Fly Casting Tip – Rely On Muscle Memory for Difficult Casts

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Rely on your trained muscle memory to pull off difficult casts on the water. Photo Louis Cahill

By Kent Klewein

Why do we choke when the pressure is on?

I learned a long time ago, as a guide, that most of the time my clients cast better in tough or high pressure situations when they’re relaxed, confident and keep their head (brain) out of the game. It’s really easy to think that the more difficult a fly fishing presentation is, the more we should be trying to focus and think about every detail of our cast during the execution. According to many neuroscientists and psychologists who’ve studied why professional athletes choke under pressure, most agree that thinking too much during a task, no matter how routine it may be, can actually decrease your chances for succeeding in high pressure situations. [Psychologist Sian Beilock of the University of Chicago calls it “paralysis by analysis.” Beilock, author of the book, “Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To,” contends that too much thinking at the wrong time can lead to “logjams in the brain” because they’re thinking too much and that ends up overriding their muscle memory.]

So the next time you’re confronted on the water with a difficult presentation and you feel the pressure weighing you down, take a second or two to take a deep breath, believe in yourself, and let your trained muscle memory do the work. If you go into a fly casting situation on the water doubting yourself and thinking, “I can’t make this cast, it’s too difficult” chances are you’re not going to make a successful presentation. However, if you throw away all that negativity and doubt, and instead believe in your fly casting skills, more times than not, you’ll pull off the cast without a hitch.

Keep it Reel,

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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7 thoughts on “Fly Casting Tip – Rely On Muscle Memory for Difficult Casts

  1. I like this. I dumped about 7 casts to multiple permit letting my brain get the better of me – rushing, thinking too much about the cast, wondering if i would ever have that opportunity again, etc.. Keep it simple, stupid! Believe in your training, Daniel-son….
    Thx for the post, KK!

  2. Truth!

    Last tarpon trip it was ice cream conditions one day with super, super clear water and I blew every shot imaginable. Even the easiest ones because I was so far in my head with the yips- if there was a way to fuck up my cast I did it. I could have had 100 shots in one day on casts I could normally make in my sleep if I hadn’t been thinking so much.

    The very next day we fished dirtier water and no time to think and was nailing difficult casts. Jumped 4 poon that day and leadered two of them.

  3. I was struggling with some arial mends while on the water. After spending some time practicing in the yard, I found that I could make those casts with less conscious effort. I can only chalk it up to muscle memory and less stress from overthinking / overcasting in the moment.

  4. I could not agree more.

    I used to shoot shotguns at clay targets a lot…I always shot unmounted, the way a shotgun is meant to be used, not pre-mounted like a rifle should be shot.

    Why? That’s how you hunt…you don’t waltz through the woods with the gun at your shoulder.

    …anyway…tens of thousands of repetitions made me a much better shot on game birds…because I didn’t think…I just shot.

    Fishing is the same, whether it’s a bait casting reel, a spincasting rig…or most importantly, throwing a fly line.

    When the weather isn’t nasty, I usually do casting practice every day after work, even if only for a few minutes.

    I’m building muscle memory…

  5. Just to add to the article, I always compared fly fishing to golfing. If you’re a golfer, you’ll understand, if not, it’ll make sense at any rate. When I use to play in golf tournaments I remembered one important point I saw and read from Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus and it has to do with tension in your hands. So to reiterate the article, relax, hold the club or rod loosely and watch how far the golf ball goes or in the case of fly fishing the fly. You’ll be surprised as I was, every time I think of that one point from the great golf masters decades ago.

  6. Good point, Kent! Whatever sport I might be playing–throwing darts, bowling, shotgun shooting (per our partner above), or even casting a line, getting your head out of the equation pays off. Transversely, when thinking–and worrying a little–about how well I perform, things get a little unraveled. I think it’s somewhat similar to the casting problems I had early on in my fly fishing career. When I tried to man-handle the cast, things fell apart, but when let the rod do the work, things just fell nicely into place.

  7. First time bonefishing, I couldn’t see the fish, and blew cast after cast. I finally hooked up and landed one, and all of a sudden I could see every moving shadow in the water.

    I soon saw what looked like a nice fish and instinctively fired off a long, brilliant cast. Strip set like a pro and the thing took off at about 35 knots before shooting two feet straight up and biting me off.

    As I stood there with my mouth hanging open the guide gave me a marvellously disgusted look and said “Why you throwin’ at that thing, boy?”

    My hunny-bunny laughed, and laughed, and laughed. She still laughs. And I still grin about it.

    In about 10 seconds that cuda taught me more about seeing fish, casting, instinct, and sheer joy of life than months of reading about saltwater fishing did.

    Practice as much and as well as you can- and then let go, and be in the moment. The fish, the rod, the water and your heart will tell you what to do.

    Or you’ll blow it, and she’ll laugh, and laugh, and laugh….

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