TOXIC GUIDE: Don’t instruct like him

TOXIC GUIDE: Don’t instruct like him

Carol Northcut | Wednesday, 15 March 2023

There are toxic people everywhere, and I’ve met them in fly fishing, but today I interacted with the worst I’ve ever met. Many women would refer to it as “toxic masculinity.” The experience was pretty negative, but it reminded me of mistakes to avoid as instructors.

I went to my local fly shop to get a couple of small things. The young man who works in the shop is great. There was also a middle-aged male guide in shop as well. We three were enjoying chatting about tying flies for a while. Then, I wanted to test the Scott Water rod, which they only had in a 7 wt. I consider myself an intermediate caster, and at times I wonder how I passed the CI exam (though I am trying diligently to improve). But this guide came out to the parking lot where I’m casting, uninvited, and tells me everything he thinks I’m doing wrong. Mistake number 1: Don’t offer unsolicited advice. The person may think you’re a jerk and ignore you, even if you have something valuable to offer.

The guide casts like, what I’ve heard referred to as, the typical Montana guide: the forward stroke has the elbow up and stopswith the back of the wrist raised higher than rod butt, as though pointing slightly downward. It’s as though they are trying to emulate the type of delayed rotation and stop that distance casters often use. Mistake number 2: Make sure you can properly demonstrate the cast you are trying to instruct the student to correct.

The guide asked me to show him my mend. He said I was doing it wrong. I suggested a better way was probably to do an aerial reach mend. He asked me to show him, and I properly demonstrated the one used in the CI exam. He said I was doingit wrong because I didn’t bring the rod tip back to center after the reach. He took the rod in a “give it to me” manner and demonstrated what many of us refer to as mending around a target. Mistake number 3: Don’t just take the rod from the student. Rather, ask if you might take the rod to demonstrate. I explained that I know the reach mend as reaching to the side 45 – 90 degrees immediately after the stop, laying it down in a straight line to the target. Realizing that it was probably a matter of a definitions and that both are reach mends, I mentioned that. He said that his way is the “real reach mend.” Mistake number 4. Agree upon some definition with the student. A particular cast could be called different things. A rose by any other name ….

Then he was throwing a giant open-loop and laying the line on the water before the fly (or it looked to me like that is what was happening). In an “Ah hah. I get it” tone of voice, I said “Oh, okay, you lay the line down on the water first.” He took umbrage to that and argued that he wasn’t and that it is the way to present a dry fly. Mistake number 5: Tell the student in advance what cast you are going to perform and when to use it. Additionally, realize that others may present a fly effectively with a different cast.

On the overhead cast, he told me that I need to stop high and then drift down. Well, I was stopping, but it was subtle. Then he told me that I should not drift the rod all the way down to the water, but to three feet above the water. He did not explain why. Mistake number 6. Ask the student why they are doing something. There might be a good reason. When telling a student to perform something, tell them why.

Back inside the shop and chatting, I mentioned that I don’t fish in winter because my fingers get so cold, red, throbbing that it’s excruciating. He said, “You think our hands and fingers don’t get cold?! We just get out there and suffer through it.” He actually said, “You’ve only learned by reading or watching others. You need to get out there and do it.” Mistake number 7. Don’t demean the student for the physical constraints they may have. Mistake number 8. Besides realizing that reading and watching is part of how we learn, remember that the student is trying to learn and improve but perhaps can’t be on the water daily.

Underlying all of this was a toxic better-than attitude. Mistake number 9. Remember that the student doesn’t have the casting or fishing experience you may have. If they did, they wouldn’t be seeking help. You are there for the student, not to boost your own ego.

I know enough about casting to recognize many of my failings. As a relatively new CI, I often suffer from imposter syndrome. This experience eroded what little self-confidence I have.  Mistake number 10: The student should walk away encouragedand with a strategy for improvement.