Memoirs on Teaching Fly Casting

Memoirs on Teaching Fly Casting

The following memoirs on teaching fly casting will be followed up with the results from a recent study at Lee University after publication in the “The Loop”. This study yielded some interesting results and will no doubt bust a few myths when it is published this summer (2016). The following is observations that I have noticed over the years from our fly fishing schools that seem to get results in the shortest amount of time. This is in my mind what teaching fly casting entails every lesson. The client has paid their hard earned money for the lesson so I believe the instructor should be able to give them their best for that amount of time.


Testers from the study at Lee University on learning modes for fly casting. (L-R) Mac Brown, David Lambert, Eric Cook, Tom Rueping, Guy DeLoach, Brian DeLoach

Book Fly Casting

There is no doubt as many opinions out there how to do this task most efficiently. The number one mistake that I witness here in America is the instructor often times plays mechanic. Often times, the client makes a few foundation stroke casts (typically a false cast to and from with 35 feet of line) for a quick assessment. This is where the better instructors differentiate what is needed instantly after watching only a few. Below we shall list a few scenarios with very different outcomes in regards to what the student comes away learning.

Avoid the “Fault Fixer Mechanic” for Your Fly Casting Lesson

In the first example, let us assume during the assessment that there were many things to correct. This is very common on guide trips during peak tourist season. Perhaps there are tracking, pause, acceleration, and rod stop issues the student is performing. This makes up the entire basic cast! Most instructors begin fault picking which is what I refer to as playing mechanic. Actually, my friend Lee Cummings turned me on to calling them the mechanic years ago-brilliant idea!

Fault fixer instructors will rely often times by saying “watch me” or tactile instruction out of frustration (actually putting their hand on the students and making the cast for them). Tactile instruction for new casters has many downward spiral effects on the lesson overall. The lesson to the new student is pretty much a waste of their hard earned money with this type of approach.

Fly Casting Instruction & Lessons

Instructors teach the minds of their students how to become better casters. We do not teach inanimate objects such as the rod or line! In order to do this effectively, they have to connect with that person and their past experiences. What I have observed with folks who rave about tactile instruction with new students is that it quickly leads to a downward spiral of results.

It is my belief that it is degrading to the students’ psyche which is why the lesson becomes counterproductive. When the instructor plays mechanic it wastes valuable lesson time! Why keep the focus on the negatives during a fly casting lesson. Sports psychology never attains great results when the negative reinforcements pile up!

We have all witnessed an iconic instructor who whips the rod back and forth with a beginner student essentially making the cast for them. The crowd gives the typical “golf clap” and thinks the student learned something. Five minutes later that same student picks up a rod on the casting pond and they are back to flailing away random chaos trying to tame the fly line. The only reason it worked in the first place is that the “experienced instructor” made the cast for the student!

Past Experience Teaching Fly Casting Analogies

The audio word pictures can be powerful for the new student when it strikes a chord with their past experiences. It also gets them excited once this happens which leads to a positive experience for the student. When the student has many issues to fix I find it much more productive with time management for the lesson to bring it back to basics.

Teaching fly casting basics in less than ten minutes with descriptions that connect with the student. The student is excited because they get positive results right away. This approach only comes from experienced teachers because they use the default basic approach which is brevity as opposed to the inexperienced ones that go chasing faults because they want to “play the mechanic”. Playing the mechanic will always be poor management of time.

Students have many different levels of experience from other life skills. It is often a better approach to use the “imagine” approach for those lacking many experiences. For example, what if someone has never painted a ceiling overhead, flicked a brush, thrown a frisbee, and hammered a nail at eye level? These analogies usually do not connect to the student because it is foreign overall. Check out the fly casting terminology for expanding your casting skills.


Several of the fly casters from the 15-minute audio learners hit perfect Bull’s Eyes for accuracy 

Pantomiming the Fly Casting Stroke

The student needs to understand the “foundation stroke” which can be a very simplistic approach. Teaching fly casting to both of my boys with the use of pantomiming the basic stroke attained quick results. Pantomiming trains the motor skills of the entire basic cast when performed even before the rod is used. Once the myelin is developed the brain and muscles begin to develop consistency. The layman term for this is “muscle memory”. This is ironic because muscles only perform what the brain tells them to do.

Our goal should be to build on positives that get the basic foundation across quick! The use of visual aids with the audio feedback tends to be the quickest method to get these points across with the student. This basic understanding leads the student to go away from the lesson able to self-correct themselves.

The only place I have witnessed tactile teaching methods excel over the years is with advanced students. The student that already has made thousands of basic casts wants to learn a new presentation cast. If we use audio feedback, a demo for the visual, and a tactile then it can be positive. However, as pointed out above it is dangerous to use with new casters. Happy casting!