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10/03/03 - Tipping over the elitist kayakers

Right, I've started this newsletter so many times now, in so many different ways, I've been in several minds about what to write, or even if I want to write it, which I don't, but I'm going to because in the incomprehensibleness that is my life, which for me means trying to decide whether to do what I believe I'm supposed to, or instead just doing whatever makes me happy, I still – naively perhaps –only allow myself to do what makes me happy if I believe I deserve it in the first place, which means that first and foremost I must always do what I think I should. Call me an idealist, but I actually believe that this is how life works, and not just my own, and it must be so for it to have any meaning, and in fact by believing this I reckon I've given it meaning.

So yeah, I'm about to go casting up Shit Creek again.

But before I do, Bruce Richards has confirmed (scientifically proven, no less) that he too completes his haul as the rod tip straightens and not at the butt stop.

Bruce writes: “Well, I spent a very interesting afternoon with Noel on Friday. We cast using the double haul analyzer and then spent considerable time dissecting the charts. We now have scientific proof that the haul DOES continue past the butt stop. The charts of my hauls showed clearly that the haul stops sometime between when the butt stops and the rod starts to rebound, which would mean that the haul stops at the same time the rod reaches rod straight position. I will get a copy of the chart from Noel and pass it on to you so you can see it, it is very interesting.”

If you have no idea what he's talking about, then read this newsletter, especially if you're an instructor, it's important to your understanding of flycasting.

You know I thought about going with the flow, and just getting on with it, and I am letting go, but my way of letting go is to give whatever it is a good shove first and if that means going against the grain then so be it. Apart from which if all you do is go with the flow then you may as well not be here in the first place. Which is partly why I get into so much trouble of course :)

Anyway I came under a bit of fire following last week's newsletter, which sparked a whole bunch of emails and discussions on the Board. So here is my position, once again, but this time more pointedly, because unlike most people up Shit Creek I do actually have a paddle.

What pissed me off about the EFFF exam, and I didn't say this last week, for obvious reasons, is that in my opinion, I was a more refined caster than the examiners, all of whom have been given their qualification without taking the test. In Holland I threw the tightest, longest, smoothest loops of anyone at the fair. And they knew this.

It's not a big paddle you understand, but I'm using it.

“Little Saxby's Farm, Michael Evans speaking”
“Michael: Paul Arden here, I'm looking to join the AAPGAI”
“Splendid. How good are you?”
How good am I??? Fuck, I don't know, what should I say to that?
“Pretty damn hot actually”
“Excellent. Go and see Henry Lowe and we'll see what he thinks”
“Right-O. Thanks!”
“Oh, and Paul?”
“Yes?”
“Do you know the secret handshake?”
“Of course”
“Excellent, looking forward to having you one of us

Günter Feuerstein goes to the FFF and says he wants to take the FFF into Europe, and they agree. But he changes the rules and shifts the goal posts; he makes the casting requirement harder, much harder. Why he does this exactly one can only guess, and what they think of this in the US one can only wonder, but I'll make a stab at the first bit, I mean I've gone this far so WTF.

I have a number of thoughts, 1 ego, but I'm prepared to give Günter the benefit of the doubt in this. In all of our email communications he seems like a nice guy, mind you that doesn't preclude the ego thing of course, but I'm not going to jump to conclusions, and he is one of the best Switch casters in the world, period.

2 By raising the standard he keeps the number of Master instructors to the minimum. Okay this I can go along with, Christ knows there's more than enough instructors in Europe already and a high standard is always a worthy thing in itself. Mind you there's only 60 (I think) Master FFF instructors in the US, so this is a serious move on the part of Günter.

However…

Quickly and to give the EFFF credit he dashes around Europe giving the qualification to all the best-known casters and instructors. But they haven't taken the test.

“Henry Lowe speaking, what can I do for you?”
“Yo Henry! Paul Arden here, travelling fish-dude, pretty damn hot, want to join the AAPGAI brothers”
“Jolly good, come over for a couple of lessons and we'll see what you can do”

So all of a sudden we have some truly excellent casters (and they really are) who have been passed on the nod. Let's look at the test. The thing that makes this test so challenging, is not the distances as such, although some are difficult, in particular the 18-metre roll cast is a bitch and right on the limits of what I find possible. But no, what makes the test such a challenge is the way it's conducted. It's three casts and you're out.

The examiners run through the list, you have three attempts to perform the required cast before moving on either immediately, if you're successful, or once you've had your three shots and you're not. It's impossible to get any sort of rhythm going – maybe that's the point of course. You don't teach at this stage, that comes later; you simply cast. If you don't pass the mark in your first three shots, and you've only failed one of the requirements by the end, you get a further three goes to achieve the target. If you miss out on two or more you're out.

I reckon I can pass the entire test one in three attempts, right now, given good conditions. With a lot of hard work I could possibly get it up to two in three, which was abut where I was in Holland (3-5 hrs practice per day). To make this the three out of three, which IMHO is what these exams are all about in the first place, I'd have to go through another level in casting ability. Believe me I want to go through another level (I'm trying!) and I reckon when I do I won't find many others up there, and certainly none I have seen so far, and I know a lot of casters, and that includes all the EFFF Masters I've met and all the AAPGAI.

I'm searching for the Holy Grail in flycasting; it may be another Mugwai Hunt, but just as in Mugwai Hunting, I reckon the discovery is in the searching.

Paddle, paddle, paddle...

