I just finished counting the days until Opening Day in this neck of the woods, and realized that April will mark the fifth anniversary of my quick
descent assimilation into the fly fishing community. The years have flown by as this hobby uniformly crept into the fabric my existence, without any warning of how rewarding and frustrating it could be, and how much richer it would make my life.
While I’ll likely forever argue with those who say fly fishing is about being on the water, in beautiful places, striving for the prefect cast (Would you really be there if the fish weren’t?), I was reminded last weekend that it can be similarly gratifying to pass along the joy of the sport.
When club casting instructor Willy called me and asked if I could fill in as an assistant at the Fly Fishing Show, I felt some relief that my father was on the other line, lending legitimacy to delaying my answer. Perhaps it’s a lack of confidence or a high level of self-criticism, but despite assisting with the club’s novice fly fishing seminar for these five years and acquitting myself well enough on the water to present flies in a manner suitable enough to fool fish, I’ve never thought of myself capable of offering worthwhile advice on casting. But I’d been kept onboard as the “hooking and landing” instructor for nine consecutive seminars over those five years. Besides, when a Federation of Fly Fishers-Certified Casting Instructor calls you, it suggests a level of faith.
The weather leading up to Sunday was cold and wet. The next system was predicted to lay a thin layer of snow on the local hills, but it moved quickly; the skies and sun would shine upon us all day.I’d never been to the Fly Fishing Show for no other reason than lack of planning. Aisles were crowded with the requisite rod and reels in shiny colors that offered no additional functionality except to attract the eyes of anglers. One long row was inhabited by fly tiers doing what they do best. In between these booths, and others displaying gear, where thousands of flies for sale and lodges all touting trips of a lifetime.
Greeting me at the Federation booth were a few familiar faces, giving lessons in fly tying, offering casting lessons and talking up the Trout in the Classroom program. The job was simple. Meet and greet folks and offer free casting instruction. During the afternoon, Willy, Gary (who teaches the novice seminar with Willy) and I would do just that with a number of people. After all, free is a very good price.
I’ll admit to some trepidation at offering advice after a
checkered short five-year career in fly fishing. Sticking to the basics seemed good enough, particularly for folks who’d never casted a fly rod. The results were surprising. The nearly adult boy who wanted to fly fish with his dad was soon able to cast well enough to place the yarn fly close to, if not in, the target ring. The girlfriend of the guy who wisely understood his attempts to teach her to cast might make him single again, learned that making a backcast as if she were picking up the phone* allowed for nice loops and a great presentation.
We kept offering and giving lessons. My confidence rose. While Gary instructed a wife, I worked with the husband to successfully relearn the casting of a smaller 5 wt trout rod after years of chasing Dorado with a 9 wt. We swapped stories and techniques all the while.
The kids were the best. My day ended spending time with a girl who was probably all of 11 years old, who wanted to learn to cast so that she and her dad could take advantage of an offer from an aunt in Montana to get them out on some of the local rivers. This little girl’s focus, willingness to learn and lack of bad habits allowed for fast learning, only delayed by a break now and then to rest. By the end of our time together, she was casting to a target with deadly accuracy.
At the end of the day, it was clear that I did something to help these folks learn fly casting or improve their casting. Perhaps it was as simple as standing outside on a sunny day and offering small words of encouragement. Perhaps there’s more to it than that. Regardless of what it was that I had to offer, the thank yous, appreciation and smiles after each lesson were genuine. Despite being a volunteer, I was paid well.
*Think of picking up the receiver of a wall-mounted phone and stopping at your ear.