The first thing I want to say about teaching my buddy Adam how to cast a fly rod last Saturday was that for the first time in years I was forced to actually stop and think hard about every aspect of my casting.
“So it’s all in the wrist?”
“What? No, no, no,” I said. “Like this.”
“Uh huh, so it’s in the wrist.”
I tried to explain that because I spent a lot of time fly fishing in tiny streams with lots of overhanging vegetation I developed a wristy cast and that he should try to avoid casting that way.
“What about the thing you’re doing with your other hand?”
“I’m not doing a thing with my other hand,” I inadvertently lied.
“Yea, you are. You keep pulling on the string.”
“Um… The line. I am?” I suddenly became conscious that I was double hauling my cast. “Oh, that. It’s called a double haul and it’s something you don’t need to worry about right now.”
And so his casting lesson went.
I soldiered on anyway and did the best I could to explain to Adam what was going on with his rod and line while simultaneously trying to figure out exactly what the hell I was doing to get my fly line where I wanted it to go. I guess I should be happy that casting has become such a natural thing for me but it makes me kind of a sucky teacher. It seemed though, by the end of the lesson, that he had the basics down.
After the casting lesson Adam asked me a few questions about the actual fishing part of fly fishing. This caused me to start in on a thirty minute one sided stream of consciousness rant about all things fly fishing. I think I got to “and fuck Brad Pitt and that shadow casting, A River Runs Through It bullshit” before I realized I’d lost him. So I decided to just give him a “how to” book so he could pickup some of the basics and threw in a couple of issues of The Drake and my copy of Death, Taxes and Leaky Waders by Gierach to get him in the proper fly fishing state of mind. I also told him to practice casting every chance he got and maybe find a good video or two to watch so he can see how a pro casts.
Hopefully for Adam this is the first of many steps to becoming an accomplished and well rounded fly fisherman. And if it isn’t? Well… I don’t like crowded streams and every little bit helps.
I imagine that I’m the kind of fly fisherman that professionals in the industry dread the most. You know… the broke kind. I guess that’s not a completely fair statement, but I have never been able to afford the things the pros seem to suggest in all the fly fishing media I’m exposed to. I’ve never had a lesson of any kind and I’ve never been able to hire a guide. Growing-up, a fly rod was known as a “yuppie stick” and was used only rarely to cast poppers to bass and bream. Everything I know about fly fishing has been learned through reading, videos, and good old fashioned trial and error. So when an old friend of mine contacted me on facebook and asked if I would teach him to fly fish, I didn’t hesitate, “Hells yeah I’ll teach you.”
I realized later what a huge responsibility I’m taking on. For someone who is basically self taught, I do well enough; I get my fly where I want it to be, I know how to mend a line to get a good drift, I catch fish on a pretty regular basis, and people who see me fish don’t walk away shaking their heads anymore. I’m personally happy with how well I do now and I learn more every time I go out. Problem is, there are probably a lot of bad little casting habits I have that I’m not even aware of and there’re some that I know I have. Now I’m going on to teach my buddy how to cast the long rod and he’ll learn my bad casting habits. How am I going to tell someone not break his wrist so much on a cast when I cast with my wrist all the time. Hell, my form may be awful, I don’t know, I’ve never been fly fishing with anybody who could critique my cast.
He and his wife want to have kids one day. What if he teaches his kids to cast like me, and his kids go on to teach their kids… I know my children are doomed, but doing that to someone else’s family…
Now the part that really worries me. I didn’t start fly fishing seriously until after the birth of my first child. If I had started fly fishing even a year before I did, my life would have been dramatically different. Before my wife and I got together, I was “unsettled” and more than a little nomadic in nature, aka. I was a dirty hippie. If I had been fly fishing during that time I’d probably be sleeping in a tent right now, on the side of a river trying to catch that last late autumn BWO hatch instead of, well… Maybe it’s best not to think about it.
He told me, before he and his wife start trying in earnest to have children, they have a kind of “bucket list” of things they want to do first. Now I’m in charge of adding fly fishing to the mix. I know this guy well and he has an addictive personality. I have yet to find anything quite as addictive as fly fishing and I’ve tried lots of things. So what if my little fly fishing padawan gets really into it. I could be destroying his entire genetic future by teaching him to fly fish. What if he adds going to the Keys to catch a tarpon to his list or Alaska for salmon. What’s going to happen when he discovers the concept of a slam. Or that first time he unravels the intricacies of a complicated hatch and has a big trout take his fly without any hesitation giving him that brief but wonderful illusion that he’s finally got this fly fishing thing down, just to find out latter that there are other puzzles to solve with each new fishing situation and the only way to find those situations is to just keep fishing and fishing. His bucket list will keep growing and the next thing he’ll know he’s spent his entire life chasing fish all over the world instead of having children. And I’ll be his fly fishing mentor so he’ll send me pictures of all his catches. He’ll be smiling, holding a big permit that he caught on his last trip to Ascension bay and it will come with a letter saying “it’s not big as one as that one I caught last year near Big Pine but it’s still a nice fish” and I’ll be stuck struggling to put my second son through college where he’ll get a degree in 17th century French Literature.
Fuck that! It’s not fair! Not fair of me to do something that might interfere with a friend’s future. Not fair of me to teach an innocent a bad casting stroke. And it wouldn’t be fair to his poor wife.
Of course I do need a fishing partner.