmon and surf species.

Living Room Practice

I mounted the reel on the base of the rod, along with the lower midsection and stood in my living living room with my heels against the sofa in a spot where the rod would not (literally) scrape the ceiling as I practiced the motions and followed along with the video resources. I found repeating the motions for about 30 minutes in this way helped me develop a bit of confidence in finding the anchor points quickly and naturally.

The Private Lesson

The following day, I went and attended the private lesson in the morning. The class was about one hour, and in that period we covered a variety of topics including the following:

  • false casting and the basic overhead cast
  • roll casting
  • double hauling
  • setting the hook and fighting fish
  • reach-cast mending
  • nymph mending (proper term?)

I was honestly only expecting to cover the basic overhead cast technique, which I thought I needed to put serious work into. Of course, my form in that regard is almost certainly not perfect and I could stand to benefit from working at increased accuracy and distance, but I was genuinely surprised to hear the instructor say I seemed to have the essentials of this cast more or less mastered.

I was a bit nervous about what to expect for the remaining 50 minutes, but I found I was able to be coached into proper form for each successive topic. It was good to have immediate feedback from a professional as I attempted these things as well. I thought some of my roll casting was an atrocity, but the instructor insisted this cast is generally not aesthetically pleasing. As far as double hauling is concerned, I had read about this in the Orvis Guide book, but assumed this was an advanced technique I would not be trying for a long, long time. I definitely was not half-way out the door to head to a local park to give it a try based on what I had read and seen online.

But I am grateful we covered this technique during the lesson, because I found with great surprise I was able to pull this off within 5 minutes of my first attempt, achieving more distance than any cast I had attempted previously. The rhythm of this technique is something I found I had to practice in slow motion, and keenly observe in the instructor as he demonstrated repeatedly. I think just for this part of the lesson alone I would have gladly paid the shop fee. I could now definitely envision practicing hauling at a local park, and my confidence in my casting abilities for the various other casts has received a healthy boost as well.

The additional topics covered on fighting fish and mending line were instructive as well, and in fact one of the first things I did on returning home was to type out notes for everything we covered so I would not forget any key or subtle points over the coming weeks.

Practicing on the Water

Overall I walked away feeling like this was some of the best money I have ever spent on outdoor recreation related expenses. The instructor was friendly, patient, articulate in both verbal communication and demonstration and gave excellent feedback on each cast indicating what adjustments needed to be made and also when the cast was on target.

As noted, I had read about both the roll cast and double-haul cast in the Orvis Fly Fishing Guide, and had even practiced the roll cast a bit on the water. But I did not have all that much of experience utilizing it effectively, and certainly I had never even attempted a double haul. I received good feedback regarding my proficiency with each of the above, and I think despite the difficulty of the double haul which I will certainly want to spend private time practicing, the roll cast is where I have the most work to do.

Following the lesson, I headed to the river for the first time this year to get some additional practice time in and really try to solidify the muscle memory and procedures I had just been introduced to. I found it useful to follow up on the initial exercise with practice in the actual environment where I hope to put these skills to work. The complications of wading in moving water and nymphing with a bobber helped me quickly ascertain how typical field-conditions would impact my performance. The nymph and strike indicator particularly had a tangible impact on the elegance of the casts I attempted, but with tempered adjustments I was able to do pretty well with it. I was also able to double haul to the effect of achieving 50-60ft casts. I understand this is certainly nowhere near the limit of what this technique can achieve, but as I told the instructor during the lesson, the first successful double-haul I pulled off had well over-shot my personal-record fly casting distance.

Conclusion

Going forward, my plan is to continue practicing both on the water and possibly off, at local parks, in order to sharpen my form, solidify rhythm and also explore some of the other forms and modifications of these techniques. For example, I will definitely want to put some work in on my non-dominant-side casting, for all the major casts. And of course, I want to continue reviewing the material I have gathered (and have yet to gather) with regard to fly casting technique, particularly as I branch into the more complicated aspects of things. After additional study and practice my hope is to update the initial "amateur fly casting tips by an amateur" list I assembled in a post several months ago.

For anyone new to fly fishing, anyone not entirely comfortable, confident or satisfied with their command of the basic casting forms, and anyone who really wants an edge in learning some of the more advanced techniques, I have to STRONGLY recommend seeking out either a private lesson or a hosted class where these topics are covered under the guidance of a professional. For anyone in the S.W. Idaho area, I feel compelled to recommend Idaho Angler's Fly Fishing University offerings.

Finally, I purchased a three year Idaho combination sporting license, so here is to hoping for an excellent year in outdoor recreation for me and all who have taken the time to read this post. Thanks all! There are some on the internet who have expressed an opinion the following phrase has become cringe-worthy or trite, but whether I will ever get to this point, it hasn't happened yet: tight-lines!

-- Tyler