Many, many moons ago I was a guide for a single season up in Northern California at Clearwater House on Hat Creek (now Clearwater Lodge on the Pit River). As part of that experience there were fly fishing schools we put on occasionally and I clearly recall the then owner, Dick Galland, talking about casting and muscle memory. He said it take 60 hours of doing something before it is firmly established in your muscle memory at which point the action becomes second nature, easier. Another figure you may have heard is that it takes 10,000 hours of doing something to become expert at it.
I don’t stand a chance of being expert by that yardstick. “Good…” now “good” seems a decent target to hit.
The trick is that muscle memory does not judge if you are casting well or poorly, so just as muscle memory can help you cast with more ease, it may not actually improve your cast, ya know, unless you are casting correctly.
When you repeat mistakes again and again, you build a muscle memory with those mistakes. That makes those mistakes even harder to overcome later.
There is a flow, a feel to the saltwater cast, the double haul, that looks effortless if the rod is in the right hands. We’ve all see those casters who have an ease and grace to their cast. They spend a tenth the amount of energy and get twice the results. They’ve been doing that for a long time, their bodies do it automatically. The action has been cached in the very fiber of their beings, recalled without thought.
If you only cast when you have a fish in front of you, the odds of you ever achieving proficiency are almost nil. To be able to pull out the big cast when you need it I would wager the angler who has to actually think about the cast is the one who will fail more times than not. It is the angler who can tap into the body’s internal memory banks, who can automate the cast based on hundreds and thousands of such casts in the past who will hit the target, and by hitting the target will get the grab, feel the tug, hear the reel scream, cradle the hefty fish and watch it disappear back into watery oblivion.
So, go practice. Practice without fish in front of you. Get to a casting pond or an empty field. Cast and cast and cast and try to have those casts be as well constructed as possible. Get an instructor. Get a friend who casts better than you do. Record your casting and play it back and see what you actually look like. Correct, amend, improve. Cast in the wind. Cast over your off shoulder. Lay out your back cast. Cast and cast some more.
The guide will say Bonefish, 70′, 1:00 and you will spring into action without thinking and everything will lay out perfectly because you’ve done this a thousand times before.