It's not that simple!

It's not that simple!

Gary Meyer | Tuesday, 8 August 2017

I have been teaching a free beginner’s class each week for over a dozen years now. I did some basic math to get an idea on how many of the curious I have introduced to fly fishing and the number is frightening. Hopefully, I have been more of a service than the opposite.

They say that if you want to learn something - try to teach it. I know for a fact that is true in my case. Besides helping me get some understanding on how to cast a fly rod, this teaching endeavor has opened my eyes to how other folks think and attempt to learn. Or choose not to. Sometimes folks seem like they do not want to think or learn. The human mind is a fascinating thing.

A few weeks back I had what looked to be a good class. It was an assortment of young to middle aged adults with the common breakdown: a few that were heading out west for a trout trip and others wanted to advance from spinning tackle and fish with fly rods, primarily in salt water. One threesome consisted of a young man, his fiancé, and another young woman, a friend of the fiancé. When I asked each student their goal, and their experience level, the young man replied that he had a few years of flyfishing experience. When I asked if I should consider him an intermediate level fly caster he winced as if I had insulted him. I was attempting to be generous, why else would he attend a free beginner class unless he was still learning?


The class progressed as usual. When we got to the point where each student had a rod and was attempting a simple PUALD the young man hustled his fiancé off to the far reaches of the casting area. I’ve seen it before. I gave the bulk of my attention to the others. The friend of the fiancé was actually doing quite well, especially for someone who had never touched a fly rod in her life. Watching from afar I could see that was not the case for her friend, despite the one-on-one tutelage from her husband-to-be and apparent mentor.


It is a touchy situation that I have learned to handle gently. I walked down and reminded the young lady of a few things we went over during the class, trying not to openly contradict her private tutor as he was hovering. Hoping to give her some alone time without either of us coaching I asked the young man to cast. Maybe I could help him with some minor adjustment?


He had an overly powerful cast and threw consistent tailing loops. I wish I could have demonstrated them so well when I took my MCI test! His casting stroke on the delivery cast started out well, but he aggressively shocked the rod at the end and slammed on the brakes, fist clenched on the cork, with the rod just past vertical. I pointed that out and he immediately challenged me that taking the rod tip lower would open the loop.  I so wanted to say, “Exactly! You need to open your loop to get back to tight – your loops are neither tight nor open, they are closed”. But I didn’t. I sometimes like to say provocative stuff like that to folks with a curious and open mind, but this was not the right guy.


Instead, I requested the rod and performed a series of easy casts with nice loops, casting smoothly and almost stopless, allowing the rod to finish near horizontal, balanced on my middle finger of my open hand. He refused to believe what he saw, telling me that you must “speed up and stop” to cast a fly rod well.


Personally, I think the terms “power snap” and “speed up and stop” are two of the most misunderstood yet commonly quoted ‘secrets’ of fly casting. I know who coined them. I read their books and their concepts helped me along the way on my path of learning to cast but I sure wish folks could get past them. As most who are reading this know, there is more to it.


In my first year of college chemistry I had to memorize all kinds of silly mnemonic devices to describe the structure of an atom. Electrons encircle the nucleus in specific shells with specific shapes and names, etc. I hate memorizing, but it was required and test grades depended upon it. Later, when I advanced to upper-level classes and started a course in the field of physical chemistry, in the first lecture the professor started with this: “All that stuff we made you memorize in freshman chemistry is bullshit. Forget it! This is really how an atom is… welcome to quantum mechanics”.


So I had to learn to unlearn the comfortable and move on from simplifications, and I have found that experience to be rather common, if not expected, any time one desires to become more than just familiar with any worthwhile endeavor.


The young man seemed to believe that flycasting is easy and can be distilled down to a few simple statements. It was not hard for me to guess which book(s) he had read. And I guess I cannot blame him for taking the word of a casting guru. He sure wasn’t the first person I have met who took a broad statement like “speed up and stop” at face value and did not suspect it to be nuanced.


Are the early pioneers guilty of over-selling their ideas that fly casting is simple? All you need to do is just buy their books and follow their easy steps?


What about you? Do you tell the complete novice that despite your long enchantment with fly fishing that you still do not completely understand everything, and that you read this blog called Sexyloops to see what others are thinking? Are you afraid that the truth might scare them off?


When questioned by a novice I have defaulted to replying that you can make fly casting or fly fishing as complicated as you want. That way I feel I have not actually stated whether it is simple or difficult. But I do know one thing…


It is not that simple.