Ask the Experts: What’s More Important, Fly-Casting Distance or Accuracy?

Practicing casting accuracy on your lawn can translate to more fish in the net.
Photo by Phil Monahan

Last year, we introduced a new weekly “Ask the Experts” Column and asked you to pose some questions for our panel of experts. Our latest question for them to chew on is: “What’s More important, fly-casting distance or accuracy?”

Their answers are below. If you’ve got a question you’d like to ask our panel, write it in the comments section below.

Mike Canady, Ellensburg Angler (Ellensburg, Washington):
Accuracy  is much more important. No question, hands down. In real life, fishing accuracy is how you catch fish. I see a lot of anglers who can throw a long way but are not accurate at all, and for the type of fishing we do from a drift boat, accuracy is super important.

Kip Vieth, Wildwood Float Trips (Monticello, Minnesota):
That’s a tough one. After really thinking about it while on the water, I’d say accuracy and here is why: If you’re an accurate caster, chances are your form is very good. If your form is good, then distance is not going to be an issue. So give me an accurate caster and I’m sure that the rest will take care of itself.

Capt. Tony Biski, Monomoy Fly Fishing (Harwichport, Massachusetts):
No Brainer: accuracy. If you throw 100 feet of line to get your ya ya’s out and hit the fish in the head, you may as well be casting in Walmart parking lot.

Joe Demalderis, Cross Current Guide Service (Milford, Pennsylvania):
An accurate distance cast beats an inaccurate short cast. That being said, aim for both, but first we need to define distance and then apply it to the type of fly fishing we’re doing. Still not an answer to your question. So I’ll elaborate a little.

If you are fishing open water and searching with a streamer, I’ll go with distance being better. You’ll cover more water, simple as that. But if you are sight-fishing to rising trout, or any other sight fishing, I’d go with accurate as being more important under the assumption that you can first cast past your shoes, or a reasonable distance anyway, say 30 to 40 feet. This also applies to structure fishing, whether fishing to visible holding spots for bass of other fish, or nymphing for trout in defined seams or pockets, accurate casts are very important. In dry fly fishing, accuracy is everything.

I never quite understood this age-old debate of distance vs accuracy. For me, they go hand in hand. Casting far and fine has never been out of style. We often make distance out to be some crazy feat only attainable by the few. To cast longer, just use more line, and remember not try to carry more line than you or your rod can carry. Shoot more, carry less. And always have a target. That target could be a submerged rock, a leaf on the water, a blip in the current. Whatever it is, the smaller the target the better. Shoot at the X ring, not just at the paper. You’ll be amazed how your natural hand-eye coordination will take over and magically make you more accurate.

Given a choice, I’ll take an accurate 40-foot caster over a 70-foot caster who doesn’t have a clue where the fly is going. I guess I should have just said that from the start and skipped the rest.

Capt. Chuck Hawkins, Hawkins Outfitters (Traverse City, Michigan):
Accuracy is more important than distance most of the time. Whether you’re casting to a rising trout, putting a streamer close to a log, or putting a fly on a bonefish’s nose, accuracy is key. If your prey doesn’t see the fly, how can they eat it?

Often, you can get closer but if you don’t hit your target you’re not in the game.

A note on increasing accuracy. First, practice casting, but always cast at a target. Second, use this method to cast tighter: When you complete your cast and the line is falling to the water, make sure to bring your casting hand and the line-holding hand back together. If you’ve landed short of your target, slide your non-casting hand down the line the distance you are short. Recast, bring your hands back together, and you should be right on target.

Capt. Lucas Bissett, Low Tide Fly Fishing Guide (Slidell, Louisiana):
In Louisiana, accuracy is absolutely paramount. With the color of our water, you rarely see fish more than 30 feet out. In sight fishing, if you can’t make an accurate cast to the fish, distance means nothing.

Rob Woodruff, Woodruff Guide Service (Quitman, Texas):
If I can only choose one; then accuracy is my answer, for two reasons:

1. I think most fly fishers focus on distance more than accuracy when they practice, especially when it comes to short-range accuracy.

2. While not optimal, there are often some things I can do to get us closer to the fish if my client is struggling with distance,  but there is not much I can do to assist with accuracy other than give some tips on what to practice before their next trip.

