Whether you are preparing a buddy up for a fishing trip, coaching a charter client on a bonefish flat, or even conducting a casting clinic, the role of an instructor can be as important as the rod and reel itself. Your approach and bedside manner will determine the effectiveness of your teachings. All instructors teach a style to some degree, but it is important to work with your student to develop a style that is comfortable and effective for him. While there is no set approach, here are some teaching tips to make the most of your casting lessons.
Set the stage
Unless a specific skill is being taught, such as fishing with sinking lines, I prefer to conduct the lesson on a lawn. Choose a spacious venue with short grass. Stretch out a tape measure or brightly–colored cord to 40’or more and place brightly-colored targets (Frisbees or mini-soccer cones work well) at 10’intervals. Scatter a few targets off to the sides as well. The outstretched cord will help you, the instructor, detect casting flaws and give the student a sense of direction.
Set the tone
“Fly fishing is a blast, and you can do it” is a phrase every new student hears from me. Encouraging and setting a relaxed atmosphere is job one. Start by having the student warm up while you are lining up another rod. Quietly observe the student’s movements and tendencies-wristy, rigid, fast, whatever. Next, have your student make his longest cast and take a measurement. Now have them cast to one of the out-lying targets. This is your starting point, and at the end of the lesson when distance and accuracy are improved, you and your student will have a clear indication of progress.
Set the pace
From your observations, you will have a sense of where to start with each student. If the basics look good, get right down to business. If not, spend some time explaining the equipment. I always start with the fly line. “You can’t catch a fish with just a rod or reel, but you can catch a fish with just a line. So, let’s start there.” I then explain that in other types of fishing there is a weight such as a jig, a sinker, plug, or whatever that acts to load or bend the rod. With fly casting, the fly usually offers no appreciable weight, so the weight being cast is the line itself.
For beginners, I prefer starting off with a slightly over-lined outfit so the student can feel the rod load quickly. Another tip that resonates with students of all levels is to think of the rod in two parts- the tip and the butt. Simply put, the tip is for casting and the butt is for fighting. Surprisingly, most tend to do exactly the opposite.
Demonstrate not Display
The best instructors I know spend the least amount of time casting during a lesson. It is important to show a student how a particular cast should look, but there is a point at which a demonstration becomes a display. I have had several students talk about previous lessons that went south when the instructor seemed more interested in showcasing his skills rather than developing those of the students.
That said, when you do demonstrate, make it memorable. If you are shooting a line, shoot a lot. If you are demonstrating a tight loop, throw a laser beam. It is sometimes helpful to demonstrate casting errors, but it is more productive to focus on the fix, rather than the fault. Whatever the task, do your demonstration in a relaxed and seamless manner.
It’s all about the stop
In my experience, the number one tip for students of all levels is to get the student to concentrate on the stop rather than the stroke. Every other athletic movement that I can think of requires a follow-through, while fly casting calls for the opposite. This is why I avoid using golf or other sports analogies. The weight of the line, the surface tension, and air resistance all serve to bend (or load) the rod as the rod tip moves in the opposite direction. If there is no appreciable stop at the end of the stroke, the line will hit the water at the same speed that the rod tip is traveling. However, if the rod comes to an abrupt stop the line speed nearly doubles.
The Clothes-line Test
An easy way to make this point is to do what I call “The clothes-line test”. Be sure that your sunglasses are in place and stand 30-to-40 feet in front of the student with your arm stretched out to the side. Instruct the caster to place the line over your arm before the belly of the line hits the ground.
It will be obvious to the student that the rod needs to stop in a high position to “hang a clothesline”. From that point, the rod tip, the fly line, and the fly should all lower to the ground at the same rate of speed. The rod tip is now touching the ground ready to begin the next cast. This will also give you a chance to make sure that the student’s back cast straightens 180 degrees from the target.
Another fun and effective drill are to have the student stop the rod in a high position and gently “wiggle” their way down to the ground, creating a controlled “zig-zag” formation in the grass. This will naturally loosen the grip.
Table, ceiling, window
The exercise that I use on every student is what I call “Table, Ceiling, Window”, and it is designed to get the student to feel the cast.
- Have your students place the rod in their non-casting hand or place it on the ground. Pretend there is a table at hip height. Place the thumb firmly on the table.
- Raise the thumb directly to an imaginary ceiling beside the ear. Make sure that the thumb is the highest point on the hand.
- Move the thumb forward to an imaginary window directly in front and at the same height as the ceiling and “break the window” with the thumb.
- Relax the arm and lower the thumb back to the table. Now, try it with the rod.