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Those Who Can Fish, Teach!


“I know what it means… I just can’t explain it.”
In one way or another, I’ve worked with young people for the past dozen years of my life. Early on, I realized that I was getting a lot of engaged expressions and eager nods to statements and follow up questions of “do you know what I am saying?” Many times, I’d even be able to get a reasonably cogent answer from a request for regurgitated information. However, things began to fall apart when I’d ask for them to restate the answer in their own words.

What really changed my paradigm of education was when I became aware of how many words young people (all people, really) use without understanding what they mean. That is where “I know what it means… I just can’t explain it” is truly problematic. The inability to articulate is indicative of a deficiency at a fundamental level.

I’m confident in asserting that if you can’t explain it, you don’t get it.

What does this have to do with fly fishing? Well, think of it this way: Can you explain the basic mechanics of a cast? Could you give a quick overview of why the feeding behavior of fish changes with the weather? Why should I buy a medium-action fly rod over a fast one… or vice-versa?

I’m not saying that each and every casual angler needs to be as proficient in instruction as a guide or industry insider. The questions posed above are pretty basic. And chances are you, along with most fly fishers, know the answers. But can you walk a novice, or a non-fly fisher through the answer?

Think for a minute about all the fly fishing guides that you may have had in your life. What separates the great from the good, the good from the not-so-good? Nice boats, good spots, and fish are important, but I’d pose that the best guides are the men and women who can articulate what you need to do and why you need to do it. They take the time to understand and appreciate where your strengths and deficiencies are, and then quickly and eloquently work within those parameters. The same can be said for fly shop employees. There are a lot of pros that can fish well, but a smaller percentage that can teach. And ultimately, what is the point of being in the industry if you can’t pass along knowledge and assist those who come to you for assistance?

My point isn’t to condemn those in the business who can’t communicate perfectly. It is to underline the vital importance of being able to communicate well. More pertinently, it is to encourage you, who I assume to be just a regular fly fisher like me, to consider if you can explain what you are doing and why you are doing it. The benefits are twofold.

First, you’ll highlight your own weaknesses. This happens as you work through figuring out how much you actually know about subjects that you think you know well. Then you can improve upon them. Why are you getting that tailing loop? You can effort around the problem all day and potentially stumble across a solution, or you can sit down, read a book, and see that the application of power on the forward cast might be coming too quickly. You might have the general idea that smaller flies work better towards the end of the hatch – but it is just a hunch. If you ask a seasoned angler familiar with the region what their opinion is, they might be quick to point out that there is actually a second hatch of smaller bugs.

Second, you can teach. There is so much to say on this point. I’ll make it concise here and revisit this theme in another post. Mentoring can make you a better fly fisher, can be incredibly rewarding, and can make a real difference. But to be effective, you’ll need to be able to articulate the basics.

Want a really practical way to see where you are with all of this? If your spouse doesn’t fish, try to summarize the process of fighting and landing a fish for him/her. How did you do? How often did you stop and think about what the next step would be? How many times did you use “fly fishing-ese” and have to double back to define terms? Did you get frustrated? Did your spouse get frustrated with you?

“I know what it means… I just can’t explain it” is another way of saying “I am familiar with it… but only slightly.” Taking a minute to answer the question rather than pushing it aside can make a big difference in your fishing, and potentially in the fishing of someone who you can help.

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