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Ronan's report

Monday 20th February, 2012

The late Mel Krieger classified casters in two broad groups: "engineers" and "poets". The first group needs to know how things work in order to learn them; the other one relies more on feeling and doing those things than in any analytical approach.

Mel didn't make any qualitative distinction between the two groups; although he himself was a "poet" instructor I think that he never dismissed those more inclined to the engineering way of seeing things. In fact he saw both views as equally valuable and complementary.
When in the recent history of flycasting instruction this has changed I don't know for sure, but currently those who claim themselves as "poets" like to dismiss on a regular basis those of the "engineer" class.

To be honest I am able to differentiate very easily those instructors of the "engineer" kind: they just can explain, when necessary, casting issues by means of applied physics.
I have a hardest time, however, when it comes to distinguish those who consider themselves "poets". Of course you find them using examples and similes to explain casting mechanics, but I don't see why being an "engineer" prevents you from doing the same. There is, however, one key trait that makes "poets" as noticeable as a priest on top of a mound of lime: they proudly declare that concepts like "inertia" or "acceleration" are utterly unintelligible, whereas you can find tongue twisters like "kinaesthetic" appearing frequently in their conversation. The first time I confronted myself to the latter term I immediately run for the dictionary, and I must confess that I had to resort again to its help for a good number of times after that. I presume I am not alone on this. But I must confess also that I am from the "engineer" gang.

"That isn't what fly casting teaching is about", and "why a student would want to look into casting mechanics with such a depth?", are usual arguments against the way "engineers" address casting mechanics. "Poets" seem to like to think that we "engineers" start our class setting up a big chalkboard and straightaway filling it in with formulas.
Yes, "poets" use analogies with their students as a way to convey key concepts but, is that technique exclusive of them? Not really; to be honest I know a good bunch instructors of the "engineer" tribe that are very fond of using analogies when teaching, in fact they are better at it than their "pure poet" counterparts since their knowledge of the casting "whys" allow them to find a broader array of meaningful examples taken from everyday life. They are really good at poetry, sometimes much better.

What I don't get from the current poetical standpoint is why they have forgotten that Mel himself explained that there are students that belong in the "engineer" kind, and that they must be addressed in that way for the message to get across.
Maybe when a "poet" instructs some student to "let the rod do the work" he thinks that the student's face expression that follows is indicative of some kind of aesthetic pleasure, whereas, in truth, it could just be showing plain confusion: "what the heck does he want me to change in order to let the rod work for me?" The "engineers" I know address it also in a poetical but understandable way; they could say: "start slow and end fast gaining speed smoothly" (if that is the problem that he must correct, of course, but how do we know what the problem is just by that "let the rod do the work"?)
What puzzles me the most is how a pure poet can address an student of the engineer kind when he has committed himself to avoiding any contact with the "whys" of casting mechanics.

I always thought that "mastery" in general is mainly about the commitment to know as much as possible of your craft, and that is, exactly, my position about all of this. If that classifies me as part of the damned engineers so be it.
Of course I understand that everything has a limit, and that regarding the knowledge that we want to acquire everyone of us sets that limit at a different depth. Those who consider that looking at casting from a physics standpoint is going too far should take into account that there were others that firmly believed that casting was just moving a rod back and forth from 11 to 1, and that setting up an organisation to regulate casting instruction introducing complex concepts as the Five Essentials was totally useless. In fact most of today's fly fishers still believe, and practice, that philosophy. And they actually have a point: the most famous instructors that were in the origins of the fly casting teaching regulation organisations learnt themselves to cast by the poetical way of "all the way backward and all the way forward", or, abbreviated, "10 to 2".

I always enjoyed reading those more poetically talented approaches to teaching, I have learnt a lot from them. I don't get why poets feel upset when reading engineer's views of the same problems; they should also try to learn something from them, their engineer students (and not only them) would benefit from that change of attitude.
Anyway, if they don't care about technicalities the easiest solution is to quit reading, not to constantly criticise others for writing. Why they go on consuming the geeky stuff only to get upset is beyond my understanding, but I am only an "engineer" not a psychologist.


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