Carol Northcut | Wednesday, 9 November 2022

The slash pile was as big as a bus. Well, a VW bus. Bill, our experienced neighbor, said it wasn’t too big and we could add more. But we didn’t listen. We’d only had experience with very small slash piles, so we started a second one with the intention of adding to the first after the initial conflagration settled a bit. Dumb. Just dumb. Bill was right. We spent two hours moving sticks from our pile and launching them onto the flaming pile. Bill’s a good mentor.

I wish I’d had a casting mentor when I started fly fishing in 2005. It was clearly of game of trial and error for me, and I erred to the point of blowing out my right rotator cuff. I spent 13 years ingraining bad habits, habits that kept me stuck, until I found a good mentor. In 2015, before my rotator cuff surgery, I sought out an MCI instructor who has since fallen off the MCI map and moved onto other things. I didn’t work with him very long because life got in the way and he was expensive. I didn’t have the money. In 2016, after my rotator cuff surgery, I met my good mentor at a flyfishing show. He didn’t perform fancy demonstrations so much as explain “The Seven Deadly Sins of Fly Casting.” It was evident he knew his stuff and knew how to teach. I didn’t know it then, but he’d been instructing for some 20+ years and was a recently-minted MCI whose mentors included Jeff Wagner, Bruce Richards, and his former college roommate, Macauley Lord. I worked with him a bit until life got in the way again. When I started working with him seriously in September 2018, his work was cut out for him: Thirteen years of bad habits, I didn’t remember a lick of “conceptual physics” from college, and I didn’t know how to practice. There were times I felt like I wasn’t progressing. I’m sure he probably thought that too, but we trudged on.

We worked hard together and three years later I was very prepared for the CI Exam. Jeff Wagner commented to my mentor that it was the one of the best performances he’d seen from a female. I credited Jonathan who said, “You did the work.” I responded, “But I could’ve done a lot of hard work on the wrong things.” Without him, it would have been like building a train track in the wrong direction.

Some of us have a tendency to second guess our mentors, even though they have more experience. We think “Somehow, they just can’t be right about this.” Well sometimes the mentor isn’tright, but a good one will ponder the question, talk to his/hermentor(s), admit when wrong, and stand corrected. If he/she doesn’t, seek another experienced person’s opinion. I’ve done that often by surfing the Sexyloops Board, only to find out that 98% of the time, my mentor was right. It increased my confidence in him. In the meantime, it was good to read other perspectives. I got good information from Nick Moore on how to practice, and good information on physics from the Board (when I could understand it, LOL). Keep seeking until you find the answer conveyed in a way that you “get.” As I gradually work toward an MCI, I now know what to look for: An engaged instructor who stays abreast of teaching theories, keeps his own casting level high, and can explain things in a way I understand.

The takeaway, be sure you understand what your mentor is saying. Ask him/her to state it another way. If you still don’t get it, use the SL Board to ask questions. I’m always afraid of sounding/looking stupid and inept, but it’s all a part of the game. If you can’t be humble enough to ask for understanding, you won’t get any, nor will you be a good instructor or mentor.

You must unlearn what you have learned.” [Then,] “Pass on what you have learned.”

​​​​​​​​​​ -Yoda