Coaching a Friend: Teaching Principles Applied

Not very long ago I spent an hour or two with a friend who wants to improve his casting. I’ve  fished with him and worked with him before so I knew what I would like him to tackle – overpowered forward cast, underdeveloped back cast and lastly an effective double haul. Sound familiar? Anyone who has taught fly casting will recognise all these as common problems.

My friend and I discussed what he wanted to work on and because he is a friend and trusts me he was open to my suggestions.

First thing I wanted to leave him with was the triangle method as something he can use whenever he chooses so we got some rope and set that up. It works for all levels of casting skill from beginner to advanced and everywhere in between. It’s one of the things I use for tuning up my casting, though I no longer need the rope. The visual cues provided by side casting over a set of lines is the key to its effectiveness. You can see exactly what you are doing…or not doing.

Second thing was to introduce a minimum power exercise using the triangle as a visual structure and cue that would allow him to control his stroke length while working to reduce applied force.

Thirdly, once the first couple of things were working well enough for him to benefit from them, I got him to start doing PUALDs in both directions. Again this is something I often use to tune up something(s) in my technique. One of the things it demonstrates is the great advantage of casting with a straight fly line. Slack is not our friend and conspires with instinct to encourage overpowering. Eliminate slack and find the minimum power needed to complete the cast and a new day dawns. PUALDs give us time to see what just happened, think about the next stroke and how to change what needs to be changed.

There was a bit of wind blowing so I got him to move to different corners of the triangle in order cast downwind  as an aid to minimising power and, by reversing directions, the upwind cast then becomes a test of both technique and power restraint. Works the same for forward and back casts.

Within a fairly short time he was really getting the hang of it as was obvious from the tighter loops and smoother acceleration. My input at this stage was mostly to compliment the better casts. No need to say anything about the not-so-good ones because that would have been stating the obvious to him.

Because he gets physics and asked, I explained that the SLP is essentially shorthand for maximising force applied in the intended direction of the cast. To put it in a nutshell, it’s about vectorial purity. Counterintuitively, we get better results from less force applied more efficiently. Intuitively, we attempt to compensate for inefficient force application by using yet more force which will invariably be applied even less efficiently.

My other input was to encourage him to memorise the feel of the good casts and how it differed from the not-so-good ones. I suggested he give it a name.

So, within two hours his casting stroke, in both directions, had become much smoother and more efficient – no more spiky power application. Instead of punching the delivery out to 50 odd feet he was stroking it smoothly out to nearly 60’. What he achieved was very satisfying for both of us and the feedback after a couple fishing session was that the improvements had “stuck”.

If you compare this post with my Teaching Fly Casting: Interim Research Report you will be able to see the principles I was attempting to apply. More emphasis on “production” and facilitating student discovery and less emphasis on “reproduction” and direct instruction. Use of the overall “feel” of getting it right as a means of capturing and entrenching improved performance of movements.

I also learned something else too. I really enjoy teaching fly casting, especially when it succeeds beyond my expectations. :^))