In his recent letter to me (soon to be published on the Spey Pages) Ed Ward makes some excellent points about distance casting:
“As a group, fishermen have a universally notorious reputation for exaggeration, and it is very well deserved. 100’+ fishing casts are like 20 pound plus steelhead.. ... there are far, Far, FAR fewer in actual existence than one tends to hear about. Here are some of the reasons why-- - -
- Distances on the water are deceiving, especially the deeper that one is wading. Standing submerged waist high in the river makes an 85’ cast look like 100’.
- On casts exceeding 90’, line curvature, squiggles, and slack, can constitute 10 to 20 percent of the actual length of line that is thrown. In addition, if the belly of the flyline touches down on the water BEFORE the fly, then even more line can be subtracted from the true distance of the cast.
- Some people crave recognition, and in their quest to achieve it, will justify as right actions with less-than-honest credibility. Raising the rod and pulling back on it at the end of a cast to "slip" leftover line out onto the water, does not add to the distance of the cast.”
If we take a 120ft Spey line and 15ft leader and lay out the whole thing from the reel, many of us will say “I cast 135ft!” rather than “I cast the whole line!” which is a little different. I agree with Ed that the actual measured distance of a cast is going to be something less than the length of line thrown due to squiggles etc. In casting competitions competitors are casting along a measured line of some sort so an accurate measure of the actual distance (where the fly lands) can be made; when we’re out throwing lines around it’s definitely less accurate. I can't honestly say with any accuracy how far I can cast (never measured) but I do know how much line I can throw, which is to say that the actual distance (in keeping with Ed's observations) is probably less than my ego would like it to be.
Distance casting is great fun and can help you become a better caster at any range, but I still manage to hook most of my steelhead within 50ft of the beach (even on the Thompson). As someone much wiser than I has pointed out, “a 30ft cast to where the fish are is a lot better than a 70ft cast to where they aren’t!”
As far as consistency goes, most of the time I try to consistently cast a little farther than where I think the fish are likely to be, and I'm usually wrong about this more often than I'm right, which is pretty consistent I guess!