Dave Micus, Plum Island Sound

December 6th, 2004

Fishing Class
By Dave Micus

Though not a certified casting instructor, I have had the good fortune of teaching an introduction to fly fishing class over the past eight years, first at Boston University, now at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where I am employed. This is a basic class, free to the students, with the goal of at least exposing them to the fundamentals of the sport. My hidden agenda is that maybe, just maybe, this brief experience will lead to a life-long passion for at least of few of them.

The class is always held during the winter, a time in New England where even lawyers are seen with their hands in their own pockets. This precludes any streamside instruction, so we meet in the gym and pretend that it's Andros. The class is limited to ten, and, students being students, a few will disappear along the way narrowing the amount to six or so, the perfect number to allow for a fair amount of individual instruction. Not having cast a rod for two months, this is a good warm up for me for the striper fishing that is in the not too distant future.

I first teach them how not to cast, something I'm particularly adept at. They take their rods, strip off thirty feet of line and just wave the rod any way they want, getting a feel for how the rod can and can't control the line. After a bit of this I'll have them attempt at least a rudimentary overhand cast, but with no emphasis on loop size so they throw these gigantic open loops. Unfortunately, some never get beyond this stage no matter how I prod, but for most it becomes apparent how much energy is dissipated with these big looping casts, and we work to tighten the loops incrementally and soon they are throwing a fair amount of line and a pretty tight loop. The mythical 11-1 time/space casting continuum is easily grasped by the MIT students.

Many of my students have interesting motivations for learning to fly fish. One was the daughter of a well-known outdoors writer who wanted to learn so she could fish with her dad, but, recalling her adolescent driving lessons, didn't want him to be the teacher. Another woman wanted to fly fish because it was her deceased father's passion and she felt it was a way she could maintain a connection. And I once had a student from Montana who inherited his grandfather's fly-fishing gear, an old bamboo rod with matching reel, and was determined to use his inheritance as his grandfather intended.

As is so often the case when teaching, I learn as much from them as they learn from me. One of my students was a mountaineer, and when we went over fishing knots he showed me how to judge potential knot failure, a skill he acquired from necessity. And sometimes we learned together. An older English gentleman had a brother who leased a beat on a renowned salmon river in Scotland, and he wanted to be able to fish with his sibling. He was a challenging student in that he came to the sport with more passion than anyone else in the class but just could not get the hang of casting, which proved frustrating for the both of us. In desperation, I placed a paper plate 45 ft. from where he was standing and asked him to hit it. With a target to aim at he was casting proficiently within ten minutes, and I've since incorporated this trick into my teaching methodology.

There are those who take to it like, well, fish to water. Within a day or two of basic instruction they are casting as if they have years of experience, and, buoyed by their success, they strive to learn more and so grow into fly fishermen. They stay in touch long after the program ends, asking questions, sharing information, and reporting successes (one caught a 24 inch brown trout the summer after he took up fly fishing, much bigger than any trout I've ever caught!), and that always feels good.

Recently a former student contacted me to ask if his wife could attend my class. Seems that he has embraced the sport with such enthusiasm that he wants to share his zeal with his true love. Though not a student, so technically not eligible, I made a spot for her in the upcoming session. But before you think I'm a nice guy realize that my motivations are selfish. If this enhances their relationship I might market my class as relationship therapy, and charge $100 for a 45-minute hour, become the Dr. Phil of fly-fishing. Watch for me on Oprah... ~ Dave

About Dave:

Dave Micus lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts. He is an avid striped bass fly fisherman, writer and instructor. He writes a fly fishing column for the Port City Planet newspaper of Newburyport, MA (home of Plum Island and Joppa Flats) and teaches a fly fishing course at Boston University.


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