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Mel Krieger Ben Blackwell

 

Mel Krieger © Peer Doering Arjes www.springforelle.de

 

Mel Krieger © Peer Doering Arjes www.springforelle.de

 

Mel Krieger © Peer Doering Arjes www.springforelle.de

 

Mel Krieger © Peer Doering Arjes www.springforelle.de

 

Mel Krieger © Ben Blackwell

Observations On Teaching Fly Casting

by Mel Krieger © 2005
 

These observations are not intended to be a comprehensive manual on teaching, nor are they an analysis of casting a fly. They are simply broad theories of teaching and learning that have been pieced together from study, working with a wide variety of other casting instructors and my own teaching experiences. I sincerely hope that you will find something useful in these notes beyond the "let the rod do the work" instruction that many of us started with.
A sincere "thank you" to the many educators and casting instructors who contributed to this teaching manual, and especially to Dave Engerbreston, Phil Krieger, Al Kyte, Judy Lehmberg, Frank Pepper, Steve Rajeff, Jim Watkins, Danielle Yesavage and Jerry Yesavage.

"It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression an Knowledge"

Albert Einstein

Teaching

Instruction provides guidelines, focus and avenues of growth for learners. Many instructors utilise a narrow corridor, teaching an extremely concise style that is often comfortable for beginners. Wider corridors usually emphasise more substance than style, offering a broader base for growth, especially to intermediate and advanced learners. Most sound instruction, in sports like golf and flycasting, consist of analysis. Many instructors become quite good at analysing the golf swing or the fly casting stroke, a teaching skill that is primarily useful to the more advanced student. There are a few gifted instructors who understand many styles and can analyse the student as well as the casting stroke, fitting one to the other without the loss of fluidity and athleticism, actually helping the student to develop his or her own individual style. Fewer still are the instructors who are also good communicators, Able to reduce complex concepts to simple solutions, and who are able to reach and connect with a wide variety of learners. Finally, we come to the elite instruction: those rare, extraordinary teachers, wondrous people who are able to inspire students to want to learn, to grow, to understand that the climb is even more exciting than the summit and who, themselves, continue to learn and grow.

The Quintessence Of Teaching Is Inspiration

"To be a teacher in the right sense is to be a learner.
Instruction begins when you, the teacher, learn from the learner,
put yourself in his place so that you may understand what he understands
and in the way he understands it."


Soren Kierkegaard

Learning Both of us were intimidated. Ruth, a tiny sixty year old, was taking my flyfishing course in Sun Valley, Idaho, and while her concern was learning to cast a fly, mine was that I would be spending two days attempting to teach one of the foremost educators in America. We survived and actually became friends, but I didn't come away completely unscathed.
During a lecture, one of the students persisted in asking almost demanding - specific answers to his questions. " What is the exact length of a dry fly tippet? How many casts do I make to a fish before changing my fly? Are green waders more visible to fish than brown?"
After several interruptions and reasonably patient replies, I lost it. "Pete," I said " you keep looking for black and white but in fishing it doesn't exist. The beauty of our sport is that it is more of an art from than a science. We aren't dealing in absolutes."
I rolled on, gathering momentum. " There are no absolutes in fishing in fishing. Damn it, there are no absolutes in life!" Silence filled the room. Embarrassed, I finally spotted her amid the quieted faces ad blurted " isn't that true Ruth?" Loud and clear she replied "absolutely!"
As Omar Khayyam the poet concluded "evermore coming out by the same door as in I went," I, too, attempted to find absolutes in my latest passions, golf and speycasting. I've read dozens of books and articles, submitted myself to interminable video watching, attended clinics and even taken private lessons - looking for the secret, the holy grail.
In golf, most of the information comes from champions who obviously play well. The damn fools, however, can't even agree on such basics as grip, stance, ball position etc. etc. ad nauseum. Further, they display a wide variety of styles and their explanations often appear contradictory.
Our flyfishing world is no different. Who and what is the learner to believe? I'm sure that all of these instructions and explanations offer workable paths. If, however, most of these diverse paths lead to the summit, it follows that the climb itself is most essential to the learner. I'm confident that the great majority of instructors first learn to cast a fly, and only after attempt to analyse and communicate their acquired skills. We ask a trick question in our instructor workshops. " How many of you had to learn flycasting by yourself"? Invariably, almost everybody raises their hand. Thare is a holy grail in flycasting. The secret in learning to flycast is - to flycast!
The real secret in golf is-to smack golf balls! After hitting golf balls at a local driving range, I commonly sit for a time watching others. The good golfers, despite their varied styles, hit the ball cleanly and consistently. The lesser players miss hit the ball much of the time. So far in my golf search, I have found only one reference to this simple truth.
Harvey Penick, a hall of fame golf teacher, explained to a beginner who requested lessons "Go home and practice the golf swing until you can consistently clip grass, and then come to me."
How would you learn or teach someone to balance on a two wheeled bicycle? The answer, of course, is doing it. A similar concept in flycasting would be the timing between back and forward casts: an elementary concept, but a difficult execution for beginners. Other than the most fundamental principles, these basic and essential skills must come from the learner. The old wives' tale, that overused cliché - "Don't practice because you may develop bad habits" is more of a deterrent than an asset to learning, especially early learning. A better direction would be Jean Paul Sartre's philosophy " To do is to be."
The quintessence of learning is doing.
Mel Krieger

