What skill level have you acquired?

What skill level have you acquired?

Nick Moore | Thursday, 25 June 2020

“If you don’t know where the fish lie, but can cast to cover the water with finesse, you are likely to catch fish. If you know where they lie but can neither reach them nor present the fly naturally, you are not even in the game.” (Joan Wulff)

Last time I talked to you about the importance of effective practice in relation to tracking. This time, we are going to look at the concept of practice from my perspective as a pianist. I think if anglers knew ‘how’ and ‘what’ to practice, we would see more fly lines being thrown around in our local parks.

Just like any skill, there are 5 levels of acquisition;


  • Novice
  • Advanced Beginner
  • Competent
  • Proficient
  • Expert

This is called the ‘Dreyfus Model’ and people develop different skill levels through effective practice and education from teachers. Even expert casters need to keep their skills up, so you absolutely have to! The model I have chosen has been slightly adapted from the original by the Institute of Conservation.

I believe most anglers are in the competent stage of the Dreyfus Model;


  • Good working and background knowledge of area of practice
  • Fit for purpose, though may lack refinement
  • Able to achieve most tasks using own judgement
  • Sees actions at least partly in terms of longer-term goals


When I was learning and practicing a new piece for a concert, I would first warm up with a piece that I was very familiar with (Bach’s Prelude and Fugue No.2, from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1). This exercise had two purposes, warming up the muscles to prevent injury, as well as allowing me to enter the correct mind-set for meaningful practice. When the warm up exercise goes well, you feel great about your ability, and as a result you want to practice more! I then moved onto the piece. If I hit a snag, I would stop and identify the problematic bar and work on that section VERY SLOWLY with the hands separated. When I could play this accurately and correctly, I would play with both hands together, still making sure it is technically correct. I would then start to gradually increase the tempo to the composer’s specification, and work this fixed bar into the piece in stages to ensure continuity.


After a reasonable amount of correct practice, I would have some fun with some jazz improvisation and aim to learn something new with every session.


We start to see a pattern emerge from my practice schedule, and it can be adapted to casting;


  1. Warm up exercises
  2. Cast until you hit a snag (a problem)
  3. Work on this problem in isolation, very slowly and accurately 
  4. Work it back into the whole cast to ensure continuity 
  5. End with a fun casting activity


One of the keys to improving casting is to study the shape of the loop. Before we start practicing, we need to make a schedule with realistic attainable goals. One of the main barriers of good progress is a lack of motivation and practice, and this is true for any skill. The practice schedule should have a beginning, middle and end. Make sure that you keep it short, let’s say half an hour with a short 5-minute break in between. This will keep you focused. 


I will now give you some of the benefits of learning to cast well, and they are mostly transferable skills that you can use in everyday life;


  • Excellent hand eye coordination
  • Fine motor skill control
  • Merging of cognitive and practical skills
  • Increased confidence
  • Increased accuracy
  • Increased distance
  • Less chance of fatigue due to efficiency
  • More fish!


Let’s say that you decide that your goal is to throw tighter loops. Even if you improve them slightly, you have still achieved your goal. It is realistic and attainable! After giving you some great reasons to improve, we can start to move onto the next step. Here are some great warm up exercises for you to try;


  • Bill Gammel’s 1 foot at a time drill
  • Joan Wulff’s circles 8’s and straights


For Bills 1’ at a time drill, start off with a rod length of fly line including the leader outside the rod tip. For this exercise you need to make the loop stall at the needle knot (minimum force). Cast as gently as you can and ‘squeeze to a stop’ at the end of the back and forward cast, and relax your hand immediately afterwards. After you have become proficient with one rod length of line, add 1 foot and repeat the exercise. Continue until the whole head of the fly line is outside the tip.

Joan Wulff’s circles 8’s and straights can be found here;




This next part is crucial, it is the ability to self-critique and analyse your own cast. Alternatively, you could join the board for advice, or visit an instructor. An excellent approach to achieve this is to use something called the ‘6 step method’ invented by Bruce Richards. You first need to analyse the cause of the problem from ‘top to bottom’ and cure the fault from ‘bottom to top’. The cause of the problem is identified by looking at the;


  • Line
  • Rod
  • Body


The cure is the same as above, but we reverse the steps;


  • Body
  • Rod
  • Line


Here is an example;

Line: You are making wide loops, and you want to reduce the gap between the top and bottom legs of the loop to make them tighter.


Rod: The rod tip has to travel in a straight line to make narrow loops. Using an arc that is too large for the bend in the rod causes wide loops. We have to match the arc to the bend in the rod /. Have a look at Bill Gammel’s 5 essentials explained by Paul for more information;




Body: Let’s say that you are bending your wrist far too much, and this causes the rod to follow the roof of an igloo.


The cure aspect


Body: Don’t bend your wrist so much


Rod: This causes the rod tip to travel on a straighter path


Line: Much tighter loop!


Use Bill’s 1 foot at a time drill to practice matching the arc to the bend in the rod, this must be repeated many times to overwrite the incorrect movement, but it will be well worth it in the end! Another exercise is to use Lee’s triangle method, which will dramatically improve your loops.


After this, we can play around with casting! Try setting up some balloons in the garden, on the ground, on trees etc and have a ‘Clint Eastwood’ style shootout (make sure you dispose of these properly when you have finished!). How fast can you hit all the balloons with the piece of wool on the end of your leader? You could also set up some bottles and have a go at knocking the lids off, you could also throw down some targets and get creative with placements!


To finish off, a good practice session involves dependant (with an instructor) or independent learning, and this includes;


  • Structure
  • Diagnosis of faults
  • Correcting faults and reinforcing correct skills
  • Fun activities 


Don’t forget that casting is fun! Aim to learn something new on every outing, as this will help to keep you motivated. 


All the best






ICON. PACR Professional Standards PACR is the professional practice assessment for conservation professionals wishing to gain accredited status. Available: https://icon.org.uk/system/files/pacr_professional_standards_2.pdf. Last accessed 17th June 2020