Developing Skills and Techniques

Developing Skills and Techniques

Paul Arden | Saturday, 28 January 2023

As a coach I think there are three student levels of ability. Now it doesn’t have to be three; it’s a ladder and I’ve just put one rung in the middle. No doubt there are many more steps in-between. I’ve just painted this particular one bright yellow. There are also steps above the top rung – hmmm. Anyway this is really just a teaching aid that I use myself.

When someone first starts flycasting it’s all new. This is ground level. Here lessons are focussed primarily on learning new motor skills. It’s about moving the rod to shape loops, learning a wide variety of movements to make this happen and learning how these movements control the loop.

Mark (Stoats) on the Board makes an excellent point that traditional flycasting methods of teaching the PUALD, for example, do a very poor job of this and I fully agree. Far better is Lee’s Triangle Method, Joan’s circles-8s-straights, Brian Henderson’s flicking the loop roll cast, Graeme’s wiggle waves, First Gear, Minimum Power, etc etc. Structured but nicely unstructured.

Are we worried about amazing form and action when someone first begins? I’m not. It always looks forced and unnatural when a caster is forced to cast precisely in a certain manner. But more worryingly, I think this sort of formal constraint actually inhibits the development of the key motor skills.

I imagine it as a child learning to paint. They scribble a mess that looks like a dog’s breakfast and then tell you it’s you.

Once all these key motor skills are in place, including the double haul, which can take years by the way, then you have a tidy caster. They have loop control. They can throw a decent line. Maybe 70-80’ or something like that. It’s all OK. It’s possible to become an instructor purely by honing these key motor skills and many do, myself included. We have well and truly passed the yellow rung now. The yellow rung means that the key motor skills are now naturally occurring and the equivalent basic instructor level has them well and truly honed in.

But what about above this? Most of my students have already learned the key motor skills. Given enough time we (usually) figure them out for ourselves anyway. Of course it’s better to get a lesson early on which might help. Depending on what that lesson is I suppose. The question is where do we go from here? (Assuming that we want to).

I believe at this point it’s principally about developing how the body moves. At the bottom end of the ladder we are learning to manipulate the rod to form loops. At some point, if we want to continue to the highest levels, then it becomes about learning efficiency, control, smoothness, a high degree of coordination over how the body itself moves. Not necessarily by thinking about the body by the way, although it’s difficult to completely ignore it. What we are doing is getting rid of inefficient movement, movement that is driven by weaker muscles and developing sound technique, utilising the most appropriate body parts in a chosen sequence for the task at hand. This is the difference between Steve Rajeff for example and your average instructor. Your average instructor can cast loops but Steve has far better control over them because everything he does with his body is impacting the loop in a highly efficient and effective way.

When someone has learned the key motor skills and has learned efficient and effective sequential body movements then we have a top level caster. I don’t think of this level as competition level incidentally – although it certainly includes high level competition casters and many of the things I teach have undoubtedly come from learning and teaching competition efficiency – rather, I simply see this level as the higher flycasting level. I call it “advanced level”, which surprises people but since I’m in this level myself and don’t wish to refer to myself as master, elite, Jedi, guru and instead prefer to consider myself to be “advanced” (“bastard” will also do fine!) I have chosen to call it advanced. The problem is that this means many instructors are Intermediate level on my scale. Sorry about that.

Does it really matter in the scheme of things? Well it certainly does to those who want to learn to be the best they can be.  I know it does to me. I’ve always tried to be the best flycaster, best fly fisherman, worst flytyer I can be. And once you’ve worked out how to throw and control a loop, the thing that makes it go further or faster or straighter, is what our body does to move the rod to move the line.

If you are getting tired after a day of casting then you undoubtedly have poor sequential movement – many anglers for example cast by trying to force the rod by extending forcefully from the elbow. Sure you can throw loops this way, decent ones too, but it’s hard work. Much harder say than rotating from the shoulder. Both work, but I know which one I’ll be doing if I’m fishing tomorrow as well, which I will be of course.

The question then becomes at what level do you introduce this stuff? If we (let’s say we being competition level casting coaches) know that certain body movements are more efficient, less tiring, cast straighter and so on, should we teach them early on?

I think the answer to this is perhaps a rather surprising mostly no. As I wrote earlier, containing all movement into high efficiency doesn’t allow for much variation. Making big scribbles with the black crayon is important in the child’s learning process. However I do see advantages in dropping in features that are going to help later on.

Why not for example have the caster experiment, when appropriate, with utilising his shoulder? Or teach distance by having the caster rotate his torso so that the hand travels through his original shoulder position on the backcast, instead of around? I’m not going to lose much sleep over these things when someone is learning to shape loops. I know from experience that focusing on them heavily at an early learning stage is absolutely the wrong approach and just puts another hurdle in the learning path. But making a few prods in the right direction at appropriate moments can be beneficial long term.

So there you go. The world according to Paul Arden. Quite a few instructors will disagree with all of the above of course. But I would ask them the question: if you are throwing 75’ now what would you need to change to throw 115’? If you are hitting 35 points in accuracy, what would you need to change to hit 60? If your max carry is 65’ what would you change to carry 85’? If you can take a shot to a moving target at a maximum 50’ into a headwind, what would you change to be able to take this shot at 80’? For me the answer to all of these is not better loop control, for me the answer is more effective body movement.

And on that bright note I’m going fishing!

Cheers, Paul

Todays POD a very nice tracker image created by Graeme. I was hoping to post a Snakehead. It’s coming!