Been meaning to write a post on casting for a long while but well, I haven't. We have all sorts of grand plans here for casting videos, practice drills, etc., but frankly, we'd rather be fishing. The videos will be posted at some point. Maybe.
Anyway, I do want to write about something that has been taking up a lot of my practice time lately - mainly, casting with my non-dominant hand. I've been working hard on this these past few months and the payoffs have been pretty dang good. I practice all kinds of things - distance casting, curves and mends, accuracy, etc., but learning to cast with my left hand has made a bigger impact on my fishing than anything else. It just plain makes life easier on the water. If you're looking for a casting skill that will revolutionize the way you fish, then casting with your off-hand is it in my humble and accurate opinion.
I hang out on mountain streams a lot and can pretty much count on coming up against problems where it's tough to cast to a specific spot because of obstacles, angle of the cast, etc. Sure, I can sometimes wade into a different position, or figure out a way to pull it off with an off-shoulder cast, or even just skip that spot altogether and move to the next one. Or I can simply switch the rod to my left hand, doubling the number of casting angles at my disposal, and make the cast. Ninety-nine percent of the time switching hands solves the problem and opens up the lane I need for the cast.
And then there's wind. Last weekend on the carp flats, I had a strong, real-pain-in-the-arse wind coming in hard on my right side. Casting with my right hand wasn't an option unless I wanted to keep picking the fly out of the back of my neck. An off-shoulder cast wasn't feasible either because I had to keep the rod as far off vertical as possible to avoid spooking the carp milling around in front of my boat. No worries - I moved the rod over to my left hand. I was able to make side-arm casts from that side, keeping the rod low to the water and out of the carp's vision, and the wind was now blowing the fly away from me. Brought a nice carp to the net a few minutes later.
Not long ago I nearly killed myself getting into my canoe at the beginning of a trip. Lost my balance in a severe way, but managed to save the whole shebang by putting my hand out to catch myself and 80 lbs. of fully loaded boat. I'm not entirely sure what happened to my hand when I put it down since it was under water at the time, but when I brought it up I noticed that something wasn't quite right with my thumb. Not so much in the sense that it hurt much (that would come later), but rather in the sense that I could no longer move it. Also it was turning purple and swelling up like a dead cat in August. With what appeared to be a significant injury to my hand, I was naturally concerned - how was I going to cast and fish? No problem, I just became a lefty for that trip. Actually, I was a lefty for some time afterward as well.
So yeah, there are plenty of reasons learn to cast with your off-hand. Like I said, I've been working on this skill for the last year or so, and it would be hard to overstate the benefits I've seen. Below are three tips that I have found for shortening the learning curve:
1. Practice. A lot. Get out in the yard, put a bit of yarn on an old leader and go to work. Well no, it doesn't feel like work, but it will take some effort to get the hang of casting with your non-dominant hand. Go ahead and get used to the fact that you will really suck at it in the beginning, but it will come. One of my favorite practice techniques here is to begin false casting with my right hand and switch to my left hand mid-cast. I can really feel the difference between what my non-dominant and dominant hands are doing during the casting stroke. From there, it's fairly easy to dial the non-dominant hand into matching the action and movement of the dominant hand.
2. Commit to fishing with your non-dominant hand. It's one thing to practice in the yard, but actually fishing - that's a bit different. So you just have to do it. On most of my trips I take a chunk of time out of the day and fish only with my left hand. Also, when I get into a situation wherein an off-hand cast is the best choice, I force myself to make the cast with my left hand even if I'm likely to make a mess of it. I'm always fighting the temptation to use my dominant hand to make those casts just because it's more comfortable. Gotta keep making myself to use my off-hand until it just comes naturally.
3. Do more day to day activities with your non-dominant hand. Yeah, I know sounds kinda silly, but seriously, it works. Put your dominant hand in your pocket for the day and do everything with your off-hand. Brush your teeth, change the oil in your car, smack the cat, whatever - do it all with your off-hand.
Give this thing a try. I think that you'll find that if you become even moderately competent with your off-hand, you'll be able to handle just about any difficult casting situation that comes up on the water. Off-hand casting has changed my own fishing a great deal and I'm pretty sure it will do the same for you.