Introduction

A.
Explain in detail the well planned curriculum of the course ( not forgetting to indicate the location of the toilets!) A visual aid in the form of a blackboard listing or a printed schedule for each student is helpful.
B.
Ask the class to indicate previous experience. For example - How many of you are complete beginners? Previous flyfishing instruction? Previous fishing experience? How many of you are or have been tennis players? Golf? etc. Other useful questions include " What do you hope to get out of this class?" or "what are your goals?"

These types of questions are useful because:

Many classes are composed of both neophytes and experienced flyfishers. The following are some possible introductory words:
a.
To beginners: " This course is designed for for you. We will explain every little detail beginning with something like; This is the handle of the rod. Rest assured that there are no tests, that everyone will pass this course."
b.
To experienced flyfishers: " Although this class is grounded in the basics that form the foundation of advanced flycasting, we will address an extremely comprehensive flycasting program. We will also work with you on an individual basis to help you reach new plateaux and to solve specific casting problems."

Degree Of Difficulty

Following the introduction and before starting actual casting instruction, give your beginning students some idea of the difficulty involved in learning this new skill. Present a completely honest picture of learning to flycast - how long it will take to be comfortable in most fishing situations and what is involved in getting started.
It is important to correct any misinformation your students may have. Many people outside our sport consider flycasting an art form that requires the grace and practice of a ballet dancer. The other extreme is even more damaging. It can be devastating to a student to be told " Anyone can learn to cast in 30 minutes," and then to fail to do well after hours of practice. Something like " I'm a complete klutz" or " I'll never be able to learn this" goes through almost every beginner's mind.
Instil the notion that " Anything worth doing is worth doing badly at first." This is a good time for analogies. Relate the degree of difficulty to golf, tennis or other sports. For example, you might compare flycasting to tennis in this fashion: " learning to cast well enough to be comfortable and to enjoy fishing will take about the same amount time as it took you to keep the ball in play in tennis." Or " Although flycasting is a discipline that requires practice, I don't think think it is as difficult as most sports. A better comparison might be the learning to ride a two wheeled bicycle."
Describe the different learning curves, explaining the that every learner has his or her own pace and style of learning. Some students learn very quickly and then plateau, while others learn slowly at first and then later make rapid leaps. Point out that one learning curve is not better than another - only different.
The instructor must believe that every student, regardless of his learning curve, will succeed in making acceptable fishing casts and convince the student of the fact - because it is true! There are few people who can't ride a bicycle.
I once taught an 85 year old student with crippling arthritis who certainly couldn't have handled a bicycle. He persisted and became a very competent flyfisher.
And finally, present a positive side of the degree of difficulty to the student. The process of the learning is even more exciting that achievement, and achievement always follows learning - a wondrous life experience. Casting a fly and flyfishing entails a lifetime of reaching new plateaux - of growing. While people reach their peak in games like tennis an d golf at an early age and then decline, our sport offers continuing growth. You will continue to learn till the day you can no longer walk to the water. The beginning may be a bit difficult, but then the climb becomes wonderful. A Zen saying goes, " When you reach the top of the mountain - keep climbing!"

Substance And Style

As our sport grows, the number of instructors and their teachings continue to expand and become more and more diverse. The wide variety of styles, descriptions and teaching methodology often appear contradictory to the neophyte, creating confusing instead of clarification, inhibiting learning rather than enhancing it.
A sideways glance at the game of golf offers evidence of that point. Defining " substance" ( the part of flycasting that is fundamental) and individual " styles" ( which often vary widely between instructors) can be extremely important to the learner. Making a distinct separation between substance and style will clear up any previous and possibly contradictory instruction they have received, and prepare them for the future help that will undoubtedly come from guides, friends, shops, books, videos, etc. A clear understanding will also guide students to an acceptable amount of latitude in developing their own style.
Despite the fuzzy line between substance and style that exists among some of our well known analysts and teachers, it will be helpful to communicate some of the more important distinctions. A few are listed below.

