Casting 1,2,3,4,5

Engrams, natures little shortcuts.

For committed readers of this blog you will know that I have been intimately involved with fly fishing and in particular fly casting for some years. Indeed I have published a book on the subject “Learn to Fly Cast in a Weekend”. Which in its original format is out of print but which is equally well still available as an electronic book. https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/132809

There are numerous references in that book to the way that we learn things, we would love to imagine that it is all intellect and skill and such, but mostly it is just about practising, and perhaps more importantly practising correctly. How we learn to do stuff has become something of a fascination for me, not that I am in any way qualified to investigate it, just that it is of interest and it seems to me that much of it is actually the same as you were told as a child. The same way that you learned your times tables, or how to write or drive a car or cast a flyline.

The modern world of instant gratification would have you believe that there is a “quick fix” to everything, “lose your belly fat in five days”, “Speak another language in a week” etc but life suggests that isn’t the way to go. So why call a book “Learn to Fly-Cast in a Weekend”. Firstly because beginners actually can learn to do that, for the simple reason that they don’t have to “unlearn” anything.

Now it so happens that I have recently set about trying to learn something new, some years back I taught myself to touch type, it is going pretty well, whereas it started at about ten words a minute with a lot of mistakes it is now sitting closer to seventy words a minute with reasonable accuracy. How did I achieve that? By simply sitting down every day and bashing away on a keyboard with an electronic tutor making the most mind jangling noise each time I hit the wrong key. It is tremendously frustrating stuff, and equally very effective.

For some bizarre reason though I never did teach myself to use the number keys, which by default equally means the #%^)(*& and stuff that goes along with them. So I would have to look down at those keys each time, rather spoiling the effect.

It’s not unlike having to look down to pick up the line at the end of each cast, if you do that you will by now be aware that it will cost you some fish, because you weren’t ready.. bad habit.

So I decided it was time to put that matter straight and am busy bashing away once again, warning bells ringing in my ears as I try to train my muscles with new Engrams. Engrams are those highlighted and stored pathways between the brain and the nerves and muscles that provide, over time, shortcuts to actions. They are the things that allow you to change gear with your stick shift, put a cup to your lips without spilling coffee down your front or indeed hit the “P” when you want to on a keyboard. In time they may be the things that allow me to hit the 123456890 keys too, but those pathways are still in the baby stages and currently being laboriously hot wired into my nervous system through constant repetition.

Why discuss typing practise on a fishing blog? Well because the process is exactly the same if you are learning to cast a fly rod. Repetition works, it is the only thing that works, you simply cannot learn to fly cast properly without practising. More to the point practising the correct thing, (it is a sneaking little caveat to engrams, if you practise the wrong stuff you will get shortcuts to the wrong stuff.) A classic case of Garbage in Garbage out.

Now back to the typing, you see because I neglected to “do the numbers” at the same time as I did the rest of the keyboard, the numbers don’t have allocated shortcuts,(engrams) not only that but because I was looking down at them I was using any random finger that happened to be available at the time. So in fact they do have engrams attached to them, just the wrong ones and that is where a heap of the frustration comes from.

Now that I am trying to learn to do it properly I have a double problem, not only do I have to teach my little finger to reach to the far left to hit the “1” key, but I have to train my index finger to leave it alone. My index finger keeps sending messages back to my brain along the lines of “what happened? you used to let me do that, why can’t I do that anymore, and what’s so special about your pinky anyway, he never did any work for the last ten years”

The analogy with fly casting gets stronger, many of us get to cast well enough to catch a fish, in some places that doesn’t require a whole lot, and then we stop. We carry on fishing; we ingrain those bad habits and fix those erroneous engrams into our nervous systems. Even fly casting tutors have them in some instances and in the worst case scenarios they are so ingrained that the tutors will try to teach you the same thing.

Because I neglected to finish the whole course when I first set out to learn to type, I now have to go through the entire process again, not only that but I have to “unlearn” all those bad habits that have accumulated as a result of my neglect.

There is only one way around it, to sit down, make a concerted effort not to go back to what I was doing and go through the pain of getting it right. I have one advantage, I got it right before and I know that I can again; it is simply a case of repetitive practise.

Interestingly enough, you can’t really practise typing by just typing, you don’t apparently pay any price for your mistakes and you don’t get anything much by way of feedback. In fact most programs automatically correct your errors before you even notice them. The same applies, at least to my mind, to casting, you cannot practise casting when you are fishing. Firstly you will get away with things often enough not to notice and secondly you are not focused on the casting but on the fishing, much as when typing I am focused on the language not on the right keys.

If you are not happy with your casting (and don’t feel bad, by my estimates at least 80% of fly anglers aren’t really that happy with theirs) there is a solution, it is possibly slightly painful or if not actually painful, at least a tad uncomfortable and frustrating. But you can make a decision, as I have with my typing. You can either live with the way that it is or you can change it. It doesn’t take much, some understanding of what you are trying to achieve, the right practise exercises to follow and some diligence.

The Holy Grail at the other end though is that once you have mastered it you won’t ever have to look back. It is a choice, it is a choice that I would recommend that you make and if you want some help my book “Learn to Fly-Cast in a Weekend” provides 16 exercises to follow that will provide you with the framework for your practise.

To give you some hope have a look at this 1234567890 !@#$%^&*() 🙂 see and that after a week of practising, I promise that I didn’t even have to look. 🙂

Where I live the fishing season has recently opened in other parts it has just closed, in either case, it is the perfect time to sort out your casting, and I assure you that it really is well within your grasp, it just takes a bit of practise. Today I still have to focus on reaching that “6” because it isn’t quite ingrained yet, but I could probably hit the darned thing with a fly from twenty yards, because I have put in the work on that front..

People always tell me that “If you aren’t getting the results that you want you have to change the things that you do”.. that applies to fly casting as much as anything else, and as said, if you take the trouble to go through the process properly once, you will never have to do it again. It is what allows me to type this blog post in little more than 20 minutes and what will allow you to spend the rest of your life enjoying your fishing without worrying about your casting.. In the end that has to be worth the effort.

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