Basically I think it's too tough. Don't get me wrong here, the test is possible, but only on a good day, and that's certainly not the point. This is not celebrity casting challenge; we are talking about an instructor's qualification. The EFFF casting requirement, I can't help thinking, is plainly daft. In the haste to launch the EFFF, and make it better than everything else, they unfortunately have missed the point. And, from a personal point of view, I find it quite incredible that they failed me on my casting ability, especially in the face of both consummate and daring skill ;)

Eskimo Roll... oh shit...

Anyway, I suppose in their favour they've asked me to retake, they said they thought I was an “excellent caster”. In which case, of course, I reckon that's enough. It's enough for the FFF Masters and it's enough for the AAPGAI. I just can't see the point anymore, when I first applied to take the exam I was motivated by two factors, 1 I wanted to meet like-minded people in the same profession (ha!), which is always cool, and 2 I wanted to break into the European demonstration circuit – you know to further Sexyloops and meet some Continental women.

2 has happened, and so I suppose 1 will follow by result. I sure hope so because I'm always looking for new friends of the angle, especially since I appear to be one of the few around with a paddle.

****

I'd been travelling the world for three years, mainly Down Under, and had acquired a taste for it. In fact even before this point I'd decided that all was going to do was go fishing, chase women and take the easy life – it's a spiritual thing – and that doing anything else was best avoided, so what better way than to become a qualified flycasting instructor? After all that's all they do.

When I first met Henry I'd been fishing for fifteen years and full time for the previous ten, or something like that. I figured that I knew what I was doing on the fishing side of things, and I thought I could cast, you know like everyone thinks they can cast. That is before they find out they can't.

Here was a guy in his late fifties (I don't actually know how old Henry is, no-one does) who could stick a fly way and beyond anything I'd thought possible and seemingly with no effort. He taught me to roll cast, taught me to double haul and got my head around teaching. This was the best caster I'd seen and a real expert.

Mind you, Henry is one of the best instructors on the planet.

Paddling downstream now...

My next encounter with the AAPGAI was when I took the STANIC, which was the then prequalification exam to taking the AAPGAI. I met Robert Gibson-Bevan, Donald Downs and Vic Knight and I was sold. I simply had to get this qualification; these were the best casters and instructors around. I found myself in the trade shortly after working for Guide Flyfishing, and as such I kept meeting more and more of these guys.

The AAPGAI directory is like the who's who of flyfishing in the UK and Ireland: Michael Evans, Charles Jardine, Simon Gawesworth, Derek Brown, Gary Coxon, Donald Downs, Robin Gow, Ally Gowans, Oliver Edwards, Eoin Fairgrieves, Rob Horsfall, Peter Lapsley, Ken Smith, the list goes on and on, but you get the point.

Here's the curious thing. The AAPGAI has a reputation of being elitist, you know in a snobby kind of way. Do you really think they'd have let *me* in if this was so? Or in fact more to the point, do you think I'd still be a member if it was? And look at Pete Sutton, they let him in too :)

Personally I'm always fighting discriminatory organisations, it's one of my motivations in life (like the Salmon and Trout Association for example, now those guys are elitist. They wear blazers and badges, and represent everything I think is wrong with UK fishing, well not everything exactly, but a hell of a lot of it. Flyfishing is not an elitist sport; it's only ever a stupid thing to do – how can that be elitist? Everyone has the right to be stupid sometimes, even people without money or sense. Disclaimer: I do actually have some personal problems with the STA, something to do with lack of respect, so my views are a bit off-balanced. Qualifier: Tim Gaunt-Baker, the STA field representative, comes under a bit of fire sometimes, personally I like the dude and reckon he always tries to do the right thing, in spite of not being able to :)

Goodness this is becoming political, and that's the problem in the UK at the moment, everyone is taking sides, starting arguments and missing the point. I suppose that's the problem with politics full stop. I'm trying not to get involved at the moment, because whenever I do I put my foot in it. I suppose that Sexyloops is some sort of card in all this, after all we've become the most prolific and best-known flycasting site in the world. This month we'll pass 40,000 uniques, which after AOL caching etc means that we can now legitimately say we have 80,000 monthly readers. Not much compared to some US sites perhaps, but the busiest in Europe, and we're starting to gather momentum… you know like a force. And more importantly it's who reads.

Of course you may all just be looking for porn...

Oh, one other thing, which I'd like to mention, a short time after passing the AAPGAI, I met Mel Krieger, who completely changed my stroke, teaching me to pull the flyrod. Later I took this “pulling technique” back to Henry Lowe, curious as to what he'd make of it. Henry immediately adapted to it, and is now a staunch puller. That says everything.



Currently I'm back in Te Anau, I have one week left before shooting back to the UK. I've had an amazing time in NZ this season, quite possibly the best ever in fact, and next week I'll be writing about this and not all this bollocks that I've been saving up. Am I pleased to be free of all *that* now :)

Next week: beards, bollocks, life on the edge, and a taste for Monteith's Black.

Cheers
Paul

PS. following last week's brilliant review of Jason Borger's Nature of Flycasting I'm planning on bringing in a truckload, let me know if you want a copy!

Essential Bush Skills

The start of any flytying good flytying sequence involves squirting superglue on your polyprops
Both alarm and curiousity set in when the polyprops start melting
Putting the lid back on the jar to stop *that* happening again
The flytying proper is underway
Notice the composure, that's true class that is
A difficult bit, you can tell that from the vacant expression
Essential bush skills part 17a; the third hand
Notice my hat here, it's quite important
Snip, snip
I'm not quite sure what I'm doing here, but it's cool
Trimming an oversize hackle that appears to have become trapped in the whip finnish manoevre
Delicate precision work, the hallmark of any good flytyer
The finished fly: A Lunn's Particular

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