Fly fishing and the art of deliberate practice

22 Jul 2020 | 3 minute read

Last week I bought a fly fishing starter kit. It's quite a neat kit for a bargain price containing just about everything needed to get started with fly fishing.

I'm not a fly fisher. However, my dad used to be an avid fly fisher and I practised a few times in our backyard as a kid. Good times! However, this was some 15 years ago, and I haven't used a fly fishing rod since.

Arguably, the most difficult part of getting started with fly fishing is the somewhat exquisite technique of casting with a fly fishing rod. For the non-fishermen readers out there, a "regular" casting rod relies on the weight of the bait (my northern pike baits weights about 50-75g) as the leverage to throw your bait great lengths.

However, this is not the case when casting with a fly, as the fly at the end of the fishing line is more or less weightless. Instead, the fishing line used during fly fishing is heavier and the weight of the line is used to throw the fly.

As fly fishing requires a completely different casting technique, and the knowledge from one technique to the other can't be transferred. It might even be easier to learn proper fly fishing casting technique if you haven't touched a fishing rod before, as you have no existing neural pathways that might mess things up.

Shallow focus photography of man fly fishing

This is when deliberate practise comes into play.

I watched some fly fishing casting technique videos on YouTube took notes. I made sure to break the casting technique down into concepts and to understand the why behind the technique. Thereafter, I grabbed my fishing rod and walked to the closest non-crowded lawn. I was ready to practice.

To learn to cast with a fly fishing rod, I decomposed major movements down into smaller movements and practised these smaller movements in isolation. As my skills and confidence in these movements increased, I started combining smaller movements. Ultimately, smaller movements were combined to greater movements.

I learnt to cast with a fly fishing rod.

And that's the magic of deliberate practice. As soon as you start breaking down large, intimidating and difficult concepts into smaller and more manageable concepts, you'll learn quickly.

As long as you give yourself the time to practice undisturbed for some hours, it's impossible not to learn.

All too often we try to master the unknown without breaking it down into manageable bits and pieces. All too often, we don't give ourself the time required, and the most favourable environment to learn.

Break things down. Give yourself time. Get rid of disturbances.

For learning, that's all it is.