A. Substance ( Fundamentals)
* Timing between back and forward casts
* Loading the rod
* Straight line path of back and forward casts
* Basic loop shapes
* Mechanics of a flycast

The path of the rod tip during the casting stroke and the resulting loop Shapes ( i.e.. Good loops are created by a straight line path of the rod tip. Tailing or crossed loops are formed by a concave path, etc.)

Communication

A. Senses:
The corridors of communication

B. Students learn through all of these senses, which usually compliment one another. What is the first seen is reinforced by hearing as well as feeling. There can be, however, a huge variance in emphasis. While one student may learn almost exclusively by hearing or feeling. Feeling is the necessary sense for developing muscle memory, an important ingredient for physical skills. Start with these tenets of teaching, which utilize all of the senses.

C. Change.
Although repetition is a useful practice in learning to flycast, beware of repeating the same unsuccessful exercise over and over again in the hopes that the results will change. In other circles this is described as lunacy. It certainly is a negative in learning as well as teaching.

D. Honor the student's individuality.
Rigidity in instruction is limiting. All people learn differently.

" The true teacher defends his pupils against his own personal influence. He inspires self -trust. He guides their eyes from himself to the spirit that Quickens him. He will have no disciple."
Amos Bronson Alcott

Instruction

Instruction in flycasting often comes in the form of "Do it the way I do" kind of statements. Some instructors use the pulpit of teaching to demonstrate their own expertise, and to put themselves in the spotlight. Many of these instructors, without effective teaching or communication skills and despite the best intentions, actually impede learning.
All too often, obtuse communication, over instruction and inflexible rigid commands followed by statements like Notice how I - , Let me show you - are the usual instruction modes. There are better approaches to this teacher-student drama.

The ten commandments below are a good place to start.

Humility - To suppress an otherwise strong and healthy teaching ego. a. Focus on the needs of each student rather than instructor's teaching or casting goals. b. Encourage students to surpass their master. c. Convince students that they alone are responsible for the discoveries that brought them to new heights in flycasting - that they are successful and creative learners over and above instruction. This can be an important step toward the highest level of teaching - instilling confidence an a love of learning.
Simplicity - To reduce complex concepts to their lowest common denominator. " The man who can make a hard thing easy is the educator." Ralph Waldo Emersom a, Avoid lengthy demonstrations and explanations. Present information in small chunks. b, Avoid over- instruction, allowing students " alone time" - practice time without instruction- time to discover, to learn.
Flexibility - note the diversity in the way people learn. a. Adjust the emphasis on the different learning senses ( visual, auditory and kinaesthetic) to fit each student. b. Be patient with the slow learners and convince them that their learning curve is perfectly normal(because it is!). c. Challenge fast learners so that they can reach their full potential.
Praise - A valuable teaching tool. " There is no such whetstone, to sharpen a good wit and encouragement a will to learning, as is praise." Roger Ascham a. Balance necessary critique with a sufficient and justified praise. b. Avoid using negative words like " terrible, poor, awful etc." c. Avoid the word "but" as it completely negates everything that was said before. "Your timing is perfect, but your loops are to wide" may well be accurate, but is not the best of teaching. Use words like"and" or "now" rather than but. Better still, separate critique and praise. " Your timing is perfect, keep up the good work." Later ( or earlier) " let's improve those loop shapes."
Observation - carefully watch and listen to your students so you can learn more about them, beyond the analysis of their flycasts. Try to empathize with learners - put yourself in their shoes. a. Note any unrealistic or self critical perceptives, and build their esteem, with more accurate assessments and reassurances. b. Note their athleticism and ability to learn through the different senses, in order to focus your teachings. c. Note their personality and teach accordingly d. Separate student casters if you notice any conflict. Commonly, family members tend to be over critical of one another in a learning situation. Separate them at the onset to avoid possible problems.
Inspiration - The summit of teaching. a. Communicate to all students their unlimited potential and the joy of learning. b. Build their ego and confidence so they will be excited by the climb and want to go on.
Humour - Don't take your teachings and yourself too seriously. a. A touch of humor in your teachings will allow the student to loosen up and to develop a more relaxed student - instructor relationship; a strong plus in all learning experiences. b. Our quixotic fishing games are not that important in mankind's continuing struggle. Too much or too little wrist in flycasting may well be a problem, but it is important to keep it in perspective. Don't take your teachings or yourself too seriously.
Grow - As a caster, as an angler,as a student, as an instructor and as an example.
→ ...
→ ...
These last two commandments are for you to add for your personal direction, goals and strengths.

