practicing to very small targets
until a few years ago i was a keen archer and although i had to stop due to a shoulder injury and its consequent surgery, there’s a few things i’ve brought over to my fly casting world that have helped a lot in getting better and more consistent fly placement results.
whether we’re shooting arrows, throwing darts, balls or rocks or fly lines, there’s one constant we need to strive for or we might as well be blowing hot air and that’s accuracy because if we can’t get our flies to the fish, we’re not really fishing. productive and consistent fly casting isn’t just about waving our arms, we have this wonderful mushy thing called a brain. it’s kinda hard to forget it at home and it’s always with us so, let’s put it to good use.
hopefully some of these ideas will help you get your flies where you want them to go.
the Invisible Target-
right in the middle of the yellow 10 point zone of FITA targets there’s a teeny-tiny cross that’s used to separate match finalists. even if the two archers get all their arrows in the 10 point zone, the arrow(s) closest to the cross gets the win. now, where this becomes interesting is this cross is impossible to see with the naked eye at 70m (229.65 ft) but in order to hit it or get very close to the cross the archer needs to envision it, see it with her/his ‘inner eye’ and to be really accurate in fly casting it really helps to do the same.
archery targets are angled to be in the same plane as the incoming trajectory of the arrows, the whole target is in good view of the archer but when fishing we’re faced with a different set of problems regarding perspective, target acquisition and target placement. contrary to FITA style archery we don’t have known and precisely marked distances and we’re casting to a horizontal plane target.
we rarely have a fixed target point to concentrate on, specially in moving water. we very often need to cast our flies above the water to enable them to land gently and not splash and spook the fish. even if we’re casting to a sighted fish, we’ll almost always cast somewhere away from the fish so that our fly will drift towards it or in the case of induced takes, have time to settle before being pulled in front of the fish. there are other variables like induced slack for specific drift qualities which is the most difficult accuracy-wise but for the moment let’s just concentrate on a standard straight line/leader presentation.
back to archery targets- one of the first things we learn when starting off is to not shoot for the whole target but for a very specific point within the target: it’s centre. (shooting for the whole target is very common among beginners)
when we shoot for the target we’re not focusing on a specific area and even if the archer has good form they’ll be lucky to place an arrow anywhere inside it. as soon as we train our focusing capabilities (i refer to it as ‘critical focus’) we start getting our arrows grouped towards the centre and get better scores. later on, when we learn to abstract the whole target and even the colours (in this case the yellow) and focus exclusively on the unseen-yet-known centre cross our arrows seem to magically and consistently get closer and closer to it.
of course there’s no magic involved, as predators our bodies are made to be most efficient in acquiring targets that are in front of us. our major acquiring/hunting senses: hearing, smell and in our case the most important, vision, are all geared to what’s in front of us. precise target acquisition: distance assessment, angle of projectile trajectory, etc first start with our eyes and to be very precise we need to focus on very small areas and in fly fishing, what’s maybe the oddest form of projectile throwing, we very often need to cast our flies precisely to an area that is not our target. just as with the little cross, to place the fly precisely we need to abstract everything that is not the very small target we are aiming at. this can be a challenge when there are distractions such as the targeted fish, peer pressure, obstacles, mooing cows, branches etc, etc, etc.
to regularly and predictably reach our target we need to be aware of and keep all of those distractions in mind but for a few seconds, keep them in the background and favour only the very small target zone until the fly has landed.
just as with the little cross, we’ll need to envision this target area and critically focus on the most minute area we can actually see or imagine where we want our fly to go.
on rivers we can sometimes aim for a bubble or something else floating downstream but most often this target area will be (if we’re lucky enough to have something to lock our vision on) something way beyond but in the same eye/target plane: the tip of a branch, a flower, a stone in the water, a far away tree top or cloud. the possibilities are endless and innumerable but there’s almost always something there, we just need to look for them.
and then sometimes there’s nothing at all to focus on and this is where the little cross and using our imagination comes in. we’ll need to make up/imagine the little cross in our mind.
just as with the arm-waving part of fly casting, teaching the brain to work in a different manner takes some practice and a little time but lucky for us, this time there’s no risk of sore joints, muscles, back pains or cramps.