Long casts, while impressive, are often overkill. And while bombing flies into hula hoops on the back lawn improves your aim, what matters most in the real fishing world is accuracy under pressure. Pro redfish angler Travis Holeman shared with me this “40 feet in four seconds” practice drill that will help you lose the casting “yips.” His theory: if you master shorter casts -- on target and on time -- you will definitely hook more fish, from trout rising in the river to bonefish cruising the flats.
It’s a two-person exercise. Set out five targets (trash can lids, hula hoops, doormats, whatever) at 40 feet. When the caster is ready, the timekeeper calls a random target, one through five. Using a stopwatch, or shouting “one Mississippi, two Mississippi …” (like the pass rusher in a flag football game) he/she counts four seconds. The caster must hit the target before time is called. Mix it up, then trade places.
This drill makes judging distance second nature, so you focus on aiming the cast, not measuring line. The trick is to start by paying out 20 feet of line, draping 10 out the end of the rod, and coiling 10 near your feet, then holding the fly in your off hand. (Factor in a nine-foot leader between the line and the fly, you’re nearly ¾ of the way to 40 feet from start.)
To get that slack line airborne, make the first move forward, not back. Roll cast away from you, off target, release the fly, then fully load the rod on the backcast. If you start by yanking backwards and pulling the fly out of your hand, you’ll only get yourself tangled or stick the fly in the side of your head. Strip out the remaining line as you make one determined false cast. Don’t mess around. Four seconds isn’t enough time for four or five false casts.
Once the line is in the air, immediately train your focus on the target. Use your thumb to direct the cast. The rod tip ultimately tells the line (and fly) where to go, and the thumb tells the rod tip what to do. When you shock the rod and make your final cast, if the target is lined up at the tip of your thumbnail, odds are your fly will land on the money, or close.