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11/08/03 - Mastering the Masters

One of the interesting things about friends is that most people seem to think that friends are something they pick up in their school days and more or less keep throughout the rest of their lives. In my case, if that were true, life would really suck. I've changed countries so many times now, and been travelling for so long, that almost, if not completely all of my old school friends are out of touch.

Fortunately I have many more friends now than I ever had a school. Of course most of them are flyfishers and therefore pretty odd. In fact most of them are “professional” flyfishers. It's a very strange world.

The Net

Networking this small group of people and putting them in touch with each other across the Internet is, in my opinion, the single most exciting aspect of Sexyloops. I didn't plan it like that, of course; I don't plan anything in life.

For me, it's been fantastic to come to arguably the greatest meeting of flycasters in the US, and possibly the planet, and know so many of them beforehand, and the Internet has allowed me to do this.

And that's principally my motivation behind taking the FFF Masters. There are something like 60 or 70 Master instructors in the US and I figure that here's a group of people I can connect with. Sure I'm going to learn from the experience, I know that I'll become both a better flycaster and instructor just by attending any Conclave, and the Masters certification will certainly be good for Sexyloops, which are both very compelling reasons for going. But really I just want to meet some like-minded people and get to know some of them a little better.

I think it's how we are that's more important that what we do. But one often determines the other. And the fact that Bill Gammel didn't manage to hit the third floor sink I don't hold against him. It's probably all that beef he's been eating affecting his aim.

The Journey

I've looked hard at the FFF. I certainly didn't come here passively. One thing I quickly disagreed with was that statement that the “Masters is the end of the journey”; life is just one long lesson for me and I'm sure it was just a mistake (the statement, not life, although one has to wonder sometimes). In fact I would suggest that it's exactly that kind of thinking that prevents you getting there in the first place.

Another thing that concerned me was a comment that one had to “think inside the box” And that that was a “big tip”! I didn't find this, I'm pleased to relate. My Masters examination was given by four Board of Governors and took just over four hours, “just so there'll be no mistake, Paul”. It was a teaching exam. The US method of flycasting instruction is not a containment of thinking but rather a process of thinking. And I actually like it.

The Masters has many similarities to the AAPGAI, although with less emphasis on some of the backhand casting deliveries, but with considerably more emphasis on understanding mechanics and a different approach to fault explanation and rectification. And since it takes as long as it takes, and not one hour, as in the case of the AAPGAI, they really want to be sure, and that counts for much in my opinion.

Of particular interest to me was to see just how seriously the examiners take their role here. On Wednesday they failed all ten master examinees, which is fine, but what impressed me was the disappointment the examiners obviously felt and openly discussed. They genuinely wanted to pass these guys. And afterwards they spent a lot of their time with the candidates discussing why they had failed and how to improve. All of which is extremely commendable.

Sometimes they spent as long after the exam with them as they did with them during the exam. Some guys may slip through the net, but there won't be many.

Another way of thinking

Anyway, I see this as the start of a new direction for Sexyloops and so I'm only really going to dwell on one thing, and that is something that I liked very much. The Americans have a technique of taking a problem, analysing it, solving it and rebuilding it, that doesn't exist anywhere else. It is a way of thinking about a problem, which from the outside may not make a hell of a lot of sense, but after a while, once you've understood the thinking process behind it, is simplicity itself and the obvious way of doing things.

I actually like that structure. And I don't say that very often. And it's new for me too.

Take Bruce Richards' six point technique of fault correction. Tell the student what the loop did, explain what the rod tip did, explain what the hand/body did to create that. Fix the hand, fix the tip, fix the loop. Wonderful.

Take Bill Gammel's five essential elements, and how four of them (proper timing, proper application of power, proper casting arc, elimination of slack line) produce the first and most important rule of flycasting: the straight line path of the tip. The reason this is not a box, is because you have to understand each of them first, in order to join the dots.

I've been very impressed with both Bill and Bruce. I knew I would be.

Building a better loop

On a personal level, I've started to take things from different countries. I figure you go through life moulding yourself. That's why I want to go to Spain in a couple of weeks. The Spanish have something I want and it's an ability to connect to a wide spectrum of people. Here in America I've really learned something too. I've learned a crisper clearer method of analysis. It's a lot like putting on X-ray specs. And it's very smart.

One of the other important things for my trip, has been the study of 5-weight distance casting. As you probably know Jon Allen and I are quite possibly the only two people in the UK attempting to seriously cast the 5 weight into tomorrow. In the US there are probably half a dozen people or so attempting exactly the same thing. At least four of them have written about it on the Board.

Last week I talked and cast with both Ian Walker and Rick Hartman, and spent time talking to both the Tim and Steve Rajeff. Following almost twelve months of casting against an inchtape, both Jon and I have been wondering how far, or indeed if at all, we are off the pace.

The Blasters

Rick Hartman is probably the longest caster, according to Ian. And in our little shootouts managed to hook casts up that went a good five feet further than mine, possibly more. I have a video of his casting style. Rick casts exactly like Hywel Morgan, with the exception that Hywel steps forward from open stance to close stance mid-stroke. When I told this to Rick he became very excited and asked to see a video. When I'm back in the UK I'll put up short clips of both for comparison purposes.

Both the Rajeffs at sea level, and at ground level, are averaging 110 to 115 feet. Which will thrill Jon no end, since this puts us on the pace and not off it. The faster TCR rods undoubtedly suit Steve and Tim's explosive casting technique. I watched the start of a teaching presentation given by Tim where he compared the different strokes used for distance. I also watched one of Steve's demo's. I do like that punchy style, it makes tracking so much easier.

Steve only carries about 83 ft of line, whereas Rick is around, if not over, 90. But one of the big differences is altitude. Here at almost a mile high you can carry more line. Tim talked about the more open loops being stable, which is interesting, but I'd really like to see Rick's power combined with a 6-inch loop. That's what I'm aiming for anyway.

One other thing that has been a matter of speculation for both Jon and I has been whether Steve shoots line into the final backcast. Steve normally doesn't shoot line on his final backcast.

Free to fish

Anyway I'm now heading off for a week of fishing. The casting has been great fun, and when I arrived here in the US I was rusty. I had to bring it back together and quickly. I haven't got anything lined up for the next couple of months, but there are a couple of things I want to work on: accuracy, distance and backhand switch casts.

I've found people here who are just as obsessed by flycasting as I am, but right now I want to go fishing. Next season I'll spend the summer here, so there's plenty of time.

I'll be back in the UK on Sunday and I'll hang around for about a week before heading back across to Germany and then I'm off to Spain for a bit of saltfly action. So if you fancy a lesson you'd better drop me a line quick.

I wonder if those Montana fish are ready for Sexyloops…
Paul :)

Essential Bush Skills

The start of any flytying good flytying sequence involves squirting The Light of Apgai on your polyprops
Both alarm and curiousity set in when the polyprops start melting
Putting the lid back on the jar to stop *that* happening again
The flytying proper is underway
Notice the composure, that's true class that is
A difficult bit, you can tell that from the vacant expression
Essential bush skills: the third hand
Notice my hat here, it's quite daring
Snip, snip
I'm not quite sure what I'm doing here, but it's cool
Trimming an oversize hackle that appears to have become trapped in the whip finnish manoevre
Delicate precision work, the hallmark of any good flytyer
A sexy catch...

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