I am a professional flycasting instructor.
Not amateur. It's not a hobby. It is a profession. I charge people a lot of money to teach them to become better flycasters. So I make sure that I'm a good instructor. That's part of the responsibility.
To be a good instructor is not just about being a good caster, of course you must be a good caster, but you also require teaching skills – to be able to communicate your ideas concisely. You need the ability to diagnose casting faults and you must be able to reach out to a wide variety of people and make them feel comfortable and good about what they are trying to do.
That's not easy and there are lots of “people skills” involved there. Being critical of a pupil's failing attempts is the sign a poor instructor. That was a negative comment from me there, you'll notice. Bringing out self-belief in a pupil is the mark of a good instructor. There, turned it around - same point of view, different perspective.
Positive instructors make for good teaching.
As a professional it pisses me off that there are so many amateurs involved. There appears to be a belief that since “it's only flyfishing” that mediocrity is acceptable.
It is not.
It's hard to make a living as a flycasting instructor and most have to juggle it between two different professions; even if it's busy in the summer there's little work in the winter. But that doesn't excuse lower standards. Even if you're only part-time – and most of us are – it's important to maintain that professional standard. Which probably means that one has to be more talented, and not less.
In order to maintain a level of flycasting ability suitable for teaching purposes I practice an absolute minimum of one hour per day. That's not teaching time, that's me casting. Most weeks in the Northern Hemisphere I'll cast over 20 hours. Last week for example I was casting – not fishing – for close on thirty. So I'm really tuned up of course.
And believe me; I'm looking forward to later on in the week when I deliver it to the fish. I only got out once last week – there's something exciting about to happen on Sexyloops that's required my time – and although I was on top of the world, quite literally, I need to fish more than once each week (seven times more to be precise :).
Anyway, as well as casting practice it's important to teach. I do a lot of teaching here on Sexyloops, which is interesting, but I also have to get out there with rod-in-hand and teach in “real life students” as well. As an instructor I have to do this as often as possible. When I'm travelling I'll sometimes give short casting lessons for free – for my benefit as much, if not more, than the pupils.
It's essential to be a member of a professional body. I've been a member of AAPGAI for the last eight years, the Spanish CNL since last year, and most recently I became an FFF Master in the US. As an instructor you need to surround yourself with other instructors on a regular basis.
I was a STANIC member but returned that qualification three years ago. The STA had different objectives when setting up the STANIC and ended up putting numbers over ability and they're at it again through setting up yet another certification program. I'm happy to be one of their thorns; anyone who promotes mediocrity over professionalism has lost my respect.
Good these newsletters, aren't they?
Anyway I don't want to think about the STA. What I want to talk about, and the whole reason for this long introduction, is “the ones that slip through the net”. They exist in every profession: individuals who somehow become qualified – maybe they had a good day and got lucky – and yet later are discovered to be clearly not of sufficient ability. “Bad apples”.
I know they exist in the AAPGAI and I want rid of them. Bill Gammel tells me they exist in the FFF and he wants rid of them too. And he told me this before I passed, and so I know it's not me he's referring to. He's asking for a retesting program; every few years he wants everyone re-examined. Bill Gammel, in case you're from the UK and don't know about these things, is one of the most respected and influential instructors in the US. And that's despite coming from Texas.
"Making mistakes isn't a problem so long as we fix them afterwards; it's how we learn the stuff worth knowing.” – Ancient Flycasting Proverb
When the AAPGAI opened doors to STANIC a couple of years ago – politics, not love – I asked for a similar retesting program at our first combined AGM. I said: “Let's take this wonderful opportunity to re-examine everyone and get rid of the bad apples”, and I gave the STANIC members a look, which was to say, “and I really mean you guys”. Many people shook their heads, and there was a general sharp intake of breath, some people weren't quite sure what I'd said – I've got a funny accent sometimes, slightly Texan – and in the end it was deemed politically unworkable.
That's politics all over for you.
The other proposal knocking around is that of “continuing education”: the requirement that all instructors attend workshops on a regular basis to ensure that the association maintains a high standard of excellence. Privately I suggested the same thing to the AAPGAI last year when I said, “Look here Michael, Henry and Tony, let's give free lessons to all STANIC members – I'm offering them anyway – we'll bring them up to our standard; get some great publicity, make new friends and unite the Association. It's a brilliant idea, I'm not sure what happened; I'm not feeling myself today.”
But it wasn't a good idea – apparently – no one wants to be friends with the STANIC and they have to want to climb the ladder themselves because wanting to climb the ladder is a very important part of the journey. Henry said that. Or if he didn't he may have said something like it.
So here's my suggestion, for the AAPGAI, FFF and CNL: how about we initially give a provisional certification. The successful student must subsequently attend instructor workshops throughout the next twelve months, and be examined again at a later date before becoming fully qualified. Furthermore I suggest they are later assessed at a teaching weekend on their ability to instruct “real pupils” and not just examiners.
Each of the associations mentioned are in a position to run teaching weekends: invite the public along for a weekend of tuition, to be given by the provisional instructors – who in turn are assessed. Then we're in the position where we can make a long-term assessment of an instructor's ability, making sure they're good enough.
It's good isn't it?
Like Bill Gammel, I support a continual assessment program for the removal of crap instructors (Bill's words, or if Bill didn't say them, then he was thinking them). If an instructor's believed to be incompetent, “crap”, – or if we just don't like him – he could be warned, required to attend additional workshops and re-examined before having his waders filled with concrete.
It should be mandatory for all instructors to teach a minimum number of students each year and on a regular basis we could attend one another's teaching classes, both as students and assessors.
I'd like that and be really happy – so do it for me. I'm interested to know what you instructors who read this site think; I'm already quite excited by the prospect of being called a total bastard.
This week's going to be busy as hell. There will be some Tortuga excitement, advice on overhang and a brand new series. I may write something for the Flow; then again I may not. The stillwater fly series – “as rough as a badger hackle” – will continue; Ben's already discussed resigning and Paco's asked me to stop tying flies in his house – and when am I leaving by the way? Carlos and I'll be doing some funky Spanish flycasting and I'll be black bass fishing one of the most beautiful lakes on the planet. For carp.