Written by: Evan Jones
Whether they’re warming up for a big destination trip or just keeping skills sharp during the off-season, every fly angler needs casting practice. So the next time you’re out waving a fly rod around on dry land, try setting up targets that will test your skill and improve your accuracy. You can even set up multiple targets and invite some fishing buddies over for a friendly casting competition. Having something specific to aim at will hone your skills much faster than aimless practice, and it’s a lot more fun too. See if you can consistently hit all 5 of the following targets, and then if you’re feeling sufficiently confident, try the bonus challenge described at the end.
1. Vertical Hula Hoop
Mount a hula hoop upright about chest high so you’re looking through it. Stand back 20 feet and strip out at least half your fly line. Your goal is to make a cast that travels through the hula hoop and continues as far beyond as possible, ideally 20+ feet. This requires a very tight loop and excellent line-speed control via a double-haul cast. Try aiming for the lower left corner of the hula hoop (lower right side for you lefties) to give your fly line loop maximum room to pass through.
2. Into the Y
Find a forked stick that looks like a capital “Y” or something similar. Secure it to the ground and stand back 20 feet. Your goal is to make a cast so that your leader lands cradled in the center of the “Y”. Move back 10 feet each time you succeed. This requires that you draw a fairly straight line with the rod tip when false casting. Try dropping the rod tip on your final forward cast until it’s just above the ground, in order to better control your line as it falls into place.
3. Under The Bar
Set up a horizontal bar 4 to 5 feet wide and 2 to 3 feet high. Your goal is to make a cast so that your leader travels underneath the bar, which imitates a cast under a dock or some mangroves. Stand back 20 feet to start, moving back 10 feet each time you succeed. The short casts are fairly easy, but once you get out to 40 feet or more, it gets harder to maintain enough line speed while casting at such a low angle. Try skipping your cast off the ground in front of the bar to increase your range.
4. Solo Cup
No list of fly-fishing targets would be complete without an impossibly small cup, generously upgraded here to a slightly-larger red Solo cup filled with water. Your goal, of course, is to land your fly inside from 20 feet away, moving 10 feet farther back if you ever succeed. While there’s a lot of luck involved, this one also requires a fair bit of skill and a great deal of consistency in your casting stroke. Try holding your casting arm elbow tight against your ribs in order to improve accuracy by limiting the sway of your upper body.
5. Random O’Clock
You’ll need 7 targets for this one, hula hoops or frisbees or beer cans, whatever. Spread them out like the numbers on a clock face, from 9 o’clock on the far left to 3 o’clock on the far right, at varying distances (20-50′) from the center. Your goal is to stand in the center while a friend shouts random numbers between 9 and 3 at you, whereupon you try to hit the corresponding target as quickly as possible. This requires not only a smooth familiarity with clock face directions, but the ability to maintain accuracy while quickly switching between multiple targets. Try incorporating an occasional backhand cast rather than taking time to turn and face each new target.
For added difficulty and bragging rights, try standing on an overturned bucket or milk crate while casting at these targets. Being limited to a small raised platform will force you to reduce unnecessary body movements, which will not only improve your casting stroke, but will also improve your stealth when casting to real fish from a boat or paddle board.
Evan Jones is the new assistant blog editor. He lives in Colorado now, but he spent a decade living on the water in Florida.