If I can add a third category “quickness,” then I would rank them 1. Accuracy, 2. Quickness, 3. Distance. I would much rather have someone be able to make an accurate, quick 45-foot cast than be able to throw 90 feet with no accuracy and requiring 21 false casts to get the fly there.

Doc Thompson, High Country Anglers (Ute Park, New Mexico):
On smaller trout rivers and streams, accuracy is key. On these kind of trout waters the holding spots includes small pockets, short seams, drop-offs, etc.  The ability to accurately put the fly in the target zone at 25 feet is more important than the ability to cast 45 feet and miss the target.

Capt. Dave Pecci, Obsession Charters (Charlotte Harbor, Florida):
From a saltwater perspective, this is totally dependent on the species you are targeting. Sight-fishing the flats of southern Florida for snook, redfish, or tarpon you need accuracy at 30-60 feet. However, fishing for striped bass and bluefish along the Northeast coast where you are typically blind casting with sinking lines, distance will increase your catch because the fly will track deeper and stay in the strike zone longer.

Tim Linehan, Linehan Outfitting Co. (Troy, Montana):
Accuracy is generally more important in fly casting/fishing than distance. Think of it this way:  You can very often move closer to a rising fish, so distance can often be irrelevant.  Accuracy is critical.  Whether you’re fishing for bonefish on the flats or headhunting for trout in Montana, you need to be able to get the fly in front of the fish. There are times when fish will move for food, but more often than not, it has to be right down the pipe like a Chris Sales fastball and has to hit the fish between the eyes. Practice makes perfect, and you can put targets on your lawn and improve accuracy anytime you feel like it.

7 thoughts on “Ask the Experts: What’s More Important, Fly-Casting Distance or Accuracy?”

  1. Ok, casting aimlessly and only excelling in long casts isn´t always productive still water fishing in my view, but casting accurately on waking fish is also tricky if you do not know in what direction the fish moves next. A lucky catch in successfully aiming for the wake now and then, makes it more exiting though to try and use accuracy. However, the lack of a proper reading the wake of the rising fish is one obstacle – even if it makes it all a real thrill to try the imaginative direction the fish takes with an accurately delivered fly anticipating a bursting take. Many times, the rise is hard to read, so trying to figure the pattern of rises is better planning than just casting, even if with precision… and then as a result, excelling the accuracy when the rising pattern is figured out, will gain the odds to get a productive take with an accurate presentation, at least when it comes to fishing for brown trout. However, to catch fish you need to have the fly in or on the water and the longer it is, adds to your chances of a take especially when it comes to rainbow trout. So hence, only your own preferred combination of tricks and what you are comfortable with, in covering the water over time and area, will produce. But still, how lovely isn´t it yet, just to see the entire fly line flow out in a perfect pointed loop. Sometimes the fish is not all what you need for being satisfied on an outing – but the feeling of mastering both distance and accuracy can be and the lawn practises aids that too! Also, useful for fishing the running waters, with rising fish or not, the pockets often are a key point where accuracy is vital.
    See you on the water

  2. We can very often get our clients close to the fish bit the closer we get, the spookier they get. For our fishery, accuracy is definitely more important. And beyond just hitting your spot, controlling your line and how the fly lands is key to a good drift. A good drift in not quite the right spot is better than a bad drift in just the right spot.

  3. I would have to say accuracy and, as was said before, if u work hard on accuracy and are employing good casting techniques, you will, in short order, find you can cast as long as you wish. One organically leads to another. A lousy and innacurate short casting game will NEVER lead you to distance. Might put you off the sport though… Targets on the lawn help BUT, I’ve seen guys hit a wine glass at 90′ who rarely do well at catching fish. Fly casting is a game of many contraindications. YES, you need to learn how to cast to a target, but if you’re over skittish fish, it’s way better to learn to place the fly a few feet ABOVE the landing zone and let it gently fall to the surface. Doesn’t matter if it’s shrimp patterns to bones or #22 emergers to monster, sipping trout.

  4. Accuracy, no question. Being able to thoroughly fish water requires accurate and incremental casts. If the guide says “cast 1 foot to the left” and you can’t do that, you’re in for a long day.

  5. Accuracy is the most important where I guide for smallies,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,But, practicing long casts leads to accuracy at distance……….If we practice at 90 feet day in and day out, then a 70 foot cast right on the money is a breeze……..Accuracy will follow distance………Practice, practice, practice.

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