When the weather turns and you feel it's too cold to get on the water, it's time to work on your casting .The exercise will help warm you as you hone your casting skills for the bass spawn [that happens in lower Alabama in late January]

A few pointers will help you get the most out of your practice sessions.

First, always practice with the gear you intend to fish with. Use a “practice” fly made of a material you can easily see. I like fluorescent yellow nylon, used as a catfish line and available in sporting goods stores in a spool you will never use up.

Next, always practice with a purpose. This sounds idiotic but so many of us go out and flail about with our fly rods jumping from one task to another. Make out a a practice schedule like your work-out sheet so there is a “method to your madness. Start with the basics. Clean your line and dress it. Any good silicone will do. I like Whizz Lube, it makes the line shot like mad. A 7-1/2 foot tapered leader to 12 or 15 lbs. works nicely with your nylon practice fly.

Now for the routine. Ask yourself “What are my strengths and weaknesses ?” If you have trouble answering this question, get some help from a certified casting instructor who can observe, analyze, and help you work on your deficiencies. Money well spent prior to making that summer trip out west. Specifically with regards to practice routines, begin with the foundation of fly fishing, casting loops. Start with 30ft. of line casting slowly watching your forward and back loops. Make sure you wait for the loops to unroll before preceding with the next stroke. Try and imagine your rod tip moving along a straight line during your casting stroke. It will ensure you cast a tighter and more efficient loop. In addition, make sure you smoothly accelerate your casts and end with a definitive stop.

By following the previous suggestions you have now formed the foundation of the casting essentials. Gradually add a foot or two to the line you are casting until you get to a point where your cast falls apart. Back down and work back up adding a bit more line each practice. Soon you will achieve the distance you want. Fifteen minutes 3 or 4 times a week will keep you sharp until your next trip. Other practice tips and drills will follow.

Tom Dempsey, certified casting instructor.