" If you're very fortunate, you will understand that the complex and profound path toward teaching mastery get two miles farther away for every mile you travel." " Do not try to satisfy your vanity by teaching a great many things. Awaken people's curiosity. It is enough to open minds: do not overload them. Put there just a spark. If there is some good flammable stuff, it will catch fire".
Anatole France

Simplicity

"Have you ever thought, not only about the aeroplane, but whatever man builds, that all of man's industrial efforts, all his computation and calculation, all the nights spent working over draughts and blueprints, invariably culminate in the production of a thing whose sole and guiding principle is the ultimate principle of simplicity?"
"In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away, when a body has been stripped down to it nakedness."
Antoine de Saint- Exupery

Despite my feeling that style and flair of Brownstone and Victorian buildings have more appeal than the efficient geometric shapes off modern constructions, there is the strong ring of truth in Saint- Exupery's principles of simplicity. The perfect cast is a good example: straight lines of a fly line and rod with no extraneous force or movements or motions of the hand and body, all energy solely directed through rod ad rolling line to the fly. These principles of simplicity are also an integral part of both communication and instruction.
Nelson Ishiyama, a friend and the editor of my flycasting book, did more than help me with words. Early in our work together, he asked me if the purpose of the book was to teach people to cast. The real truth was that I wanted to show my peers and the world that, once and for all, the flycast would be completely and perfectly analyses, that it would be carved in stone forever, and the Mel Krieger would be recognised as the author of flycasting's theory of relativity. Somehow I had trouble admitting this feeling, so I agreed to adopt the more humble "will this help someone learn to cast?" approach to everything we did in the book.
We spent a lot of time attempting to reduce complicated and theoretical concepts in flycasting to more basic truths and to simpler explanations. We eliminated photographs and illustrations and many many words. A strange thing happened to me and, like my transition from a killer to conservationist in catch-and-release fishing, I began to enjoy this new direction, finally embracing it not only for the book, but also in all my teachings.
Do not confuse simple with elementary teaching, or for that matter easy instruction. The reverse is usually true. Reducing a complex concept to its simplest form is one of the most sophisticated communication skills in teaching. For example, the problems of an intermediate or even advanced flycaster could possibly be solved by the most fundamental adjustment. It may be that a small change in hand position or grip could modify a casting stroke that in turn would solve a tailing loop problem. This kind of fine tuning does not come easy. Simplicity invariably require more time, effort and usually experience.
A famous author once said at the end of a letter to a friend " My apologies for this long letter, if I had more time, it would be much shorter" Have I solved this relatively easily explained problem? Hell no!!! I still get carried away with too much explanation, too many words, too much critique, too many " let me show you" casts and more. For all of us, however, understanding is the first step in improving that complex relationship, that dichotomy that exists between the simple " helping someone to cast a fly" and the healthy ego that is necessary part of being a good instructor. " What the teacher is, is more important than what he teaches"
Karl Menninger

Conclusion

I believe the essence, the real secret of learning flycasting lies almost completely in the very able hands of the student, and the necessary ingredients are persistence and patience; that the principal role of the instructor is essentially directional and most of all - encouragement and inspiration. I fell that the first requisite in teaching flycasting is to communicate just that to the student.
Confronted with the usual photo cliché of a large fish and grinning flyfisher , a recent convert to our sport wisely observed " The fish takes far too much credit for his or her catch. In fact, it is the fish that makes the decision to take the fly!. It is, dear friends, the student who teaches him or her self to cast a fly! The quintessence of learning is doing The quintessence of teaching is inspiration. At some point the learner should understand that ultimately, beyond the simple fundamentals of flycasting, they must stand alone, and that the joy of self discovery is the real essence of learning. That concept can only be communicated when people develop genuine trust in one another. It may be well that the only word that comes close to describing this ideal student- teacher relationship is love.
This wonderful connection, this exalted life experience of two or more becoming one is the summit of our teaching mountain, our " raison d'etre."

The best of luck.
Mel Krieger

Copyright 2000 by Mel Krieger