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

Visiting Yahoo today to check my emails, one of the headline articles titled “Why We Choke When All Is on the Line” caught my attention.

As I read the article, it reminded me of a lesson I learned a long time ago as a guide, which was, 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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11 thoughts on “Fly Casting Tip – Rely On Muscle Memory for Difficult Casts

  1. This is why every fly angler needs to take 15 minutes a few days a week and go cast their fly rod(s) in the backyard. As well as practicing the fundamentals, I enjoy getting out in the yard and just throwing some line out. For me it also serves a dual purpose…. My Lab loves to chase the little piece of yarn tied to the leader. Anyways, doing this in a relaxed setting you get to dial in your cast and experiment with what works, and what doesn’t work. That way when you do get on the water, it’s easier to rely on your muscle memory, and you won’t find yourself thinking about your cast as much, nor second guessing your abilities.
    Great post!

    • Justin,

      We all can benefit from regular casting practice in the yard. Also glad you pointed out all you need is 15 mins. Anymore and most of us just try to see how far we can cast and start developing bad habits.


  2. No truer words! If I think too much I fluff it.

    Classic example is casting to the mangroves, where accuracy is king. “Get in the groove and relax” and you’ll reduce the number of mangrove hook-ups!

  3. In my life, I found this fundamental concept to be true in sports, flying a helicopter in combat, shooting, and, of course, fly fishing. Some adequate casters can more quickly and accurately respond than distance competition casters when faced with a pod of tarpon coming at them. Just ask a tarpon guide. If the knees of the guy on the bow are turning to jelly upon seeing the torpedoes advancing toward the boat, it is likely the opportunity will be blown. Being a cool, confident customer is key when it comes down to driving in runs when the game is on the line, executing a forced landing, a shot at a fast bird, or a do or die cast.

    • Ralph,

      Its always great to hear your comments on G&G posts. I especially like your comment today. It paints a clear picture and shows how it applies for a wide range of things in life.


  4. Boy I totally agree with regular practice. I try to practice at least a couple of times a week, but I add an element of challenge. I have a small plastic ring about 3′ in diameter that I lay on the grass and cast from various distances to land the yarn fly in the ring. I also set a couple of lawn chairs about 3′ apart and practice casting between them to simulate casting into a tight spot.
    When well practiced I am much more inclined to just crank out the cast and not “think” to much when out on the water. I have to admit that if I stand there and “plan” my cast I am much more apt to screw it up. 🙂

  5. Here’s a practice question…do you always take the same rod out or do you work your way through your quiver when you practice…I have all trout rods, but some are (too) fast, some are slower, 1 wt through 6 wt…I tend to fish each of them at some point, should I practice with just my “favorite 5 wt” and be a specialist or should I work on being a generalist?

    BTW: Totally agree on the confidence/muscle memory/nearly unconscious skill of being “in the zone” vs. technique in every skill activity.

  6. Nice link to the article and fly fishing!

    I don’t live anywhere near a trout stream (The Netherlands for gawds sake!) yet every week to 10 days I have to grab a fly rod and do some casting. Just 5 minutes usually, just to feel the rhythm of casting, double haul and seeing nice tight loops.
    Helps me relax a bit.

    And yes, no matter which rod I grab, after 2-3 casts I let the action of the rod (some slow, some faster) and my muscle memory take over so eventually I don’t have to ‘think’ about my casting stroke.

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