Casting Accuracy

Here's how to catch real fish instead of plastic hoops.

Field & Stream Online Editors

There has been more nonsense written about casting accuracy than about any other topic on the technical side of fishing. Nobody disputes the benefits of pinpoint casting-accurate casters do catch the most fish everywhere from California to Maine-but somehow we've made the process much more complicated than it needs to be.

Ask around, read some fishing books, or watch a few videos. The message is clear: One guy will say you need a series of plastic hoops or tin-can targets scattered around the backyard for training sessions. Not true. Another will tell you it's impossible to cast accurately without premium tackle. Not true. Still another will say you'll get there only with years of constant practice. Also not true.

Becoming an accurate caster is easier than that-much easier, once you understand what's required. There are really only two things you need to do. First (with your choice of tackle), use the same casting stroke every time you make a cast. Second, concentrate on the target. Both points need some explanation, but first let's check your tackle.

Tackle Choices
Of all possible tackle choices, spinning and spincasting gear are the easiest routes to accuracy. This will seriously bend my baitcasting friends, but hear me out. Spinning and spincasting tackle, of all casting gear, are the easiest for most people to learn quickly. The tackle itself thus requires the least concentration on casting mechanics, which allows more mental effort to be spent on putting a lure in the right spot.

But doesn't the precise thumb control used when casting with baitcasters allow greater accuracy? That's the traditional view. However, if you have to thumb the spool abruptly to stop or slow a lure in midflight, then what you're doing is correcting a cast that was off-target to begin with. And while that might be a good recovery, it's not accuracy.

Then, too, baitcasting gear is more difficult for beginners to master. They typically spend so much time worrying about their tackle that they're lucky to land a lure in the same lake that floats their boat.

Accurate fly casting is the toughest of all, mostly because the act of casting is more difficult. Spin- and baitcasters throw a weighted lure at a target. The process is very intuitive, like throwing a rock at a squirrel. Fly casters are unrolling a weighted line in the air, a learned skill that is not at all intuitive. Consistent accuracy can be gained only after fly-casting basics are mastered. But once you've got the casting strokes down, accuracy comes as it does with other tackle: through consistency and concentration.

Consistent Strokes
You can't be an accurate caster without being a consistent caster. Stroke consistency-casting the same way every time-means your casting is regular and predictable. Ten to 20 minutes of casting with an identical stroke will start to synchronize your eye, mind, and arm motion. For most people-even those who have never held a rod before-that regular repetition soon becomes nearly automatic (and is easiest with spinning tackle) and requires little thought.

That's important because it means all your concentration can be directed at a casting target. And fortunately, it doesn't mean you must have perfect casting form; you need only a consistent form. If you want to cast your spinning rod sidearm rather than classically overhead, for example, that's okay. This can be an accurate method, too. Just don't vary your basic stroke from cast to cast. (And do note that sidearm casting can be a danger to any fishing buddies nearby.)

Target Concentration
Fishermen aren't usually classed with rifle and shotgun shooters, but they all have at least one need in common: concentration on a target to be hit. Without concentrating, you are going to miss. Guaranteed.

Your casting tackle doesn't have sights, of course, and you don't actually aim with your rod, but the principle of concentration is otherwise identical. Aiming a cast in the general direction of a bed of lily pads is sort of like shooting at a flock of ducks-neither accomplishes very much very often. Instead, concentrate, and aim your cast 2 inches to the left of the nearest lily pad. This is like fixing your vision on the head of the lead mallard in a passing flock. Specific target, specific results. Dinner on the table in each case.

So how do you concentrate? Focus your vision on a target detail: the left edge of a stump where it meets the water rather than the whole stump, for example. Keep your eyes on that spot until the lure lands. The harder you focus and the more detailed your target, the more accurate your cast will be.

If your concentration is broken-by a biting mosquito, say, or even by a change in mood-your cast will miss. In principle, this is simple. In practice, it's hard because maintaining an intense level of concentration can be exhausting. But a key characteristic of winning pros in everything from NASCAR to golf to fishing tournaments is their ability to maintain that kind of concentration for hours at a time.

Plastic hoops or tin-can targets are visual on a target to be hit. Without concentrating, you are going to miss. Guaranteed.

Your casting tackle doesn't have sights, of course, and you don't actually aim with your rod, but the principle of concentration is otherwise identical. Aiming a cast in the general direction of a bed of lily pads is sort of like shooting at a flock of ducks-neither accomplishes very much very often. Instead, concentrate, and aim your cast 2 inches to the left of the nearest lily pad. This is like fixing your vision on the head of the lead mallard in a passing flock. Specific target, specific results. Dinner on the table in each case.

So how do you concentrate? Focus your vision on a target detail: the left edge of a stump where it meets the water rather than the whole stump, for example. Keep your eyes on that spot until the lure lands. The harder you focus and the more detailed your target, the more accurate your cast will be.

If your concentration is broken-by a biting mosquito, say, or even by a change in mood-your cast will miss. In principle, this is simple. In practice, it's hard because maintaining an intense level of concentration can be exhausting. But a key characteristic of winning pros in everything from NASCAR to golf to fishing tournaments is their ability to maintain that kind of concentration for hours at a time.

Plastic hoops or tin-can targets are visual