Would you walk up to the first tee at a golf course without having been to the driving range first? Would a baseball player step into the batter’s box without having had a least a little batting practice?
Of course not. So why in the world do so many of us go straight to the water to fish without having even considered practiced our casting?
Okay… it’s embarrassing when you’re casting on the street in front of your house, and the neighbor drives by and asks with a smirk, “Catching anything?”
But, believe me, practicing casts pays dividends when the fishing is really on. Accuracy matters. And building the confidence that you can place a bait, a lure, or a fly exactly where you want it to go, when it needs to be there, is the number one factor in being a successful fisherman/fisherwoman.
Here are a couple of exercises to help. Get some buckets from the garage. Don’t have buckets? Find some Tupperware from the kitchen. Not allowed to use the Tupperware? Use a box or carton (you get the idea). These are your targets. Set out three or four targets, and start at close range, maybe 15 feet away. Using a spinning or casting rod, tie on a weighted bait, minus the hook. Now practice “flipping” the lure into the targets by using a controlled pendulum motion cast. What you’re really doing is ingraining a feel for both distance and accuracy into your cast. Eventually, you want to move those target buckets to different ranges… 15 feet… 22 feet… 25 feet… 30 feet, and be able to shoot the baits in the buckets, on demand, adjusting distance as you go. And there’s nothing wrong with firing long, crankbait-style casts at targets from longer distances.
For fly people, the best casting practice I can recommend is called “Forty Feet in Four Seconds.” Four targets, all 40 feet away. You start in a central spot, with the fly in your non-casting hand. You have a friend call out a target… “number three!” And you have four seconds to get that fly from your hand to target number three. Sounds simple, but it isn’t. So much of fly fishing is about putting the fly in the right place… but if you can’t be in the right place at the right time, it won’t matter.
So spend a little time practicing. Even 10 minutes now and then will make a huge difference to your fishing. When you can’t actually get out on the water, you can still invest the time to be a better angler.
Kirk Deeter is an editor-at-large with Field & Stream magazine, and the editor-in-chief of Angling Trade. He is the co-author of four books, most recently the Little Red Book of Fly Fishing.