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Teaching, Fly Casting and Guiding

Posted on September 21 2013

Whitney Gould Teaching
Whitney, teaching. Photo: Tosh Brown

Whitney Gould – guide, teacher and caster extraordinaire – is part of our totally stacked team at Alaska West.  Here’s a great article she put together that shows you the mindset that takes days on the water to another level.

Thanks Whitney!

Teaching, Fly Casting and Guiding

Willa, my dog, has rolled in half dead chum and is cleaning herself on my bed.  Fish are cleaned, processed, and ready for the smoker and the guide meeting is done. I reflect on the day’s events as I head off in search tomorrow’s guests to discuss their fishing options.

It’s mid-season at Alaska West. It’s my favorite part of the guide season as the river provides many fishing options, giving an angler an opportunity to catch three out of the five salmon species in addition to the dollies and trout. It is a transition time, a time when the really, really large kings are in the river, chums are abundant and silvers are beginning to show.

Trout Unlimited has sent up a group interested in fishing the upper river for the legendary K-tok leopard rainbows, so I am surprised to hear that the next day’s guests want to spend their last day on the river fishing for Kings with two-handed rods. Mentally I start my checklist, get three two-handed and two single-handed rods rigged to fish different water conditions, check the tide chart, tie flies, get coffee and fresh drinking water, and don’t forget lunch. “Done!”

Fishing late in the season ensures that I will have pick of the bar. Last week of the season: kings, at times, may be late for their own party but there is a chance for a 40 plus pound fish – patience and persistence are often rewarded.  So how to keep people interested while waiting – what do I do?  Teach.

Luckily, one guy is starting out and the other is an accomplished steelheader. I set the experienced guy up first. “These are not steelhead! Cast straight across, mend, take three steps down river, don’t get ahead of your fly, hook a fish low and to the bank, let the fish run; not you. To slow the fish down drop your tip into the water and keep a bend in the rod. ” Ugh too much information, rethinking – “if you hook a fish do nothing. I’ll be there to help.“ Luck is in and the fish are rolling! He casts. Boom! Fish on. I better start running.

Next task, guest number two. It’s Day 6 and this guy tired. My job as a guide is to get the learning process going, teach him the basics and to get him fishing. There are no complaints on my part, this stuff is fun: as Yoda says, “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

In spring of 2013 I passed the FFF Two Handed Casting Certification (THCI). Preparation for the test honed my skills to teach the core basics to fly casting efficiently; a valuable skill while guiding fly fishing anglers. Study, practice and on-river guiding led me to these basic ideas as to what it takes to be a successful guide and teacher.

  1. Start out with simple, clear descriptions of how to perform the relevant cast for each situation. Reinforce these descriptions through each cast. For example, note that all casts start out with a lift. Rather than reinvent the wheel, repeat that each cast starts with a lift and then add small adjustments.
  2. Don’t over teach while guiding. I’ve tested this one too many times. Too much information too often, and guests become frustrated, lose focus on the fishing task at hand and retain nothing past go. From personal experience, I know I am less apt to learn on my own if I don’t enjoy my initial experience or don’t feel there is a realistic milestone or goal I can achieve.
  3. Be adaptive. Not everyone you teach will learn in the same manner. What works for one may not work for another. As an instructor it’s up to you to find a way to communicate.
  4. Finally–the most important–make the day fun! People are more apt to listen if they’re not intimated – if they are relaxed, having fun and catching fish.

There is a delicate balance between too much and just right. Learning to cast, teach and fish is a lifelong journey – a journey deserving patience. Enjoy and have fun with it.

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