Engineers and Poets

What type of flycaster are you?

click for movie!In fly fishing, as in life, we commonly place positions at the ends of a continuum in our minds in order to understand them better and to decide in favor of one or another. Consequently on-going debates keep popping up: presentation/imitation, dry/nymph, push/pull, attractor/realisitc patterns, among others. We all fall somewhere on each of these continuums, but nobody ever embodies any of the stereotypes at the extremes. Knowing where you would like to be on the fly caster-type continuum is essential to being able to make progress, have fun and get the most out of this fascinating fly fishing skill. Now listen to these two stereotypes describe their conception of and their feelings about fly casting.

the engineers

The engineer type

“The only way you can master an art or a hobby without specific training in it is to start at a very young age.

In normal situations and when I fish the water, I don't usually pay any attention to how I cast. I just do it. But when presentation gets complicated because of wind, currents or overhanging branches and especially when casting to a good sized trout, it's different. I get wind knots, my leader lands all bunched up and the wind blows the line every which way. I can't present my fly without dragging and the first thing the trout sees is my line in the air. That's when I need the technical knowledge that tells me what I'm doing wrong and how I can correct it: rod too far back, too large a casting arc, change the angle, hold my wrist more rigid, less power, etc.

From my point of view, it's essential to know all the basic mechanics of casting. You have to know where problems can arise and the exact movements to overcome them.

Besides, you have to have learned and practiced all the different casts over and over and know exactly which circumstances call for each one.

You don't just "pick up" the various presentation casts through imitation or intuition. The fly fisherman that doesn't delve into casting techniques and practice all their movements and variations will always be a caster with very limited resources.

Moreover, if you want to teach others, it's absolutely indispensable to know how to talk about casting mechanics, posture, rod grip, angles, arcs and all the other technical aspects.

With a very good theoretical base, you can practice what you've learned and finish mastering it on you own. And the more you practice off the stream, the better you'll concentrate on the cast. Books and videos are very useful material for consolidating your skill on your own. It takes a lot of perseverance to become an expert caster and the only way is by studying and acquiring deep knowledge of the techniques.”

“Casting is 80% inspiration and feeling and 20% technical knowledge.”
An anonymous poet fly caster

the poet

The poet type

“Fly fishing and certainly casting are a lot more about art and feeling than about developing a specific technique based on physical principles. Ask a great painter or a musician to teach you to place your hands and your fingers, what angle to hold your brush at or how much pressure to apply to the violin strings with the bow. Once you fully grasp how to execute these movements and how not to do them, pick up the palette and a brush in front a canvas or draw the bow across the strings of a violin and see what happens.

One characteristic that all of today's great fly casters share, many of them instructors with their own schools, is that they are self-taught. They learned to cast by feel, letting their movements develop a natural rhythm. Because that rhythm is only valid for each individual's casting style.

The feel is what tells them that they're doing it right. They feel and hear the line in the air. They get to feel the weight and the force of the line pulling in one direction and in the other, signaling the length of the pauses. There will be days when their sensations are wrong, probably because they aren't feeling well. Then they know that their casting is off and only when they get their inner peace and tranquility back will their casts recover their former perfection.

There will be days when the fly caster and stream integrate seamlessly. The fly caster's wrist automatically executes the right turns and snaps to unconsciously make the line adapt to the most complicated configuration of currents in the stream.

Wind, vegetation, stones, water, trout... they're all one with the fisherman, who knows the best position for getting the most out of each element and make the most subtle and delicate presentations. And this knowledge comes from the feel.

Experts develop on lawn. Poets are forged in the stream. Fly caster poets are creative. Guided by their inspiration, they're capable of creating new cast combinations. Nameless and without technical descriptions, they're simply graceful.

Fly casting, like fly fishing, is in essence an individual and solitary experience. You can communicate and explain the concepts but that is just the tip of the iceberg. True fly caster education is not explained in technical terms or jargon. It consists in transmitting the feeling that fly casting requires and the genuine sensations that it provokes. Without them, it's impossible to understand the true essence of fly casting. It is not about creating experts; it is about developing a person's spirit.”

The fable of the poet fly caster

Strolling in a field one day, a toad and a centipede meet. The toad tells the centipede how much he admires him and how awed he is by the marvelous, perfect coordination of the movement of so many legs as the centipede glides along so gracefully. As they stroll along, the toad goes on expressing his admiration and wonder. The flattered centipede, not knowing what to say, starts thinking about how he actually does it and the more he tries to understand how he moves, the clumsier and slower he becomes. After a while, the centipede is stymied, comes to a complete halt, paralyzed, thinking how to coordinate his legs to keep walking. At this point, the toad gobbles him up.

Moral: “If you're a great fly caster and don't want to explain how you do it so that others can do it like you, no one will be able to stomach you.”

Dedicated to my first great instructor and mentor, Mel Krieger

Carlos Azpilicueta