Muscle Memory

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.

Me, casting.




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  1. Great advice. Unfortunately easier said than done. Work, family and honey-do lists take precedent over fly casting in the back yard. I have several clients who only pick up a fly rod when they come to fish with me.

  2. When I was spearfishing for a living, if I entered the water without a gun in my hand I felt naked.
    Same with a fly rod. When you see water and you don’t miss the feel of a rod in your hand, you’re not throwning enough.

  3. Yeah, it is WAY easier said than done. Maybe easier to get to 60 hours than 10,000 though. If you fished 30 days a year for 7 hours, it would take 47 years to get to that 10K level. I’ve hit 60 though, many, many times over.

  4. Great comments by all, so far…

    I generally believe practice makes permanent. If that is true, find someone to teach how to cast properly and check yourself early and often…

    I have met flyfishers that than been fishing for 20+ years, at the rate of once a year, they remind me of some of Capt Mike’s sports.

    Like anything that is important, you work at it. I know I do!!!


    I am not sure about the number of hours that Dick Galland says it takes, but I will say that when I knock out a near perfect cast, the little flyfisher on my shoulder says, “Damn , dude! Why can’t you do that on every cast!!! And when I don’t, he cusses me, as I cuss my self.

    Good Post,


    The dude trying to silence the little flyfisher on my shoulder!!!

  5. I try to practice casting every day. Eventually your snide neighbor stops asking if you caught anything whilst practicing in your front yard.

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