Does it Matter How Far You Can Fly Cast?
What's one of the first things many people do when they cast a new fly rod?
While the casts may start off short to moderate in length, often times they ultimately grow longer and longer until it's an all-out distance challenge. Ever been to IFTD or a similar fly fishing show where they have those casting ponds set up? Chances are you'll see a lot of those folks trying to max out their casts time and time again. There's nothing wrong with that...I've often been one of them!
Being consistent at long-distance fly casting is a great skill to have, but it's often not used while actually fishing. Those 100-foot-plus casts may look super cool, however most fish are hooked at much shorter range. Despite this, I would never say avoid practicing those distance casts. The more tools you have the better angler you'll be, and long presentations might be needed in certain situations like, say, saltwater or steelhead fishing. With that said, in my very humble opinion, the most emphasis shouldn't be placed on sheer distance all of the time, but rather on accuracy.
Generally speaking, accuracy often catches more fish.
Considering that most fly-caught fish are hooked at short to modest distances, it only makes sense that fly placement is more important than sheer distance. Whether it be casting hoppers to brown trout along an undercut bank, sight-fishing for bonefish, or tossing largemouth bass poppers into weed pockets, having the ability to present the fly in a very specific zone can be mandatory.
When I was younger, I spent far too much of my practice time trying to cast into the next zip code. After years of fly fishing in salt and freshwater, I now can't remember any fish I've hooked more than maybe 80 feet away, and that's pushing it. The vast majority of my hookups have been at a range somewhere between roughly 15 and 50 feet. Keep in mind, this is with standard single-hand rods.
After my younger years, I've since moved on from the long-distance drills and started focusing much more on being both efficient and accurate. Don't get me wrong, I still enjoy trying to push the limits when either fun casting or reviewing a rod for this site, but becoming a more efficient and accurate fly caster has definitely proven to be way more useful.
Be well-rounded at fly casting.
Practicing at various distances and with various styles (backhanded, changing directions, etc) will help immensely with the different scenarios you'll encounter out on the water, but my advice is to really hammer on getting proficient at that short to medium range accuracy. Even if you've been fly fishing for many years like I have, a few minutes of practice casting from time to time always helps keep the skills fresh!